Canadian innovator and producer ill.Gates has been swirling up an eclectic vision through bass and glitch beats, education via Ableton tutorials, DJ sets, journals, the ProducerDJ site, and ill.methodology workshops. With alignments and inspiration from Microsoft, Burning Man, Sundance Film Festival, Bassnectar, Mr.Bill, KJ Sawka, Ableton, and ongoing tours across the world, it is certain he will continue to grow and expand in multiple directions. In the following interview, ill.Gates shares his story, creative process, the importance of journaling/traveling, and inspirational insights.
You’re quite the collaborator! What is the importance of collaboration?
If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got. Stepping out of your comfort zone into new and uncharted territory is one of the best things you can do as an artist, or as a human being. Collaborations help you to break your own habits, learn new techniques, and help your friends be their best. It also really puts some time pressure on and makes you more likely to finish things.
Share your history as an artist.
It all started with sampling farts on a shitty battery powered keyboard at age seven. Fast forward to high school and I’m spending five hours a day DJing in a basement, banging out beats on an MPC, doing art installations at raves and DJing for a breakdance crew every weekend. Move to the big city to go to school and get my first computer, then the next thing you know, I’m putting out vinyl as The Phat Conductor. Bassnectar starts playing my music and swoops me away on tour with him. I meet everyone out west and go to Burning Man in 2006, where I witness the birth of the Glitch Mob. I come home and all of my computers have been destroyed by a power surge (I assume?), forcing me to give up on the album I was working on and start over. I decide on a new alias ill.GATES and start writing much more experimental music, which I collect into the album Autopirate in 2008.
In 2009, I am playing at Burning Man and get spotted by the GM of Bing, who finds my name amusing and books me to play for Microsoft at Sundance Film Festival. I jokingly ask to meet Bill Gates and end up partying with him, Questlove, The Roots and Queen Latifah for a night. That experience leads to me doing ringtones for Windows Phone and getting a work visa to come to the USA. One of the ringtone packs that they want is a comedy pack – what sound is instantly funny in two seconds or less? Hmmm…. FARTS! I eat beans, listen to “Eye of The Tiger” and sell my fart samples to Microsoft. Now I live happily ever after in San Francisco and do whatever the fuck I want all the time. Moral of my story: Never give up on your dreams.
What’s your creative process like? How do you view technology and the way that it pushes the limits?
Oh wow, that’s a hell of a question! OK, here we go. Technology is amazing, but it’s not what gets tracks done. What gets tracks done is workflow. Here is mine:
- Start with an inspiration – A sample, a chord progression, a melody… It can be anything
- Collect a pool of ingredients to match… synths, drum kits, sound fx, accompaniment parts, etc. and make sure you have everything you are likely to need
- Make four patterns out of your main inspiration – intro, chorus, breakdown, buildup
- Work in beats, subs and chords with your main idea over the four sections
- Find a RIFF (simple repeating melody that really works)
- Run the riff through as many synths and sampler patches as you can, record everything
- Edit down the best versions of your riff and make a new drops using parts from before
- Arrange the song again from scratch using only the best 20% of your ideas
- Listen to it without looking at Ableton and make a list of all the changes that it needs
- Pick off the low hanging fruit
- Work on the main problem
- Get any missing elements and put them in place
- Fix the transitions
- Finalize everything for output
You released More Tea on Muti Music this year with a cool concept revolving around Tea Culture in China. What triggered this vision?
It all started in 2010 when a fan named Nathan Davis mailed me some tea from Taiwan in exchange for music. He set up a Taiwanese tour for my girl and I, and we become fast friends. Nathan tells us of his vision for an Urban Teahouse Remix Project uniting musicians from East and West over a shared love of music and tea. Then, in 2015, Nathan came to me with this archive of 20-30 year old DAT tapes of Chinese and Taiwanese tea farmers playing traditional music recorded by Taiwanese producer Alex Peng. Peng allowed us to use the recordings on condition that we promote Tea Culture.
It all sounded pretty cool to me, so I flew to Austin, drank tea until my palms were sweating, and then banged the track out in one awesome session. It was one of the most fun studio days I’ve ever had.
#illCommunication featuring Nathan Davis
Who are Jason Hou and Sonia Calico? How did you connect?
Jason Hou was the guy behind that viral video of the ‘Alphasphere’ MIDI controller that made the rounds a while ago. He was also a student and reached out to thank me for making my workshop series “The ill.Methodology,” and then showed me some of his amazingly creative music. I fell in love with his work right away and asked him to do a remix. He smashed it out of the park in my opinion.
Sonia Calico is a really talented producer from Taiwan who is in BxxG (a.k.a. Bounce Girls). She makes really amazing music and definitely has her own style. I play her remix out a LOT. It’s fantastic!
ProducerDJ hosts many music tools and teaching methods. What’s the ultimate goal here and how do you aim to expand the vision?
The main reason I do ProducerDJ is to share all of the information that was the hardest to come by. Those real “Aha!” moments that made me wish I had a time machine… The fact is, even with all of the crazy plugins and samples and stuff, making quality electronic music is hard! It’s always changing and getting better, and you really have to work to keep up.
I always try to challenge myself and learn new things every year. Even with the millions of tutorials out there, I usually end up having to track down some producer and call them on the phone, because the very cutting edge just isn’t covered anywhere. Sharing that knowledge over the years has led to me creating this body of work that I needed a place for, which was the old ill.Methodology site, but my fans and students have a pretty much unending appetite for knowledge and it became apparent that I couldn’t satisfy it all on my own.
ProducerDJ.com was born as a place for not only my material, but a curated collection of the most useful things I can find. Black Octopus Sound, AfroDJMac, KJ Sawka, Will Marshall and Mr. Bill really help me to make it a functional place for everyone. I’m trying to get more editorial content up and build a real community around it. Sharing knowledge and support is really what it’s all about, and I just want to see it grow.
The Art of Journaling. Can you tell us a little bit about this and how it has helped expand your creativity?
GREAT question! I would have to credit journaling as the source of all of my super powers. Journaling helps me unclog my mind hole and let the art come flowing out. I do it every morning, two pages written as fast as possible, no wrong answers, just flow. I’ve been journaling since 2005, and it was really the catalyst for me to become the person I wanted to be.
Many people need to feel watched to be at their best, whether that’s by the boss, or ‘god’ or their family or whatever. Most of us need that external self-awareness to step up and be our best version. In addition to unclogging your creativity, journaling is a way to feel the eyes of your future self watching you in the moment. Try it for a month and watch what happens.
Dylan and Nunich
What helps to keep you balanced?
My magnificent wife.
You’ve traveled all over the world. Which environment/atmosphere do you resonate most with?
I love Temporary Autonomous Zones like music festivals, Burning Man, squat parties and stuff – they really cut through the masks we wear and foster genuine human interaction. Traveling to foreign countries is really incredible as well. You never know which aspects of your personality are you and which are your environment until you travel. The journey outwards is a journey inwards, and the person who returns is not the same as the one who left.
If you are on the fence about travel, let this be the impetus to make your decision. Stop making excuses. You can sublet or AirBnb your place while you’re gone and use the money to finance the trip. Leveraging economic differences with places like Cuba or Thailand mean that you can actually save money by travelling, and if you have the ability to work remotely you can often achieve a much greater degree of focus when removed from your normal surroundings.
If I had to pick my top three countries to travel to for inspiration, I would have to choose Japan, Cuba and Bali.
What’s your opinion in regards to the current state of the EDM scene? Where do you see it headed and how would you like to continue to expand within it?
Never have so many used so much to say so little. There is so much noise in the system, but at the same time the music that rises above is the best music ever created.
The people cutting through the noise are the ones bringing humanity to their work. Telling us a story, creating a world, making us FEEL. The EDM scene is heading in that direction – no more big genres, no more record labels, no more DJs, just humans telling stories and sharing emotion.
ill.Gates remixes CloZee
Advice you’d like to share with those seeking to dive into the field of music production?
Try to sound more like yourself. Take what you love and magnify it. Work on your strengths and forget about your weaknesses. Make it personal, show us your scars. Everyone else wants you to be amazing, the only one who doesn’t is that demon in the back of your mind. Slay your inner demons and become who you are meant to be. We are all waiting for you.
Are you currently working on any new music?
I’m currently writing from Mr. Bill’s studio where I have been making some really fun new collabs with him. As for releases I have:
– A remix EP for ‘Bounce’ ft Stephan Jacobs + Mayor Apeshit
– A compilation of the best students from my Jedi Dojo called ‘Class of 808’
– Terminally iLL (full length)
– Departures EP (all the stuff that didn’t fit on the album)
Those releases are scheduled to start in September and go through early 2017. Also, KJ Sawka and I are going back on the road with our ‘Bass Invaders’ tour in the fall.