Cleaning House with Ivaylo

Ivaylo talks openly about the end of his personal relationship and how Lab Cleaning Jams rose from those ashes as the DJ, producer and label manager embarked on this new phase of his life.

It all came crashing down for Ivaylo Kolev one day in 2023. As  he sat in his car, faced with yet another unsurmountable responsibility on the back of a year of unrelenting upheaval and turmoil, the dam finally burst. The sleepless nights and unceasing worry had nowhere else to go, and manifested in the only way possible as tears welled in his eyes. After his partner and mother to his three children abruptly left him last year, he’s been caring for his three children alone while facing a tumultuous legal battle with his ex-partner, the kind you only see in hallmark movies. 

In the past, Ivaylo could channel those emotions and anguish into music, but this creative outlet had laid dormant during the last year as all his energies focussed on the life-changing situation at hand. “I wasn’t able to make music, mentally,” says the Bulgarian DJ from his home in Asker, Oslo. Sitting in his light and airy dining room, things aren’t exactly looking up yet, but Ivaylo’s disposition is surprisingly upbeat. He has always been nothing but candid face to face, and that stoic personality forged behind an iron curtain and cultivated in the cultural inclusivity of a dance floor, has been nothing but amicable.    

“I still see the connection; That’s what Lab Cleaning Jams is all about, it’s just jams, just music.” 

When it comes to music Ivaylo’s dance card has never been anything but full.  He is a familiar face on Oslo’s DJ circuit, playing almost every weekend and the man behind the Jaeger Mix concept amongst others. He is also Jaeger’s logistics man and the face of the club when it comes to our visiting DJ guests. And when he’s not doing those things, his the label manager for Prins Thomas’ Full Pupp. You might also remember him from his label Bogota records. 

Downstairs in his basement studio in Asker, a few physical copies of the last Bogota release line the shelves. “I give them to friends,” says Ivaylo when I refer to the remnants of the label he has declared defunct. Will he ever revisit that label I ask, knowingly. “No, That boat has sailed;” comes an immediate reply. “Everything is personal for me, how can you work with art and not be personal?” 

Bogota Records is particularly personal and had a specific connection to his ex-partner and as the relationship broke down, he abandoned the project. It’s taken him the better part of the year to come to terms with the end of that era and forge ahead with the next phase of his life, but whatever he is going to do, it won’t include Bogota records. That’s why I’m here, talking to him in the basement studio. He is on the verge of ushering a new epoch in his music and it will be called Lab Cleaning Jams. Named after his monthly mix series, the concept has now turned label and by the time you read this he would have already released the inaugural record in the form of a 3-track digital release, pragmatically titled Jam 1-3. 

Down in his basement studio he plays me a few snippets from this and a few of the future releases. Boblebad has the honour of the next release after Ivaylo and the first track from them he plays is instantly recognisable as Boblebad’s distinctive disco-infused jacuzzi Jazz.  There’s some similarities to Ivaylo’s own productions but by the time he gets to Boblebad’s second contribution; an erratic jittering piece that looks towards some acoustic IDM interpretation, the connection is severed. The contrast is obvious, but Ivaylo disagrees. “I still see the connection; That’s what Lab Cleaning Jams is all about, it’s just jams, just music.” 

Ivaylo skips far ahead into some unfinished pieces from his own catalogue. Immediately there’s a correlation between these pieces and the first two tracks he just put out via Lab Cleaning Jams.They’re all different to anything that has come hitherto from Ivaylo. In the case of the Jam sessions, Ivaylo forgoes the dancefloor-friendly sequenced sounds for some acoustic elements. A cymbal splashes, a double bass rumbles, keys jingle and even a saxophone tweets sweetly in tonally adrift Jazz improvisations. 

For now, most of these tracks are still ”just edits” and while some might take a day to finish others “might be two weeks” away from completion. In one of the most recent creations a reggae vocal sample suddenly appears through a din of upbeat piano and it’s completely unexpected. Where did that sample come from? “I don’t know,” replies Ivaylo. “I have so many samples and I don’t know where they come from.” He’s been amassing a sample library of note since he started making music in 1996 and it can go from his earliest musical indulgences behind a drum kit in various Jazz-fusion bands between Bulgaria and Norway to a year’s worth of sessions recorded in a bachelor-pad-turned-studio back in the early 2000’s. “I literally have everything,” he says through a grin. “The only thing I need to play is melodies.”

After digitising everything back in the day, he only needs to dip into this sample library he’s amassed. Most of the time he’ll only add a bass line or melody and while this is something that has been consistent in his creative process for as long as we’ve known him, there is a subtle difference in the type of samples he’s started using in this new era for his work. 

There’s an organic touch which becomes immediately evident when you listen to Ivaylo’s first outing, Jam 1. The beat skips between conga and hi-hat, while a sine wave punches a hole in the first step of every bar as a kick drum. When a Rhodes piano joins the melée in staccato stabs we’re in Funk and Soul territory and any reference to Ivaylo’s more functional intuitions are laid to rest. “I want to work with musicians, I want to work with real music,” he explains of the ideas behind the new tracks. 

“If you listen to the music from before it’s darker – Now I feel free. ” 

After a long period of being in “a dark place” with the sudden change in his life, he felt that he needed “to listen to live piano and live bass”. It was like starting from scratch, with a new point of focus, coming together around this new label and nudging Ivaylo’s music into a different direction. These new pieces are lighter than anything that came before them, with a spring in the step of the rhythm and a buoyancy in the melodies. He realises that his situation during the period leading up to the eventual turmoil  “kept me in a dark place. I had to run as fast as I could to the light and my light is the music. If you listen to the music from before it’s darker – Now I feel free. ” 

I sense there might be another reason that this music has shifted so dramatically from the kind of tunnel vision-functional demand of club music. As somebody that works behind the scenes in the club scene in Oslo, Ivaylo sees all sides of the DJ booth and what he’s seen in club music over the course of the last year has only dissuaded him from those dance floor inclinations. 

“When it comes to club music, I’m bored. I’m bored of the music because it’s the same, I’m bored with people that make something different just to be different, but end up sounding the same as all the other ‘different’ things.” Ivaylo misses the “art” of making music in a period where everything is dictated by industry and business. “It’s obviously not because of the music, it’s because of the mechanism behind everything” and when everything is so “artificial”  Ivaylo finds it necessary to adopt a more “organic” approach in the music he is making now. 

It’s something that has spilled over into his DJ sets too. “I’ve come to realise I’m not a good DJ…” he says pausing for me to make the obvious argument before he continues; “when I have to play a 2 hour set. You have to create your vibe, and that takes time.” There aren’t many opportunities to do this today especially amongst younger audiences that crave the immediate and perfunctory right from the start and lineups feature a host of DJs packed into a 4 hour lineup in Oslo. Ivaylo “worried about the younger generation,” particularly at a time when “everything is divided” as it is, but he has enough skin in the game and enough years in the DJ booth to bide his time and work through it.

Between the changes in the industry and the changes happening in his personal life, Ivaylo found a life-line in this new label. Where most in his situation, specifically those that work in the club music atmosphere, could have easily sunk deeper into the vices that inherently follow club culture, Ivaylo did the opposite. He’s stopped drinking and smoking after 30 years and spends most of his free time making his own yoghurt and jams while tending to the sprawling garden we look over from his dining room window. 

I’d like to think this is reflected in the new music he is bringing out and he thinks that’s because whatever he does in music and his label he needs to stay “loyal to my personality.” He thinks it’s just about being “honest with the music” and that has afforded him some aspect of freedom a year later.  If Ivaylo’s honesty in music is anything like the candid personality sitting behind the artist, it will certainly shine through Lab Cleaning Jams and the music he is making now.