Thoughtful Bass Music: Ivy Lab [Exclusive Interview]
In between an upcoming album release, running a record label, touring across the globe and having a son, Gove Kidao aka Sabre of Ivy Lab sat down with us in LA at the first stop of their 20/20 LDN Label Showcase Tour to talk about future collaborations, this upcoming festival season and bass music.
Photo Courtesy of Gove Kidao via Facebook
As we entered an attic at one of LA’s new(ish) warehouse venues, 1720, the bass from within the venue rattled the room. The night was filled with a wide range of bass music from Paint, Deft, Hapa and Woolymammoth.
Festival Squad: Congrats on finishing up your new album, Death Don’t Always Taste Good. If you had to describe it in three words, what would they be?
Ivy Lab: Pensive bass music. Now I say pensive because it comes from bass music but it’s not brutal, it’s not experimental, I want it to be thoughtful. It doesn’t fit naturally with the type of bass music that is gaining popularity right now. It’s thoughtful.
Festival Squad: Your newest single Cake has a music video that has some mad choreography in it. It’s very unique. What was the inspiration behind it?
Ivy Lab: The only inspiration was one photograph I sent, which I took from the internet, of a big black space with one central light lighting the character beneath it, and it’s just void around it. We liked the idea of lots of negative space. It’s made by dancers. Justin is the director and his partner Lucas is the costume designer and makeup artist, and they’re the two male dancers in the video, the third is a woman from LA.
Festival Squad: How would you say that Death Don’t Always Taste Good fits in or stands apart from your other releases?
Ivy Lab: It’s not quite focused on dance floor stuff. The ratio of dance floor to listening music is much more 50/50 than the stuff we’ve done in the past. The low keynotes are very low key. There’s a bit more BPM dabbling happening. We haven’t tended to stray too far from what we know as our BPM, but this has got some slower stuff in there too. We feel we want to capitalize more in the future.
Festival Squad: How would you say your past work has inspired your new album?
Ivy Lab: We don’t make tracks that only reference the genre we’re working in. We try to think about using this, kind of, bass halftime template that is true of most of our music and mixing it with something else. Whether that’s mixing it with dub techno, acid house, or boogie, we’re really keen on bringing other sub-genres of music to this hip-hop template and I think that’s partially our niche. How can we make a really techno or drum and bass inspired beats tune? There’s a lot of that that’s happening in this album. There are things that are straight down the line bass music, like Cake, but there’s plenty of other stuff that before a single note was written we already knew in our heads that it was going to be an amalgamation of these two genres of music. We have a whole bank of ideas that have sat in our heads that will form the basis of our next production sessions that we do rather than just walk in and go, “Cool, let’s jam.” There are a couple things that we’re knocking around. The techno thing is an ongoing debate for us. We really like the idea of trying to make really funky, loose, hip-hop orientated beats but mixed with the patience and long-form virtue of techno. The phrases can be two minutes long and you’re left to marinate in those ideas before it changes to something else. It’s not about big impacts every twenty seconds that catch your attention, it’s about nothing catching your attention then all of a sudden everything catching your attention.
Festival Squad: That’s awesome. I see a lot of that on this album. So, what aspect of your drum and bass background is prevalent in the music you two make and perform today?
Ivy Lab: Mixdowns. That’s the thing DnB really stands for. The bar is so high and the quality and punch you have to put in your music that, that was the first thing people started to notice when we came over and started doing sort of this West Coast Bass stuff. We bring a level of mix downs to the table that someone who didn’t come from an old school engineering DnB background probably wouldn’t have thought to bring. It isn’t natural to them. We’re so coded in how we make music, to make shit bang, that it’s something we feel really confident that we’re delivering consistently. It’s an idea that people want to see more in music. We’ve got a real commitment to being interesting in how we use bass. Whether it’s the melodies being interesting or the sound being interesting. [As the music plays in the background] Kind of what we’re listening to now. I love this stuff but we don’t really fuck with straight 808s. To us, that’s not really working the bass frequencies on your track in the most imaginative way. We want to do something a little bit more character forming and that’s the hangover from being a DnB artist, you have the pressure to make interesting bass notes.
Festival Squad: What stops on this tour are you most excited for?
Ivy Lab: This one. Los Angeles. It feels like this city, of all cities, is the folklore. The mythology of the beats scene is so heavily intertwined in Los Angeles, that for us, to be throwing a party here, the first party of the tour, is really poignant. It’s really meaningful that this is the place where we start our escapade. Our audience is increasingly North American, and people’s perception of our music is that it’s an evolution of something that grew up in this city. For us to come back and present our take on something that grew up here is super daunting, but I feel super relaxed about it. We’ve been patient enough and done enough groundwork that we can now come out here and do this, and people are really wanting to hear what we want to do. We haven’t done it in LA before. I intend on going more left field than any other location on this tour. I intend on being challenging.
Festival Squad: What’s in store for 20/20 LDN? What is it like finding new talent and getting them on your label?
Ivy Lab: Without being able to really name anybody, we have some real OG talent from this scene in the states planning on releasing on our label. We have some really big UK DnB acts who have always dabbled in this world coming over to do some work for us as well. We’ve been focused on bringing people in our crew up, until now. We’ve not really featured much music by established acts partly because we wanted to prove ourselves before we pitched the prospects to these acts. Now we are going to these slightly bigger guys going, “Look, dude, you are on our level and you make stuff that fits the vibe of the label and we hope you agree that we’ve proven ourselves over the last couple of years. Can you work for us?” I feel confident enough to go out and ask that now in a way I wouldn’t have done six months to a year ago. We’re looking at important acts, asking them to work with us, and they’re saying yes. So it’s good. That’s the future of the label. Deft, who is playing tonight, is working on an album with us hoping to get it out by the end of the year. Tim Parker is making music now and he’s putting out an EP some point in time. A bit of consolidating music from the core crew that is already a part of the family but also bringing some other people in who are from the higher echelon of the scenes that we borrow talent and audiences from, coming on board and doing stuff for the label.
Festival Squad: A little bit of old, a little bit of new?
Ivy Lab: Yep. Trying to, just, grow.
Festival Squad: If you could give your 21-year-old-self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Ivy Lab: Don’t move on to new pastures whilst you have unfinished business. It’s a mistake I’ve made in the past with my DnB career that we made sure not to repeat with Ivy Lab. We really didn’t have unfinished business with the DnB scene by the time we moved on to start working in this world. We did prove what we needed to. We didn’t exhaust all of our possibilities but we took it as far as we could have done with our capabilities before we needed to move something on. There was loads of temptation to move on sooner. You get itchy feet, you start to think you need to move on to something that hasn’t been tried yet, and you’re worried that someone else will fill in that gap if you don’t act quick enough. There are people who have been doing this longer than we have but we left things completed in the DnB scene before we moved on. If you don’t do that, you don’t have a catalog and you don’t have a body of music that people can really fall in love with. You do something for a year and people really fall in love with it and you go, “Yeah, I’m kinda bored of this. I’m gonna start making house instead,” or, “I’m really tired of making house, I’m gonna make techno instead.” When people buy into your music, give them a couple of years of loyal service and then move on. So we really have unfinished business in this world. Sure, we’ve played all around the world but we’ve got a lot of different things that we’ve yet to conquer.
Festival Squad: All around the world? Where’s your favorite place to play?
Ivy Lab: Le Bikini in Toulouse, France. It’s sort of like this. A warehouse quite far away from the center of town. It doesn’t disturb anybody but it’s also been built with real high acoustic values put into it. It’s soundproofed in the corners and it’s got special ceiling tiles that reflect the sound back to you. It’s built in the way that an auditorium that would do classical music if thought of. Those places really care about their acoustics, most clubs don’t.
Festival Squad: Well, I have to say that my favorite song of yours is Sunday Crunk. If you could only play one song of yours for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
Ivy Lab: It would probably be one of our old DnB tunes Live On Your Smile. It’s a great tune. It’s a tune I had a lot of involvement in. It sounds, on wax, exactly how it sounded in my head when we were making it. It’s one of the few tunes where there was a very clear idea of how I thought this could end up sounding and then communicated it to the guys and they bought into it and it sounds exactly like that. For me, that’s my pick. OR, actually, our Banks remix is awesome. We’re really, really proud of that remix. We were like, this has got some weird techno-Timbaland vibe to it as well. That was about as perfect of a description we wanted for our music. We’re such huge Timbaland and Neptune fans. They fuck with our BPMs as well.
Festival Squad: Ivy Lab has a few festivals lined up. EDC Las Vegas, Valhalla Sound Circuit, Emissions West Coast Bass Culture, among others. What aspects of festivals do you get most excited about? What’s the most difficult about them?
Ivy Lab: I think we find the impersonal nature of festivals tough to deal with. We’re not fans of the worship the DJ culture. We see ourselves as curators of music, we don’t put ourselves in the same bracket as a band or a standout singer, or anything like that. We consider ourselves musicians but not on the same par. We don’t like being worshiped on a high pedestal. Some places have felt like, wow this is our stock and we are preaching to them. So that happens at festivals and we’re cool with it but we’d much rather be a meter away from a crowd and only 30 cm high so we can look over their heads. The exciting part is the opportunity to do fan conversion. The whole purpose of a festival is to throw people into the mix of music they might not have heard before and I think we like the challenge to win people over. I don’t think our music is naturally predisposed to that job but that’s part of what your job is about. So certainly at EDC, our job really is to win people over. There’ll be a reasonable amount of Ivy Lab fans but there will be plenty of people who have no idea who we are and we’re going to have to put some imagination into how to bring those people into our fan base. I want to play subtle music and not designed for dancing, but I don’t think we’ll have the opportunity to do that. That’s not my job on that day so I’ll modify what I do and play harder. I’d rather play to a smaller crowd and have the freedom to experiment a little bit and throw some curveballs out there. I want that to be the expectation when someone comes to see us.
As Gove and I said our goodbyes, the warehouse was bursting with sounds of experimental bass. The conversation we had really shed light on what it is to be a mature artist and music curator. His salt & pepper beard emulated his experiences and knowledge of music, and his captivating conversation kept me wanting to know more about him and those experiences. Sure, I was a fan of Ivy Lab before this interview, but knowing that a DJ so greatly cares about expanding music boundaries and the musical experience grew my interest in this group.