Kickin' it with Illenium and his wiener dog, Rudy
As one of the formative breeding grounds for electronic culture, Colorado continues to serve as a respected incubator for some of the more popular DJs climbing today’s industry. Venues like Red Rocks and its tie to the culture aside, the state’s history and passion for it runs bottomless, deep as the low-end bass that accompanies it.
So it’s no surprise that one of the quickest developing stars in the game is from here. Illenium is making moves.
It’s another blistering day when we pull up to his modest ranch-style home. He and his wiener dog Rudy (his “inspiration”), greet us at the door. There’s music equipment — monitors, guitars, keyboards and the like — strewn about like maybe there’s a few musicians living there, or something. Signed album covers line the walls, and in the back room, where we get settled, is a home studio.
“It gets the job done,” Nick Miller says with a smile, tinkering with buttons.
The San Francisco native spent some time ski-bumming around Aspen when he moved to Colorado in 2011 — then mostly noodling with Garage Band “making really bad stuff” as far as music was concerned — before settling on a neighborhood in west Denver. It’s then he linked up, and found a place with, Trevor Christensen, another well-known Colorado DJ that goes by the name of Said The Sky.
“He’s a crazy, dope, classically trained piano player,” Miller says of his roommate and mentor. “That’s where I learned, was from him. After he taught me basic chord progressions, I’d mess around with random remixes like ‘Wonderwall’ or pick up acapellas from YouTube. He’s a big reason why this is all happening.”
The passion to pursue the DJ game professionally followed a Red Rocks performance by Bassnectar in June of 2012. As Miller watched the crowd energetically pulse in unison, he couldn’t help to think that could be him up there one day. He went for it.
“After I saw that,” he says, “I was like, ‘I wanna’ fuckin’ do this.’”
The pieces fell into place. He had been working for Global Dance Festival’s Ha Hau all the while he was tirelessly practicing at his home studio. When he initially told Hau of his home recordings, Miller says he thought they were passable, but was reluctant to move any further with the project.
So he studied, and practiced.
And he got sober.
“I know, with my behaviors, I take that shit way too far,” Miller says of his past abuses. “I know what would happen (if I used again). I would lose everything.”
It’s an anomaly in an industry that’s stereotypically known for late-night addicts running the show, burning out before a lasting legacy can even be formulated. With sobriety, Miller is swimming against the current, but maintains it’s easier than people probably think. To cope, he switched one addiction for another.
“That’s all drugs are, right, is taking yourself out of reality?” he asks. “That’s why I got into music so hardcore. It’s an escape.”
He adds that making tracks his fans connect with is all he needs to get high.
“I always love when I go to shows, like when I go to an Odessa show, and when they go on, literally everyone goes to watch them because it’s so fucking good,” he continues. “I feel like promoting that kind of thing. That’s what I’m going for.”
It isn’t just a silly pipe dream for him to be there any longer, either. This past year has seen the release of his critically acclaimed album titled Ashes, a massive headlining tour and prominent appearances at the nation’s biggest festivals. Yet, if not for the electronic scene in Colorado, he admits not one of these incredible opportunities would have even been possible.
“The Colorado scene is still my favorite place to play music,” he says. “There’s close seconds and thirds, but Colorado is so down for creativity, no matter what industry — they’re down for you to put yourself out there.”
His fans (the ‘Illenials’) will have their chance to come out and support Miller and listen to a few new tracks he’s been saving up for his appearance on the second night of Rowdytown V (featuring Kasbo, Marshmello and Big Gigantic on Sept 24). After that, he has no idea when he’ll be back, as his schedule for 2017 is already looking pretty deep.
“Yeah, it’s crazy, at this level you’re looking way ahead in time,” he adds.
In the meantime, Miller promises plenty of drops, most he’s been sitting on for quite some time. Aside from the August collaboration tease with Seven Lions and Said The Sky at the tail end of his Das Energi festival set, there are remixes and other singles in the bag, a reality that’s hard to swallow from an artist who likes to release as much as possible whenever he can.
“This is the longest I haven’t released anything,” he says, visibly disappointed. “I’m sitting on things I’ve had since June, and it’s like ‘whyyyy,’ why can’t I just hit a button and release it?”
But patience at this level is mandatory, every release is a calculated maneuver, often with press and social media campaigns built around them. For now, his live show clips taken by phone-wielding fans in the audience are all we’re going to get. For now, it’s going to have to be enough.
In the meantime, Illenium will be climbing the ranks, pursuing what it was he was inspired to do by one of the industry’s largest only a few short years ago.
The cycle, it continues.