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Artists Asking Artists: ill.Gates & DEKAI

ill.Gates and DEKAI sit down for a chat

This past December, Salt Lake City-based producer DEKAI launched his new imprint Extra Dimensional with a 6-track EP called Level Up. The bass artist also celebrated with a release party and had a special guest ill.Gates to help kick things off. ill.Gates has been a major player in the educational space and has amassed a large following for his Ableton courses. We thought it would be interesting to sit the two down to have them chad about the release, and all things music. 

ill.Gates and Dekai

ill.Gates and Dekai

ill.Gates asking DEKAI:

DEKAI

DEKAI

ill.Gates: What was it like coming up in Utah? How do you think that impacted your love of bass music and career?

DEKAI: Haha, it’s a good question! Honestly, I am super thankful to have come up in Utah. It’s still on the come up with Electronic Music, but we have an awesome community. Salt Lake City is the most diverse city in the state, and there’s a whole lot of potential here. There aren’t many Utah artists that have made it out of the “local DJ” realm, but those who have are all incredible, and UNIQUE. I feel like it’s been an absolute blessing to be able to make music in our own lane.

Last thing is there is a misperception about Utah people FOR SURE… I get the most hilarious responses when people ask where I’m from at out-of-state shows. If you haven’t seen SLC Punk, watch it. Counterculture is real y’all and that’s where me and my people come from.

ill.Gates: Bass music has come a long way in America, and continues to evolve. You yourself started in the more ‘global, conscious’ electronic realm, and now create more experimental/freeform bass. What can you say about the bass scene in America and how have you evolved along with it?

DEKAI: I honestly feel like the best years are ahead of us! We’re seeing such an amazing rise in talent in the bass music scene as a whole and I feel like artists, regardless of genre, are really leveling up together and supporting each other. Big props to you and the Producer Dojo for all the work you’ve done in contributing to that!

My evolution has been HUGE since I started making bass music… I think mostly due to caring less about the norms, genres, and what sounds are ‘cool’. I don’t really even know what genre my music would be considered anymore. It’s all just music from the heart. Although I’ve always really done my thing and been in my own lane, I’m really just now starting to fully embrace my WEIRD and go with what feels good. Cause if you aren’t weird, what are you?

ill.Gates: Your new EP, LEVEL UP, is one of your biggest releases to date. Why are you excited for fans to experience this project?

DEKAI: This project has honestly sparked a whole new level of creativity for me. Creating the whole visual journey in addition to the music was a TON of work no doubt. But to be able to tell a story in such an immersive way is ridiculously exciting. I think the listeners are going to feel like they’ve taken a ride when they listen to and watch the full experience. For anyone looking for something new… this is an experience you should check out.

I’ve always created art from programming video games to doing digital art and beyond. But to combine all of these skill sets into one experience is a dream come true. I truly look forward to debuting the release and also the new live audio/visual experience that comes with it. We’ll debut it this weekend, and then we’ll be taking it on the road in 2022!

ill.Gates: With this new release you’re announcing your new label, Extra Dimensional. What can you say about your vision and goals with this new imprint?

DEKAI: The idea of Extra Dimensional is that we’re pushing more than just music and even visuals. We’re a label, but also a collective and a movement. We’re all about creating an experience that people won’t forget, and will be beginning to curate our own events in 2022 that really focus on this concept. Imagine walking into a venue you’ve been to a hundred times, yet it feels like somewhere you’ve never been before. We are the vibe.

In the future I see us throwing some of the dopest curated events out there. But we’re taking our time, building it right, and making sure we curate the vibe from the ground up.

ill.Gates: Explain your vision for the LEVEL UP ‘with ads’ and ‘without ads’ experience, and how the expansive video content plays into it all.

DEKAI: I’ll leave it to the listeners to interpret the meaning - LEVEL UP is a 6 track full audio/visual EP, and totals at 11 tracks when you include the “ads”. The story is composed of all kinds of themes that play a part in the world LEVEL UP takes place in. Imagine watching TV, but in another dimension. Listeners and viewers can embark on the whole experience with ads or just the six tracks “without ads” - making even the choice to play the EP somewhat interactive.

The video content is a big part of the experience, and it’s what helps tie the release together in my opinion. Not only will the full visual experience be streamable upon release, but it’s built into my upcoming live audio/visual production.

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ill.Gates: On December 11th, we had the opportunity to play together and you played out the EP for the first time. Could you give a rundown of your live setup and how you’re able to control the music, visuals, and lights all at once?

DEKAI: I have to start by giving a shout to my dude Rick Winkler, founder of LightTribe who I’ve partnered with on the live production. We’re both long-time developers and have high-level tech backgrounds. By day he’s an Architect at Dell and I’m Chief Operating Officer at a tech startup. Over the last several years we’ve teamed up to build a custom system that allows all my signals from Ableton to be interpreted by a logic engine, and the logic engine sends that data to a series of other software in order to control just about anything (seriously) from the stage. The visuals aren’t just rendered content. We’re generating some of this stuff in real-time. This changes the game.

I’m excited to join you on stage again. Let’s bring the heat!

DEKAI Asking ill.Gates:

ill.Gates cc Connor McKeen

ill.Gates cc Connor McKeen

DEKAI: How are you doing now that you’re back on the road with The Arrival Tour? What has the return to touring been like for you?

ill.Gates: At first, hitting the road was a big adjustment. I’d really gotten into the flow of home life and was just zoning hard in the studio. I’ve never written so much music in my life! As excited as I was to share it all, I was secretly dreading the travel experience (it was indeed awful, especially in September), but once I got to the airport and started making beats at the gate on my new Maschine+ I started to chill right out. I got hassled during the border crossing a couple of times, but once they started to remember my freaky ass it went from “that guy must be crazy” to “that guy must be ECCENTRIC.” You know you’ve made it as a freak when “eccentric” becomes your adjective.

Anyway, I like to play my music real loud (always have), but after a year and a half of bass deprivation my tolerance for extreme sub-bass had reset and my body had forgotten just how stimulating it all is. I remember the first time I got to drop [bass] on a fat PA and it was like gasoline flooding through my veins while the acceleration blew my hair back. After that, everything was great.

DEKAI: What was it like growing up in Toronto for electronic music, and how do you think that’s helped play a part in your career as a producer/DJ?

ill.Gates: Toronto is a special city, it really is. I didn’t realize how special it is until I started traveling around the world more, but I will always have a deep love for it. It’s probably the least racist place I’ve been for one. There is definitely still racism everywhere, for sure, but in Toronto, all the different groups are all mixed up. Everyone hangs out with everyone and it’s actually weird when you see a big homogenous group of all the same ethnicity hanging out as a unit. It was so normal to party with all walks of life that I just assumed it was like that everywhere else. This meant everyone got exposed to all different kinds of music all the time too. You’d have one friend who was heavy into dancehall, another friend who only loves minimal techno, a pair of tiny lesbians who listen to drum and bass all day, a SoundCloud rapper, a psy freak and a breaks DJ all swapping the aux cable at the after-party like it ain’t no thang. It was awesome. Being exposed to such normalized diversity is good for everyone. I highly recommend it.

DEKAI: You also run your own label, The Producer Dojo, which also serves as an impactful learning platform for producers all over including myself. What has it been like watching the growth of your community and what plans do you have for it in the future?

ill.Gates: Dude, I had NO IDEA it would turn into THIS! The Dojo has grown well beyond any of our expectations and it’s getting bigger and better by the second. All our recent releases have been really well received and we’re finally in a position where people trust our curation enough that they’ll take the time to listen to a Dojo artist’s first release when it drops. That was always the goal: to remove all the obstacles and give true talent a path to rise. It’s beautiful to see it finally getting traction because at an economic level it’s a terrible strategy. No other label wants to break an artist from scratch every time they put out a record. It’s way more work and the rewards are anything but guaranteed. I don’t give a single fuck about that though. I have a million other ways to make money. I’d rather know that the Dojo was the place that launched 1000 music careers and we are actually getting pretty close now! The Dojo label itself is just the tip of the iceberg as many of the best Dojo artists have never actually released on the label. Guys like EyeOnEyez, Eko-Zu, and even Seal use Dojo tools and training every day and release massive hits with millions of plays.

Look: music saved my life. I was in a real dark place emotionally before I got into music. Music opened me up, introduced me to my people, and turned me into a productive member of society. Flipping that switch for as many other people as possible is what I was born to do. The fact that I get to make a comfortable living giving myself to music is the greatest thing ever. I couldn’t be happier.

DEKAI: I have to give you props! Once upon a time, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of this guy wearing a fedora that literally set my Ableton learning curve in another direction, and I’ll never forget the impact it had. Back then it was super scarce. You and Tom Cosm as I remember it.

You also curate both the music and visuals when you perform live. I remember my first time opening for you years ago, you did this single-handedly and I was blown away! Do you prefer this style of performance, and if so, what do you think it gives fans?

ill.Gates: I love it for sure. Audiovisual performances present unparalleled opportunities for emotional communication. It’s a pain in the ass technically (long-ass sound checks, way more gear to lug around, lots that can go wrong) but when you hear from the fans how powerful the experience is it’s all worth it. I was inspired mainly by Ninja Tune founders Coldcut and industrial music pioneers Skinny Puppy. They were doing immersive A/V performances in the 80s that still feel edgy AF. Go listen to the “70 Minutes Of Madness” DJ set by Coldcut or watch a Skinny Puppy live video from back in the day on YouTube and tell me they still don’t crush. That shit is WILD!

DEKAI: We’re about to take over at Syndicate at Soundwell this weekend! What are you most looking forward to about this weekend? Anything new we can expect from this set?

ill.Gates: I’m mostly looking forward to seeing my friends’ reaction to the shocking amounts of new music I made over the pandemic. I can’t even fit it all into a two-hour set. It’s a great problem to have!

After so many years in the game, I’ve learned you need to constantly reinvent your style to stay relevant. I’m not talking about keeping up with trends either, I’m talking about pushing your own PERSONAL style in new and challenging directions. Karl Lagerfeld famously said: “Trendy is the last stage before tacky” and he’s not wrong. It is up to each of us as creators to journey inwards and peel back the layers of bullshit that stop us from becoming our authentic selves. The goal is to make the music that ONLY YOU can make and that takes a fearless form of love that will set you free. I feel like it is only now that I have finally arrived at this place, and that’s why my new album is called “The Arrival”. Feast your ears and warm your heart because of Daddy.Gates is coming HOME to rock the party!

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