Live & Refined: Illum Sphere

Manchester-based Illum Sphere (a.k.a. Ryan Hunn) has been described by Hyperdub’s Ikonika as “one of the most special and unique artists to come out of the UK”. Having remixed music from artists such as Bjork, Greymatter and Radiohead, his ascent in the world of bass and electronics has been swift as of late.

Releasing tracks on labels such as 3024, Tectonic and Fat City Recordings, Illum Sphere’s sound is warm and visceral, matching computerised tones to organic samples and off-kilter post-dubstep beats, often complimented by deep, brooding synth melodies.

Ahead of his show at London’s Alpha Ville Festival we emailed the man himself to discuss LA’s Low End Theory, Hoya:Hoya and the development in his sound.

What projects are you currently working on?
I’m about half way through my album, I’m just finishing up something for the Tectonic Plates compilation and a few things for other people.

How do you manage your work-flow around a busy gig schedule?
To be honest I don’t really have a structure. I can’t just switch on at 9am and make music til 5pm, sometimes I won’t make anything at all for a few weeks, then I’ll spend everyday for 3 weeks on something, y’know? I sometimes tweak shit on the road but I struggle to really make stuff away from home.

Illum Sphere – ‘Dreamstealin’

How would you say your sound has changed over the last two years?
I think it’s just become a bit more refined and more individual, I suppose. It was so messy initially, just like an overflow of messy ideas with no focus point. In the last year especially I feel like I’ve improved, especially with the stuff that hasn’t come out yet. I find I’m experimenting more, yet refining it so it doesn’t sound as sloppy as the earlier stuff and there’s a more easily identifiable reference point to draw people into it.

What was it like playing at the LA-based club Low End Theory, given you were the third English person to do so after Mary Anne Hobbs and Thom Yorke?
I actually did it before Thom haha! I played a couple of years ago, just before ‘Incoming…’ came out. Back then Low End was well known out of LA, but it wasn’t queuing round the block like it is now. I spoke to Daddy Kev recently and I think I’m gonna go play next time I’m in the US, if we can make it work.

Your remix ‘Codex’ on the fourth Radiohead remix 12” was excellent, can you tell us what it was like working with them?
Thanks, kinda odd, but it was handled through XL initially, so I’ve not even spoke to the band yet, at all. It was a real honour being asked though knowing that one of your favourite bands wants you to remix them is a pretty insane feeling. And from what’s going around I’m pleased people seem to be feeling the remix.

Can you tell how your appearance at SonarDome’s Red Bull Music Academy Stage in Barcelona went this year?
It was one of the most enjoyable shows of my life. Red Bull just do things properly, y’know? And when non-Red Bull people are telling you that SonarDome was the highlight of their previous Sonars, then you know you’re in for a treat.

Which producer would you point to as doing something really interesting at the moment?
The stuff that Lone has demo’d for his next album is seriously good, just next level melodies and ideas that no-one else is on at all.

You and Johnny Dub promote Hoya Hoya, can you tell us how the project is going?
It’s going really well, I think the fact that we aren’t promoters really plays to our advantage. We just want to throw a party, the way we’d like it to be if we turned up somewhere to play. We did a thing recently called the ‘Secret Series’, where we did 5 Hoyas, fortnightly from the end of January, without releasing the line-ups. To me, that’s what Hoya’s about, more about the vibe than any one guest, and those five were the best we’ve had. We’re close to realising the goal of going secret full time from next year hopefully.

What can we expect from your live set at Alpha-ville Festival this year?
Hopefully an assault on most of the senses!

You can check out Illum Sphere’s show at the Alpha-ville Festival between Seoptember 22-25 – more details available at the Alpha-ville website.

Interview: Ben Romberg