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Ivy Lab talk politics, streaming, their new EP series & more

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Everybody in our music beloved music industry got their fair share of ‘shit hits the fan‘ situations in 2020. But despite or simply because of the pandemic Gove & Jay, the minds behind Ivy Lab got pretty creative to create a refuge for music and arts as well as stranded artists with their 20/20 Global concept. Best described as one of those 90’s music TV channels on demand picking up the global hype of streamable DJ sets and live performances live to your living room all through Twitch. To wrap it all up the duo sat together after the closing of the first season and finished the total of 15 tracks for an all-new EP series topped off with amazing artwork by Above Ground. 

I hopped on a call with Gove and Jay aka Ivy Lab and it quickly resulted in a very positive in-depth talk about their fears, politics, streaming, the aforementioned EP series, and everything in between. For me, it is more than clear that Ivy Lab once again prove their adaptability and will to their music returning stronger than ever by forming a much stronger symbiosis building upon what the other half can do best. Their new sound might not appeal a vast majority of simply everyone but that was never their point. It’s laid back, dark at times but also very positive and less aggressive as let’s say ‚Orange‘ with bass don dada Amon Tobin. The whole situation with the absence of club gigs and that sort of thing affected the duo in a way that there might be a live project coming. Hold tight! But let’s cut the whole introduction part and hop right in shall we?

How are you guys holding up with these obviously uncertain times?

J: It’s definitely difficult in a way it is for a lot of people who operate within our industry in a sense that there’s clubs been closed so we haven’t been able to go and do our main line of work if that makes sense. But I think that we’ve been trying to look at what we can do in the absence of that and within the first lockdown there was the 20/20 Global streams which I think helped to keep our presence afloat. It was a really good opportunity to get some interesting arts out there wasn’t it G?

G: Yeah, I think we’re holding up okay. We were lucky because it feels like there’s a little bit of a divide between artists who have savings and no savings and artists who live in a country where your government doesn’t take care of you. In the UK, as musicians, we’ve been thrown under a bus. Our government is not taking care of us. They’re not really trying very hard or be very imaginative how they can take care of us and J and I are quite lucky, we have savings. That means that we haven’t had to panic and go: “Well, that’s it, we need to form a new career”. That won’t last forever and we are approaching a moment where we need a bit of clarity about how much longer this is gonna go on and in our own heads that horizon keeps moving. When this started our horizon was maybe now, we thought maybe now it would have been better but that’s not gonna happen. The next horizon we hoped for was March / April. I don’t think that’s gonna happen either. So, now we’re thinking about this time next year. It’s about: “Can we survive for another twelve months?” We probably can, just about. That provides you with relief in some senses and I guess compared to many people we were very very fortunate and we appreciate that. You know, apart from the streams and apart from having things to apply ourselves to just on how positive do we feel about our own futures. We’re okay! I really do feel for all of our friends who are looking at this and are not okay! We’re just gonna keep trying our best. Like they can’t go on forever! 

J: With not being overly corny about it, there’s an element of being in it together which shields us a lot from some of the difficulties. I would say, just personally at least, that the times which have been most difficult are times that the nature of the lockdown has prevented us from actually getting together in person to work on stuff but even just to talk stuff through and structurize and think about how we’re gonna get through this. The times where we not been able to do this we started to float a little bit. 

G: Woah, when we weren’t together during the first lockdown you started looking for jobs and I started looking for jobs too. Not like applying to jobs unnecessarily but thinking about it. What can we do when we’re not doing Ivy Lab. 

Basically what the government advised, re-schooling?

Both: Pretty much. 

G: We looked at our industry and we thought night clubs are super unique in the UK in terms of being thrown under a bus. Theatres are back, dance venues are back, cinemas have gone away and came back and stuff. There’s never ever been a conversation about how do we rescue night clubs. None at all! 

Yeah, same with Germany, at least they dropped some money. But in the end, it’s a state loan and you need to give it back at some point. So, wasn’t really helping, couldn’t even pay your private rent with it! It felt almost like it’s seen as if the artists have created this situation themselves!

G: It’s also very destabilizing because when you’re looking towards the future you need to be thinking about who historically has helped us earn a living because you can look back and say: “Well this promotion outfit or this touring company or this record label, they’ve put £2000, £5000, £10000 into our pocket every year”. Some of the people are not gonna be around next year. We can’t budget really and go: “Those guys have been really good to us in the past, they gonna continue to be good to us”. They may not be around. This club may have booked us three times last year in 2019 or in 2018 but we can’t expect to get another booking. We can’t be sure. So, what are we saving ourselves for? Are we gonna survive the lockdown and also the pandemic? And then we emerge to a music landscape that’s very hostile. 

Uncertain! 

G: It’s very uncertain! We spent all of our savings on just trying to survive, not retraining, not trying to find a new career. And then everything suddenly opens up and we’re like: “Actually we’re not viable here because all the places that make us viable are all closed down and none of us knows how that’s gonna work out”. Arts charities have stepped in in the UK and have given out generous sums of money. Probably in total a few tens of millions but that’s not enough to save a whole industry. I guess, for our point of view our mentality has been that when everything opens up again when bookings are going up again, let’s just make the most viable propositions and configuration for what Ivy Lab could be so that we have the best chance of re-emerging with strength. And at the stage, if we discover it’s still not good enough and we’re still not gonna survive then fine, so be it. At least we tried the hardest we could do it. If we would just sulk our way through lockdown or just feel sorry for ourselves and then emerge and then we wouldn’t be viable. We would have been looking with very serious regrets about how things had ended. That’s not where we’re at. I think we’re very proud of how we’ve conducted ourselves throughout the process and I think we’ve kept ourselves very visible, creative and active. So, fingers crossed! I’m hoping that as long as anything else is still in place when we re-emerge we’re in an active position as opposed to some being in hibernation. So, don’t think we’re in hibernation! 

Not at all! It will be interesting to see what happens next year if everything opens up or not! As you said, it might be totally different but I think it might be an interesting time for new creative approaches on music because the club scene as we know it won’t be the same no more! 

G: It might do, it might not do. I’d like to hope it does. I mean we’ve got the additional issue that our audience has very heavily transitioned to the United States over the years. So, on top of COVID, you’ve got the politics of the US factoring into what is possible or what we’re able to do. I don’t know about Jay but honestly, right now say COVID didn’t exist but all the politics exist in the US, I feel a little bit uncomfortable about necessarily going around the United States. It feels like quite a dangerous place and a very unsettled place. So, if that all fixes itself, Biden and whatever and then COVID fixes itself and Brexit as well, right? 

Yes!

G: Who knows what’s gonna happen with that. If that fixes itself I’m good, fine but if any one of those things goes really badly wrong then we’ll have to see how things pan out. It’s a tricky time, a very tricky time! 

But it’s nice to see and hear that you guys are staying optimistic. That exactly is what’s needed. 

G: Yeah, I think so. Like I said, we’re very very very lucky. We can keep staying optimistic because some of the more destabilizing factors in other peoples lives aren’t applying to us. He’s in a very loving relationship, I’ve got a son who keeps my head in a very good positive space. Those relationships have not been impacted by COVID, really. In fact, my relationship with my kid got even stronger. I don’t live with my son but I see him much more than I was seeing him previously. That’s been amazing for him but also really amazing for me. We can keep staying optimistic. 

Yeah, personal relationships got pretty important during the pandemic! Maybe the people forgot how that was! 

G: Yeah, I think I fall in the same category, Jay, you probably do as well? 

J: Yeah! 

Despite or simply because of the pandemic you guys got pretty creative and launched the 20/20 Global concept, which you mentioned earlier. Will there be more of that in the foreseeable future?

G: Obviously we called it a season and that sets up an expectation for a follow-up season and we have some conditions to be met in order to do the next season. I think they’re still yet to be met. Number One is to do this properly and legally because the Twitch video streaming thing was technically not permitted for broadcasting legal music. Everyone who does it acknowledges that even down to the huge global corporates who have platforms on Twitch and are broadcasting music. 

Even the gaming streamers! 

G: Even the gaming streamers and whatnot! I think the streams could be something super viable for us. The 20/20 Global stream itself, the concept behind it, the magazine concept could be super viable but it involves a bunch of investments to take it up a level and paying content providers as well. I don’t seek investment and I don’t if it looks like we’re all gonna get shut down. It’s unclear whether we will get shut down or not. We want to do more. I’m just not sure that the contracts and the agreements exist within the music industry and the streaming platforms to an extent that we’re happy with. To allow us to do more. We wanna do more, that’s the best way to explain it. 

That’s understandable! 

G: There’s definitely a bit of energy gone from the streaming. I think people got a little bit sick of it and they’re all like: ‚This is a lot of the same thing.‘. Everyone being on that platform means that you’re competing with too many other people. It would’ve been nice to see more people group together into collectives and as a collective take charge of one channel. So it’s programmed like a TV station. I mean all of us were all launching TV stations, that’s what we were basically doing. But you can’t just have one program running an entire station. You need to have different ones. We wanted to do that and there are loads of ways how we could have done that but they involve investment bringing people in. I think we’ve got the contacts and the knowhow and maybe even the access to investment to do that but we can’t do ’til we know it’s properly done. It’s coming but when, we don’t know. We’ll have to wait. 

But it made some serious waves in its lifetime for now. I mean the fusion of lots of different entities like visual artists, musical artists and the broad array of genres you brought to the table. 

G: Thank you! I think it’s just music we like. 

J: Of the artists we booked!

G: Yeah!

J: I think, we made no compromises and are very proud of how everything came out. 

G: Yeah, there were no compromises at all. There was never a point where I was like: “Yeah, we have to do this because it’s gonna bring someone who’s gonna stream big numbers to make this happen”. It was always just letting the concept do the talking. The concept totally worked but it is no different to what a lot of cable music video channels operate under. It’s actually the same model. Some of the automated cable music video channels just play visuals on the top of the music. It’s the same concept as that which is why we’re so viable. We weren’t reinventing the wheel. We were just taking something that already exists on satellite and cable television and putting it on the internet instead. I’m really confident that it’s not us but somebody else will come along and do it on a higher standard. There are already other people who are doing it. We’re just tuned out at the moment to focus on other things. 

It must be pretty time and energy consuming and a mess to coordinate, right? 

G: Yes especially during these streams as we weren’t together. We didn’t see each other at all throughout the whole streams. For instance, all the Ivy Lab sets where we couldn’t work on together Jay would do and I would just run the TV station. It gave us very specific things to do. I’ll deal with all these people, book all the artists and do the artwork and run the Twitch relationship and all that stuff. 

J: Gove was kind enough to do all the heavy lifting and give me the fun part which I’m really thankful for. 

G: Jay, got our studio as it’s in J’s house, and I didn’t have enough stuff to make music in my house but I have enough equipment and knowledge to do all the video editing and stuff that goes on with putting the streams together and making all the promos. We have this team from a friend of ours who would be doing all our social media for us, God bless them. Which is super important because, at that time, this is April / May / July, we didn’t do any of our social media. We skipped June because of Black Lives Matter. We’re not into social media anyway on a personal level. We only have accounts so that we can talk about Ivy Lab or 20/20 stuff. When we were paying someone to do our social media for us we didn’t look at social media at all and our heads are much much better because of it. All of the worst periods, including Black Lives Matter, in social media conversation and online toxicity, we didn’t see any of that. We were working, we’re doing our thing. We’re paying people who are experts in social media to that. Actually, they proper did a decent part of the heavy lifting, of making it work. I said to Jay: ‚Just get in the studio, start running demos, make mixes for us. You do what you’re best at over here and when this is all finished we get together and get creative together. I’ll just get on and put these streams together and make sure that we’re visible throughout the summer and throughout the earliest parts of lockdown.’. We weren’t totally engaged with this streaming thing and we had no intention as streamers before lockdown, before COVID. Our management basically told us to. 

J: Yeah, there where Ivy Lab sets on the streams. Every month, sometimes every two weeks according to time. I found one of the benefits about it was as I got into the ground with new music it was useful to put these streams together week in week out because as a DJ you have to to be up to date with new music. But the thing about DJ sets is that you can have a fair degree of crossover with the music that is played from one town to another whether that’s your own music or the music from friends or music that you discovered that’s new at the moment. I feel like, when you’re broadcasting streams because of the possibilities of a serious amount of overlap from city to city, or the same city, it’s the same people. That puts good pressure to write new demos and also find new music. But that hunt, I was really trawling the internet and just resourced more than I remember doing before and that caused a kind of a mess. This new pool of artists and new music and new demos as well.

G: And also I didn’t really have the time to look out for new music whilst we’re making the streams because I’m so busy doing all this editing and trying to organize artists. Many of them were very demoralized by COVID. You’re asking them: “Can you contribute to the stream?” and they’re like: “What’s the point? Am I even gonna be able to use this in the future, is this going to help me?” That process of trying to explain to people the artistic merit of the streams involved a lot of phone calls and a lot of community building. But it meant that I wasn’t able to gain the therapeutic value of discovering new music. I didn’t need to because this guy (points to Jay) is populating a folder in Dropbox every week of shortlisting tracks that could feature in the next stream. I’m hearing all this new music throughout April to July and he’s almost curating music on my behalf and I’m making sure that Ivy Lab runs and 20/20 still has a presence. We’re both very busy, busy at things we like doing. I didn’t love all the administrative stuff but I did enjoy it and it kept me really structured and organized. 

That’s what a lot of people are missing at the moment, structure…

J: Yeah, structure!

G: And deadlines! The stream was on Thursday night and By Wednesday afternoon I was all over the place. Wednesdays where never fun during the streams because if it wasn’t ready by then I’d feel quite stressed but I like that stress, I need it! I really do need that pressure and the fear of losing. It really drives me. The fear that we could make fools of ourselves or not do justice to the time and effort that I contributed into our work spurred me on to be productive. I don’t know what would’ve happened during the first lockdown if  I hadn’t had those things. I probably would’ve gotten into gaming and sitting around. That would’ve been very easy for me to do. That has happened in the past where I was really into gaming for like a month or two and it totally takes over. 

Sometimes it’s just easier for people to just resignate and do it the easy way, being lazy and playing video games! 

G: I’m not an actual gamer. I don’t really play games all the time but when I get bored or I find myself lost in direction gaming is a quite easy thing to get into quickly. I’ll just download a couple of games on my PS4 and play the same games solidly for ten hours a day for three or four weeks. I know it’s not but I feel like I’m wasting my time and not using effectively whilst gaming. I know it’s actually re-creational, it can be uplifting and it can give you goals. Even if it’s goals within the game. 

J: I have a Switch and I play it a lot and wether playing it is a waste of time or not is depending on the time of day and whether it’s a weekend or not very much. For example, I’m playing it for a couple of hours on a Tuesday mid-afternoon I’d be like: “That’s a waste of time”.

G: Which is funny because that sounds healthy to me!

J: Play it in the evening around 8 o’clock after you eat dinner or something I’m like: “Whatever, cool!” Weekends, the same thing. What I’ve gotten in a pattern of doing is, whilst I’m in the studio making music or actually doing anything administrative, I’ll keep myself a couple of games on the Switch as like a little break reward and then go back. I found, when I started doing that, it actually helped pull up my music production. It’s a way of breaking out. We actually found this for years, right. You guys got an Xbox in the studio. 

G: When Laurence (Halogenix) was still part of it he had an Xbox in the studio and I used to just play Call Of Duty in the background sometimes whilst these two are making beats.

J: Just shouting stuff out. 

G: I played one level, put it down, come and use the workstation. Maybe a few hours later I come back and finish the level. 

J: I never benefitted from that because I never really been into first person shooter games.  I’m more the Mario kind of guy. 

I think with gaming there’s this small gap between escapism and, as you said Gove, time waste! Take me for instance, I play a rogue-like game where you start all over again when you die with nothing equipped and everything’s random and it’s the same as with you Jay. It totally depends on day or time and you’ll need to treat my time differently. 

J: Weekends have been difficult in these times particularly because we haven’t got to do a show, for instance, nothing structured. I found it sooo important to maintain that too, exactly like you said, treat your time differently even if that’s seemingly arbitrary. You actually need to split your time like this: “I would allow myself to do this and this because it’s the weekend”. I sleep in a bit for the weekend and I get up early in the middle of the week and I think that has helped so much as well.

G: I’m quite the opposite. On the weekends my kid stays with me and he wakes up at like 6 am in the morning and I’ve got to keep him entertained for fifteen hours. So I have these very exhausting weekends. Actually, it’s exhausting all the time. 

J:  You got one day a week! 

G: On Friday morning I mostly get to sleep in a bit and that’s it. 

Children right? So, now the EP series, first ‘Fidget’, then ‘Teacup’ now ‘Blonde’- time in the studio spent well?

G: So, back to the timeline, this is July. We finished the streams. The last stream is the last Thursday of July and by the following Tuesday, we’ve got a load of equipment that we’ve bought from Reverb in boxes that arrived at Jay’s house. We spent the first week of August rebuilding the studio. We’ve bought some outboard like some distortion units, a summing amp, a little effects unit thing and a new desk. Kind of like making the whole thing more fun to work with but also very arrangement and mixdown orientated. All these demos that Jay had started during the streams all were put together and went turning them into finished tracks. I did start some but not as many as him. Which is where we’re best at. Jay is very good with coming out with ideas and I’m way better at engineering and doing arrangements particularly. We had this big body of 30 seconds and one-minute tracks that we got to test on the streams as well to see what people thought of them, went on finishing them and gave us a deadline of seven weeks. We wanna finish 20 of these in seven weeks