I had an exciting talk with the incredible ill.Gates a.k.a The Phat Conductor. He\’s always such a fun and interesting guy to hear speak. So full of knowledge and love for music. We chatted about how he and long-time friend Bassnectar wrote \”Expanded\” in an unusual place, his recent single with R:D \”No Man\’s Land\” and he told me about some of the production and studio equipment he\’s loving lately.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar, ill.Gates is an amazing Canadian-born music producer, DJ and educator. His list of contributions to music and to the electronic dance music culture are the stuff legends are made of. When he\’s not headlining huge festivals like Burning Man or Shambala, he regularly teaches DJ/production classes, dubbed the ill.Methodology Workshop, in the Bay area as well as in the various cities he travels to for shows. His classes range from teaching beginners the bare bones of music theory all the way to mastery levels of the well-known production software Ableton. Basically a tech genius, ill.Gates has designed the Ableton template used by household names like Bassnectar, Pretty Lights and Beats Antique. His YouTube channel offers many of these tutorials and workshops at no cost. I personally have watched all 41 minutes of his Chapter 1 ill.Methodology Workshop class and can\’t speak enough for all of the priceless knowledge shared within. Even if you have no interest in becoming a producer yourself, his lecture still has so much to offer a music lover or general creative-type. It\’s reminiscent of a TED talk on inciting creativity within yourself and balancing artistic work flow. If you like music and hearing intelligent people deliver riveting, contagious ideas, you really must watch Chapter 1. You will hear something that resonates within you. You will be inspired in some way.
How did you come up with your name?
I used to be known as The Phat Conductor for the longest time, but that was long and wordy and hard for someone who doesn\’t speak English as their native language to remember. So I just started making a list of names over the years and everyone just kind of agreed that that was the right one. It\’s short, it\’s easy to remember, illgates.com was available–all of those things were factors.
When did you begin DJing and Producing?
I started when I was a kid. I used to have a sampler when I was 7 that my folks got me. It was like one of those ones that have little lights on a battery powered kid\’s piano that teaches you how to play jingle bells, haha, but there was also a 4 pad sampler in it and you could record pots and pans and stuff. When I realized I could put farting noises in my songs I was like \”Oh this is totally for me! Haha!\” and I\’d run around sampling my farts, haha, y\’know, because I was 7. It was just something that I always did. It\’s just part of who I am.
What kind of DJ and production equipment do you use?
I use A LOT of stuff and actually it\’s gotten to the point where a lot of companies will send me controllers as they\’re developing them. So the collection of weird MIDI controllers is probably the most exciting thing about my studio. Some of my real favorites are the DJ fighter from DJ Tech Tools. It\’s a 16 arcade button bank that lights up and you can play the arcade buttons kind of like mp3 drum pads. Once you start playing them it\’s amazing, all of those years you spent playing Street Fighter II are suddenly musically useful and it all becomes a lot more fun.
I also use Ableton Push instead of a piano these days because with a piano all the notes are right next to each other, left to right, so it\’s hard to tell what note is going to go with what note, because notes that are usually right next to each other sound kind of sour when they\’re played at the same time. Whereas Ableton Push has them arranged in a grid where up and down is fourths–like guitar strings–diagonally up to the right is fifths, and diagonally up to the left is thirds. So when you make little triangle shapes it will be a chord, and then when you move the same shape you can transpose the chord just by making the same shape just somewhere else. It just shows you that music is all mathematics really. You can really explore the mathematical relationship between the notes and it\’s a lot easier to make melodies that really fit and have that good sound with music theory behind them.
Some other really notable pieces of equipment are these headphones they call \”The Magic Headphones\”. They\’re just incredible. I use them all the time. It\’s this new technology that instead of the speaker just being a cone, where the sound comes out of a cone, it\’s like a flat magnetic plane with lots of magnets. The definition is really incredible. They\’re called Audeze and I use them a lot.
There are also times where you can\’t be as loud as you\’d like to be in the studio, so there\’s this company that makes this thing called the Subpac and it\’s basically a pillow that goes on the back of your chair that has a vibrating subwoofer-type thing in it. If you\’re sitting with Subpac directly touching your back, then you can actually feel the sub directly without any kind of acoustics happening and it\’s a really good monitoring tool when you\’re making music.
Do you have any advice that you would like to give to young producers or DJs?
I would say the main thing is to sound like yourself. That\’s what people really resonate with in music, when people are authentically themselves. Sometimes when people first start they worry about making mistakes, so they try to typically sound like one of their favorite musicians, and that\’s great but even if you\’re working as hard as you possibly can, if you sound like someone else–even if you do it perfectly–there\’s still a level of inauthenticity there and audiences pick up on that and become less interested.
Can you tell us a little about your latest song with R:D and the experience of creating \”No Man\’s Land\” with him?
I actually live with R:D. He\’s my best friend and we\’ve worked on a lot of music together. He\’s a really excellent engineer as well as producer so every time I work with him I learn so much about crafting a sound to get it to really stand out in a club. The vocalist is Honey B. Larochelle who I actually know from Canada–she\’s Shambala family–and she turned in a great performance. I\’m also really excited for Luxe Laredo and Honey Larochelle and everyone at DMT records since this is their first release on their new label. Very excited to be a part of something new.
Are you still teaching classes when you travel around to different cities?
I still do, yes, but I\’m actually working more on on-line education. I have a whole workshop I\’ve prepared and a website we\’re just about to launch that has not only workshops from me, but also workshops from other people. The demand for workshops is way more than I can meet. People really want them. So we got some of the better educators on the internet to join forces and it\’s going to be kind of like a school and less of me just posting workshops at random.
If you could make a song with any artist dead or alive who would it be?
Santigold. She is amazing. I think it\’s a crime she doesn\’t have a wall of Grammies in her home. She is making some of the most legit pop music that\’s ever been made and it\’s a shame the normal music industry isn\’t giving her the report she should get. She\’s really underrated. Getting into the studio with Die Antwoord would be pretty sweet too. Those guys are pretty awesome. I\’ve been following them forever.
You and Bassnectar are always making a new song together and it seems like you guys have a great friendship, too. How does that work? Do you guys call each other up when you\’re bored one day and say, \”Hey! I\’m bored. Wanna make a song?\” and then you make these HUGE tracks as a byproduct of just hanging out with your boy?
Haha, yeah, I\’ve known Lorin for like a decade and he\’s one of my close friends for sure. Whenever we get together we always end up writing a tune. For the last one, \”Expanded\”, we were actually both in Australia in his hotel and we were just like \”Hey, let\’s plug in to the hotel TV and make a song.\” We did all the mixing and stuff later, but the actual conception of the melodies were all done on the hotel TV, haha. Don\’t ever let anyone tell you you \”need\” lots of gear to write music. You just need a laptop and a hotel TV and you\’re done, haha.
In November of 2012, when ill.Gates brought his Church of Bass tour to Chicago\’s Bottom Lounge, I was blown away by the visual aspect of his show. I remember there was a time during his performance when the sync of the sound and of the visuals became ever-so-slightly out of sync. I\’m talking fractions of a second off. I\’m talking such a small mistake I\’m sure no one else in the crowd even noticed. Ill of course caught this minute glitch right away, and I noticed him checking the visuals and making small, practically undetectable tweaks to the audio and visuals to ensure everything got back on track seamlessly. This perhaps perceived \”mistake\” was my favorite part of the whole show. It was then that I knew this wasn\’t a pre-recorded \”he just pressed play\” show, but a well above average live DJ performance with a live visual production aspect as well. This was so impressing to me and really demonstrates what a master showman Ill has made of himself. One of my favorite things I\’ve ever heard him say was this piece of advice: \”No one will never do more for your music than you will.\” He\’s a perfect model of that; he produces his music, he live DJs that music, he is his own graphic designer for his original visual accompaniment, he acts as his own live production engineer, he even designs the t-shirts and album covers you can\’t wait to buy after the show. After all of that, he still finds time to teach aspiring DJs and producers the ropes. He has no greed over the knowledge he\’s worked so hard for so many years to attain–he\’s excited to share it. He has that rare skill that exceptional teachers have, the ability to communicate complicated things easily, to inspire you to be as excited as he is about music. People spend their entire careers aspiring to be good at just one of those things, while ill.Gates easily does them all. That really is amazing talent.
Be sure to support the artist directly by heading on over to his website, illgates.com, where you can download his entire discography for free. Like him on Facebook to keep up to date on his latest releases as well as to follow the great posts and advice he offers to musicians, producers and fans. I follow his updates and he\’s always sharing really interesting things. Follow him on SoundCloud and repost his tunes for your friends. Also, don\’t forget to check out his informative ill.Methodology Workshop and stay tuned for his new website unveiling for more teachings on music production. Check out his recent releases below. Follow me, Sydney @ EDM Chicago, on SoundCloud for excellent music you need to be listening to.