Saturday Night Session 049: Ilan Bluestone reflects on his career defining moments and journey to his sophomore album release, ‘Impulse’
Few moments are more sacred than the reprieve Saturday night provides from the daily grind of school and work. Its importance is meant to be emphasized, and thus, a feature dedicated to “doing the night right” was born. Saturday Night Sessions are set around energizing mixes meant to get the (socially distanced) party started. New or old, each episode has one cornerstone thing in similarity: they serve as the perfect backdrop for the weekend pregame.
No deadlines; no requirements; just creative freedom and full support. This is what Ilan Bluestone received from Anjunabeats when he announced a second album was in the works. The 36-year-old English producer and longtime label signee was still reeling from the success of his first album, Scars, when he decided that his next musical venture needed to be something different and something uniquely his own. After being told by Anjunabeats that a 12-track LP was what they would like to see from him, Bluestone knew that the mission he musically set out to achieve could only be done in 18-tracks. The Above & Beyond led label complied, and Bluestone set out to perfect his most ambitious work to date.
A bedroom music producer turned international Trance heavyweight, Bluestone has brought progressive energy and euphoric drops to the trance community since signing with Anjunabeats in 2012. Before that, he was a ghost producer and freelance graphic designer and photographer before realizing he needed to focus in on music production as a career. After meeting Maor Levi on Myspace, the duo put out a release with Bluestone credited as himself. The song, titled “On Our Own,” caught on fire giving the artist the name recognition he needed to pave his way forward and start releasing his solo music.
After “On Our Own,” Bluestone’s career progressed quickly, but he soon realized that hit songs and online music sales weren’t going to pay the bills. Above & Beyond told him that he had to tour to have a real chance of making a living, and they made that next step a reality for him after inviting him to open for their Madison Square Garden show. Bluestone’s Madison Square Garden show was the fourth show he had ever performed. He reflected on this, sharing, “I never came from a DJ background, you know- I’ve always been the bedroom music producer. So when Above & Beyond asked me to play Madison Square Garden, I was like ‘Holy Shit- I am what? Playing Madison Square Garden?’ I had only performed three full shows.”
He reflects on the performance as a surreal experience and a learning moment. After seeing him perform, Above & Beyond took Bluestone under his wing. He reflects, “Tony from Above & Beyond came up to me, and he was like- ‘you know that laptop and that controller you are using? Throw it away. You have to start traveling light. Travel with two USB Keys and two backups.’ Above & Beyond actually gave me their decks.” He continues, “It was Paavo that turned around and was like, ‘here are our decks. They don’t have any sync buttons or anything- they are quite old. I want you to learn this, and I want you to learn this inside and out.’ And Paavo showed me a little technique on how to mix. I was like, ‘hold on a second, I can do that,’ so I started mastering how to DJ within six months.”
Confidence as a performer is something the producer turned DJ has learned over time. He shares that his confidence in music production did not always translate to his ability to perform live, and it was only after years of touring that he started to feel completely comfortable on stage. While music production is his first priority and passion, touring gives Bluestone the ability to interface with his fans, which is something he finds to be invaluable. With his accompanying tour for 2018 album release Scars, he performed more than 100 shows over the course of the next year. His windows to produce music became smaller, and he reflects that he found himself in a place of burnout. When the world halted and touring stopped as a result of the COVID pandemic, Bluestone relished the months that he could spend dedicated to music production with no distractions. The time has also been instrumental when it comes to perfecting album number two with Impulse.
Bluestone shares, “I got to experiment a lot more than normal, and I spent a lot of time over the COVID pandemic finishing it… There’s no chance in a touring world that I’d be able to take even two months off of touring- like it’s difficult. I had a whole year to perfect the album and not just do 18 album tracks, but also 18 extended club tracks, and then 18 radio tracks, which is a ton of work.”
For those who are familiar with Bluestone’s previous work, there is a noticeable contrast between Impulse and Scars. As his first LP on the label, Bluestone shared that he wanted to craft Scars to the Anjunabeats brand so that the fans who supported his rise could appreciate it. He discusses the contrast in his creative approach, sharing, “I know people have really taken in Scars as a day to day listening album. But with this new album, I wanted to do something completely out of my comfort zone in a sense. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and I had the freedom of being able to do that because I knew what Scars was. And for it to be a first album that did really well was difficult because, as a musician, there is only a certain amount you can do with an album. I wanted this one to be really different, and I wanted to expand.” Expand is what he did.
Highlights of the album include “Stranger To Your Love,” which blends otherworldly vocals by longtime collaborator Ellen Smith with euphoric melodies and a radio-friendly production. “Hopeless Dreamer,” another collaboration with longtime vocalist partner Giuseppe De Luca, blends an electric array of elements including disco notes that come together with a cascading electric guitar solo. Bluestone’s personal favorites on the album are “Stardust & Madness” with Giuseppe De Luca and “Rule The World” with Jan Burton, which he notes ‘still gives him shivers.’ Bluestone even produces liquid drum ‘n’ bass on the album, cementing his experimentation and diverse production abilities.
Bluestone shares his excitement about the album’s full release, explaining, “I really enjoyed working on this album more than anything. I even get sick of my own music, and this is the first time I can actually put my own bloody album on and listen to it again and again and again.” For those who want a taste of what an Impulse show could sound like, the artist has crafted an hour long Saturday Night Session. Bluestone shares, “I’m going to take listeners on a quick journey through the album showing exactly what there is to offer. I’m going to select a few, and then I’m going to leave them hungry for more.”
Featured image: Ilan Bluestone/Instagram
You have been part of the Anjunabeats family since 2012. Can you talk to me about that journey to getting signed by Anjuna and what it means to you?
It’s been a beautiful journey, and I’ve been very grateful. It started off in 2011/2012 I did a collaboration with Maor Levi called “On Our Own.” We met on Myspace back in the day, and he was doing what I wanted to do in Trance music. I was ghost producing for so many different artists and actually creating the stuff that I wanted to do. For me that was annoying because I knew that Trance music was my passion. It was my heart and what I wanted to do. At the time I needed the money, and I needed to produce to make a living. I was a club photographer and I used to be a freelance graphic designer, so I used to have my hand dipped in so many different things. I knew that music is my career, and it was what I was doing. I needed to settle down and actually take it seriously and stop all of my side work. It took me a while to do that because there is not that much money in online sales. You have to tour.
It was from there that I played at Brixton Academy, and it was that kind of, ‘Oh Shit I’m going to be able to play my stuff’ to getting a phone call from Dubai about the track ‘Sanai’ that I made. They were like, ‘the lyrics are in Arabic, do they mean anything?’ and I was like, ‘umm, it’s not really English or Arabic, it’s gibberish.’ I ended up reversing the verses and flipping them around so that it all sounded Middle Eastern. Then that track did really well, and I ended up releasing all of my solo stuff.
I never came from like a DJ background, you know- I’ve always been the bedroom music producer. So Above & Beyond asked me to play Madison Square Garden I was like ‘Holy Shit- I am what? Playing Madison Square Garden?’ I had only performed three full shows. So that was like the first time my mum and my family came to America. My mum had to have a police escort to get her into the building because she wore a t-shirt saying ‘I’m his mum’ on it. They had to get the police to get the fans off from around her and get her into the building.
Tony from Above & Beyond came up to me, and he was like- ‘you know that laptop and that controller you are using? Throw it away. You have to start traveling light. Travel with two USB Keys and two backups.’ Above & Beyond actually gave me their decks. It was Paavo that turned around and was like, ‘here are our decks. They don’t have any sync buttons or anything- they are quite old. I want you to learn this and I want you to learn this inside and out.’ And Paavo showed me like a little technique on how to mix. I was like, ‘hold on a second, I can do that,’ so I started mastering how to DJ within six months.
That had to be surreal- and also nerve wracking
It was ridiculous. My nerves aren’t that great either. I’ve always had stage fright and haven’t been the sort of person that’s confident performing in the same way I’m confident with my music. Over the last 7-8 years I developed into being confident on stage, but it didn’t start that way.
By that point I was on the road, and it was nonstop- 30 flights to every venue around America, and I was at every major festival. I’ve done close to 100+ shows a year, and it has just been an incredible journey. I helped the label craft the Anjunabeats brand in the U.S. Obviously Above & Beyond had their fanbase and Anjunabeats had their fanbase, but there weren’t that many Anjunabeats tours. There were a few shows here and there, but then it started like pretty much picking up around 2013/2014. We started touring around as an Anjunabeats unit, and then I started headlining the shows.
At what point in your career did you say, okay I’m really doing this- I really made it?
The first time I realized I made it was when I was at EDC Mexico. I was crouched down behind the decks with Andrew Bayer because it was a back to back show. I could hear a big helicopter above us, and I asked the stage manager why it was there. He told me it was for me and that there was a camera crew filming me up there. Then I got up and started DJing, and I opened up with a new collaboration with Bayer, and then that was the moment I realized I made it. There were 150,000 people at this show, at least, and I looked down and saw these 2 girls in the front row holding a massive totem of my cat’s faces. I’m on the other side of the planet, and that’s when I actually got really emotional. I was playing one of my emo tracks, and I was like obviously this is a big record for me, and it got to a point where I was like, ‘Oh my God- I think I’ve made it. I’ve got to where I want to go in life. I’ve managed to play EDC Mexico on the other side of the world, and I’ve got fans,’ which is what really kind of shocked me.I didn’t realize I had fans in Mexico, and everyone was telling me ‘I’m a huge fan. I’m a huge fan’ And then that started happening everywhere I was going. People started coming up to me in the street wearing my merch by coincidence. I would have people walking around with 43 T shirts or Ilan Bluestone logos. That’s when I started realizing that I’m actually affecting people and people were really enjoying my music.
Another moment for me was in New York as well when I played the Brooklyn Mirage. I did my own solo show there, and we did two nights in a row sold out. It’s mind blowing you know? That my music like since 2014 just blew up in New York; Toronto; Vancouver; Miami. All of these places, and even South America. When I went to do Ultra Brazil it was just completely nuts, and I couldn’t believe it. I just can’t believe the fact that my music has virally gone through radio, Sirius radio, you know we had a lot of support on Sirius, and I’m still kind of like shocked by it all.
Do you still get shocked?
Yeah, I’m still ‘what the fuck’!
You know, all the music that I was making, I was living in a small bungalow house in London where my mom was literally next door. I’m nocturnal, and I’m always up until four in the morning making trance music, and my mom would literally come into the room be like ‘can you turn it down just a little? I love it, but turn it down a little bit because I can hear the kick drum counting from the wall.’ And it’s from those times that my biggest records were made. You know, “Big Ben” “Sanai” “Spheres”… all these tracks were made in a room which would just pretty much fit a bed. My room was so small I barely had room for a table, so yeah that’s when my career kind of like established itself.
Scars was your debut album- and I’m sure is a hugely emotional release to put out an album and especially your first. How does it feel the second time around with Impulse? Is this a different experience for you?
So this is the thing- the first album we had a deadline. I had to produce that album, and I had been working on that album for like a year and a half to two years. You know it’s Anjunabeats, and they have a massive A&R team, and Above & Beyond had to approve it – it goes through like a whole ladder. I wanted to craft Scars to the Anjunabeats brand so that Anjunabeats fans could appreciate it- while doing it within my own sound. Tony from Above & Beyond turned around and said ‘love it- no feedback,’ I was like, wow ok. The feedback was incredible and everything was just like really amazing. Then the album did really well- is was literally top three around the world. #1 in India; #1 in Czech Republic; #4 in the US; #3 in Canada. I was blown away by that. So I know people have really taken in Scars as a day to day listening album. But with this new album, I wanted to do something completely out of my comfort zone in a sense. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and I had the freedom of being able to do that because I knew what Scars was. And for it to be a first album that did really well was difficult because, as a musician, there is only a certain amount you can do with an album. I wanted this one to be really different, and I wanted to expand.
You know the label didn’t want me doing 18 tracks- I’ll be honest with you. They said ‘less is more,’ and I know that, but I didn’t want to just do 12 tracks. I pushed for 18, and I insisted and said, ‘listen, if I can’t do 18 tracks, I don’t want to release this. I want 18 songs, and this is the way it is.’ They were really cool about it. I appreciate that because you know, I got to experiment a lot more than normal, and I spent a lot of time on it over the COVID pandemic finishing it. If I didn’t have the COVID pandemic- although I know that sounds horrible to say, I don’t think I would have been able to craft Impulse perfectly like I have now. There’s no chance in a touring world that I’d be able to take even two months off of touring- like it’s difficult. I had a whole year to perfect the album and not just do 18 album tracks, but also 18 extended club tracks, and then 18 radio tracks, which is a ton of work. I really enjoyed working on this album more than anything. I even get sick of my own music, and this is the first time I can actually put my own bloody album on and listen to it again and again and again.
I saw on your social media that your mom recently had to undergo surgery. Is she okay?
Yeah my mom nearly passed away a couple of weeks ago. She was in the hospital, and that was a massive crush to me. They basically said she’s about to have a heart attack and she needs to have immediate open heart surgery. It was a shock to my system because I didn’t see that coming. But they saved my mom’s life, and she’s now at home healing.
The social media response was nuts like I had people sending me videos from mosques, churches, synagogues, you name it. Everyone was praying all over the world sending me videos of them praying, calling my mom’s name in Arabic, Hebrew. It was so heartwarming, and I really was in a desperate place to reach out to people to help me out, and it worked. People did something to save my mom.
My mom has raised over £20 million worth of goods for charity and for people in need around the world, so that’s been like a massive thing for me. My mom has always been a number one supporter of me and my career, especially when I lived with her. I’m 36-years-old, but then at the same time, I have a great relationship with my whole family. I think it’s very important to be able to bond with your parents in a way where they can support what you’re doing. She believed in what I was doing, and she pushed me which was good.
What are your hopes for bringing Impulse to life in a performance environment? Once it is safe to do so
I’ve got my first show, which is nearly sold out already, in London at the Steelyard. Obviously people are dying to go out and have had enough staying at home. People need contact. I’m really excited to do my album tour because there are a lot of album tracks on there (Impulse). I’m going to obviously play some of my Scars hits, but I’m also going to play like all this new album material that I have.
You know I did burn myself out a couple of times from touring too much. I was doing like stupid amounts of flights a month, and yeah now I’m feeling a lot more relaxed and ready to go back to the open world.
With a tour impending- do you ever get concerned that you are going to return to a place of burnout?
Well I know what happened with Scars tour one, so it is just about prioritizing rest. Trance hasn’t really changed in the last 10 years I guess, but it is also coming back harder than it ever has. People say to me, ‘hey man, why do you say ‘Tronce’ like ‘trance’ with an ‘o’ and ‘why do you do your merch with Tronce?’ And it’s different accents, and then it started getting to the point where I was doing tours with people holding ‘tronce’ signs and I was like, ‘what does tronce mean? Fuck it- I’ll take it. I’ll take it as my thing.’ If you type it in on Urban dictionary, then you will see me listed as the founder of Tronce.
When you aren’t on the road touring and producing music, what can we find you doing? Can you give us more insight into who you are as a person and not just who you are as a musician?
I’m really into aviation. I’m learning to fly- I’ve had a few lessons. I haven’t had a chance to do it here in the UK because there are different logbooks. I was learning in the US. The airfield near my house – I don’t like the planes over there, so I was like I’ll just learn in America. I have two instructors over there ready to take me on pretty much for free. And I can’t wait to do it! Major John “Rain” Waters- like the guy who flies the fighter jets over the white house on Independence day because he is one of the craziest stunt pilots in the Air Force. He does all of these crazy Air shows. Even him- he used to post videos with my music on them, and I messaged him like, ‘take me in a jet!’ We were waiting on a letter from Congress, and then COVID happened. My dream is to fly in a U.S. Fighter Jet over the United States.
What is your personal standout track from Impulse?
One of my personal favorites on Impulse is “Stardust & Madness.” I just connect with that track. And “Rule The World” with Jan Burton. That one still gives me shivers.
Do you think there is going to be a new track from Impulse that fans gravitate towards as the standout album release of the songs that haven’t come out yet?
There is a track on there with my friend Laura Zay, who is not a professional vocalist. She can sing, but she is not like a pro. I asked her if we could do a song together, and she was like, ‘really?’ and I was like ‘yeah let’s do it.’ It’s not like she asked me- I asked her. I knew she could play the piano and she has got this Amy Winehousey/Adelle kind of voice. We did a song, and it is like melodic and liquid drum and bass. I think that track could be a smash UK hit.
What is your ideal Saturday night when you aren’t touring?
What kind of a Saturday Night is your Saturday Night Session going to get listeners ready for?
“I’m going to take listeners on a quick journey through the album showing exactly what there is to offer. I’m going to select a few, and then I’m going to leave them hungry for more.”
Is there anything else you would like to leave our readers with?
I would like to say thank you to all of my incredible fans. All of the fans that have made me gifts; bought me gifts; the fans who have literally flown or driven halfway across the country- I have had fans in Canada who have driven 11 hours to see me play. One of them slept in a car with his girlfriend because they couldn’t afford a hotel. And after I found out he spent money on driving across the country to see me, I actually invited him backstage and gave him a bottle of vodka. I was like, ‘dude- I appreciate you are going to sleep in your car tonight- I’d like you to get this bottle of vodka to knock you out.’ On a serious level- the fans are who make me who I am. For me it is so important for me to talk and know my fans. If it were possible for me to have a conversation with every one of my fans, then trust me I would. I just want to say THANK YOU to absolutely everyone who has followed my journey, believed in my music, supported me, and gotten me to where I am now.