Illian Walker, aka Ils, is one of the hottest breaks producers in the world. He was one of the first people Adam Freeland signed up to his record label Marine Parade, and he’s been recruited by Distinctive Breaks to produce the next instalment of the excellent Y4K series. Even though the record label that released his first record, Idiots Behind the Wheel, burnt him, the well-distributed promo solidified his street cred with magazine editors, DJs, and label heads across Europe. His second album for Freeland’s Marine Parade was the first full-length artist album for the label, was critically acclaimed and earned him the title of “the producers producer.”
“To be honest I don’t really understand what that means,” he laughs. “I take it in a complementary way I suppose; it’s nice to be recognised in some kind of dimension”. Anyone who’s heard his tunes will notice the incredible complementary sounds he manages to produce seemingly out of thin air. “Being in a rare groove / funk live band had a massive impact on my drum programming and the basslines,” he says, of his days playing bass in a funk band when he was a mere14 years old, but it was the seminal rave act of the 90’s, The Prodigy, that inspired Walker to buy a sampler.
Throughout the 90’s, Walker made his living by working as an engineer for various DJs and producers. It was here his technique caught the ear of LTJ Bukem, who asked him to do work for Good Looking Records, and then later he worked with James Lavelle and DJ Shadow at Mo Wax on the U.N.K.L.E. project. “It was good to be around those kinds of people, to see how they worked, to hear music through their ears. You can sit in the same room with these people, and learn how they perceive music, the sounds that turn them on. And you see different methods of work, some people use different studio, or different kit, and it’s fascinating to work with these other people”, he says of his time spent with these doyens of dance music.
The disappointment with the Fuel label going under and not receiving a cent for his work led Walker to abandon dance for a year or two. “No one’s really seen or heard from the label owner of Fuel. It’s a bit insane,” he laughs. Asked if there’s any chance of re-releasing the album to new fans, Walker is a bit hesitant to look back at that stage in his life. “As far as I know I never signed a contract for that album or anything, so technically I could re-release it, but I feel I should move forward. There’s a lot more music to be written, really.” He also doubts he’ll go back to producing drum and bass, the sound that got him his start. “I’ve worked with a couple of singers who sing at that speed, and if I was producing a singer, and drum and bass really suited, I would do a drum and bass backing track to fit the song if that energy was required, but for myself, I’m not really interested at the moment.”
Looking forward is what Walker is concentrating on. A few of his tunes have been licensed for commercials, which is a great way for a producer to cement their financial standing, but some people point the finger and scream ‘sell out’. “I think considering a lot of breaks doesn’t get mainstream radio play in this country – you won’t hear Ils on Radio 1 – so I think if I can get on TV that’s good from a musicians point of view”, he explains. “I’d be annoyed if my music was used on a tampon advert or something “ he chuckles, “that kind of thing is quite critical. A lot of my older drum and bass is used on gardening and lifestyle shows and things like that and I find it funny. But if it’s for something like Nike, that has really groundbreaking adverts, that use cutting edge editing techniques, that has really cool visuals, and if it’s a cool product, I don’t consider it selling out.”
As well as working on his third album, Walker has been working on the next Y4K Breaks album. “I’ve tried earthing it by throwing a few anthems in there,” he says; on making his set stand out from the marvellous forerunners by Tayo and Freq Nasty amongst others. “I’ve got a few vocal tracks in there; I dunno, something about the Y4K series is it’s usually quite instrumental, so I’ve put a few vocal tracks in there. I think vocals work well over breaks, and tried to represent that in there. There are also some totally new tracks in there by unknown and up and coming producers.” There are also a few of his own compositions as well. “I’ve got a track with MC Dynamite, Roni Size’s MC, that’s totally unheard and been kept under wraps for a while, and some other tracks that haven’t been allowed to be licensed to CDs in the past.”
Walker is looking forward to touring, with the possibility of hitting Australia towards the end of this year. Whilst he has only been DJing for the last year or so, he believes he could pull off a live performance similar to the Roni Size Reprazent live show. “I admire the whole Roni Size live thing, I find that absolutely ingenious. That’s one of the few rare examples of studio sequencing stuff being performed live. And still a lot of people can’t emulate that. That’s the benchmark,” he says. “I have enough tracks that I’ve written in the last 9 years, so I feel I’d be able to go up onstage and give and interesting set. I’ve got enough back catalogue, and good singers and performance people that I believe in to feel it’s the shape of a good show,” he says. But whether it’s a DJ or live set, Illian Walker’s show would be one that is worth hearing.
Check out Ils Y4K mix out soon through Distinctive Breaks, and keep your eye out for a possible tour towards the end of this year.