“There’s No Harm in Experimenting With Our Audience to See What Their Tolerance Is”: An Interview With Sabre of Ivy Lab

Michael McKinney talks to Ivy Lab's Sabre about futurism on the dancefloor, the interdisciplinary nature of nightclubs and more.
By    December 7, 2022

Photo via Ivy Lab/Bandcamp


Show your love of the game by subscribing to Passion of the Weiss on Patreon so that we can keep churning out interviews with legendary producers, feature the best emerging rap talent in the game, and gift you the only worthwhile playlists left in this streaming hellscape.


Nearly a decade after their debut, Ivy Lab—a.k.a. London’s Sabre & Stray—still haven’t settled down. Both Sabre and Stray have roots in drum-and-bass and rave music, but their music is hardly a rote genre exercise. Far from it: their work lies somewhere between chilly drum-and-bass, screwed-up bass burners, and contemporary hip-hop. Their style is in conversation with umpteen electronic-music traditions, but it is beholden to none of them.

The group’s origins can be found in Critical Music, a British drum-and-bass label that acted as a hotbed for liquid, an outgrowth that pushed the genre into jazzier and looser territories. (It’s no coincidence that Critical has also hosted Calibre and Zero T, two essential names in the genre.) Even in a crowded field, though, Ivy Lab’s work stood out. On Twenty Questions, a standout EP from this era, the group wraps genre idioms in barbed wire, tangling rapid-fire percussion tracks with snarled, billion-ton basslines.

Nearly every Ivy Lab release has worked with a similar ethos, taking pre-existing sounds and twisting them into novel and unusual forms. In the time since their debut, their style has only grown more singular: slower, heftier, a bit more jagged. Now, they act as a bridge between seemingly disparate worlds, working at an intersection between SHADES’s tectonic-plate bass-trap experimentalism, Noisia’s kitchen-sink approach to the dancefloor, and Flying Lotus’s electronic orchestras. A new Ivy Lab track could be old-school dubstep, diabolical drum-and-bass, or spine-tingling ambience; often, it’s several of these at once.

Their latest record, Infinite Falling Ground, continues this wild-eyed approach while pushing it into increasingly outré territories. If previous LPs were about the power of a gut-punch synthesizer, this one is about what happens when you dial things back a bit. It’s indebted to the L.A. beat scene and an older-school style of experimental electronic music, tracing a line from contemporary club tools to late-aughts drum-and-bass. They’re still looking towards the dancefloor for inspiration, but now, Ivy Lab are interrogating its culture and aesthetic with a newfound intensity. During a break in Sabre’s schedule, we got a chance to chat with him about Ivy Lab’s history, futurism on the dancefloor, and the interdisciplinary nature of nightclubs. – Michael McKinney

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.



How are you?


Sabre: I’m well. I’m in LA for the next few weeks before I start touring. I’m decompressing from a flurry of activity: the album dropping, the premiere of our live show. I squeezed a family holiday in, too; I got a chance to take my kid around America before I sent him back to the UK with his grandparents. It let us see if he could fall in love with this country in the way that I have, and it let him make sense of the place that he keeps seeing in the back of FaceTime. So I’ve been busy, and now I’m enjoying vegging in downtown LA. Now, though, I’m ready to craft.


How’s tour prep been?


Sabre: It’s less the tour and more finalizing our live show. We said no to a lot of touring work in order to have a long period alone with the material. It ended up being perhaps what it was always destined to be: a last-minute scramble to put together something that I’d given myself a lot of time to try and work on. But I’m not sure I would have wanted it any other way; sitting with all of that stuff for months could have led to a lot of overthinking. This way, I was forced to make a lot of gut decisions, which was probably a good thing. The whole process is adrenaline-inducing, quite frankly, for an act who hasn’t done a live show together.

We’ve been on the road since the early 2000s. For all that time, it’s been a matter of showing up, putting a CD or USB in, mixing one track into another, and making sure I’m doing the conventional DJ’s job. This is our first time doing something centered around a larger concept which people will need to buy into. That’s a lot to embark on, but I don’t think that we could have done many more years of showing up and getting people rowdy. We both come from a left-field and cerebral edge of the British electronic world; we were making low-key, heady music that focused on emotions rather than on fueling dancefloors. But we found ourselves going down a very dancefloor-focused route; here, we’re returning to our cultural origins within electronic music. We’re not spring chickens, and we’re content with our lot. But this is unfinished business for us.


What first drew you towards dance music?


Sabre: The ‘90s British top-40 chart was full of great dance music. Underground club hits would get signed to offshoot labels and be re-released into the charts. As a result, very credible dance music was everywhere: TV, radio, school discos. That was the background noise of ’90s British society. I also had an older cousin who had great taste in electronic music. So I got a good introduction: acid house, Belgian techno, intelligent drum-and-bass—I hate the name, but that’s what they called it.

I was around people with similar stories; they all had older brothers or cousins who were into electronic music. Pause mixes were huge where I grew up, in a small town 15 or 20 mites outside of London. We used to mix and trade them, which is, in some ways, a precursor to DJing. There were many people from the ages of 11-17 who were devoted to this stuff. We started raving young, from the ages of 13-14 onwards; it was part of the DNA of the country, or at least our part of the Southeast.

Despite Jay being quite a bit younger than me, his story is very similar. He comes from a family with older siblings who had cool taste. He went to university with a lot of interesting acts: Snakehips, Midland, Ben UFO, Pearson Sound—the Hessle guys. It was a rich scene when he was there—probably richer than what’s happened in the years since. So he had the same combination of cool older family members and adequate background noise. He just arrived from a slightly different direction.

I was running away from rap, too. I had been into it for a while, but when I found dance music, I totally pivoted. I stopped buying rap albums, started buying vinyl, and saved up for turntables.


Was this deliberate, or a product of time and place?


Sabre: I was probably 10-12 years old, so I don’t think I’d have that level of awareness. There weren’t many rap fans in my social group, and we were super reliant on things like Yo! MTV Raps and a few radio shows. It was hard work, and it was thankless, because we couldn’t evangelize to our friends; they didn’t see it as British music. Then rave music came along, and it’s indelibly British, and it was sample-based; it’s about the MPC, not the synthesizer. Anyone with expectations borrowed from rap could instantly dive in. DJ Premier and Roni Size, in that era, weren’t that different with what they brought to music. And it felt a bit patriotic; rather than consuming something that was aloof and foreign, we were consuming something made by people who were from our part of the world. When you go to these events and everyone is like you, that’s irresistible, especially if you’re 12 or 13.


How did you move towards production??


Sabre: Being a bit of a software dork. I was among the first of my peers to have a computer available at home. Magazines would give away music software, and I got a drum sequencer called Hammerhead in one of those demo CDs. That’s about two years of my music production: just making drum loops. I’d listen to them on crappy speakers and feel like I was approximating what I’d hear on compilations and in clubs, but it wasn’t quite there, and I didn’t know how to take it further.

This was just as audio schools were starting up. I remember seeing an ad for SAE and going, “Wow, I can go and study this. Shit—I need to tell my parents; I’m not going to do something pedestrian at university,” and somehow I convinced them. Suddenly, I was doing a decent realization of the stuff I listened to—drum-and-bass and instrumental rap. The rap was trash, but the drum-and-bass was passable.

By the time Jay started making music, one laptop and something like Reason was enough. He came into his own as a producer in 2007 or 2008. By that point, I had been DJing for a while. This is the era where people were starting to say, “you’re not going to get booked unless you’re a producer, too.” The era of being successful because you select well and have good relationships felt like it was coming to an end. Thank God I became a producer! Once you start, it’s amazing.


Earlier, you talked about your relationship with recording software. How has that changed? How linked are your style and software?


Sabre: It’s more than that. It’s intrinsically connected to the software that I was taught at SAE. When I first met Jay, he was using Reason, and I helped teach him Logic. We didn’t exactly make these choices ourselves: SAE focused on using Logic, and we were taught the Abbey Road mentality by guys who thought we were going to use it to record bands. In reality, most of us wanted to be artists. So we took what we learned and used it to make electronic music. We still produce in a very early-2000s way, which we don’t have any issue with; I think that’s baked into our sound. That’s all a hangover from college: an essay and a few tutors whose worldviews about how music is made were pretty indelible. You can still hear that with everything we make.



How did the two of you connect?


Sabre: I was quite active on an online drum-and-bass forum. I was playing shows, I had a pirate radio show, and I was starting to get releases—I had credentials, in some sense, and perhaps enjoyed slightly more visibility than most users as a result. Jonathan would send me music through AOL Instant Messenger, and it was amazing. I wanted to help him release it, so I’d send it to A&Rs and label bosses, saying, “This guy’s great.” And he was appreciative. But he wanted to make music together, and I wasn’t so sure. At that point, I’d never made music with strangers; only with friends, always in person. Eventually, he said, “I’ll come out there and meet you,” which, oh my God, now he’s coming to visit me. But he was cool and full of eccentric ideas, which I needed.

I had just released an experimental drum-and-bass album, and I think it was a failure. When Jonathan showed up, I was ready to walk away from making music altogether. But I liked the idea of having fun with it and sharing the load with other people. He and Laurence [a.k.a. Halogenix], who was once a member of the group, were the same age—much younger than me—and had fresh ideas and a lot of energy. I thought, “Between us, there’s a strong Rolodex, a bit of history, and lots of ideas.”

I wasn’t as commercially successful as I could have been, but that didn’t mean I wanted to stop producing. I just wanted help and companionship to take me to a different place, and I think Jonathan and Laurence needed the same thing. Once we got four or five quality things over the finish line, people we worked with took notice. This came to a head when Kasra, who runs Critical Music, said, “this is something else—this belongs in a different era.” So we gave it a year or so, which is all I could afford to give it. These guys were young and living with their parents; they had a lot of time to experiment. But I was 10 years older than them and married. This wasn’t open-ended for me. I was willing to give a bit of time to see if it worked. Luckily, it did.


How has the group’s dynamic changed over the years?


Sabre: The core proposition is still at play. I am an engineer, and I’m deeply interested in music-industry strategy. Jonathan has no interest in the industry, but he’s a phenomenal songwriter. He seeds the project with these amazing demos, and I’ve gotten pretty good at finishing them.

This guy is my best friend, and I know he feels the same. That wasn’t necessarily true when we started; it felt more transactional. They needed somebody who could make music, make their music sound better, and bring it to completion; I needed somebody with good ideas and energy. We were strangers, with different friendship groups, living in different places. In the time since, we’ve grown closer. That solidified five or six years ago, when we became a duo. We realized this independently: we’ve got something that’s more than just making beats together.


Did the two of you come from similar stylistic backgrounds, or did you need to find a mutual ground?


Sabre: We came from separate sub-sectors of the same spaces. My route into hip-hop was through ’90s New York rap; Jonathan’s route was L.A. beats and jazz. His older brother was the pianist in a British jazz band called Dice Factory. Many of the considerations about why he makes music come from jazz; it’s more innate for me. Consequently, he has a more classical understanding of music than I do. His family is super into jazz, and my family was modestly into music. Artistically credible music was part of his life from when he was young, and, as far as I understand, it was mostly jazz. I only got surrounded by music when older family members would introduce me to it.

For him, rave music was a different era. By the time he saw it, it wasn’t trying to be picturesque; it was about, “let’s make something lashing.” By then, there was a clear delineation between music that was made for iPods and music that was made for dancefloors. That boundary was more blurred when I was going out; I heard more eccentric music on the dancefloor than would get played at most raves today.

And it would be wildly futuristic, too! At this time, futurism was new, and it was heady to encounter vivid depictions of it. It’s mainstream now, but back then, it was indelibly linked to the techno and drum-and-bass scene, and the scene was vibrant as a result. When you see people try to insinuate futurism in their music, they use rave-revival visuals—a kind of David Rudnick aesthetic—to imply that it’s forward-facing. But it’s also an admission that the most successful, earnest, and forward-facing era in electronic music was probably the ’90s. So it’s different for each of us; Jonathan didn’t didn’t get to see that.


When you bring up dancefloor futurism, scenes like Detroit techno—Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, Drexciya—spring to mind. But there’s so much material that gestures towards old-school production—futurism by way of ’90s hardcore.


Sabre: Also, if you think about the futurism in the more dystopian parts of rap, it’s heavily influenced by anime. The most dystopian era of anime was the ’90s, too. Some of the bleaker parts of ’90s and early-’00s rap—I’m thinking of chopped-and-screwed—recall previous attempts at futurism. Our relationship with technology is simply less exciting than it was during the technological revolution of that era. Some people use a Soviet aesthetic to imply futurism, but even that is built off of Soviet sci-fi—just look at the palette of Bladee, Thaiboy Digital, all of the Sadboys stuff. So, again, we’ve gone back to that time period of ’85 to 2000, where futurism was super exciting. Why wouldn’t you want to make music that articulated that feeling?


Do you try to address these ideas in your work?


Sabre: No. I don’t think it’s as possible now. There’s just so much of it, which goes beyond music—it’s been making a comeback in fashion. But, due to this proliferation, it doesn’t feel as fresh. There’s a jeopardy in saying that; I might be confusing the era with the excitement of being 16. But it doesn’t feel like that space exists in the same way.

Take film. Making a stand-out sci-fi film requires so much more worldbuilding than it needed in the past, because many of the best ideas have already been employed. That same dilemma belongs to us musicians: many of the best ideas are already in circulation. We don’t want to have a musical reputation as the dollar-shop version of somebody else. If we could supersede what these people were doing, then great! But at the moment, we can’t.

Since music and technology are indelibly linked, and because we haven’t updated our sense of what our setup should be, our music hasn’t moved enough towards futurism to represent it in a new way. Someone like Little Snake, who we deeply admire, demonstrates that: their music conjures visions of a distant future. Much of that is achieved via the cutting edge of music technology. Futuristic technologies, rather than futuristic sounds or Vangelis-sounding synthesizers, have become the vocabulary of futuristic music. All of that has been spoken for, so I’d rather not pollute the landscape.


Given that, what was your headspace with the new record?


Sabre: There’s a disconnect between our experiences in Europe’s electronic scene and what we’ve been successful in. So we asked, “how can we make a record that takes some of that ethos, but not necessarily that sound?” Intensity in electronic music is off the scale right now. This is most pronounced in America, where our audience is most concentrated. We’ve been trying to reconcile this difference for years, and we’ve succeeded in small flashes. But COVID caused a reset regarding people’s expectations and understandings. So we said, “Yeah, I think we can do something deeper—and this is the right time to do it.”

Also, both of us are really sad right now. In 2019’s electronic-music landscape, it felt corny to be emo and wear our hearts on our sleeves, but in 2022, we felt like we’d been given a license to do that. We weren’t willing to let that chance go, because they don’t come around that often. Here, an angle that might have been previously unavailable had suddenly opened. Suddenly, everyone was like, “Wow, we need to make deep music.” That happened with Clams Casino, where people were making emo music, and it happened with Burial, but the next punctuation mark wasn’t until COVID.

By the way, we took Burial and Clams Casino as a license to go deep, too. And I know we weren’t alone in that. Jay and I emerged as part of a drum-and-bass movement called “Autonomic,” which was spearheaded by people like dBridge and Instra:mental. That movement exists off the back of Burial. The message Burial gave to the British bass scene was that dubstep doesn’t have to just be loud, heavy, and soundsystem-based; it can be really cerebral. Us in the drum-and-bass scene said, “The dubstep guys can do this. We’re the grandparents of dubstep. Can we do it, too?” We wanted to see something deep happen, in a way that hadn’t happened since Goldie and [LTJ] Bukem, so we tried it, and I don’t think it went anywhere. That’s when I ducked out of the industry before returning with Ivy Lab.

The same thing happened with Clams Casino. Suddenly, lots of people realized, “Shit, this super-macho cocaine music can have a deep, sad, and new-age edge.” If somebody said a yoga-chick aesthetic would find its way into rap—they’re sampling Enya at this point—nobody would have bought that. A few years later, everyone’s trying it. To bring it back around, that speaks to a sense of caution from us; we were waiting for cues from places outside of ourselves. That’s kind of a sad cowardice, but COVID was one of these cues. We were grateful, in a sense, because we may have been a bit rudderless otherwise.



So your latest might be your version of a Burial or Clams Casino record: you feeling more equipped to pursue deeper sounds again.


Sabre: Yeah. We’re not gonna get booked regardless, so there’s no harm in experimenting with our audience to see what their tolerance is. That experiment worked, so we said, “Why not write an album of it?” That seemed to be going alright. So what’s the next natural stage? Maybe we can do a live show of it—how far can we push this so we’re not going back to just playing bangers? We love playing bangers, don’t get me wrong; there’s a time and place for that. But here, we’re mourning the loss of our deepest sides, which we’ve had for a long time and have had to suppress.

We don’t know exactly where we operate musically: electronic music, rap, EDM, something in between. But the venn diagram had gotten skewed, and the experimental portion had really diminished. It’s nice to have that back, because Jay and I are most satisfied when we’re doing that. Now, we’re in this incredible moment where we can do that and have a viable career. We couldn’t turn down the opportunity to do that.


I’m curious about the EPs you put out last year. There’s several heavy cuts there, but it feels like you focused on the more somber material on the LP. What was that curatorial process like?


Sabre: It was a matter of picking what we really believed in. The EP format buried those tracks; we try to put heavier tracks at the beginning so that there’s a good start out of the blocks. But those EPs could have been an album instead. We originally intended to put them out in an album, to retain some kind of regular cadence in COVID. But we didn’t know how long we’d be absent from the touring circuit, so it was intimidating to purge all of that music in one release. So we chose not to. Those EPs were our ways of testing out new ideas: “Is this okay? Are you guys cool with this?”


What do you look for when trying to gauge reception? Is it numbers, feedback, how they play out, something else?


Sabre: All of those things. We’re lucky—we DJ quite a lot. About a year after we released those EPs, we were able to take them on the road, and people didn’t leave. They didn’t go wild, either, but we don’t make headbanger music. We never look out across the crowd expecting a sea of hands or for people to be out of their minds. As long as people are engaged and receptive, that’s all we need. Also, people who weren’t interested in what we were doing previously were engaged. BBC Radio 6 Music, for instance, became a big supporter of ours once we started putting out more abstract material.


Earlier, you mentioned the supposed dichotomy of tunes working in the club versus headphones. What’s your relationship to the club, sonically?


Sabre: It’s skewed, because I work there. I don’t go to the club socially as much as I used to, so I feel more disconnected from it. If I go, and I’m not working, it’s almost like I’m visiting somebody else at their office; it’s not an impartial experience. But you used to hear more challenging music—not necessarily less intense, just braver. Now, there’s a real lack of bravery in what many people play out. And we’ve been as guilty of that as anyone, in part because we didn’t believe there was a window of opportunity. Now, there’s more willingness to use event spaces for sound ideas rather than just getting crowds to lose their minds. That’s where we’re at now: slowly moving people to the idea that they might not hear many of our bangers from 2017 or 2018. But it’s still valuable, hopefully.


So it’s about shifting the value proposition of your music.


Sabre: Exactly. And doing so with an understanding that if it doesn’t work, that’s okay. Because we already feel our story is complete enough. The other day, I saw something Machinedrum wrote online: “I’m going to write my next album as if it’s my last.” We might have done that for this album, too. Now that it’s out, I know it’s not our last. But going into the writing process with that sense of melancholy was helpful; it allowed us an irreverence for consequences. If this brings the whole ship down, it’s cool. No panicking, no need for reorganization. Let’s just be comfortable with it; c’est la vie. I think every musician wants that, but getting there is complicated—it’s taken us 15 years.


Did your approach to production change alongside that shift?


Sabre: Previously, we were somewhat concerned about other DJs being able to mix our music—having an intro, a break, a drop, a breakdown, another drop. Now, that’s totally disappeared. Look at the outros on a lot of these tracks—a minute or 90 seconds of ambient sound design, which no DJ would care about. We’ve always tried for that, but it’s almost a motif on the album. A lot of this has to do with BPM, too. When you’re making music for DJs, BPM occupies too much of your headspace. Here, we chose the BPM that fits the melody, rather than the BPM most useful to the dancefloor. The new record is a repudiation of that; we no longer need to think about our music with that chain around our necks.


Tell me about 20/20. What led you to start the label?


Sabre: It was about autonomy and creating a brand. When we started 20/20, we were forming something without any pre-existing baggage, which wouldn’t have been possible if we released through one of our pre-existing label relationships. We’d mostly been working with genre-specific labels, each of which had particular audiences and identities. But, as time has gone by, we’ve moved towards taking the showcasing music part of our DJing way more seriously than the showmanship of it. Curating other people’s music is a real joy to us. Over time, it became clear that we could curate other forms of art, too.

It’s not an entirely altruistic process; we benefit from it, too. It’s symbolic, in a way: 20/20 allows us to platform art without jeopardizing our reputation or finances in the process. If every musician has a second string to their bow, for us, it’s art. We’re quiet about ourselves; we stay as hidden as the internet allows. But we love talking about, and consuming, art: galleries, shows, opera, classical music performances. We’re lucky to have a platform to show that side of ourselves.


How do you and Jonathan approach the label now?


Sabre: I come up with blue-sky ideas and think of non-musical things to shed a spotlight on. Jay is always discovering new people to put on. He has a 50/50 stake in our process; nothing gets bankrolled without him believing in it. I’m interested in the bullshit: relationships, planning, project management, all of that. I see my retirement from production as a move towards something else in music, so I’m developing skills that bolster my CV for when I eventually leave. But Jonathan is probably not going to go down that path. He’s more interested in mental health, which is what he’s doing now—he’s working on a Master’s in psychotherapy, experimenting with other things that might give him fulfillment.

I find that fulfillment through the visual arts, software, making other types of content, and running 20/20. So, for me, it’s as much about curation as it is about personal development. While we’ve done very little to develop our understanding of music technology in the last 15 years, the opposite is true for the visual arts. We’ve taken a keen interest in being an arrowhead for that.



What are you thinking of when you refer to wrapping other art into your work? I’m thinking about the dance cyphers you’ve run, but I’m wondering what else there might be.


Sabre: We work with animators, designers, and other visualizers on new releases. Graphic design has never been an afterthought for us, and we want to treat other people’s work that we have stewardship over in the same manner. To do otherwise would be disrespectful.

Beyond that, we try to put on the contemporary dance world, because they are a deeply underpaid and underrepresented part of the music landscape. Our field is often described as “dance music”; the “music” part of that couplet is well represented, but the “dance” side isn’t. There are exceptions, but, generally, the rest of the dance world doesn’t have expectations when it comes to dancing.

That wasn’t true when I started raving. When I went to jungle events in the ’90s, there were established dance moves that you’d be rewarded for learning. These dances belonged to different genres, and people would take an interest in trying to be good at them. I would go out as a 13-year-old, see people doing these moves, and go home to practice before I went to the follow-up event. I know I wasn’t the only person doing that, because I could see my peers doing it, too. It’s the same as going out and seeing a lot of people wearing the same fashion label: “This is part of this scene’s uniform, so I’m gonna buy some and wear it to the next event.” Now, that doesn’t really happen. I know it’s not fully the case, but to an extent, people dance in more or less the same way, almost irrespective of genre.

So: can we do something to make the “dance” part of things more important? I don’t think we’ve made massive headway, but we’ve given it a shot. And we’re going to continue to support it, because we really believe in it. I also think it’s healthy for the dance scene to have audiences that really care about dancing. After we started developing an audience within the dance world, all these dancers would show up. They would peacock at our events, and people who were used to being wallflowers started dancing more. It was a really amazing experience, and we wanted to push those worlds even closer together.


I feel like I’m hearing a tension: you’re investing in the “dance” side of the scene as your music is moving, maybe, away from that. Does that track?


Sabre: It’s complicated, because real dancers can dance to anything. That’s why we love having dancers in our events, because we can play whatever we like, and the dancers adapt to encompass it. This is a switch in the typical relationship, where a DJ adapts themselves to the crowd. We’re more interested in that change than any motion between “dance” and “electronic” music. That distinction isn’t important if you change the mindset of the audience. And I guess we just changed the audience. [laughs]

We looked for dancers who were flexible in what they’d dance to. Being dance aficionados, they took to it like a duck to water. Their presence is magnetic; it encourages other people to move expressively. This is especially true because contemporary street dance is very abstract. You see these guys moving and you suddenly realize, “I don’t have to snap, or gesture, or be bang-on beat. I just need to be expressive.” We have professionals doing this, and they’re free in how they move—why wouldn’t it be available to amateurs? We’ve seen that happen in the events we’ve organized. Every time, the dancers have a profound effect on the non-dancers.


So you’re taking that idea of the rave as a space for conversation between DJ and dancers, and saying, “what kind of conversation do we want to have?”


Sabre: Yeah. It’s also about transplanting a European idea of clubs to the United States. Our favorite place to play is Germany, by far. You can throw anything at most crowds there. They might not like it, but they’ll give it that tiny amount of time—two, three minutes—to see if it can shift what they believe is appropriate for the club. We don’t have that license in the United States, where after 30 seconds, people say, “This isn’t what I want; I’m going to the smoking area.”

It’s very fidgety, so mixing is quick and drops are heavy. So we’re trying, in part, to bring our unashamedly European baggage over here. We aren’t unique in that: any European act will say the same thing. In the American dance scene, we love the structure, the organization, the community spirit, and the quantity of nice people. But we feel the aesthetic could be slightly less technicolor. We’d like to be a part of that conversation.


To look at the cyphers through that lens—”here’s what the club could be”—I’m curious about how you chose the lineups.


Sabre: We wanted to make as many sounds as possible available to the dancers. One of those events has Slugabed, who played sludgy sound-design stuff, and the dancers made it work! Our selections were partially about showcasing the UK sound, and partially about showcasing our homies, but it was also an attempt to outline the bounds of our ecosystem: post-beat-scene material, bass, rap, R&B. Those were the four corners we wanted to box the cyphers around, because those are the four corners of the record label, and because we didn’t want to overextend ourselves.

Take our tour. We’re almost not the headliners on our live shows. The last slot of the evening—which is arguably the best slot in North American events—is going to be one of these acts; we almost play warm-up for them. But our live show is low-key, and it’s visceral, so we’ve programmed the evening to give a reward at the end of the night. That won’t always be the case; some nights, we’ll come on and play again, maybe with a few more bangers. But we wanted to decouple “let’s do a heady live show” from “let’s go out,” because this is still a club. We want to play into what’s expected of the environment, before we eventually play seated venues—which, as someone who’s just turned 40, sounds wonderful.


Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your live show?


Sabre: I’m quite happy with it being cryptic. All I would say is that we haven’t made it with a PLUR [Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect] mentality. It’s not meant to make you feel great; it’s meant to make you feel. I want people to feel something beyond adrenaline, whether that’s panic or ponderance. We want something other than what you usually get from going into a club or a dance-slash-electronic-music event.


What’s next on the horizon?


Sabre: Honestly, we don’t know. The live show was meant to be three months, and now it’s looking like it’ll be four or five. But these are good problems to have. We’ll have to see where we feel in six months, both culturally and in terms of our headspace. And we’ll go from there.



We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!