Max Ulis is lying on his back with his head in Robbie Slade’s lap. He’s had a terrible bout of vertigo for the last couple of days but is finding comfort, for the time being, with his friend. This moment shared between Ulis and Slade is quite indicative of their relationship; deeper than just a working partnership, theirs is a friendship — one that allows two artists to fuse their creative energies together and let it all loose behind a turntable. It’s this closeness, along with their easy going chemistry and massive talent, that contributes to their success as beloved house duo Sabota.
“One song turned into another song turned into another song,” says Ulis of the pair’s early beginnings, about two years ago. “It was just a very natural thing.”
“Yeah, it was easy to write together,” continued Slade.
“Which is really hard [to find], in music.”
Both firmly established and respected in Vancouver’s electronic music scene in their own rights (Ulis is an accomplished DJ and played an integral part in developing Canada’s West Coast post-techno dance scene as a charter member of the Lighta! crew; Slade is a singer, composer, and one-half of synth-pop act Humans), the pair have quickly made a name for themselves as one of the hottest groups in the city and as music festival darlings at gatherings like Bass Coast and Tall Tree Music Festival.
It’s fitting that Sabota are favourites at outdoor happenings where people dance until dusk — after all, the group was christened after an infamous stretch of road in Nelson, B.C. where kids would go to “smoke weed, hook up and watch the sun rise.” Along with Slade being a Nelson native and Ulis, a Shambhala mainstay and admirer of the area, the moniker is truly the perfect accompaniment to their chilled mix of dreamy vocals and immaculate production.
Ulis and Slade’s individual styles, though different, simultaneously leave their own sonic imprints on Sabota’s music while complimenting each other harmoniously. “Robbie is a lot more songwritey than I am, whereas my tracks are more sparse, minimal,” Ulis explained. “He really taps into this more melodic side that I don’t really go to. He kind of opens that up for me and lets me be creative in a way that I’m not, usually. And then, I think for Robbie, I kind of add that grit, dance music grit or whatever my vibe is, to what he’s doing.”
“When you have different styles, you get a result that you wouldn’t on your own,” Slade added. “That’s probably the best part of collaboration.”
As a child, Slade went to Catholic school and developed his chops by singing in the church choir. “You [had] to sing all the time,” he said. “Singing is a big part of church-going.” Ulis, on the other hand, grew up on a combination of classic rock, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and ’80s glitz, such as INXS and the Pointer Sisters.
“The drum machine definitely left a big impression on me,” Ulis said.
In follow-up to their much-celebrated self-titled debut, Sabota is set to release a new album early next year on Swiss house label, Mina Records. Now, more than ever, the duo really feels like they’ve found their niche. “Especially as you write, like, 80 songs together, you start to have a common thread and a style,” Slade explained. “The collaboration becomes an entity of its own, in a way, because you got the sound. It sounds like us.”
“We’re more focused now than we ever have been,” Ulis said.
The forthcoming record will offer more of a groovier, refined sound, as well as remixes from artists that the pair holds in high regard, such as Sei A and Grenier — something that Ulis and Slade are looking forward to. “That made us really jump at the opportunity [to release with Mina],” Ulis said.
As for tour dates, the boys will begin by ringing in the new year at the HiFi Club, in Calgary. “I’m DJing and Sabota is playing,” Ulis said. “It’ll be fun.”
“And then I’m going to DJ way later,” Slade added. “The afterparty. Just for Max. I’ve got some Pointer Sisters.”
“I’m so excited,” Ulis laughed.