Another beautiful and raucous set from the one and only ill.Gates took place at this years 22nd annual Shambhala Music Festival and MusicFests365 had the honor of sitting down with the man himself prior to the show. Dylan Lane, better known by music moniker ill.Gates, is one of the most skilled electronic music producers and Djs in the world. Hailing from Toronto, ill.Gates is a top musical export of Canada and has been producing and playing music since he was 15 years old. ill.Gates has collabed with industry heavyweights such as Bassnectar, Minnesota, Excision, Apashe, G Jones, Beats Antique, and Opiuo, while performing on some of the biggest stages and music festivals the in the world.
We dove a little deeper into everything from his start in music, his immense love for the Shambhala Music Festival, and his newly founded music education program called the Producer Dojo.
ill.Gates just began his 21 stop, Liftoff 2019, fall tour earlier this month. Do yourself a favor and head on over to a show near you!
Check out the full Q&A below:
OK. So, wow, ill.Gates, thanks for sitting down with us today.
Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for giving a shit, haha.
We’re super excited for your set this weekend. We’ve been told you’re quite the resident here at Shambhala playing the festival for quite some time now?
I’ve been coming to Shambhala since I was like a kid, fresh out of high school. I first came here by accident kind of because I was already in the area on this shitty little tour playing these little bars in Canada. My friend Dave Dub was booked for Shambhala and said “hey, come to this festival with me” so I just said: “Fuck it!” And came without any preparation or camping supplies or anything. I was a total mess haha. We partied and had fun all weekend and then Dave started getting indigestion while he was in the middle of playing this two-hour set and was like “Yo Dylan, go get your records!”. I played my heart out for about half an hour and everyone was like “who is this kid?” Then they just kept booking me!
So confirmed, you are most definitely a resident on the farm and thats a wild start! So, if you had to pick something that kind of kept you coming back year after year, what would it be?
I’d have to say it’s definitely the vibe here, you know? It’s really different than other festivals; there’s no corporate sponsorship, there’s no alcohol. Everyone is here to collaborate and build a culture. It’s basically like Canadian Burning Man, without the ego. You meet people who might be doing some crazy next level shit and instead of brag, they just give you a hug and pass you a joint and just want to have fun. It’s that positivity. You can leave your backpack outside of the bathroom and not worry. I remember my first year I came here and on the way to the Beach Stage, I saw an adult weed plant growing out of a tree stump. No one fucked with it the entire time! It’s special man. Not everywhere that is like that.
So it sounds like you kind of consider this your home festival then?
Oh yeah, it’s a HUGE part of who I am. It totally changed my life and gave me the kind of belief in myself as a musician that I needed to really take the leap and just say “Fuck it: I’m not going to work a job, I don’t care if I’m poor, I’d rather take the risk and fail than play it safe and never know if I could have done it”. This festival gave me that faith to take that risk when I was so young. I came pretty much right out of high school into the music industry and never looked back. I credit this festival to helping me make that decision so early.
That is really impressive and something I would have to imagine is hard to do at that age for sure.
Oh yeah, everybody tells you that it’s unrealistic. “You’re going to be poor your whole life you’re just going to fail, become a drug addict and fuck everything up and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah”. There’s a lot of perfectly rational reasons to never chase a dream. This festival – more than any other festival – Shambhala has the power to transform people’s lives. I feel so blessed to be able to participate in that and to help other people to make that shift in their own mind.
I think that’s one thing I’ve noted talking to a lot of individuals around the festival grounds that frequent Shambhala yearly, most will mention it’s just been a very formative part of their life.
What’s changed since your early days of Shambhala?
Oh, the music! Definitely people’s musical tastes! It’s progressed so much, the music just gets better and better each year. Once the festival got to the position where they can sell it out without even announcing a line-up it all opened up. That guaranteed attendance gives the curators the freedom to be like “hey, what kind of experience do we want to create for people?” They’re not trying to book the biggest EDM acts to sell tickets because they know those tickets are going to move anyways. So they’re like “hey, what is the BEST music that we can expose people to?” They can now book acts that are maybe not as well known that they really believe in. That shift in the curation has been such an incredibly positive force for everyone.
When you’re hanging out in Western Canada, people have amazing taste in music. There are so many incredibly talented DJs and producers that have really kind of emerged as a result of that. People are just like: trust the festival, trust the curators, they’re going to open your mind. When it was first starting out and they were building the festival, they’d have to book big commercial acts to sell all the tickets but seeing that shift and just that relationship of trust develop with the attendees, it’s just beautiful man, it is really beautiful.
The musical curation is one of the special parts of Shambhala for sure, it is top notch and nearly impossible to find with other festivals. You can tell there is a strong trust between the fans and curators at this point.
So I always tell people this, you are definitely one of the few artists that can make me and a lot of people that I work with/go to music with, kind of get ‘lost’ in a set. It’s awesome and it’s hard to do. We definitely consider you a true master of your craft. When you’re making music and also when fans come to see your live sets, what do you hope that they’re taking out of both of those experiences?
I really just try to make music that is creatively honest and I like to make music where I’m challenging myself as an artist to do something that I’ve never done before each time. If you are an artist with a management team (which I am not) there’s a lot of pressure, economic pressure, to find a niche formula and repeat that formula, beat it to death and establish yourself as a brand and just like do the same thing over and over again to carve out your little niche. While that strategy works in the short term, I find that in the long game it is not so fruitful. Trends come and go, you don’t want to be hot one year and nobody the next. That approach can be good in the short term if you want to blow up but if you want to spend the rest of your LIFE making music, you need to constantly be evolving and constantly be challenging yourself.
When I make music, I’m not just trying to say like “hey, look how fancy the sounds and the technologies I am using are, look how skillful I am. Aren’t you impressed?” No – my music is about the listeners experience and about sharing something personal from my emotional reality and communicating that emotional content to people.
I was studying at university of Toronto and while I was writing a paper, I went to one of my professors (Jordan Peterson actually) during his office hours and when I walked in he said, “So Dylan, you seem to be an expert in ‘most people’.” I was like, “what are you talking about?” He responded, “Well, you write a lot about ‘most people’, you’re like, ‘most people’ think this and ‘most people’ think that. Did you go study at the Institute of Most People? And get your degree in most people? Well, you’re NOT an expert in ‘most people’, so shut up! Tell us about your emotional reaction to the text, tell us about how the text made you feel because you are by definition, the world’s leading expert in how you feel.”
Sure, we are talking about a psychology paper, but when you think about it, when you’re making music, if your music is just about ‘look what I can do with technology, isn’t that fancy?’ then you can be right or wrong. If your music is about your own human experience and communicating an emotional truth – an emotional experiential truth – that you can share with people, you are by definition the world’s leading expert on that emotional experience! No one can ever tell you you’re wrong! Even if your music isn’t the most technically perfect, if it’s coming from a place of emotional honesty and you are being vulnerable and you are really peeling back the onion layers and going inside yourself to find out who you are and sharing that journey with people, that is an inexhaustible source of truth that people will connect with. They will connect with that vulnerability and they’ll connect with that journey and it will help them with their own journey.
I love approaching it in that way and really trying to make sure that all of my tracks are about something and not just, aren’t I impressive? It took people a little while to connect with that but I think over time the fans of my music have grown to understand that and respect that and that’s why they’ve continued to support me over the years.
Yeah, I totally agree. When people go to shows, they can tell when there’s that honest and true feeling behind it and then when there’s just not.
Yeah, definitely. Thats why I resonate so much with Mr. Bill and why he’s been a such a big part of my life and a big part of my creative reality because as much as I’m a teacher, I’m a student myself. I am constantly challenging myself to grow. Mr. Bill is very much on that path, he does not consider himself an expert. He does not consider himself an authority. He considers himself a perpetual student on a journey inwards and just evolving. It’s been really great to connect with with people like him. He’ll be around for a long time because of that.
Your Mr. Bill Gates set at One Vibration with Mr.Bill was fire!
Yeah. That’s a really unique little festival. That was a really good time. We’re doing a bunch more stuff together. He’s on my new record and shit too.
It’s funny how that started, at Camp Bisco they were like “Hey, did you guys want to do a b2b? You are homies right?” We’re like, yeah, sure. Then they put Mr. Bill Gates on the flyer without asking and suddenly all of these promoters were like beating our door down and they’re like, “We need Mr.Bill Gates! Now!” I’m like, okay….. I guess we’re in a band that neither of us started or named. Whatever though, the people have spoken!
Haha, that is a very interesting start but we are happy the band was started!
You have often been referred to by many of your peers and fellow artists as one of the best producers and DJs doing it right now. You kind of alluded to it already, but what would you say was that first creative spark that got you to just dive into it?
Well, thank you man, that means a lot. So, I used to be a real misanthrope, I was bullied a lot. I had a very pessimistic view of human nature. If you look at it objectively, there’s a death when you die and then there’s another death when the last person says your name, then all of the fucking plastic packaging that you’ve consumed in your life will live billions of years beyond that.
When you look at humanity, it’s easy to say it’s CLEARLY in the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself. Should we colonize the cosmos before we can responsibly live on our own planet? There is so much hate and division and fear in the world. There are all of these very valid reasons to be a total misanthrope and to be like, oh, humanity is this toxic force.
Music opened my heart and really gave me faith in the future and helped me to connect with the rest of humanity and to really see that there is beauty in the world, there is love in the world. As much as there are things that divide we’re all united in the pursuit of MORE LIFE. In a truly inanimate system, entropy wins. Yet, here we are in an organic system that is progressing towards complexity and moving away from the uniformity of entropy and progressing towards this evolution to… whatever. There is this driving force that just wants MORE LIFE and that is a force of love and a force of positivity. It is very real. It’s a subtle force and it’s easy to overlook and it’s easy to feel alienated from that.
Music opened my heart to that and it really changed my emotional reality. Music is medicine, really. That’s why I like the label that i’m on, Muti. The founder is a friend named Dov, he is from South Africa and the word ‘Muti’, in Afrikaans (I believe? I might be wrong), means medicine. I guess I could be on a bigger label and I could be out to dominate the music industry and treat it as a competition and blah, blah, blah, blah, but I love Dov, I love Muti, I love the mission.
I’m really just out here to heal people because there is a war going on in the mind between love and fear and I just want to help you to choose love.
That’s awesome and we are happy that you chose to make music for sure!
Yeah man, it was definitely a leap of faith for sure but I regret nothing. So ya, when I first started, my goal was to create a thousand die hard fans. I read Kevin Kellys 1000 True Fans essay and was like, “I want to achieve independence, I want to be able to support myself in my art”. Then once I had achieved that, my goal became “I want to create a thousand music careers and help these people to get off the ground, get independent, escape the rat race and pursue art”. Over time I have trained a team of coaches and mentors and have been connecting them with students. Every week I do a different class on entirely different subject called #TheWeeklyDownload. There’s over 150 classes, it grows every week and I make it REALLY cheap to access the archive.
Then for the people who want to take it to the next level, there’s the Dojo Membership, which is one-on-one coaching. I have employed dozens of musicians that are training each other and just helping. It’s like, if you want to become an expert at something you need a COACH not classes. Usain Bolt doesn’t go to running class, he has a COASH! The Dojo is about personal cultivation, like martial arts, as opposed to being a school which is like “Here, pay me money and get a diploma”. What are you gonna show your fans your fucking diploma? It’s a piece of paper. Nobody cares. Make awesome music you love, become excellent at music you love, THEN they’ll care. So it’s just trying to create a community that’s just built around that personal cultivation.
What do you see as next steps for the program being?
Actually, there is a kind of secret next level I cant talk about too much. I don’t like to say a ton and spill the beans before it’s ready. I’m just being careful to not grow it too quick. #TheWeeklyDownload is the main focus because it’s scalable. 10,000 people could sign up next week and the system wouldn’t break. The Dojo memberships are different. With the coaching and everything associated there are a lot of moving parts, I don’t want to overload the system. I also don’t want to be promising people things (like the chance at a label release) that can’t be delivered on because there are too many members. The coaching thing is like the labor of love and then #TheWeeklyDownload is like the financial engine of it all. There is another level coming beyond all of that!
I dig it, we are excited for it then. Cant wait to see whats next.
So I had to throw this one in here, I’ll show my hand a little bit. I am a pretty big Bassnectar fan. I’ve been to a ton of shows. I also sent over these questions on 8/08, so happy 8/08 day! We have read a little bit about you kind of helping out with the Ableton live set up Lorin uses?
Oh yeah, Lorin still uses the template I built like 10 years ago. There have only been very minor modifications to the system (Ableton hasn’t really had that many new DJ features to be honest, it’s mostly been a production feature updates) but yeah: that system has been doing him right for over a decade!
It’s been really fun being around that guy. He’s helped me out musically more than anyone else in my life ever. I fucking love him to death, I actually think he’s the best DJ in the world. He’s one of my best friends. I feel really honored that he heard my tracks and sought me out back when we were both fucking starving artists and he’d come stay on my couch and shit. It’s been a hell of a ride man. I fucking love him to death!
Every single track that you guys have put out or worked on together is an instant classic. We love the work!
So piggybacking off of that a bit, outside of Lorin, who are some other artists you love to work with?
Um, well I mean, KJ Sawka, he is just like a fucking saint man. Like that guy is so skilled and so sweet. I know he would take a fucking take a bullet for me and I’ll take a bullet for him. He’s just one of my favorite people ever. There’s a reason why he is the number one electronic music drummer in the world. He is in Illenium, he is in Pendulum, Destroid. He’s a mastermind and a really beautiful person. Then Mr. Bill again, he’s just top of the fucking heap in terms of Ableton and in terms of his creativity. His journey, I really respect a lot and just his overall skill. I mean those two guys are two of my greatest influences for sure.
So, you’ve definitely had a lot of standout moments, in your career and on your musical journey. If you had to pick one, what would it be?
I gotta say starting the Dojo has been really cool. There is a lot of people who are just starting out there and they are getting really good really fast. A couple of my ninjas are making really epic progress. One of my Ninjas, Ionize, he wasn’t really finishing much music when we hooked up and now he’s got this album with like T.I., Rick Ross, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Boogie Wid A Hoodie, all these dudes, he’s just getting ready to launch it. He released the last tune ever with the late Prodigy from Mobb Deep and then he’s got this new one Polar Bear with Gucci Mane. He was like “thanks for showing me the ropes teach, how would you like to do an official Gucci Mane remix?” And they brought that back to me and I was just like “oh my God, you’re fucking kidding me”. So now I have an unreleased official track with Gucci mane!
I hope to hear that one soon. I know where I’m going to be 9:00 PM tonight, the Village Stage. Cool. Well, that was it. We definitely appreciate your time today and cant wait to see what the next chapter holds for the ill.Gates story!
Oh yeah, thanks. Thanks so much for caring!
Make sure to check out the LIFTOFF tour near you!