For our latest NEST Eats Out adventure, we took Ivy Lab‘s Gove out for some of Los Angeles’ best ramen located in the heart of Silverlake, aptly named Silverlake Ramen. We knew our UK lord and savior of drum and bass and halftime deserved nothing less. We had the pleasure of chatting about everything from music and the resurgence of drum and bass to politics and the current state of cultural appropriation. Just like the spicy shoyu and tonkatsu we got, there are some hot takes in here. Without further adieu, let’s dive headfirst into what turned into a wonderful night of friends, food, and conversation.
Sadye: Musically do you and your two partners contribute in the same way?
Gove: Mostly in the same way. That’s the problem with electronic music. Whoever is at the computer is in charge, that’s not the dynamic of a band. Everyone has their own little station – guitar, drums. With electronic music, the person with the computer is kingpin. If you want to be that person you have to be familiar with everything, so we all are.
Sadye: So is there one chair in front of the computer?
Gove: No, but there is a master chair which everyone wants because it’s the comfiest and most ergonomic. We’ve got a real “ass rubbed in” leather sofa. We share our studio with Foreign Beggars.
Nathan: Do you guys work together a lot?
Gove: I went to university with Foreign Beggars. I’ve known one of them for 20 years. We only collaborated for the first time six months ago.
Nathan: Damn, what took so long?
Gove: Our paths weren’t crossing for a long time. There were off on a different thing and we didn’t see each other so much.
Nathan: When did you move into that studio?
Gove: About a year ago. It’s called 1087, it’s a good complex, man. It’s in north London which is hood but it’s pretty close to where I’m from. Next door to us is Perez and the Upbeats, Kasabian, the back studio is SBTRKT who moved in overnight. I never see him, I don’t know what he looks like. PC music had three studios, Goldpanda has one. This guy called Shane, who is like the preeminent recording guy for all the grime artists in the UK.
Nathan: Wow, so there is probably people coming through all the time.
Gove: Yeah, the other day I knocked on the door because Shane’s car was blocking my car and asked if he could let me out and there were 17 guys in the room. Section Boyz and 67 were all in there.
Sadye: What do you do when you’re really stressed out?
Gove: Do nothing. I like being stressed out or under pressure. I tend to underperform when I’m not under pressure. You gotta focus your attention a little bit, like I have four days at this Airbnb right next to a dispensary. I could just sit there and be high the whole time. The other thing is that there are some incredible advantages to being on tour with an album coming out. I’ve now got an army of promoters around the country who are reposting and sharing everything to their individual markets when anything happens. When the album goes live there will be 12 promoters who have really decent followings posting on their walls. The “Cake” video came and I shared it to them.
Nathan: That video blew me away. Who did that?
Gove: A guy called Justin Conte. I think he’s a bit of a polymath multitalented type dude but he’s also a teacher at the Broadway School of Dance in New York. He’s primarily a dancer and the other dancer in the video is his husband. The girl dancer, Nadine, is from LA and I’m looking forward to meeting her while I’m out here. They made a live dance theatre art performance video with one of tracks and tagged us on Instagram when they put it up. We commented and said, “this is really cool” and they said, “that means a lot.” They did it again to a different track and I just said look, we should try and do something. We threw something out there and they came back with this three page PDF and said the money you’ve offered is no good, I need this. He broke down everything he was going to spend on and I felt really confident on how they we’re going to do it.
Nathan: What’s a good, average cost for a music video?
Gove: I really don’t know. I’m guessing most people are spending 5,000 to 10,000 dollars. We spent a lot less than that because we were unsure about the merits of a music video. Is it for prosperity so that people find it when they search for you down the line, is it a promotional tool of the moment? I think it’s a combination of the two.
Nathan: Everyone wants video content.
Sadye: People spend 1.5 seconds per picture but they’ll watch a two-minute video.
Nathan: There’s just so much content, how do you keep up with it? It’s almost like a defense mechanism.
Gove: We’re of the opinion that if you haven’t got anything interesting to say, just say nothing. We’re not naturally comical and we’re not show-offs either. We don’t really talk about our professions and we don’t have any qualms about watching other people do that, but that’s not us. I don’t want to synthesize that just for content.
Nathan: You get that vibe in the music too. You guys really appreciate the negative and empty space in the music. You use it to accentuate the sounds that you are making. The sound design is unbelievable too. Do you guys have a bank that you’ve built or how much time do you spend on sound design?
Gove: We sample a lot. We sample from ’70s library music a lot. Our music is incredibly simple. I’m really humbled that people think our sound design is great. We’ve got a mantra of keeping everything as simple as possible. If something is on the page that can be readapted, we’d rather work really hard to make that part work than to throw another element on the page. If you listen to a track and feel like something needs to happen rather than trying to add something new to it, we’ll just go back and investigate what’s already there that could do something more and reimagine it. This is how bands work — if you get to three minutes in your track and feel something needs to happen, you write a bridge. You don’t get another musician to come in and start playing a new instrument. You work with what’s already there in your ensemble.
Sadye: If every DJ heard that they’d be like, “What the hell.”
Gove: Well, it’s something I’m trying to get across to a lot of people we are working with on the label. This is a SoundCloud internal feedback problem. Because with SoundCloud, your primary audience and the people that comment are other producers. So their measure of success and what they value in music is sound design and technicality. So if those people are commenting that this part of your track is crazy, then the next time you make a track you start using that feedback to influence what you make. We don’t come from that world, we get direct feedback from the people in clubs when we play our music. We learned what really matters for our niche is melody and earworm, the catchiness of it. “Cake” is pure earworm. The fact that the vocal sample is so untreated and it’s really predictable when it’s going to show up. You don’t want to be in the audience wanting to sing along to the “Boy I got my mind on cake,” but not knowing when it’s going to come. We’ve offered total predictability so as an audience member when it comes, you can sing along.
Nathan: Well, it’s also interesting because you did it in a non-obvious way. The whole intro is very soundscape and experimental but you have those two queues leading up to it. You have that sharp rub and then that second sharp rub and then boom.
Jordan: It sounds almost like you’re clearing your throat.
Nathan: Like that old cough from that trap tune, “Rollup.”
Gove: Yeah, we intentionally made the intro as atonal and non-earworm as possible so you hadn’t gotten used to something grand. It’s so bland and so empty so when everything else happens it’s like a palate cleanser like cucumber juice.
Sadye: You start to doubt it but by the end of the song you’re like, “What the fuck just happened?”
Gove: We had to totally reimagine the song. When Lawrence left he didn’t like the fact that we were going to use that song and wanted us to remove some things. It’s absolutely fine between us, this is not a bone of contention, Ivy Lab music is all solo music just thrown into the pot for everyone to benefit from. “Cake” was one of the collaborative tracks we worked on, but Lawrence said “I think it’s going to be better if the bits I’ve done get taken out and we reimagine it.” That second was nothing like what it is now.
Sadye: What was it like before?
Gove: Very trappy.
Nathan: How would you describe the sound on that second half?
Gove: It’s icy. It’s glassy and glacial.
Nathan: It’s trap Wes Anderson.
Gove: Haha, yeah.
Sadye: When you make your songs, do you have an idea in your head or do you just see what you come up with?
Gove: We write concept music. We very specifically make music with the idea of lifting a sound aesthetic from a different genre. The whole idea of what we do is the beats and the baseline is our bread and butter. Everything else, we think about other genres that exist and try to tip our cap to them. So we’ll turn that around and want to make a very Chicago house-oriented tune. If you listen to our tunes there’s a lot of acid house and Chicago house IDs and arrangements that are like them.
Nathan: So with this album, what genres are you tipping your hat to?
Gove: “Cake” is a drum and bass tune.
Nathan: What do you listen to in your free time? Do you have even have time to listen to other music?
Gove: I don’t listen to beats or trap stuff at all. I put on alternative hip-hop like Injury Reserve and Earth Gang. I like ‘out there’ shit that is trying to push the boundaries. I’m a massive Tommy Cash fan. I like shit that’s distorted and weird. British hip-hop has become so good. Now you have all this youthful hip-hop that isn’t stuck in previous ideas getting made.
Nathan: What do you think of Sgt Pokes?
Gove: I love those guys but they are live MCs that haven’t transitioned to studio MCs and that’s a curse for all these guys.
Nathan: What is the big difference?
Gove: Your lyricism needs to be of a different nature when you’re live. No one wants to hear you go off and preach and sometimes they never stop.
Nathan: You also have the LEVELZ guys. They are like the Brockhampton of live MCs. Each track is a huge cypher. I think they’re amazing.
Gove: We are all big LEVELZ fans. It’s tough for a crew of that size, you’re always going to get outliers and a range of talent. Some are going to be able to shine through it and some are going to lend themselves to the studio and some people aren’t.
Jordan: I remember it was Holy Ship that Noisia said in 2018, drum and bass is going to come back really big in America. What’s your take on that?
Gove: I think the problem with drum and bass in North America is you don’t have enough hometown heroes. If you imagine 10 years ago you had Infiltrata who is now 12th Planet, Ewun who is now Kill the Noise, Mayhem who does dubstep now, Craze came and went, Gridlock is still massive but he left and he’s practically European now. All of these household names who were able to inspire the generation down from them to come up and arguably the biggest North American act right now is René LaVice. Essentially, you can’t run a community based on importing people from Europe. Unless your crowd can look up and go, “That guy is like me,” it’ll never work. All that shit really matters; people want to feel connected to the artists.
Nathan: Now that you say that, it kind of makes sense why The Chainsmokers are as big as they are, ’cause people from New York grew up with them. College friends of mine in New York are friends with them and they are the people who are paying for these festivals.
Gove: The Brits took dubstep to a certain level here, but who really slingshotted it and made it into this huge thing — it was when American acts took it over. Rusko and Caspa got to a really nice healthy level. They were earning good money over here, but when it tipped over into superstar or millionaire level it was all American acts that did it.
Nathan: I agree.
Gove: I had a big conversation with Infiltrata about these years ago about the introduction of drum and bass in the American market and how it wasn’t done as street music. UK drum and bass is street music. Here, it’s not the same. If you can have the idea that this is street music, you can market the street sensibility of the music to people who are easily influenced or fascinated with music that has urban leanings. It’s a classic dynamic that funds half of urban music. It’s the idea that vicariously you can buy into slightly dangerous urban music from the safety of your living room.
Nathan: What do you think about that?
Gove: Well first off, I don’t think it’s new. I think it’s people being fascinated by the lifestyles and behaviors of other people and wanting to feel as if they understand the story, whether they buy into it, react to it, or try and fix it, or condemn it. I don’t think there is any shame in actually being interested in people’s lives. I find myself doing that for a whole bunch of people. Definitely growing up there was a real fascination with street culture and people who live a much harder life than me. Not because I wanted to react to it but because it was fascinating. Is that any more appropriation than young black kids in the ’80s being obsessed by Kung Fu or Italian gangster flicks using the iconography, the terminology, and all of that? Do you think that those photos of P. Diddy dressing like Italian gangsters in the early ’90s is cultural appropriation?
Nathan: By definition.
Gove: By definition, it is.
Nathan: But it’s not the colloquial sense of it that we know is associated with the negative aspects of it. It’s really just white people doing it to everyone else.
Gove: I’ve got real issues with that definition of cultural appropriation existing. Because it reimagines the world in this paradigm where you have white people and then everyone else as this curious monolith that you can buy into it. Quite frankly as someone who’s not white, I don’t want my cultural experience being wrapped in there with someone’s who Filipino or West African or Brazilian. We may all have one thing in common – we’re not white – but that’s not what binds us. You might as well be calling me a colored guy. At the same time, people are constantly reinforcing the idea of us and them. It’s not appropriation; it’s cross-pollination. Is Afrika Bambaataa an appropriator for sampling Kraftwerk and for going to Germany and bringing German, very white musical aesthetics to America? I think by modern standards, he probably is.
Gove: You can care about the process or you can care about the results. I care about results, I don’t necessarily care what it took to get there as long as people are honest in their journey.
Nathan: What do you think of separating the artist from the art?
Gove: I do that. I love Mykki Blanco but I don’t like him as a person. I think that’s the story of half the musicians out there.
Nathan: Let’s say Bill Cosby for an example. Can you still laugh at his comedy knowing what he did?
Gove: Only by cross-referencing it with the slightly nebulous notion that everywhere there’s lots of art that I really love and the people behind it may have been really troubled people.
Gove: Do you know who Oral Annie is? She was a 15-year-old girl that the Rolling Stones took around with them and used to give blow jobs. Her mother was totally cool with it, and this is in their biography. Think of a Motley Crew biography about some of the shit they got into.
Nathan: What is there to do about that? The fact that we have the power of social media to destroy somebody’s career overnight, half of the guys in the ’70s would have never made it.
Gove: So I guess here there are two qualms. There is the act in the first place and failing to be discrete in how you committed those things. One is bad, two is really really bad. I think now we punish people who have committed both.