Ivy Lab’S 20/20 Party Turns One
For a few years drum and bass seemed to have lost its way, careening down a path of Radio 1 friendly EDM-influenced bangers. But as ever with a genre that’s been hijacked by majors, there were those who dug in and resisted the lure of commerciality.
The fruits of this underground resistance have been inescapable in the last few years and Stray’s latest ‘Paradise’ EP on dBridge’s peerless Exit Records confirms what anyone who’s been listening in has suspected for some time; that drum and bass is producing the rawest, most futuristic dancefloor shit out there.
Amalgamating drumstep, footwork and modern hip-hop’s varieties into d&b’s Amen heritage, and capitalising on analogous tempos, Exit has been one of the key labels in this renaissance. So too has Stray, otherwise known as London producer Jonathan Fogel – who is also part of scene super group Ivy Lab, alongside Sabre and Halogenix, releasing on Kasra’s Critical Music, a label with its ethos on its (record) sleeve.
Ivy Lab have been running their own party, 20/20, for the last year now. Celebrating its first birthday at the Silver Bullet in Finsbury Park on Wednesday 17th June, with dBridge headlining, we caught up with Stray to find out more…
Your new EP showcases such a spread of sounds. Paradise feels like it would be at home on Brainfeeder, Branflakes is like Egyptian Empire meets Domu, while Without U is pure junglist dancefloor fire. It seems that footwork, and the whole fast/slow thing, melded with drum and bass and has made it the most open-minded and creative scene at the moment. Do you feel that freedom in the studio?
I just like to listen to and write a lot of different styles of music, I've always been that way. A lot of producers are like that; the trick is to 'choose' which styles it's worth finishing and releasing tracks in, and consolidate that with your own notion of being cohesive and marketable as an artist. A number of factors, including those you've describe, have meant that drum and bass has recently shifted away from being considered the bastard child of the underground electronic dance music scene. This makes my life easier since it means a broader range of styles for me to pick from when considering what I can put out there whilst retaining credibility as an artist operating within the scene. That's not to say it's just a case of sitting back and waiting for your genre to become open minded enough; you have to contribute yourself by taking small risks one step at a time – everyone pitches in and slowly pushes things in the direction they want it to go, thereby facilitating their ability to release a wider variety of sounds without needing to go and create a bunch of new aliases.
Does it translate to the dancefloor, too?
Yeah, it's pretty much exactly the same process. You can't just one day wake up and decide on everyone's behalf that drum and bass now has these massive wonky hip-hop and jungle-juke branches to it, and that you can turn up and play an entire set of this shit to a dancefloor full of people expecting rollers. But you can start dropping in a tune here, a tune there, and before you know it people actually start requesting more of that sound. The variation is always key though; I'm enjoying DJing a lot these days because loads of producers are coming with all these hybrid tracks that work amazingly to segue between all the different flavours of 80-90/160-170 out there at the moment. It means you can piece sets together that are slick and cohesive but cover tons of ground, which definitely keeps things interesting for me as a DJ.
Drum and bass seems to be a very tribal culture, perhaps because of the outlying tempo. But most people who are into it are also big into hip-hop. Why is that? Is it down to the love of breakbeats and sampling? Or simply that you’re able to mix it into the double time of drum and bass?
Yeah, the two genres share a similar ethos when it comes to creative use of samples and an emphasis on swung breakbeat grooves. It's true that any junglist could find a natural affinity with a hip-hop track that sits around the 80-90bpm mark, but that can't tell us the whole story because there's a lot of hip-hop out there at completely different tempos as well. Like at the moment, you could run a 140 section of your set and easily flex between some 70bpm trap and a dubstep track.
Drum and bass is tribal, which necessitates maintaining some of its rules and regulations when experimenting on its fringes. That's exactly why Mefjus' recent Sunday Crunk remix [of Ivy Lab] worked so well in showing people the potential of this emerging fusion – it was totally engineered and arranged like a drum and bass track, but it takes many of its rhythmic cues from hip-hop.
How important have dBridge and Exit been in encouraging you to experiment?
Hugely. It's clearly been the label's ethos from day one. But not to experiment for experimentations sake, it has to be purposeful experimenting with what can be done with the genre in the name of good music… There's a difference and dBridge knows the difference.
You’re part of Ivy Lab, alongside Sabre and Halogenix, but you were already producing tunes together for Critical before that. How do you know each other?
When I was at university, one of my flatmates showed up one day with a CD of music a friend of a friend had given him. That friend of a friend was Halogenix and the music on the CD was so good that I got in touch with him straight away to see if we could work with each other. Pretty much around exactly the same time, Sabre had gotten in touch with me after I sent through some tracks to his SoundCloud account suggesting that we hook up and write some music. Completely by chance it also turned out that Sabre's brother and Halogenix's brother studied architecture together at uni, and that they'd also been hanging out and making some music together as a result. It wasn't long before the three of us got into the studio together and the rest is history.
What’s the process with three of you in the studio?
Basically whoever is feeling the most creative in that moment in time mans the buttons whilst the other two sit around on laptops shouting 'that's sick' or 'that's shit' whilst working on artwork, answering emails, doing accounting, doing interviews, doing 20/20 stuff or just looking at stupid videos of cats on YouTube.
Do you ever disagree over creative decisions or have you got that kind of telepathic connection that happens when you’re all coming from the same place?
We mostly see eye to eye and come from the same place. When there are disagreements it just comes down to whoever shouts the loudest, and there's probably a subconscious parity to which way the decisions end up going so that no one gets overly pissed. After working for so long with people you figure out how to stay on everyone’s good side in the interests of productivity, but it helps a lot that we all naturally get on well on a personal level. With creative decisions we're all still huge fans of each other’s music and this generally translates to being fans of each other’s ideas in the studio.
There’s been a lot written about the problems faced by London club land but Ivy Lab’s 20/20 party is just about to turn one. How have you found running your own party?
It's been amazing. We found our feet pretty easily as a result of having identified a clear gap in the market. Collectively we put a hell of a lot of work into promoting and curating the nights, and we're all really proud of what we've created and its ability to stand on its own two feet in this city. It's the night we all like DJing at the most now – our crowd really know what’s up. I'm sure as we look to expand further we'll run into larger problems to conquer, but we're willing to take this on because we believe so strongly in its potential.
What’s the ethos behind it and what have been some of the highlights of the last year?
We wanted to give an emerging scene a home. There weren't any other nights that routinely and exclusively played host to artists experimenting in the hinterlands between hip-hop, footwork and drum and bass. Highlights have been ongoing! Everyone we've had down to play has smashed it and looked like they properly enjoyed themselves, which is really rewarding to see. There have been some great moments – a spontaneous b2b2b2b session at the end of our December night, seeing Om Unit draw some ridiculous throwback jungle set when we had him down, getting Sinistarr over from Detroit was great, the crowd vibing to Jon 1st showcasing his expansive trickery on the 1s and 2s, and generally every time we step up to play ourselves at the end of the night. I get properly excited to show everyone all this weird new shit we've been making so much of.
If people like your sound, where else would you recommended to go that you might have played?
Exit label nights! Also, give one of the Soulection Records parties a spin when they next touch down in London. I'm also finding Birthdays in Dalston to be really on point with its midweek bookings of late. The club has recently played host to the likes of Mr Carmack, Flako, Mndsgn, Kutmah and a whole host of other heads from the beats scene.
We’ve seen that Ivy Lab are doing a boat party at Outlook. What else have you got going on this year in terms of parties and releases?
The plan is to turn 20/20 into a label and bring the night first to other UK cities, then further afield. Watch this space!
Hear more music at Stray’s SoundCloud and Ivy Lab’s SoundCloud. Find out the full line-up for 20/20’s first birthday on Wednesday June 17th at the Facebook event page here.
Joining The Circus
What to do for British politics?
Solidarity with Ukraine
URL vs. IRL
Do DJs Today Need Social Media to Be Heard?
I Hear (Borusiade Remix)
Mother of MarsShop Now
Hologram TeenShop Now