Vicious Presents: I’lls

Speaking with the dudes from I’lls, it’s hard to not think of them as just three friendly, adorable twenty-somethings. Then catch them on stage, in their element, and the story is something completely different – almost as though a complete metamorphosis takes place and they become somewhat electronica gods. The three members – Dan Rutman, Hamish Mitchell and Simon Lam – are friends, comrades of this I’lls ship.

Having released their latest offering Fifty-Phiphti/Asakusa only recently, the band celebrated the launch in the best way that they know how – by throwing a party! Supported by friends Darcy Baylis and Ara Koufax, the whole thing went down at Fitzroy’s Workers Club to a sardine-packed, sweat-drenched, enthusiastic crowd. I said it over and over again that night, and so many times thereafter, “That gig was everything.” Led by the vocals of Simon Lam, who’s singing brought out the fired-up side to an otherwise timid being, every member brought their A-game that night – much like every other time that I’ve seen the band perform. It’s almost inexplicable just how good they really are.

Speaking with the band’s guitarist, Dan Rutman, I found out about all things local scene, as well as I’lls as a whole – releases, how they handle band disagreements, and what’s actually next for the future of this quintessential Melbourne act.

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“I think we wanted [Fifty-Phiphti/Asakusa] to be something that we worked really hard on. We listen to a lot of instrumental electronic music – a lot of Jamie XX and Jaques Greene, and we just wanted…to try and get to that level of production if we could.”

Listening to the fifteen minutes of magic that Fifty-Phiphti/Asakusa truly is, one may not even fathom just the level of work that went into it. After all, by a layman’s way of thinking, fifteen minutes of music probably just took them a couple of weeks to perfect, right? Absolutely not. Dan explains to me that the masterpiece took a year and a half to perfect. The band wanted something that they could truly be certain on, and this was the result.

“We’d write something, we’d go back to try and fix it. It was basically just about carving away. [The two-track] is only 15 minutes of music all up. We just wanted to carve away and get something as good as we possibly could, but without killing it for ourselves. It was just trying to get something as good as we could possibly get it.”

“We’re always writing – all of us; experimenting with new instruments and new ways of producing, it’s always different. For Fifty-Phiphti, Hamish actually brought in that piano idea and we started working on the drums…Hamish is a piano player, and Simon is a drummer and I’m a guitar player, but at that point we all started playing with synths more; like me and Simon have started playing more keys – some of the keys are me and some of the keys are Simon, but most of the keys are Hamish. And the vocal sampling was actually Hamish, but Simon usually does that. So there is no formula really, it’s really just trying to come up with strong ideas…If there are three of us in a room and we all think one idea is particularly strong and we agree that it’s strong – we’re like pretty brutally critical with our music and other peoples – we’re usually pretty good to explore that idea. It’s more just jamming mostly that makes the songs.”

“It’s usually like the first thing we’ll do for a song is jam. Usually. And then we’ll kind of sit back and really hack away at it, and try and figure out what’s the strong part of the song and what doesn’t need to be there. We have a tendency to layer – I think a lot of bands have a tendency to layer and layer and layer. And you listen to the good dudes, like Jacques Greene and Jamie XX and all of those producers, they have such simple ideas. There’s just a lot of drums, bass, a melody line and some sample vocals, and that’s like some of my favourite songs of all time are just that. We try and get it down to something really simple, which doesn’t always happen. There are actually a lot of layers in Fifty-Phiphti.” He laughs, “We try.”

As someone who has only ever dreamed of being in a band, it has always fascinated me to know the extent of agreement that members of the band have to come to in order to agree on a song, or a even just one line. It wouldn’t be easy. Let alone when you have three testosterone-driven friends/peers/bandmates/males/strong and critical musicians to take into account, surely disagreements occur more often than not?

Dan laughs, “Yeah, that happens all the time. Most of the time it’ll end up in an argument…I think we all realise – like, no one takes that personally. At the start of the band, it was hard to do that and you’d be worried to hurt the other person, but I think that we’re all there at the end of the day to serve the music. Me and Hamish usually go at it pretty hard, but then [when we] walk out of the band room, it’s fine, because we know that it’s not personal. We’re not doing it to win the argument, we’re doing it to serve the music of the band. So yeah, it’s an argument of love. You know, we’re just trying to do the best job that we can. Those are the arguments that make good music.”

“I can understand…well, I can’t understand, but I can see how those bands that used to punch on would get to that stage, like Oasis and other bands that would beat each other up over music. I mean, if you throw heroin into the mix, you’re really not that far away.”

…Is there something that you’re trying to tell us, Daniel Rutman?

Leading into Summer and the music festival season, the boys from I’lls have big plans. Getting set to perform alongside the likes of Oscar Key SungKirin J Callinan, Crooked ColoursBanoffeeKlo (which Simon is also one half of) and many other local talents at Paradise Music Festival, Dan tells me that the band aren’t waiting too long before their next release.

“We’ve actually written the third EP which will come out at the start of next year – and that’s done, finished, mastered, everything.”

“After that, hopefully half way through the year, there’ll be an album. Because we’ve basically finished everything for the Summer once Paradise is done and then we’ll have 3-4 months to really write, and I think in the mid-year there’ll be an album…hopefully. Or towards the second half of the year. [We’ve never done] an album before, and it’s kind of scary, but we’ve done album-length EPs but we just haven’t called them albums. Putting that label on it makes it so much more heavy. EPs are great, they’re so easy. We could bust EPs out all day…Albums are scary, but it has to be done.”

“We’re at a point now where we know what we want to do. Like beforehand, we were at a point where we were writing and we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do as we went, and I think that now we have a pretty firm idea of what we want the album to be.”

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Where there’s smoke, there’s always fire. And as the dates for Paradise creep closer and closer on our calendars (only 15 days away, but who’s counting?), local artists are getting fired up to take part in this phenomenal celebration of talent. As far as Paradise is concerned, where most people are hellbent on looking overseas for “the next big thing”, you only really need to look in your backyard to find it.

Having worked in close affiliation with Paradise creator, Andre Hillas, for a few years now, Dan reiterates exactly what Andre preaches – the Melbourne music scene is booming. The most humbling thing of all? They all have each others backs. Speaking with the I’lls musician, it’s evident that the scene not only produces a lot of local talent, but celebrates the sheer camaraderie between artists in the Melbourne scene.

“It’s 100% here. Guerre Lavurn, and he does Cassius Select as well – that is legitimately world-class electronic music. He is up there. And it’s amazing that he’s not recognised the way that he should be. This music…it’s really good. If you’re not in the know, you don’t know about it. Everyone is looking overseas and everyone wants that international recognition, and it’s only a matter of time before Melbourne starts getting the recognition that it deserves. People are starting to look here, but it’s still early days. I think it’s just a matter of time.”

“Andre’s actually been putting on festivals for…four years? So he did Inca Road, and we actually played the first two Inca Road’s, so it’s been a long time. That was actually the first time that we played live – one of our first gigs was the first Inca Road. That was really fun, but I think Paradise is just next level. I mean, we have really great music in Melbourne. Unbelievably good. And he’s just putting a festival on that’s putting that on display. He has great taste in music, and he’s really aware of what’s going on. We don’t really have festivals that are like local acts only. We went last year and it was a really good festival – one of the best festival experiences I’ve had in a long time. The ideas were there; and it was small and nice, and there was just a lot of love because everyone knows each other because all the acts are from Melbourne and [the festival] actually built community. It’s just really nice to sit around and listen to each others music.”

“He’s been doing it for four years and we’ve been doing it for four years and everyone’s kind of growing with each other, and I think that’s probably the nicest thing about the festival. So many of the guys have been around for ages. Like Oscar [Key Sung]’s been around for ages, and Kirin [J Callinan]’s been around for ages, so this kind of festival has been a long time coming. It’s really nice.”

If you’ve never had the privilege of listening to I’lls‘ music, I cannot emphasise the importance of it enough. The raw talent and energy that is exuded by Dan, Hamish and Simon is otherworldly. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a ticket to Paradise Music, you can catch me dancing whimsically in my floor-length aztec cloak with a goon sack in my left hand and a cigarette in my right. No ticket, though? No stress. Lucky for you, tickets for the event are still available here. 

Paradise Music will go down at Lake Mountain Alpine Resort from November 28 – 30.

And if you haven’t already – or even if you want to listen to it again – school yourself and have a cheeky listen (or a few!) to I’lls‘ Fifty-Phiphti/Asakusa below.

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