ill.Gates Talks New Music & the Power of Choosing Love at Shambhala [iEDM Exclusive & Free Sample Pack!]
ill.Gates is a Canadian born producer, DJ, teacher, mentor, father, and virtually anything he sets his mind to. He is known for finding innovative methods to share his passion for music and production skills with others in a way that no other musician has. This has led him to be the go to mentor for some of the biggest names in the music industry as well as hundreds of budding musicians that are a part of his Producer Dojo program.
As a special treat for our readers, ill.Gates wanted to share one of his exclusive Producer Dojo Sample Packs which you can find HERE!
With such a massive career and never-ending list of unique achievements, what is even more remarkable about ill.Gates is his laid back demeanor and relaxed outlook on life that he maintains while staying so driven. We sat down and caught up on a rainy afternoon at Shambhala, a festival which he ties to the start of his success. We discussed the festivals impact, his future music plans, Buddhist philosophy, and so much more. Read below to gain insight into one of electronic music's brightest minds.
How has Shambhala been treating you? I know this festival means a lot to you and it must feel amazing to be back especially when it seems to be a major part of the beginning of your career.
ill.Gates: This is my favorite festival all year hands down. I love it more than anything else so it’s worth any and all sacrifices to get here as early as possible. I first came to this festival when I was just a kid. I was fresh out of high school and I didn't have an agent or anything and I had put together this mini tour playing miscellaneous bars across Canada for no money. Then my friend Dave Dub happened to be booked for Shambhala right around the same time I had a gig in Vancouver. That was way back when all the headliners were each playing two 2-hour long sets. He was getting ready to do his second set at the Fractal Forest but he has a lot of food allergies so he suddenly had really bad indigestion. He told me, “Dylan, I need you to take over for half an hour, go get your records. So I got my records and I played. And the (festival organizers) were like "What!? Who the hell is THIS!?" They’ve booked me every year since then.
I think it's easy for people to look at musicians and just think it’s all just a big win from the get go and that they roll out the red carpet for you but there was a time when I had my doubts and I was struggling. I didn't know if anybody liked my music and didn't know if it had the potential for a future or anything. Then I came here and met people that were asking me all these really intelligent questions about where my samples came from and were appreciative and supportive of my music. I remember when I came home from that tour, that was the moment I got faith.
iEDM: So Shambhala was the first major organization that told you that you were onto something and encouraged your momentum.
ill.Gates: Yeah, totally. Before that it was all fighting for $50 time slots and drink tickets with other local DJ’s. Shambhala has always been something that really means a lot to me. The vibe here is just so different from other festivals and is really positive. It just has a transformative power for people which is why I've always made a point to be very vocal and supportive about this event. I mean I'm camping here with my family and I don't bring them to just any place.
iEDM: Shambhala is the definition of transformative. It is really clear that everyone here is genuinely passionate about it and feels that way. It has also really shaped electronic music and seeing it in person is truly mesmerizing.
ill.Gates also shared some of fun facts and memories from his previous years at Shambhala.
One year at Shambhala I was the priest at a Star Wars themed wedding at the Village stage for the founder of PK Sound and his wife. It's a real family affair. PK Sound started as a bunch of ragtag ravers that are now united for this common purpose. They share the good times and the bad and they work through them all together as a family and it's just one of the most beautiful crews ever.
How do Canadian/international festivals like this compare to US shows which is where most of your performances take place now?
ill.Gates: It is noticeably different in Canada and the abundance mindset is much more prevalent. You can usually leave your belongings unattended without the fear of being robbed. There is harm reduction. There is more International music which is why you hear a lot of UK and Jamaican sounds. The open mindedness, diversity, kindness and low crime rate in Canada really feels great. But the United States is definitely the epicenter of the music industry in terms of bigger production and over the top music experiences.
iEDM: Canada seems like a much more grassroots experience where you can really get inspired by all the culture and compassion present.
Where have you been drawing inspiration from lately culturally wise? I’ve always felt like your music has been filled with messages about things you’re passionate about, especially when it’s politically charged.
ill.Gates: I think it all goes back to the transformative nature this festival has in my life. I just had a daughter. As a Canadian musician living in the US, I was very much on the fence about having children at first because it’s such a huge leap of faith. My wife was a war refugee and orphan who is one of the most loving and beautiful people I know. She really wanted to have blood family because she didn’t have any.
I looked at the world and all the hate and division as well as the reality that the legacy of our plastic pollution will outlive any of our achievements or memories. It all made me wonder whether it was the right time or place to bring a child into the world. I went to go visit my uncle who’s a quadriplegic who has had cancer, hemophilia and was on death's door at the hospital. I went to see him after his intubation removal when he was finally able to speak after months. He is an amazing activist who is a part of a program that rescues Buddhist artifacts from being destroyed by other religions. I told him about my dilemma and he told me that the Buddha teaches us that the past is just a memory and that the future is just a dream or worry, and that the only thing that is actually real is the present moment. In this present moment and in every moment there is a choice between love and fear. Which of those forces do you want shaping your life? Hearing that from him really put it into perspective for me.
There's always reasons not to do something. There's reasons not to be a musician, there's reasons not to have a child, there's reasons not to marry. I would rather choose love and I want to help other people come to that decision in their life. There are a lot of reasons to be afraid but it's up to us to make that choice. Even though we live in really dark times.
iEDM: It’s sad to think about but it's a reality. Even though we have so much going on with events like this where people are collectively working to create positive change and action, society as a whole and the people in power are not in tune with that. But like you said, it is still important to always choose love.
ill.Gates: There is a lot to be grateful for and I am always encouraging love. Whenever I am digging for a sample or deciding on thematic content, I am trying to help make people make that switch from fear to love.
How has becoming a father changed your perspective and lifestyle when it comes to music and touring? This past year has seems to have brought a lot of light into your life.
ill.Gates: I'm really lucky that my wife is the best ever. We've been together since we were kids - almost 14 years. We communicate really well and never fight so my daughter has been really happy right from the beginning. You roll the dice when you have a child and we really lucked out. it's almost obnoxious how cute she is! It's so obvious from looking at her that I owe it to her to be the best version of myself that I can. It's helped me take my music and craft more seriously because I need that stability to provide for her.
Overall, it's been a very positive thing. I'm a lot more intentional about the people that I have at my house. It's really helped me make better decisions and become a better person. All the fear that I had before - how ever rational it sounded at the time - was just silly and I am just so grateful to have her in my life.
What made you interested in mentoring? Has teaching so many others impacted your own music making process?
ill.Gates: My dad is a Zen Buddhist professional guitarist from Trinidad who played in many reggae bands and my mom used to run the Canadian Association of Publishers before she gave that up to raise us. She became a schoolteacher for under privileged in the inner city. Since she’s a teacher and he’s a musician it makes sense that this is what I ended up doing. When I was starting out and I wasn't getting good money for shows, I knew there was still work I could do as a musician. You can finish people's tracks, ghost produce, you can do mixing and mastering, make ringtones.
I made the first ever commercial Ableton templates. I had a YouTube video and a PayPal address and started a side hustle that way. That ended up leading me to be the Ableton Live performance guy. Suddenly all these big acts like the String Cheese Incident were hitting me up to do programming for them. Then Bassnectar listened to some of my music and ended up hitting me up. That led me to teach him how to use Ableton and I built his live performance interface which he still uses to this day. I also ended up teaching at the School of Audio Engineering in Australia.
When I first started off my goal was to get 1000 diehard fans. I read the Kevin Kelly 1000 True Fans essay and thought that was an attainable goal. I could definitely play the fame game more though... I don't make merch and I don't have a manager and I’m not putting my stickers over everything.
iEDM: It seems like you let your work speak for itself instead.
ill.Gates: Exactly, I just try to make the best music that I can and hope that people will tell their friends. I think I would be a lot further along in my career if I was more hell bent on ‘dominating the competition’ but I never really viewed it as that. I've always felt that if you climb to the top of the mountain but you have no one to share the view with, then what's the point?
Now that I knew how to operate without a manager or anybody holding my hand, my goal then shifted to teaching 1000 more people how to do the same thing. So I started the Dojo and began training all these different people and building this new body of work. Every Wednesday I do a new class on a different subject and do live streams. I have a teachers that I've trained and that have worked with me from the beginning that act as coaches.
In my opinion coaching is a lot more effective than classes are for music. Most people don’t know this but the current educational model we use in North America was designed by Henry Ford and a team of psychologists who wanted to see how they can turn the population into a factory to drive the economy. They wanted to teach people that thinking is work and that you should leave that to the people with the fancy hats and just do what you're told, living paycheck-to-paycheck while looking forward to the weekend. That’s great if you’re training people to be factory workers, but music doesn’t work like that.
I studied Martial arts when I was younger so I decided to adopt a system that focuses on personal cultivation and discipline. I give people one on one coaching and that has really resonated with the members. I am proud to say that I employee about 30 people. The Dojo has really been growing with so many excellent artists. I've also started a label for them to build up their fan base and also hold meetups at festivals for them. If their music is really awesome sometimes I even play it on stage! Seeing their reactions when they experience how powerful they can be is the best feeling ever!
I am a pretty happy person and I guess I could be more ambitious, but my mental health is ultimately more important because I want to be doing this until the day that I die. When you view it as a competition, it’s stressful, when you view it as a collaboration it’s way more fun!
iEDM: It’s stressful and breeds negativity. I feel that in this kind of industry people need to be coming together and celebrating that special bond over creativity and music and the compassion that comes with it.
ill.Gates: I found that the Dojo is really helping and just doesn't exist anywhere else in the music scene. Admissions are currently closed because I'm worried about overextending the capacity or growing it too fast but spots do open up every 3-4 months. It's been a very fulfilling part of my life and means a lot to the people that are all part of it.
Any tips on going outside the box with music production and preventing yourself from following into repetitive habits when it comes to creativity?
ill.Gates: A piece of advice would be to check out the Ted Talk by Seth Godin about how to get your ideas to spread. The mistake people make is to try to knock on the front door of the music industry with a demo and resume. If you approach them like that they're going to laugh in your face and say that this person does not know how the music industry works.
You need to talk to the people that are listening and make something that they are excited to share with their friends. When you go out to a venue don't talk to the promoter, talk to the person that's in the front row who is living for that music. No one gives them demos! If you share your music and mutual inspiration they will be really touched by that and will spread it to all the right people to become fans. Eventually it reaches that critical mass on social media. It’s all about supply and demand. The supply is abundant, so it’s the people that ultimately tell the promoters who to book.
iEDM: It’s really important to make people feel special. Sometimes it seems like when people reach a certain level, they can become disconnected to what the dedication and passion fans have for their art means and it’s important to cater to those fans over anything else.
ill.Gates: Definitely, you should be making music that means something to people. Your goal should not be to make music to get on the main stage right away. Your goal should be to make music for people's alarm clocks, people's first dances at their wedding, or when they’re having a hard time. Those people will become your ambassadors and will spread your music and that's what will get you on the main stage.
Any upcoming new projects/music for fans to look forward to?
ill.Gates: I have a finished album I am waiting to find a home for. It's better than any of the other records that I've made. It's more authentic and I feel like I'm being more creatively honest than I've ever been. I really believe in it and am really excited to share it. It's all up in the air right now... I had a label for it but with larger labels there are certain forces at work that are out of your control.
I’ve got new tracks with Mr. Bill, Gucci Mane, Ragga Twins, and many more that I can't name right now. I have some singles I can release in between that depending on how long it takes but I'm essentially sitting on a bunch of brand new material right now. I also directed some music videos with choreography teams, body painters, and break dancers. I cannot WAIT to release it all!
iEDM: That’s so exciting. There definitely needs to be more music videos in electronic music and I feel like that is a powerful creative outlet that is still relatively untapped in this genre.
ill.Gates: I agree. A good music video just gives you life. It's all coming, I just need to find a new home for this album.
Oh! I also recently made some music for the Star Wars Disneyland cantina. It sounds like Daft Punk with singing robots. They have all these animated droids that sing my song. I'm hoping to do more stuff with Star Wars in the future. Fun Fact: The guy that actually put this project together is at Shambhala and the project came out of this festival.
What was your favorite ringtone you’ve ever made during your time at Microsoft? I know your work with them was a major part of your transition to the US. And do you still use any yourself?
ill.Gates: I made some really silly ones. It started off with making shorter versions of my songs. Then they were like make a Hip Hop/trap one, make an electronic one, and a world music one. Then they asked me to a comedy ringtone pack which was really fun. I wrote one with a robot having an existential crisis where the AI was like a jilted ex girlfriend. I made a cat and dog themed ringtone. I thought to myself, which sounds are funny in 2 seconds or less? And realized that farts are pretty funny. So I did what I had to do and listened to Eye of the Tiger, ate a can of beans, got my most expensive microphone and sold Microsoft my farts. I also made one that was 15 seconds of silence and called it the telemarketer special and they told me it was brilliant and paid me the full rate for it.
You’ve accomplished so much but show no signs of slowing down. The way you approach things compared to other musicians is so different since you strive for a collaborative approach that benefits everyone. What is one of your biggest dreams for your project that you’ve achieved and what else would you like to accomplish as a musician?
ill.Gates: One of my Dojo members hadn’t really finished a lot of music and started training with me. Now he's got a new album with Rick Ross, TI, Gucci Mane, Ghostface Killa and he’s currently figuring out his release strategy for it. He came back to me and said, “Thanks a lot Dylan. How would you like to do a track with Gucci Mane?” It's so cool to see my ninjas going out there and killing it. I feel a really deep satisfaction knowing that I had a part in that.
Seal is actually in Producer Dojo too! He facetimed me the other day and was asking me Ableton questions and was playing and singing to me and I was like oh my god Seal is singing to me over facetime right now! It was surreal!
As far as what I want to achieve, there is a much larger project than anything that I have ever done that I am working on but needs to remain a secret at this point, but I am just trying to help. One of my biggest Inspirations is this Elon Musk quote where he says, “if you want to make a billion dollars help a billion people.” I just try to make myself useful.
Anything else you would like to add?
ill.Gates: Yes, if you're out there I know there is a lot of fear, hate and division in the world right now but just remember what the Buddha said. The past is just a memory, the future is just a dream, the only thing that is real is this moment. And In this moment and every moment there is a choice between love and fear. Choose love because love wins every time.
Thank you so much ill.Gates for sharing your time and wisdom with us at Shambhala! It has been awe-inspiring watching you evolve as a musician over the years and we are so excited for you continue to push boundaries in music industry!
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