Producer ill.Gates, born and raised in Toronto, CA, is a highly recognized and respected name in today’s underground bass music culture. A regular collaborator with an endless list of producers whose styles run the EDM gamut (Datsik, Bassnectar, Ana Sia, Opiuo, T.O.B., Vibesquad, Mimosa), ill.Gates’ personal sound is equally as varied as the artists he works with, yet solidly rooted in psychedelic breaks and dense bass.
Following Passion Leads to Strapped Living
Although his original career path never steered toward producing music as a full time job, he’s certainly contented about eventually realizing his passion and following that dream. Like many other producers and musicians, ill.Gates’ musical career started merely as a hobby. As a seven year old child, he first learned to play music on a Casio Concertmate 800- a programmable keyboard with lights designed to help its students learn piano. Being the musically-inclined, curious seven year old that he was, ill.Gates soon found other ways to make use of the toy.
“It also had a sampler where you could press record and hit yellow pads and trigger them,” ill.Gates reflects on the now-prehistoric piece of equipment. “When I realized I could sample parts and play them at people, I was like ‘Yea, this is way more fun than playing the piano.”
As he grew older and graduated high school, music remained a side interest and took a back seat to a more-stable profession. As an art school student, he yielded the advice of peers that pursuing music full time was unrealistic and instead utilized his artistic mind as a graphic designer. Feeling completely bored and uncreative with the work he was doing as an intern at a magazine company, he finally one day asked himself, “How realistic it is to do something that you hate?”
“A lot of people think time is money, but it’s the other way around. Money is time. There is nothing that is worth spending time doing shit that you hate. I would rather be poor and be able to call the shots for my own life than have all kinds of money but be trapped doing something I hate.”
And he admits, he was poor for a long time.
“Not having a car really helped. I’ve actually never driven a car in my life. It was one of the big things I consciously gave up. I was like, ‘Having a car is a responsibility, both financially and in terms of my time. It’s gonna get in the way.’”
Toronto’s dense metropolitan area helped make the decision easier to rely on public transportation and his own two feet to get around. In addition to not having car payments, car insurance bills, or parking fees, ill.Gates also refused to carry a cell phone, vowed to cook his own food, and never became a dad- all economical efforts that supported his decision to live the starving artist’s dream.
He only recently moved to San Francisco (less than a year ago) and cites difficulty in moving into a new country as the main reason it took him so long to relocate to California, arguably the bass music epicenter of the US.
“It’s really challenging to get a work visa and everything together. Renting a spot in San Francisco is hard if you are an American with a normal job that’s quiet. So being a loud, self-employed Canadian made it difficult.”
And how’s he been adapting since the big move?
“I love it here. We just did a big mural in our kitchen today. We’re big on murals and having a creative space. So we’re painting these dancing tigers in our kitchen.”
A Do-Gooder Mentality Results in A-List Networking
In an industry full of larger-than-life egos and self-proclaimed experts, ill.Gates maintains an approachable reputation for being an open, sharing person- both in terms of production techniques and in collaborating with other people.
“I mean, yeah, you’re in competition with other musicians,” he says. “But I see [the process of making music] as much more cooperative than other people do. It’s really easy for me to get along with people and I can always show people new studio techniques that they’ve never used before.”
It is, perhaps, that spirit of open-mindedness and paying-it-forward mentality that led to the formation of a creative partnership (and eventually a genuine friendship) with Lorin Ashton (a.k.a. Bassnectar) long before either man became famous. Ill.Gates remembers not that long ago (circa early 2000’s) when breakbeat music was “more funky and not bugged out with crazy productions”. That’s when Lorin reached out to ill.Gates via email to connect with him.
“Glitch hop wasn’t a thing and dubstep wasn’t a thing yet and we were just similar musically,” he recalls.
The two eventually met in person at one of Bassnectar’s early-career shows in Toronto- so early that ill.Gates remembers suggesting Bassnectar not pay for a hotel room and just crash at his house, which he did. They continued to share tracks online and relish in their similarities, both musically and politically.
“No one really had our sound at that time,” he reminiscences with a hint of nostalgia.
WALA, a rising producer from San Francisco, recently attested to ill.Gatess altruistic reputation in an interview at Electric Forest. Coming off of a late-night set on a renegade stage in the forest, she turned giddy with excitement at the mention of his name.
“Dylan is fucking fabulous. I love him. He’s one of my best friends, my bass guru. He taught me everything I know about production. He’s just the most down-to-earth guy ever. I’ve always been passionate about electronic music and it was always something I wanted to do, but I was caught up with other stuff and didn’t really know what I wanted and he was like, ‘Look, do you want to be 80 years old and on your death bed and wondering if this is something that could have gone somewhere… or do you wanna fuckin do it?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, okay. That’s a good way to put it.’”
The Phat Conductor Morphs into King of the Nerds
photo (right): ipartyinbc.com/uncategorized/iparty-with-ill-gates-interview/
Somewhere between his moment of discovery on the Casio Concertmate 800 and his bourgeoning friendship with Bassnectar, ill.Gates spent a chunk of his youth with his “b-boy homies” in Ottawa where they employed their time breakdancing and creating street art. It was here, with his b-boy crew, that ill.Gates learned an early appreciation for breakbeat music and also where he conceived his first street name, The Phat Conductor.
The name started out as a play on words spawned from Thomas The Tank Engine character Sir Toppem Hat, who was originally called The Fat Controller. When ill.Gates first chose the name The Phat Conductor as an adolescent producing street art and breakdancing at house parties, a long-term career in music was not a part of his vision and the longevity of his b-boy nickname was not a major consideration. He soon discovered that Phat Conductor did not translate well outside of his native country and the name often caused confusion, rather than the light-hearted chuckle that he was after.
“So I eventually changed it to ill.Gates because Bill Gates is like, King of the Nerds. Plus, I use a lot of gating in my production, so it’s like a nerdy producer joke as well.”
What is Gating?
Looking ahead to Mojostock, expect to hear new tracks from ill.Gates that you’ve never heard before, even if you’ve streamed his entire catalog of work. Continuously striving to bestow a unique experience at every live show, the producer likes to have unreleased music on hand when he plays.
“It just kind of bugs me when you go see a performance and you already have all the person’s tracks and it’s not really any different than when it’s playing at your house,” he says, explaining his reasoning for sitting on fresh productions rather than releasing them as soon as they’re complete.
Ill.Gates also tries to play only original music when he’s performing.
“I’ll do remixes and play other peoples’ remixes and bootlegs and stuff, but I just find that with DJing and playing other peoples’ music, it’s easy for everybody’s sets to all kind of sound the same. So, it’s extra important to me to not have my whole set be released.”
Ill.Gates says there is a certain temptation to share new tracks in the excitement of their completion, but he’s overcome that eagerness after having unreleased music leaked on multiple occasions.
“I don’t give unreleased music to even my close friends anymore. The fact that it’s unreleased is a big part of why my sets are interesting. I don’t really put out DJ mixes any more just because I like it to be fresh for people. People these days- it’s like as soon as they’ve heard a track, it’s old.”
By Saturday night at Mojostock, the campers will be pungent and musty but rest assured that ill.Gates’ set will not be. Mojostock is part of a short tour run ill.Gates is doing with another Mammoth Mgmt artist, R/D; they have five dates across the midwest and are traveling with a videographer. Mojostock is the second-to-last date, it ends the next day in Nashville.
Ill.Gates plans to hang out for a while after his headlining performance to catch a few acts and soak up some of the local talent. When you see the friendly-looking DJ with dreads and glasses walking around Sleepybear Campgrounds, don’t be too shy to say hello or ask him a question. It’s his first time in Indiana; let’s show him our best Hoosier hospitality!
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