Studio Session: Ivy Lab

August 25, 2017

Ivy Lab announced their arrival on the scene in 2013 when established UK drum and bass producers Halogenix, Sabre and Stray joined forces to delve into the wonky world of halftime drum and bass. Influenced by the likes of J Dilla and Madlib, they focus on high production values and sound design. We chatted to Halogenix ahead of his Grietfest performance about their respective sounds, what drew them to halftime, working in studio as a trio and how to improve your own productions.

You, Sabre and Stray were all established d’n’b producers before forming Ivy Lab. How would you describe your respective sounds?
Sabre I would describe as being very more in the experimental side. Kind of old Konflict influences mixed with your kind of Autonomic. He really carved out his own sound I think. Early stuff was more liquidy stuff. I think the thing about Sabre is that he changed his sound so much over the progression of his career. He started off very rolley, very liquidey then moved on to more experimental, more hardware. I think the fundamental of his sound was just super experimental. Stray again was super experimental but it was much more playful. He had a keen sense of melody. His brother’s a jazz pianist. All about different keys and time signatures. A lot of Stray’s music was experimental in the kind of structuring, in the kind of time signatures and melodic work. My sound was very influenced by early Sabre stuff. Just because that’s some of the first stuff I really got exposed to. My brother knew his brother and I got music from my brother so I got Sabre’s music really early on, so that was some of the early shit I was listening to. My sound I think is an amalgamation of Sabre’s stuff, old Konflict stuff, Breakage - keeping it in drum and bass the influences.

You’re part of the evolution of d&b that saw the birth of halftime. What drew the three of you to that sound?
We were always hip hop heads, all three of us. Our first “love” was hip hop. Before we started writing drum ‘n’ bass I know that Sabre was massively into his golden era hip hop, old Wu Tang. Stray was a massive Dilla fan. I was much more post-era kind of hip hop. I guess modern I guess West Coast stuff. Then we all just started writing drum and bass for some reason but we took the hip hop concept but took it into drum and bass. Took sampling and stuff. And really you say we’re part of the birth of halftime. Halftime is not a new thing. Halftime has been around for a long time. It’s just drum and bass at half the speed. You’ve had people like Breakage, Loxy, DBridge, the whole Autonomic thing. Halftime wasn’t a new thing. Not wanting to sound self-congratulatory, I think what we did which was maybe a little bit different was that we brought in a different sound palette and a different style and called it halftime. Old Loxy stuff, old Breakage stuff, for me that is halftime. It was literally the sounds of drum and bass and half the speed. What we’re doing, we’re taking the kind of LA vibe, kind of wonky Dilla, Madlib, those kinds of beats but applying drum and bass soundscapes to them. The hip hop swing with the drum and bass palette. That’s been done for years but coming from drum and bass I think it was fairly new. So I always try and remind people that halftime is not a new thing. It’s been around for ages. We’ve been here in South Africa, we’ve been listening to old Ninja stuff from Die Antwoord, old Sibot stuff, that stuff could fit in now in our sets, in other people’s sets. You could play that stuff in a Low End Theory set now and people would still vibe off it. It’s like a timeless sound in this scene. We’ve just approached it from a different angle and it’s sparked a bit of interest. But to say we’re part of a birth would be doing all the other people a disservice.

You’re known for a focus on high production values and sound design. Do you have established roles or how do you coordinate production?
No we don’t have established roles. I guess maybe back in the day when we first started writing there was a massive experience gap between me and Stray and Sabre, because Sabre is like a veteran of drum and bass. He’s been around for a long time. He’s schooled in engineering. He’s schooled in a very purist engineering sense. So when it came to those kinds of engineering tasks he would always do them because he was the better one and he still is. But as we’ve developed as a trio we’ve learnt each other’s tricks and we’ve traded each other’s secrets and we’ve picked up off of each other. Which is a great thing. Strength in numbers has been our core asset. So back in the day we had our specific roles but now as we’ve grown and developed it all fuses into one. It’s seldom these days that we actually write together. We do get in the studio a lot and like to finish things off. But the inception of a tune will most likely be down to one person and it’s not specifically one person, it could be any of us. The 20/20 Volume 1 album we put out in 2015 was a real healthy mixture of solo beats from all three of us and then a couple of things we’d written together. I think it was actually 4 tunes from me, 4 from Sabre, 4 from Stray and 4 tunes that we’d written together. Literally a perfect balance. We’ve taken on each other’s sounds. We’ve taken on each other’s aesthetic and skills so now it’s not uncommon that someone will make a tune start to finish and it’s an Ivy Lab tune. So no we don’t split the roles up. If you know what to listen for and if you’re a super fan, then you’ll be able to pick out who’s done what. But that being said there are things where people have come up to me and I’ve told this story to people and they say ‘Oh wow that makes a lot of sense because this thing sounds like that person did it’ and I’m like nah they didn’t do that.

If you were to give someone one piece of advice for them to find their musical voice in the way Ivy Lab has, what would be it?
Consume a lot of music. Don’t be scared to listen to other people’s shit and take influence from that because as soon as you start putting yourself in this box of I only make this or I only like that then you’re going to sound like everyone else. Just because your point of reference is so small. If you have a wide point of reference then you’re going to be able to draw from so many different ideas. And like I was saying, the shit we’re doing isn’t ground breaking. It’s not pioneering in many ways. That’s because we’re taking stuff from Dilla, we’re taking stuff Madlib, we’re taking stuff from Eprom, we’re taking stuff from Chee, Noisia. We’re taking stuff from everybody and going ‘I like that, that like trick, that little sound, that’s really cool. Let me try and do that, but let me try do it in my own way. And it’s really about being able to command your workstation properly. Knowing the tools at your disposal. Not giving yourself too much to do. Learning one thing really well. Learn one EQ really well, learn one compressor really well. Don’t bog yourself down with all this new shit. I’m guilty as anybody of doing that. A new plugin comes out and I’m like I need to try that! No, I use the same compressor, I use the same equaliser time and time again, because I know it really well and I know how it sounds. And I know that when I want something to sound a certain way I know how to do it with that tool. I think the consuming music part, it just gives you more of a reference point. I hardly listen to halftime, I hardly listen to drum and bass when I’m not DJing or I’m not making it because I’m sick of it! That gives me an advantage because I have ideas that exist out of that world that I can bring into that world.

Catch Ivy Lab alongside headliners The Prototypes, Billy Kenny and support from some of the best local acts at this year's Grietfest. Click here for more info and to buy tickets.

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