- Top 100
April 3, 2012
I have followed ill.Gates since he was known as the Phat Conductor and based in Toronto. I loved him as a breaks artist, and I love him now as a bass music producer. On a recent Calgary stop I jumped at the chance to interview him. Knowing he is a producer, DJ, educator, and a hilarious dude I knew he would be super fun to interview. He did not disappoint. We talked musical influences, child acting, his patented technique ‘The Hammer’, child free airlines and a plethora of other topics. He had the green room at The Distillery in stitches for the better part of an hour. Here’s the interview below, unsanitized and in it’s comedic glory.
K. Lea: How did you get into electronic music?
ill.Gates: When I was seven my parents bought me a little Casio keyboard. It had four yellow pads like an MPC and I was able to use it for sampling. I used to fart into it and think it was the most hilarious thing in the world. My love of electronic music was born from that. Basically farting into a sampler started it all.
K: What did you play in the beginning? Are you able to name five artists that shaped you?
i: In the beginning I played a lot of breaks. I was in a breakdance crew in Ottawa of hilarious guys that would dress up like animals and win all the contests. But I was really influenced by Coldcut, Wu Tang, Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails and Psychic TV. I wanted to find a fusion point through my own production where all these types of music met.
K: How did you discover you had a passion for teaching?
i: It started as a way to support myself by finishing other people’s tracks. People would have something started and not know how to finish it. I would do it and have them pay me a couple hundred bucks, and I got really good at explaining to people how to use music software. Teaching comes really easily for me. It all just sort of started from that.
K: If you weren’t a producer, what would you be doing with your life?
i: Definitely art and graphic design. I do a lot of my own graphic design and I love artwork. Music kind of ate my life. I was in art school and ended up putting out a bunch of records and touring, and that just kind of became what I did.
K: So when you were a kid, what did you think you would end up doing?
i: Uh, I was actually a child actor at one point, which was pretty interesting.
K: Like in commercials?
i: Yeah, yeah. In TV ads. You know the (dinner) china with the rabbits on it that people have?
i: Well they had this cartoon called Bunnykins and I was the voice of the evil bunny Reginald Ratley.
K: *Laughs* Wow, That’s such an interesting fact about you!
i: Yeah, pretty random. It was the same studio that made that Racoons show. They only made a Bunnykins pilot though, it bombed hard, it was fucking terrible. *laughs*
K: I still think that’s pretty rad. What’s your favourite part of your job now? Is it travelling? Meeting new people? Educating?
i: Probably the studio to be honest. I love writing music more than anything else. It’s just so fun to sit down at the beginning of the day and not know what’s gonna happen, then all of a sudden there’s this thing that wasn’t there before, ya know? I guess it’s the closest thing I’ll ever have to having kids. Just creating things that never existed before is my favourite thing.
K: So what’s the most hated part of your job?
i: Definitely airports, flying and sleeplessness.
K: Yeah I hear that, for some reason I’m paranoid of the TSA.
i: The TSA are fine, they’re just glorified mall cops. They don’t really care, they’re just making sure you’re not bringing a knife on the plane. The whole thing is just the theatre of safety. It’s not a big deal.
K: Yeah, I know you’re right, but for some reason I hate the authority …
I think it’s pretty obvious you have a really good sense of humour. I’ve seen you do some pretty hilarious things in the past like dedicating a DJ set to your girlfriend’s vagina. I think it also shows in your DJ names that you choose, and I’m just wondering how you came up with the Phat Conductor?
i: Like I said before, I was in a breakdance crew where the dancers were named Julius Seizure, Jewbacca and what not. When I was a kid I really wanted to be a train conductor and I was obsessed with trains. I watched the shit out of Thomas the Tank Engine. In that Thomas the Tank Engine show the guy running the trains was called the Fat Conductor right? So I thought it would be witty to change it to Phat with a ‘PH’. Then it would kind of be like a conductor of an orchestra, or even a conductor of electricity. But then I started travelling and I went to England, and I found out that in England the character is called the Fat Controller. And then I went to Switzerland, and they translated it to le Gros Conduteur, and I was like NO that’s not gonna get you to my website! Then I went to Quebec and one time it got garbled really bad on a flyer and got changed to ‘Special Breaktime with the Psychic Doctor.’ And I was just like, ok something’s gotta give here. This isn’t going to get you to my website, and it just doesn’t translate. Oh yeah, and in America fat people got mad about the character and the name got changed to Sir Toppum Hat. They have some type of fat people anti-defamation league or something.
K: And where did they get Sir Toppum Hat from? *laughing*
i: Because he has a top hat, I don’t know! So yeah, I needed something more universal.
Interviewing ill.Gates, photo by AllieKat photography
K: Was it difficult for you to rebrand?
i: When I did ‘Autopirate’ glitch hop wasn’t really a thing yet. When people were booking me, they were expecting breaks and were kind of like what is this? People wanted to bill me as a breaks guy and pass off whatever I was doing. It took a couple years, but once the record came out it was all game.
K: So what advice would you give someone that wants to change their name now?
i: Put out a crackin’ record first, and make sure everybody downloads it and they’re interested in whoever produced THAT record. Then gradually make the switch. Look at Feed Me, ya know? I started listening to Feed Me and was like, wow this is great! Who is this artist? Oh, it’s Spor! It’s kind of better if you find out by finding the tracks.
K: What can you tell me about your patented technique for getting stuff from corporations, The Hammer? You mentioned something on your website about using their own contract terms against them?
i: Yeah, you gotta read it. But that’s for more of an advanced hammering. The main thing is to get them to like you.
K: *laughing* So can you give me any examples of redemption you’ve gotten from hammering?
i: Oh can I ever. Most recently I was on a – - – - flight to go play a corporate gig at the Sundance Film Fest, and they stranded me and 70 other people over night in Ctak (Seattle), and I missed the gig. The weather was really bad, and all the other flights were cancelled except for my flight. So they piled every motherfucker on the plane that they could, and the pilot gets on and announces ‘well, uh, looks like we have a bit of a problem here folks. We’ve uh, over fuelled the plane, and we’re looking for only 24 volunteers to give up their seats.’ And of course everyone’s like no way, everyone’s trying to go to Sundance. It’s all film people and people with shit to do. So then over the course of the next hour and a half they’re trying to bribe everyone to get off, and no one will, so then they start forcing people off, to the point where we’re finally underweight. But then the pilot gets on again, and this is after we’ve been sitting on the runway for like two fucking hours, and the pilot’s like ‘so, uh, looks like we got a bit of bad news for you folks. By TSA regulations, pilots are only allowed to work a maximum of 14 hours a day, and uh, we’ve been on for 12 hours. So it’s a two-hour flight, and that would violate the law so this flight has been cancelled.’ And everyone on the plane starts yelling like, AWWWWWW! So we all get off and – - – -’s like ‘sorry guys, bad weather, it’s snowing out, you’re fucked.’ But then I’m like, wait a second. The pilot told us this was human error. Let me check out the contract. So I go check out the contract, and find Rule 240 Sections A and C, where it says if the airline failed to exercise a reasonable effort to get you and your baggage to your destination on time, unless it is a ‘force majeure’ which is act of God, weather, political revolution, whatever, then they owe you compensation. So everyone else is lining up like suckers, and I’m like fuck this! So I go over and talk to them and it’s all uh, oh, uh, aw so I get a supervisor, and he’s all ubbaduba, uh, um, uh …. so I’m like, I know what to do! So I stand on my chair and yell out ‘Can I have your attention please! – - – - is trying to line us up so they can tell us we’re all fucked one at a time when actually under Rule 240 Sections A and C we are all entitled to full compensation, and I read the law and everyone’s like, ‘he’s right!’ and it’s this mutiny. So then we all start tweeting on the – - – - account all at once, and they find my phone number and (the airline) called me up and said “what are your demands?” They somehow found my phone number and called me up and asked for my demands, and I said, well you have to refund everybody, free tickets and free hotel rooms. So I ended up getting 100 people full refunds, free hotel rooms. And yeah, that was pretty awesome.
ill.Gates killing it, photo by AllieKat photography
K: So what would you think of a child-free airline?
i: Oh I would love that. I heard British Airways made a rule that no children are ever allowed to fly in first class, and that is the only thing that’s ever made me want to fly first class.
K: Oh really? *laughing*
i: Snakes on a plane? Fuck that, babies on a plane. It’s way more terrifying, especially when you’re hung-over, oh my God. Check this out. I was in Australia, so tired from being on the road a lot, I’d played this gig and missed my flight and had to drive like 150 kilometres an hour in blinding rain, flying past semis to get there, I only had like four hours sleep. Finally get on the plane, and I’m just like ‘finally, I’m going to get some sleep.’ I’ve got my travel pillow, and I sit down, and of course a couple with a screaming infant get on the plane, like six months old. And mom and dad are sitting there, and the kids touching my face while I’m sleeping and just being so annoying, and I’m like leave me alone kid! Argh. And mummy pulls out a bottle of milk, and the kid goes *swat* and just launches this whole bottle of milk into my sleeping mouth and my dreadlocks and I’m like ‘AHHHHHHHHH!!’ because I haven’t had milk in 12 years now.
K: Are you vegan?
i: No, I just hate dairy. So I get a mouth full of milk, and can’t get the taste out of my mouth. So I go to the bathroom to try to wash.
K: But there’s no getting that out of dreadlocks in a plane bathroom. Was it breast milk? *laughing a lot*
i: Yeah I tweeted about getting warm milk in my mouth and someone tweeted back that it was probably breast milk and I was just like AWWWWWW. Just so bad. So yeah, I would love a child-free airline – or at least a baby ghetto in the back of the plane. Just keep them all close to the bathroom.
K: *Laughing* So, I heard you brought dubstep to the people of Vietnam. Is that true?
i: Actually Laos
K: What was that like? How did that happen?
i: Well my girlfriend is from there, so I always wanted to travel with her to the land of her people, so we made it happen. So we were there on Boxing Day and they had this huge stage set up for Tiger Beer with no one playing on it. They were playing American WWF wrestling and blaring really bad electro-house, and everyone’s just sitting around, so I’m like, what the hell? Why is there this huge stage with no one playing on it? So I find the promoters, and I tell them I’ve played for Tiger Beer a bunch of times in North America. I ask them what’s up with the huge stage, and they tell me it’s last minute and they couldn’t find any acts to play until the 28, but they’re giving away beer. And I was like, ‘sooooo do you need a DJ?’ And so they were like yeah, sure. So I went back to my hotel to burn some CDs and came back. And the old Laotian people were like ‘what the hell,’ but the kids got it right away. It was like full bass face, bouncing up and down and the parents were just sitting at their tables stunned, like what’s going on? Then all these tourists just came running from all the hotels around, and the whole time with WWF on the screens.
K: Who’s your favourite WWF wrestler?
i: Macho Man Randy Savage, because not least of all he has a rap record, and it’s fucking hilarious. It’s called Be a Man and I thought it was a joke. There’s only 1 track that’s good.
K: There’s actually a good track?
i:Yeah I forget what it’s called, but it’s really funny.
K: What’s your favorite city you’ve ever played in?
i: Black Rock City.
K: So at Burning Man? I actually wanted to ask you about that, because I was at Burning Man last year and I swear you played about 50 sets.
i: Yeah, I was trying to break a record, my own record.
K: It seemed like it was you, Opiuo and Ben Samples everywhere. How did that even come to happen? How many sets did you actually play? That was crazy.
i: Well basically I have trouble saying no to things. And also when I play sets now I’m playing all of my own original music. That’s what people wanna hear, and that’s kind of the direction I’ve been going in, playing strictly original music when I play out – or strictly a DJ set.
K: That’s quite an achievement.
i: Well when you play half and half, especially when it’s an unreleased tune that’s your friends, it seems like you’re taking credit for other people’s music. I don’t really feel comfortable with that, so once I crossed the threshold of 50 per cent I decided I should just go all the way. But the thing is, I fucking love DJing. I really really love it, and I collect all kinds of music. And it’s events like Burning Man that I get to do that. So the first year I did the megasets thing was just kind of an accident, because I just really wanted to DJ a bunch. So I played 16 sets two years ago, and then people started talking about that and realized that no one had played more.
K: And this was 2010?
i: Yeah. So then two different people started trying to play more (than 16) and it became sort of like a competition. So I saw two different people that had 17 sets specifically on their line up and I was like, 17? I know what you’re doing. So I was like fuck it, I’m going to do as many as I possibly can and see how far I can take it, and make sure they’re all totally different from each other. So this year the final result was 21 in five days. I actually got some particularly entertaining e-mail about it that’s up on my Facebook page. I got a really good hater letter that accused me of hogging all the sets on the playa.
K: I’m going to check that out. What other kinds of music do you like? Do you have a favourite band? I know we talked about Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails.
i: Around my house one of my favourite things to listen to is an Internet radio show called Shirley and Spinoza, and basically it’s like expect the unexpected type of deal. They’ll play weird psychedelic rock from Russia, 1950s radio ads from America, skits, experimental electronic and hip hop records, weird Cambodian garage bands and it’s just so completely random. It’s so different from listening to (electronic) producers, and dubstep and bass music all the time. I listen to a lot of that, a lot of Jamaican music. If I had to think of a favourite band … probably Monster Zoku Onsome from Australia. They’re really rad, kind of like punk rock zombie electronica weirdness. Otherwise probably Coldcut is one of my favourites. They’re not really a band band.
K: So last question, or questions. Can you tell me about any upcoming plans for this summer? Shows, festival, releases?
i: Basically I’m running myself ragged doing weekenders until May or June, then I’m retiring to the Phat Cave to finish some tunes.
K: You call it the Phat Cave!?
i: Yeah, amongst other things. I’m doing a collab with Bassnectar as well as an all solo EP with no collaborators, which is something I’ve never done before. I’m always trying to find things I’ve never done before, and that’s one of the things.
K: And where are you playing this summer? Which festivals do you have scheduled?
i: There’s a bunch, but mostly smaller ones. Still haven’t got a Burning Man ticket, definitely hoping to play for one.
K: Are you playing at Shmabhala this summer? Because I would love to see you there.
i: I would love to play too! I’m also doing a full production driving tour in the fall. 3D map projections, same bill each time, full on stage show.
K: Who’s doing it for you?
i: I can’t say yet, it’s top secret.
K: You’ll go all around North America?
i: Yeah that’s the plan. Hopefully I can get the rest of my stuff in Toronto.
So there it is. Thanks to ill.Gates for being so cool and funny! Check out the show review, and for more info on ill.Gates (releases, tour dates, etc.) go to http://illgates.com/