Here at Conscious Electronic, we love all things bass — breakbeat, downtempo, left-field, experimental, dubstep in all its forms, you name it. As the underground bass movement has begun its full ascendancy in the US, we’ve been keeping a finger on the pulse of up-and-coming bass artists the country over. As such, CE‘s Rising Bass Spotlight seeks to turn a focus onto those rising producers who’re developing their craft, garnering their audiences, and turning eyes, ears, heads, and bodies with their commitment to all things low end.
illanthrophy isn’t exactly a name that’s new to us at Conscious Electronic. The North Carolina-based producer, who runs around Asheville under his given name Stephen Blasy, was previously featured on the site alongside CE favorite Ravenscoon for their soothing downtempo cut, “Anguish.” Yet, for all intents and purposes, we’ve chosen to shine a light on illanthropy for the fact that he stands as one burgeoning bass music act that is still unbeknownst to many. Having opened for artists like Opiuo, Thriftworks, Andreilien, Spankalicious, Sixis, and Levitation Jones in the past, illanthropy is on trajectory for a takeover in the next year.
Ahead of his headlining show in Charlotte, CE got the chance to catch up with Blasy for an exclusive Q&A session on his Headfirst EP, including his specific creative aspirations, inspirations, and approaches to production, as well as his general outlook on life, and so much more.
With a penchant for immersive sound design, illanthropy weaves big bass sounds, clear, ethereal melodies, and conscious thought into his music. His live productions work to inspire his crowd to not only move in new ways, but also challenge them to expand their minds in a way that positively impacts their environment.
I try really hard to make music that fills the frequency spectrum and feels like a wave washing over you. Music that is visceral, but not painful. Music that is overwhelming, but not difficult to immerse yourself in.” – illanthropy
That much is clear on his latest EP release, Headfirst, out now on his label home at WUMP Collective. More than a collection of strewn together tracks, the entire project unfolds more like a cohesive journey into amorphous sound, with a remix, two collaborations, and three original solo titles that come together like the perfect ingredients for an insatiably immersive listening experience.
From the opening track, “Tipsy,” with its heavy synth arrangements, wompy bass lines, and crooning hip-hop samples, all the way until the EP’s ethereal and yet haunting closing title, “Asheville,” illanthropy is a master of layering expansive topline melodies and elegant highs onto a grounded pasture of crisp low-end bass.
Along the way, he experiments with changing tempos that takes listeners in every direction. Take the climactic track, “Lifetime In A Moment,” an amorphous number that bends and molds to speak to listeners in whatever way they need to hear. The track begins with a beautiful piano arrangement before blasting off with a high-pitched spaceship synth and drops off into a heavy, otherworldly terrain. It’s got tinges of a quintessential Bassnectar arrangement, with its soft melodic touches and heavy metal noises that exist in playful juxtaposition.
I am a BIG fan of juxtapositions, and in a lot of my music there is lush melody juxtaposed to ugly fuckin basslines that make you grit your teeth while the melody takes you higher.” – illanthropy
Another standout on the record is illanthropy’s remix of JiV’s “Buried,” for which he lays down light-hearted synths for a classically-inspired number filled with moments of intense calm and building anxiety. Throughout the track, he takes listeners up and down, and around and around — between beautifully pristine progressions and acoustically grandiose landscapes — leaving them holding onto his every note and measure.
I was trying to feed into the anxiety associated with transition,” says illanthropy on remixing the track. “A huge buildup that seems to just let go completely… like you’re drifting in midair floating slowly toward the surface.”
When all is said and done, illanthropy takes his listeners on an immersive sonic journey with rollercoaster-like twists and turns, before returning them back to the real world with ease. At times beautifully melodic and downtempo, at others intense and relentlessly heavy, the Headfirst EP does exactly what the title suggests. That is, propel its audience headfirst into illanthropy’s amorphous world of a universe expanding. It’s a world of emotive depth, technical complexity, and pure elasticity.
Listen to illanthropy’s 7-track Headfirst EP below and read on for what Stephen Blasy had to say on the extended play in our exclusive Q&A.
CE: Hey Stephen! Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with us. We’ve been fans of illanthropy for some time now and the EP really pushes our love over the top. To start, give us a general sense for the album in your own words. What’s the storyline for the EP, say, if it were a book or novel? What was the inspiration or motivation or driving force behind it?
SB: The idea for the EP was to emulate the experience of a huge transition or a leap of faith. Each song is unique to individual aspects of that experience. Sonically, it’s meant to guide you through that experience while maintaining individuality in each song. So there’s a lot of relentless moving basslines with very few breaks between in the first three songs. I was trying to feed into the anxiety associated with [the notion of] transition a little bit… a huge buildup to the fourth song (JiV remix) that seems to just let go completely – like you’re drifting in midair floating slowly toward the surface. “A Lifetime In A Moment” was written about my close friend who passed away – a lot of my own transitional experience is in that song specifically, but really in every song on the EP.
CE: Wow, that’s really intentional and inspired. There’s definitely a feeling that this EP is a journey through sound, rather than a collection of tracks. Was this intentional? How did you decide on the placement of each track?
SB: The listening experience was intentional and a part of the emulation I was going for. Each song is placed in the order I think best represents the feeling of mustering the courage to run and leap off a cliff into a body of water. There is a buildup, and jump, a fall, a crash landing… and then when the last sonic hit tapers off in “Asheville,” it’s supposed to feel like you just went through this visceral trial of sorts and made it to the other side, feeling complacency in that moment.
CE: Speaking of, “Asheville” is definitely visceral and the perfect exit track. Not to mention, its my personal favorite on the project, not only because the title speaks to your stomping grounds, but because it takes the listener on a trip. The track starts really ethereal and then moves into an eerily familiar space by the end, especially with the haunting melody line. Give us the full backstory on the track.
SB: So I had heard what could be called an earlier version of this song that centroid * had posted on SoundCloud and I was soooo drawn to it like “WOW – I need to do something with this.” I approached him online, basically saying “HEY – if you’re okay with it, I would absolutely love to revamp this song with you and make it something totally new and HUGE.” He was open to the idea and we went in. We actually met in person for all of the collaborative process, which was kind of new to me. We both were in the same mindset that we want the song to feel like a trip in and of itself, and wanted it to be unpredictable and leave you wondering at every break. Even the end of the song was intended to feel like it wasn’t the end, which for me played right into the “leap of faith” experience I was trying to emulate. A transition is less the end of something, but rather the beginning of something new, unknown, and EXCITING.
CE: That’s deep, man. Let’s talk a little bit about your collaborators then. How did you decide on working with BroMoSapien and centriod? How did you approach them and what was the creative process in making those two tracks?
SB: So a lot of approaching other producers to work together (for me) is just swallowing your pride and saying exactly what you want. I don’t know that I necessarily made the first move, but listening to their music really made me want to work with them. Once the ideas were in place, they fit so perfectly with what I was aiming to do with the EP that I asked each of them if they were okay with those songs being on the EP. It was kind of random but I don’t take those experiences for granted and I’m mega appreciative of everyone that worked with me on Headfirst. I would love to work on more stuff with both of them in the future.
CE: Yea, collaboration is definitely key to artistic growth and it’s good to encounter producers who are willing to challenge themselves in that way.
CE: Overall, the EP is incredibly balanced, so kudos first off. Tell us how you went about striking this balance – between really heavy (on the surface) but with layers of subtlety and nuance (on the highs and melodies). Feel free to go into detail here on the specifics of your technical approaches to sound design.
SB: Thank you! Balance is really important with my music and I think it is the lynchpin of productions that I’m really drawn to. I try really hard to make music that fills the frequency spectrum and feels like a wave washing over you. Music that is visceral, but not painful. Music that is overwhelming, but not difficult to immerse yourself in. Every sound has its home in the sonic spectrum and I think that understanding is what separates a really full sounding song from the contrary. I also am a BIG fan of juxtapositions, and in a lot of my music there is lush melody juxtaposed to ugly fuckin basslines that make you grit your teeth while the melody takes you higher. However, I did want this album to flow and wanted each song to stand out as its own vibe, its own place in the whole experience. So there is a stark difference between “Lightspeed” and the “Buried” remix… etc, etc.
CE: The EP sees its release on WUMP Collective, along with most of your other work. Tell us why you’re so fond of releasing on that label. What’s it like working with them? What draws you to them?
SB: WUMP Collective is AMAZING. Some of the most caring, hardworking, collaborative, open-minded, and supportive people I have had the pleasure of working with. When I was first discovering what I wanted out of my productions, they were some of the first to be open to releasing my music. “Inside Looking Out” was my first release with them, and that seems like it was sooooo long ago (but I still play those songs). They have always pushed me to be better, have always been so positive and kind about my music, and have supported me every step of the way with releasing, with artwork, with advice… they are my people.
CE: I know most artists are generally reluctant to label themselves or align themselves with a specific genre, but would you call yourself underground bass? I ask because the underground bass movement is thriving in the US, specifically on the west coast. I foresee a massive mainstream — dare I say, “big room” — breakthrough in the future. What’s the underground bass culture like on the east coast and how do you see yourself fitting into this?
SB: I think inherently I am in the underground, and I watch it all growing around me and it’s crazy to experience. I do often feel like I’m alone in what I’m doing specifically, because I don’t know a lot of producers in the real world but rather through listening to their music. I don’t mind feeling alone though! It’s so cool to see all the crazy cool shit people are doing from a more objective standpoint. I feel like the east coast has so much going on, there are some extremely talented producers from everywhere really. Asheville is full of them. I’ve played out west a couple times and I do feel like my style fits more into the west coast underground scene, and I would like to make that my home base at some point in the near future.
CE: I could definitely see you fitting into that culture out there. One final question and we will let you get to show tonight. Who are your larger musical inspirations? In EDM/bass? In the more popular sense of radio-famous artists?
SB: My first music inspiration was Trent Reznor, specifically the “Year Zero” album from NIN. I was absolutely fucking obsessed with that album, listened to it every single day for the better part of a year. That was my intro to electronic music really, and probably what led me to discover “EDM.” I saw Bassnectar in 2009 and didn’t really know who he was at the time, but I was absolutely blown away by what I was hearing and what I was feeling. I saw him again in Asheville at Bass Center 2 and that was the night I decided this is something I wanted to do. As far as activism and immersion in music go, Bassnectar was my biggest inspiration. And now it feels like I’ve come full circle. I’ve been so insanely inspired this past year – and I’m so crazy excited to dive headfirst into the future.
CE: Agreed completely. Bassnectar is definitely an influence we hear in your musical catalog at large, which was really the impetus behind my asking the question. He’s definitely inspired a lot of us artistic types to pursue our own creativity in ways that align with his vision and his movement — whether that be writing or music-making or activism or whatever.
CE: Wow, this was really enlightening. Thanks so much for diving deep with us! I’m really impressed not just by the EP, but with the substance of your responses. Not to mention, the nuance of your process. You’ve really given a lot of yourself to an incredible body of work here.