Around the world in 80 labels: Butane and Someone Else – Little Helpers

Our next imprint worthy of recognition harks back to golden days gone by, when people made house records solely aimed at DJs- repetitive, hypnotic loops that could build or drop the tempo, achieving great things without actually doing very much at all, or better still, noises designed to be layered together to form a new whole. Sounds for the heads no less.

From bases in Germany and the US Little Helpers is fast becoming one of the most prolific exponents of would-be B-sides and cyclical edits, as is exemplified on the recent compilation masterfully melded by one of its founding fathers. Now just having passed its second birthday the label has seen dance cuts and heads down work from the likes of Ryan Crosson, Buck, Tim Xavier, and Niederflur, in addition to the bossmen Sean O’Neal (more familiar to most as Someone Else) and Andrew Rasse (AKA Butane), all released simply with numbered track names (i.e. Little Helper 21-2). With percussive rhythms and underground sounds on the mind then we thought it best to get the latter honcho to answer a few questions about releasing all this refreshingly understated yet thoroughly engaging music.

Little HelpersButane – USA / Germany

Describe your imprint’s output

Put simply, we’re in the business of supplying tools for creative DJs.  Sean and I conceived of the label as a platform for the more unsung side of dance music. We’re both ex-vinyl DJs with an appreciation for B-sides and old locked-groove records, and those parts of dance music culture all but died with the proliferation of the digital market.

It became increasingly difficult as a DJ to find deep, uncomplicated grooves amongst the more commercial stuff that currently dominates the charts of most online stores. As a DJ I would sometimes find myself guilty of buying “only A-sides” and that’s not a good thing for underground music in my view.  

Vinyl DJs already know this, but maybe some of the younger generation don’t. You see, there were these things called B-sides; inside cuts..  They’re the magical little nuggets you find at the afterparty, when you’re in the seventh hour of playing out of a single bag of vinyl. 

The thing is, these tracks don’t jump out at you in the same way as the hit single with the catchy vocal that everyone plays for three weeks and then discards. But because they lack a big recognisable hook these tracks are often the ones that achieve “timeless” status amongst real underground-minded DJs. Usually their brilliance is only fully realised by accident, or in a special context, or whilst mixing multiple sources.

With tools like Traktor and Ableton creative DJs can take these tracks and transform them into something much more personal to their own sound. Sometimes all a really great DJ needs is the right 32-bar loop at the perfect moment to make a party explode.  That’s where we come in. But because we’re not limited by the vinyl format we have the flexibility to stretch that loop out, add a few little breaks or fills, some simple variation to to keep it moving along, and the track becomes strong enough to stand on its own; best of both worlds.

What would you say makes it different.

We’re really trying to fly the flag for underground music. We’re not interested in the next trendy sound. We don’t need our artists running around making copies of copies. Also, we don’t have a hard and fast rule about genres. It can be house or techno, or minimal, or ambient, or breakbeat, as long as it’s original.

Sean and I want to find out something about an artist when we listen to their work. Hopefully our catalogue reflects that. It’s the simplest tracks, when they’re done well, that are often the most difficult to make. We’re an anti-hype, anti-hipster, grassroots enterprise. Quiet confidence…  Speak softly and carry a big stick… All that shit.

What is it that makes you keep looking for new talent to expose

It’s rewarding as a label owner to give an artist their first shot, and Sean and I both have proven track records of breaking talent with our vinyl labels, Foundsound and Alphahouse.  That said, putting out a vinyl EP of an unknown producer carries some monetary risk, not to mention a considerable amount of time and energy invested. 

We streamlined Little Helpers, from the track titles to the artwork, and being digital-only provides us the flexibility we need to sign music that we believe in, irrespective of whether the artist has 20 EPs under his belt, or zero. This enables us to introduce new artists without the traditional worries a label would face with physical media. 

When we started, we took a long view that the label would start to sell itself once the content is there, and with almost 30 EPs in two years we think people are starting to take notice of our approach.  As the catalogue grows, the label becomes its own platform, so we can listen to demos purely in terms of the quality of the music, without worrying about whether it’s commercially viable.  This is a big luxury for such a small label, as it allows us to remain conceptually pure. 

What is the label’s pinnacle achievement so far?

Little Helpers Mixed: Volume One is the culmination of two years of hard work sourcing the right material for the label. Getting off the ground was the hard part. Now we’re in a groove and the music is coming in faster than we can release it.

It’s February and our release schedule is full through July, with an EP every two weeks. As a personal aside, I spent quite a bit of time on this mix in the studio trying to do justice to the concept of the label. I feel like the mix is a statement about the creative possibilities of digital DJing, and I’m very proud of it.  

If people were to hear one release from your label what would you like it to be?

If I have to pick just one, it makes sense to choose the “pinnacle achievement” of the label, right?  That’s also kind of a loaded answer, because anyone who buys the bundle on Beatport gets all 42 unmixed tracks I used to make the mix. So yeah, if I had to choose just one release Little Helpers Mixed: Volume One would be it.

All being well, skip forward five years, where would you like things to be? 

Five years is an eternity in this business. I only really started DJing ten short years ago. Currently we’re both very passionate about the Little Helpers project, but we’re only two years into it, so it’s really hard to say where another five will leave us; 2017, huh? At our current pace we’d be around catalog number 150 by then. Let’s see how it goes. 

Recent stops

Italy – Opilec – I-Robots 

UK – Futureboogie – Dave Harvey & Steve Nickolls