MELBOURNE (original name Naarm) is the most populous city in Australia. It is humble in size, yet rich with culture; its identity splattered across in graffiti-sprayed laneways lined by heritage architecture. Far away and still so close in its amalgamation of America, Europe and Asia, it is home to the famous flat white, a DIY ethos and of course, the grifting DJ.
Butter Sessions’ founders Sleep D, aka Corey Kikos and Maryos Syawish, actually hail from a coastal suburb called Frankston, 41 kilometres outside of Melbourne’s central business district, but they have become an essential and much-loved part of the city’s music scene. “It was only an hour out of the city, but as teenagers, it felt so far away,” says Syawish. Sleep D took it upon themselves to build a community of their own, eventually establishing themselves as important pillars of the local tech-house sphere.
At 15 years old, the boys and a bunch of their friends religiously attended under-18s nightclubs, traversed online forums and kept an ear out for Melbourne’s hottest (over-18s) festival sets. “We spent our weekends at the club and CD shops after school, getting all the mixtape essentials,” Syawish recounts. At the time, Kikos says it was meeting likeminded people that appealed to him: “There was this body of people that just wanted to dance the night away.”
In the ’burbs, it wasn’t so often you came across people interested in the same niche as you. “Starting a label became a way for us to meet other people and slowly form a community that has grown over the last 13 years. Now, it’s about sustaining, advancing and enjoying the process,” Kikos explains.
At 17, they started Butter Sessions as a blog, which later developed into a Facebook group for sharing tunes from local musicians. It grew to include a Butter Mix series featuring plenty of Australia’s finest, alongside international friends like Kenji Takimi, Brian Not Brian and more. Today it incorporates a digital merch, record and print store, with releases from over 40 producers, and much-anticipated events. The venue-brimming shows Butter Sessions is known to host today started inside Sleep D’s childhood homes, but it was the duo’s first public live show at Melbourne’s The Night Owl (now Sub Club) that gave them a real taste of what was to come. From there, the first Butter Sessions solo event was held at the now-shuttered Mercat Basement with a few peers and around 20 to 30 friends in attendance. Sleep D later launched Mania, a highly popular weekly Saturday club night at Lounge, showcasing locals like Jennifer Loveless, Moopie, Harvey Sutherland, Tornado Wallace and Francis Inferno Orchestra, as well as international acts like Huerco S., Steffi and Virginia. Kikos says it was these events that shaped their trajectory, uncovering a side of the business that helped them figure out what it meant to be DJs, promoters and true community builders in the scene. Syawish doesn’t feel much has changed with their latest party at 24 Moons, another Melbourne favourite. He explains, “We’re probably playing slightly different music and I hope better at DJing than we were back then, but I mean, they’re both dark clubs with big sound systems. The main difference is, it’s our friends plus more others. But the essence has mostly stayed the same.”
In late 2013, Butter Sessions dropped its first release, Sleep D’s three-track vinyl EP, ‘The Jackal’. The heaving ensemble featured rough and tough, screechy and scratchy starlet, ‘The Frankston Jackal’ — a pivotal track in the label’s story. “I remember hearing [‘The Frankston Jackal’] get played by artists who weren’t Australian and thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve managed to reach the other side of the world!’ It was affirming, reassuring and motivating,” Syawish says.
Despite the international recognition, it persuaded the boys to stay in Melbourne. The Melbourne-to-Europe pipeline has become a sort of norm; many Australian DJs are known to cut their teeth in the fledgling artist town before moving on to Berlin, London or another Northern-Hem sort. But Sleep D feel Australia has so much to offer. After all, it’s why they started Butter Sessions in the first place, to try to make it work Down Under. “It’s always fresh with great people to work with, so we’ve never really had the urge to up and move our operation overseas,” says Syawish.
For them, Melbourne offers the perfect pace to work on music without being surrounded by an industry moving at rapid speed. Syawish says the city gives them the room to explore sounds without being too influenced by their external surroundings. “Not to say that I don’t like being influenced by different countries; I enjoy travelling, absorbing what’s happening musically, but then coming home and making up our own minds about what that means,” he explains. “It feels properly balanced probably because it’s so far away from the world and that’s a big part of the charm,” adds Kikos. “We can’t just jet off to Berlin for four hours, you know?”
In 2021, the duo celebrated Butter Sessions’ 10-year run in Australia’s underground with a graphic book, party series and hefty three-disc album. It’s an ideal place to start for those unfamiliar with the label, showcasing the simmering avant-garde techno, bubbling acid and frothy house that have been staples of its output, and representing the evolution of a harder, faster and certainly rougher hedonistic nightscape.
The compilation serves up Ewan Jansen’s intense dancefloor shamanism, the cerebral techno-trance of Guy Contact, Turner Street Sound’s UK garage-style swing, and a whole range of electrifying woozy boogies from Furious Frank, Mosam Howieson, Polito and more. Vanessa Worm whispers in the dark, her vocals coiled over a driving beat, and Butter Sessions regular Cale Sexton brings a squelching alien abyss. And while the label’s focus is usually on local talent, Sleep D also dipped into their international network for the collection, recruiting the likes of Haruka (Japan), D. Tiff any (Canada/Germany) and Ivy Barkakati (USA/Spain).
More recently came a new local addition to the roster, RBI (Ruby Willis), who debuted in March with her album ‘Disseminate’. “She’s a new name for the label, with a contemporary trance, UK inspired-sound that’s produced with organic elements like the clarinet,” Syawish explains.
In August a new EP arrived from longtime Sydney friends Unsolicited Joints, and on the way is a long-awaited album from Polito — “they’ve managed to make a modular synth sound like a real instrument” — another EP from the melodic house aficionado Jennifer Loveless, and a 12-inch by the free-spirited Fadercap (aka Sedgwick).
In June, the label released Sleep D’s 10-track LP ‘Electronic Arts’, which mimics the loose approach of their live sets with accelerated house and dreamscape ambient techno. Syawish tells DJ Mag about rediscovering his Iraqi heritage on album track ‘From Village To Empire’: “I wasn’t embarrassed but definitely shied away from my background... I really like those [Middle Eastern] sound worlds and their percussive elements, so I included a lot more samples and fi eld recordings from my travels and live sets there.”
Evidently, Sleep D are always finding themselves through their music and it only feels fitting that the range of Butter Sessions artists is ever evolving alongside both them and the local scene. As their LP description astutely asks, wherever will their “existential pathfinding” take us next?
As published in DJ Mag’s September 2023 Print Issue.