Wednesday, 10 June 2009
INTERVIEW: Illum Sphere
Ryan Hunn has unknowingly been littering my interweb perusal for weeks now; whether in the form of emails from pals, online record shop e-shots, gig listings or flyers with his moniker on, his easily recognisable production moniker, Illum Sphere, has popped up everywhere. From the first moment you slip on your headphones to listen to his heavy, atmosphere-laced analog drums you’re sucked in. And sucked in deep.
With the release of his perplexingly moody first 12”, ‘Incoming EP,’ on Manchester’s Fat City label, we thought we’d pin him down and wrestle a little history out of him.
Sonic Router: Can you provide those who may not know you with a bit of background info?
Illum Sphere: I'm 24, based in Manchester, and run the monthly session Hoya:Hoya. My first release 'The Incoming EP' landed on limited wax back in April and has just landed on download from all the usual spots.
Outside of music who are you? What do you do on the daily?
I work a few days a week in the Fat City shop, which is cool cause you get the good stuff first! I'm also in the process of setting up a Hoya:Hoya record label, along the other head honcho Jonny Dub, which will launch with a 12" from myself and then will only feature artists that have played at the night or one-offs we've done. We're looking at releasing a comp next year featuring an exclusive from every artist who's played, including Dabrye, Ras G, Samiyam, FlyLo, Daedelus, Rustie, Mark Pritchard, Danny Breaks, Bullion, Paul White & myself, plus some up and coming Manchester peeps.
How did the name Illum Sphere about?
I didn't want to be releasing music under my own name, but because I've been DJing under my own name for a few years it was hard to pick an alias that people wouldn't laugh at! Not because the names were shit, but purely because my friends know me as Ryan, and I've never had another alias.
Illum Sphere came from browsing a list of old Sci Fi B-movies and novels that I found on some random website. I liked the way that the name is pretty ambiguous, mysterious and open ended, so it frees me up to make anything I want.
How did you get into making music?
I've only been making electronic music properly for about 2 years. I just started dicking around in Cubase with some M-audio synth. I have actually been making music since I was about 11, but back then I was more into instrumentation. My mate who lived round the corner from me had a killer set up in his attic, so we combined gear and used to record random shit with one cheap mic flown in the middle of the room. The stuff was kinda weird, but more guitar band stuff, playing electric guitars with violin bows and running them through random effects units etc. I've been meaning to dig out some of the tapes actually and sample some of the randomness!
The real switch came when I started getting into people like Dabrye. That feeling of being completely blown away by his 'sound' had a huge effect on my music making, and since then I've just been kinda doing what I've been doing.
What’s your production set up like? When did you start producing and what was your set up like then compared to now?
Ummm... I use mainly analog equipment: Casio SK-1, Moog Concertmate MG-1, Roland MC-303 as well as a random collection of Boss and Roland effects units. My flat mate has an MPC2000XL, but I rarely use it. I also have an MPD 24, and a few midi synths. I've only really just started to use midi, but I'm not really a fan. I have to process midi sounds so hard to make them not sound cheap or crap (in my own mind), but in my opinion, analog sounds piss all over midi.
I didn't use any midi at all on the EP, all audio. I also arranged all of the EP in a really old version of Cubase, but have now switched to Logic Pro, which is well better. I don't really sequence too much, most stuff is played live and roughly aligned, but Logic has just helped me create a better sound, in terms of sonics. I've just bought a load more gear, a random Japanese electric piano etc, as I'm getting into fucking around with equipment more. It really appeals to me as you can essentially create your own sounds than you can't get anywhere else, and I like that individuality.
Do you have any regular processes you go through when making music?
I drink a lot of tea and smoke a lot of cigarettes. That's the only regular process that occurs when I make stuff! I don't make stuff everyday, but go through phrases. I find it really hard forcing myself to make stuff and just end up getting frustrated, so I make music whenever I have ideas. This will sometimes happen on the way home from somewhere at 2am, for example, so I'll just get in, lay down as much as I have in my head, then come back to it when I feel I've got something to add to it. That's when I find things come together easier, it feels right and I make better music.
When did your love for hip-hop start, what drew you to the sound?
Ummm... I can't remember really. I'm by no means a hip-hop connoisseur, but used to listen to bits of Biggie, Wu, Nas and Dre when I was 12/13/14, but I was mainly into stuff like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd at that age. I got more into hip-hop around 5 years ago: early Premo, Madlib, Dilla, Diamond D, Wu-Tang etc. But to be honest, I'm not a hip-hop head. I love Yusef Lateef, Alice Coltrane, Axelrod, Leroy Burgess, Jimi Hendrix, Augustus Pablo, Fela Kuti, Mulatu (the list could go on) as much as I love any hip-hop producer. Being from London too (I moved up when I was 11) we used to go to a lot of garage raves when we 16, so I've got as much love for hip-hop as I have for have for a lot of other types of music.
You’re currently lumped into this whole ‘wonky’ movement. A lot of beat makers have been (deservedly) very vocal of their disdain for the genre label. What are your thoughts on the tag?
I think it's a bit of a lazy naming of a genre that is probably broader than the taste and knowledge of whatever journalist named it. But, on the other hand, it does describe some of the music that's being made. To be honest, I tend not to like stuff that's 'wonky'… I like stuff that experiments. Rhythm is far more important to me than pulling a beat apart for the sake of 'swing'. Swing should be a natural thing, you shouldn't need to force it, not everything has to swing super hard. Also, I don't think my stuff's clean enough to be 'wonky', it's just essentially dusty electronic music. I don't really consider it 'beats' either, cause I don't make beats, y'know?
There are a lot of people who want to be beatmakers and that's totally cool, but I don't. I just wanna make music; fast, slow, happy, sad, beautiful, ugly, scary, comforting, whatever!
Illum Sphere - Murky (You Know)
You’ve played at Low End Theory – a club that from this side of the ocean at least feels like a US bass mecca – how did you link that? What was the experience like?
Yeah it was cool, man. They're doing good things out there! The West Coast hasn't got the sound system culture that we have here. On that trip I played a few shows, on systems that aren't as good as here. The thing about Low End is that the rig they have is the only one that really comes close to the ones we're used to here!
The policy is pretty similar to what we do at Hoya:Hoya: anything goes. It isn't a beats night, I was playing Turkish stuff, dub, grime and people dug it. It was nice to see so many people that I knew reaching too. People and friends from that scene and some I met for the first time.
I know your pals with Fly Lo. Is he a big inspiration for you to continue making music?
I know FlyLo, but we're not super tight y'know! We chat and chill occasionally and we've done some shows together... I do like his music heaps and it does influence me to some extent, but I'd say Dabrye, Ras G and Dilla's music inspires me more than anyone else currently producing music.
Who else inspires you?
My friends! We're surrounded by a lot of creative people here in Manchester, artists, DJs, wicked club nights, producers, designers etc, you never have to really look too far to get inspired. Also my family! M little brother is 12, and he's getting pretty sharp on the production, and it's inspiring, but kinda frightening as he's gonna be well better than me probably by the time he's 15!
Your debut 12” is out now on Fat City. What can the record buying public expect from it?
Ummm... something different, I hope! It's sinister, dense, dusty and musical, so I've been told, so hopefully people will dig it.
What else have you got coming up this year?
A remix of Kidkanevil's 'Real Wild' drops next month (that got me my first Radio 1 play on Mary Anne Hobbs' show). In late July, early August, me and Mono/Poly have a split 7" dropping as part of the Fat City producer series. Then probably a 12" to launch the Hoya:Hoya label, and some more releases on various labels, some well known, some not so well known!
Any pearls of wisdom you’d like to drop for us?
Download Hunn's latest mix for Hoya:Hoya: HERE
It includes: "some ufront MF Doom, Flying Lotus, Samiyam, Ras_G, Dabrye, Mike Slott and Bullion cuts as well as some rare old shit and some faves from the club over the past year!"
AND if you so happen to be Manchester based, get your sen along to the next Hoya:Hoya featuring Ikonika and the one Alex Nut: