In Part 1 we covered Ill Gates’ most recent EP ‘Terminally Ill’ and got a look into some of the amazing stories behind the creation of that album. In this segment, we’ll take a glimpse of life on the road with the extremely talented KJ Sawka, what the future holds for the music festival scene, and what it’s like to help mentor and teach the next generation of electronic music producers.
We began by talking about his relationship with KJ Sawka, and what his experience has been like working and touring with such an amazing musician.
Working with KJ is really great. He’s just so… stoked all the time. He’s just a really enthusiastic person. There are a lot of people that I know that are not capable of being truly happy, but he is a really, genuinely happy person and he’s also a really nice person, too. It’s hard to find anybody who has any kind of issue with the guy. He’s just a really kind, fun, and thoughtful person to be around.
There’s also the fact that he’s such an avid teacher as well. We connected initially, maybe 8 years or so, because he was teaching electronic music and I was as well. In the Ableton world, at the higher levels, it’s a very small world and we all kind of know each other. Mr. Bill, Tom Cosm, KJ and I, we all kind of know each other. We all actually got to meet at a music festival which was pretty cool. Years later he was working with Destroid and I was hanging out with Jeff [Abel] Excision and we were all at this after party and we realized that we had the same agent. So we were like, “Why don’t we do a thing together since we both have the same agent and we both like to teach and do workshops?” So we talked about maybe doing a tour and teaching some workshops along the way. We did one workshop,but really, teaming up and writing tracks together was just a magic combination; especially since he is “Mr. Percussion” and has got a million drum sounds that he’s prepared. He was like “I’ll do the drums and you do everything else.” and I was okay with that and it all just came together really naturally.
The first track that we did, ‘Unsung Heroes’ came out really nice, I love playing that track out. And then we did this remix contest that was just insane. We got like 500 remixes back, more than we could ever handle, but it was great to see the reaction to the track. We decided that we had to do another tour so we did the “Bass Invaders” tour and that was a lot of fun. A lot of times when you’re doing these really hardcore tours, where you’re doing four or five gigs a week, it gets really exhausting and having someone who is really fun to be around and really positive, but also has the energy to handle that amount of shows and flights and whatever -its really just the best morale booster. So good hanging out with him.
Listening to him speak about KJ Sawka, you can hear the love in his voice as he recounts their time together. Having personally seen them perform together, the chemistry they share is undeniable. We move on to the next topic of teaching and mentoring, and the amazing resource that is ProducerDJ.
I’ve always done it [teaching] in the past, like I used to mentor people, finish people’s tracks, or do mix-downs. From there I started doing workshops and began working on my own website. It’s actually only been recently that it’s started to become its final form. It was these students of mine called “The Plurthlings”, they’re super big internet/marketing geniuses and they offered to fix it for me. So they were the ones that came up with the idea of moving towards a subscription based system instead of just having a bunch of different products. So I started doing that, and once I did, the students started learning faster because they had access to everything. I was training them a lot more intensely and it really helped me to not have to repeat myself, I could just direct them [students] to a certain video. It’s really allowed me to keep building more and more material for the club, and then getting feedback from the club members, what they’re struggling with, which helped me figure out what else I was missing and where to fill in the blanks.
“People don’t throw a music festival because they are looking to make money, they are throwing it because they are passionate about the music and they are really trying to expose people to something new and different, and maybe a little challenging in some ways, but just not what you would hear in a club.”
As time went on, I decided to put out this ‘Class of 808’ compilation for all my students and the response to that was really great. We got a lot of great press out of it, and these guys are starting to get to the point where they are playing shows and travelling.
I remark about how fulfilling it must be as a teacher to see your students take what you’ve taught them and use it to succeed in their own careers.
Super satisfying! And after that I started thinking about my next step so I thought “I guess I have to start a label!” So I started a label called ‘Producer Dojo’ which is a record label for all my students. I think having a label where I can show off the students and help build their careers is really going to show people that it’s not just about getting people to subscribe and give me money, but that the people coming out of Producer Dojo are actually becoming successful artists. The thing that I think makes my teaching different is that it’s not an academic thing, but actually what has made me successful as a musician. A lot of time people teach because they can’t do it themselves but having my success be the proof that I know what I’m talking about and having my students’ success be the proof that it is possible to come up through the school I think is really going to help propel this to the next level. I’m just really excited about the future.
We segue into talking about music festivals as I make a comment about how it seems that we’ve started to see a marked rise in the amount of smaller, more intimate, music festivals as the electronic music scene continues to grow and evolve.
I think information spreads a lot easier now and so people are getting access to better and different music. It used to be, like, top 40, and everybody would listen to the same Tiesto records. It wasn’t really possible to make experimental electronic music and do well. For example, when dubstep first came out, nobody listened to it. It was just this weird, underground thing. I’d go out to dubstep night and it’d be the same ten people who were there last week and there would be a pool table in the middle of the dance floor because there was no point in moving it. Now dubstep is as mainstream as anything else. Plus artists can blow up so much faster now. With SoundCloud and social media, everybody shares everything super quick. It’s so much easier to share things and there are all these blogs, so people’s tastes have gone in a more eclectic and off the wall direction. People don’t throw a music festival because they are looking to make money, they are throwing it because they are passionate about the music and they are really trying to expose people to something new and different, and maybe a little challenging in some ways, but just not what you would hear in a club.
People’s tastes are moving further and further from the club too, and I think all of those factors have led people to crave more weird music out of doors. And music just sounds better when there is some effort involved, when you have to travel somewhere, and and when it’s outside -music just sounds better without it bouncing off of walls. Plus you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving, you can just walk back to a tent. There are just so many pluses for having a festival; especially when it comes to psychedelics. You try and do psychedelics in a club, god help you.
After recounting a story about a psychedelic inspired conversation I had about sound and acoustics whilst at Burning man, I ask him how he sees this movement of people branching out musically influencing the direction of music festivals in the next few years.
People are still going to want to go to their EDC’s and their Tomorrowworld’s, people will always want that, but I think you’re just going to see more and more festivals coming to the major cities. Especially the east coast. The west coast is already a bit more established, there are a lot of these pretty renegade events going on now too. Five hundred people getting together out in the woods or in the desert for a night. That’s pretty cool and I definitely want to see more of that on the east coast. It’s a bit tougher because there is a lot less unpopulated areas on the east coast than the west. I recently played at ‘Pass the Good’ festival in Florida and they had Funktion Ones, and flamethrowers, and all sorts of cool stuff. The whole thing was like a mini Burning Man in Florida. I’d definitely like to see some more renegade shit happening, the audience is there for it. Maybe I’m kind of a shit starter but I think it would be great.
Keep an eye out for the conclusion of my interview with Ill Gates in which we shift gears away from music and talk about some of the bigger issues we face as a society today.