Ivy Lab has been around the scene for about 15 years now. The now duo formed out of Stray and Sabre got together in 2008, with Halogenix still being a part of the team back then. The latter left the team a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean Ivy Lab has stopped working their way up in the bass scene. 

In the last few years, it has gone hard for the UK duo. Going from drum & bass only, to experimenting with halftime, and bringing in rap and instrumental hip-hop ideas, they are now about to hit their fourth musical phase. We called up Sabre to talk about their musical journey so far, and what they have in store for us in the upcoming year. 

Ivy Lab standing in front of a container

Hi Sabre, how’s it going? Ivy Lab has been bringing out a lot of different genres lately. How did your style evolve exactly throughout the years?

We did three phases already and we’re about to hit the fourth one. The first phase, the first five years until 2015-2016, was very much about drum & bass only. After that, we started experimenting with doing the BPM halftime, and bringing in rap and instrumental hip-hop ideas. For a couple of years, we were combining drum & bass and hip-hop, but by 2017 that hip-hop angle was the main focus of what we did. That’s also around the time that Halogenix left Ivy Lab and started to do his own thing. 

And then from 2018 until last year, we slowly became more and more downtempo, a lot more focused on album – and listening music. We incorporated more emotional ideas and less dancefloor energy and that came together in 2022 with our album Infinite Falling Ground. We still love that style and it’s still what we want to bring more of, but right now we’re going into our fourth phase, which is making drum machine club music. It’s inspired by bass, footwork, Jersey club… 

This upcoming phase that we’re about to release has much less of a hip-hop view to it. It’s useful to know that some of the music we’re about to release is two or three years old because we’ve been waiting for the right time to make this switch. Some other stories needed to be wrapped up first. We look at our music in seasons, we don’t want to jump around too much. Right now, the next season is around the corner. 

So, it’s important to keep reinventing yourself?

Absolutely. In an ideal world, we’d be putting out different stuff all the time, but it isn’t how music releasing works. When you’re huge, you can release whatever you want, but we have quite a modest audience, and we’re mindful of how the conversation around our work takes place in the boutique music space we occupy. Our temptation is just to move on to the next exciting thing, but we have to keep our audience in mind. Just because we want to move on, doesn’t mean they are ready to, so we’ve learned to become more patient as time has gone by.

Is that why you’re doing drum & bass sets again?

The reason we’re doing drum & bass sets again is because the genre feels more exciting again. Our part in D&B was primarily about liquid, and I think that liquid D&B feels more analog now. It used to sound very bottled, made in a factory. The ideas were all perfect and polished, and now we’re hearing more music that feels like it comes from a different place. Tracks that aren’t strictly drum & bass, but still have the same roots. For example, a 170 BPM deep house tune, or R&B tunes that are around 170 BPM. For the last couple of years, you just had liquid drum & bass, inspired by other liquid drum & bass, and that’s what felt boring to me. There’s still a lot of that stuff around, but we also manage to find more interesting tracks now. It made us more excited about making drum & bass again. 

I will disappoint people by saying it’s not one of the main things we’re going to work on, but since we’re putting out other types of club music, we feel like we can focus on drum & bass a little bit more. We’ve had our Critical release in December for example. Another thing is that America loves drum & bass right now. They’ve got a very exciting relationship with it. The younger audience didn’t understand D&B up until a few years ago, but now they absolutely love it, and they’ve got no baggage or history with the genre. They’re very open-minded to any idea, which feels really exciting. There’s something innocent about it, which there isn’t in the European bass scene. Here you’ve already got so many layers, so many generations, and there are so many rules around the genre. 

How do you decide what kind of music you’re going to put out next?

We always make what we feel like making that day. When we feel like we’ve got enough material of one particular genre, we put it together and get ready to release it. 

Where do you find your inspiration?

Movies are probably a big one. We don’t actually listen all that much to any of the genres that we make. I don’t listen to a lot of rap beats. I hardly listen to drum & bass. I do listen to more club and electro stuff now because that’s a very new world for us. So I want to make sure that we understand the rules of the genre, and that we are respectful of them. Other than that, we listen to a lot of music that has nothing to do with electronic music. For example, I listen to ambient, Stray listens to jazz, also a lot of other South American and African music.

Another thing that really inspires us, is live art. There’s something special in seeing a good live performance, to me it’s all about the energy and the vibe in the room, not so much about what’s played on stage. I’m not talking about only music here, it could be dance, theatre, an art installation, you name it. Other forms of art that are similar but removed from the main genre that we do, that’s what inspires us. 

What also helps with creating music, is not trying too hard. If we’re not feeling excited and we don’t feel like we can make music, we’ll just cancel the studio for that day. I’ll go off and do my thing and Stray will do his thing. It goes the other way as well, if we’re feeling positive and productive, we’ll cancel our personal plans and get in the studio right away. 

Ivy Lab posing

Talking about those other forms of art, there seems to be a very close relationship between you and dancers. Why is that?

We kept being tagged in dance videos from around the world, and it’s still going on today. Our music is used a lot in that space. We started to become friends with some of those people who tagged us, the ones we were enjoying the most, and we tried to find ways to work together. We held our own dance competition in London, and from that competition, there were a few events that came about. That way we grew very strong connections in the London dance scene, and now that I know how that scene operates I go to their socials and try to make friends there. I really think dancers are underappreciated and underpaid, they don’t get the same coverage as other artists do. It can be quite a lonely place, so I wanted to build a stronger connection between our music world and their dance world. 

How will you incorporate this in your work going forward?

I’d like to do more dance competitions and work with dancers more, but in all honesty, it was much easier to do at the end of COVID when we weren’t on the road all the time and clubs had just started opening up again. Going forward, I’d like to offer more chances to dancers, but it might become more digital, like commissioning dancers to make videos for us. We’re still going to feature a lot of dance content in our audiovisual show, but will we throw more dance competitions? I don’t know. We’re too busy to run them in the near future but never say never.

You’re talking about how busy you are with touring, so I want to talk to you about your upcoming show for STUDIO in Paris on the 20th of January.

We’re looking forward to that one. It’s been a long time since we played in Paris. We’re planning to play loads of stuff, ranging from footwork and Jersey club to breaks and electro. I’m looking forward to playing some quirky beats, and I’ll for sure play some rap beats and drum & bass. It’s going to be a lot of different genres, from a lot of different worlds. We’ve been playing these different sets for about three months now, and I’ve gained the confidence that this is the right direction to go with Ivy Lab. All the tracks we play are from the same philosophy, even if it’s a different genre. 

The rest of 2024 is already planned out as well. Most of our shows in the upcoming six months are in Europe, and in September we’ll go back to the United States to tour. It’s going to be an interesting year, because we spent 2023 touring non-stop, and this year we are looking forward to going into the studio again. 

Your label TWENTYTWENTY has been growing. What can we expect from it in the future?

It’s been an electronic rap label. Up until this point, it has been very pure in the genre and the styles it has put out. It has always been rap with an electronic twist, or a little bit of trap, or hip hop. We’re still going to support all of those things, and we’re not going to go crazy and put out punk or metal, but we want to diversify the label more, put out more electronic genres. We want to make sure that all of the stuff that we like, all those club genres, maybe even some drum & bass, has a place at our label. 

We wanted to discover if combining all of those different genres was a good idea ourselves first, before pushing the same narrative with our label. The best place to practice and find that out was our DJ sets. When we discovered that it was indeed working, we started putting out some more of this music, and started sharing it with the world but not yet on our own label. And when we get further into the year, we want to make this Ivy Lab and TWENTYTWENTY conversation clearer to the rest of the music scene. We’ve already signed some newer artists, but also some more established artists in the scene. 

We know fully well that we’re not creating anything new, or doing anything groundbreaking with this label. We want to create a space to give established artists a renewed audience with the sound they’ve been pushing for years. We are guests in their space, and I think that’s why we are doing everything so slowly.

ivy lab in the car

Interview conducted in December 2023 by Annelies Rom.

Thanks to Sabre for the great chat. Don’t forget to follow Ivy Lab on socials to find out more about their upcoming work.
You can buy tickets to the STUDIO Invites Ivy Lab, Skeptical, & Subp Yao here.

Ivy Lab