Do you listen to electronic music, or make electronic music yourself? If so, we expect you've heard of Mr. Bill—an electronic music producer + DJ from Sydney, Australia. His unique approach to bass/IDM/intricate sound design + production has earned him significant international attention; as such, he has an astonishing number of releases under his belt, tours globally, scores films, and even collaborates on the development of VSTs.
In his own words, he's "pro-electronic music" in everything that he does. As such, his work extends well beyond producing and performing. He runs mrbillstunes.com, which offers a suite of courses that could turn any aspiring producer into a pro-level Ableton user (a "hardcore Abletoneer"). He hosts the Mr. Bill Podcast, an ongoing show featuring deep interviews with industry-leading musicians. He manages the Mr. Bill YouTube channel, on which he shares loads of free educational material and inspirational content. He isn't just about making music—he truly believes that sharing information is a way to help others, and to make the world a generally better, more interesting place. That's pretty rad.
Recently, we had the chance to sit down with Mr. Bill to talk about his forthcoming album Phantasmagorical (out April 19th!)—a remix album of his most recent full release Phantasmagoria. While I initially expected to talk to him solely about the new release, what I got was much more. We talked about the music, sure, but we also talked about his background, thoughts on collaboration and community, his personal struggles and triumphs, and his advice for aspiring electronic musicians. If you want a glimpse into the mind of a creative, thoughtful, and generally cool electronic performer/producer, I strongly suggest that you keep reading.
Who is Mr. Bill?
Perfect Circuit: So, I expect that most of our readers know who you are—but we'd love to get a sense of your background, and how you wound up where you are now. To start with a super broad question, who is Mr. Bill? In a few words, how would you explain what you do?
Mr. Bill: Hey! Thanks for interviewing me first of all. I'm a big fan of Perfect Circuit & have purchased many pieces of gear from you over the years xD
Mr. Bill is the name given to me by my friends when I was starting to write electronic music (which is derivative of my name given to me by my mum & dad—Bill). I'm an electronic music producer, sound-designer, film score composer, YouTuber, podcaster, regularly performing DJ, heavy collaborator, sample-pack, and educational content creator at mrbillstunes.com, and basically anything else that revolves around electronic music production & its peripherals.
To sum it up into a TLDR: I primarily make music on computers, then fly around on airplanes & show that music to people in different cities through large sound-systems (and sometimes other stuff).
PC: And as for your musical background—how did your interest in music start?
Mr. B.: My background is basically all music related. I've essentially pursued music full-time since I was about 13-14 years old, all through school I played guitar, then got into producing music on computers (Garage Band to begin with, followed by FL Studio, then finally, and still currently, Ableton Live). So, my music interest definitely started with guitar.
PC: I'm especially interested to know how you got into electronic music. Was there a particular record that sparked your interest, or a live concert experience? What are the biggest influences or formative experiences that led you down the path of making electronic music?
Mr. B.: It was a concert experience for sure. I met a friend around my area who went by the name of "Frosty", and he was really into what I would at the time consider experimental music, like he introduced me to Nine Inch Nails, Infected Mushroom, Aphex Twin, and a bunch of other kinda edgy, left-field stuff. At first I didn't really get it, until he suggested we go to a "Doof" (which is Australian terminology for a psytrance party), after going to that, and experiencing it in the context in which it is supposed to be enjoyed, I was a full electronic music convert, which is what spurred me to get into GarageBand on my parents computer to start trying to figure out how to make that kind of stuff.
PC: Of course, you've come a long way since then—in the last few years alone, you've done a lot of interesting work. What would you say your artistic focus was like leading up to 2023?
Mr. B.: My focus prior to 2023 was basically the same as my focus prior to every other year, which has always just been - learn how to make cooler sounds, and do better mixdowns, try to work on my songwriting, get better at creating motifs & hooks, get better at creating cohesive sets for live performances, etc. Essentially just trying always to hone in on the craft more & more.
PC: It's pretty obvious that you've been busy—but I imagine that must take a toll in some way or another. On one hand, you've gotten a lot of recognition, and you've make a lot of amazing music...but how have things been for you personally leading up to this year?
Mr. B.: The lead up to 2023 was actually not good. Writing music day-in, and day-out certainly does take a mental toll. Through 2021, and 2022 I got heavily addicted to Ketamine which led to me spending a month in rehab in October/November 2022. Ketamine is an extremely prevalent substance in the electronic communities at the moment, and as much as I'm ashamed to admit it got me, it did, and I spoke about it at length on Episode 115 of my podcast (The Mr. Bill Podcast) with Mimi Page if anyone's interested in hearing more of that.
But yeah, definitely beware of the grindset mindset, it's burnt me out a few times over the years, and I could definitely see myself falling victim to some form of burnout again (though, hopefully not one that has any sort of substance abuse involved next time). It's really important to take breaks & try to find balance between being extremely productive, and writing a lot of music, and playing a lot of shows, and the other side of things, like self care stuff—everything from mundane tasks like cleaning your house, and getting your car registered, to doing your groceries, cooking some food for yourself a few times a week, going for a walk, or to the gym, etc…I'm still not great at that balance, but I realize it's something I have to work on just as hard as I work on my music (perhaps even harder than I have to work on my music, as I actually find sitting down to do 12 to 15 hour studio sessions concerningly easy these days).
PC: And what about 2023 itself? How have you shifted focus this year? What personal changes have you taken on, and how do you see those affecting your life and your work?
Mr. B.: This year has been really great so far! I started working with a new manager, and we've built a great relationship, and made a lot of really good connections. So, I'm hoping all that music work I've been doing is going to pay off in terms of seeing some of my bigger goals come to life.
I have a remix album coming out this year on April 19th called Phantasmagorical, which has a bunch of remixes on it from my 2021 album Phantasmagoria, and we've got a lot of really cool artists on there that I look up to a lot such as Culprate, The Widdler, Virtual Riot, KiloWatts, Resonant Language, Player Dave, and a ton more!
Thoughts On Collaboration + Community
PC: We're going to get to your new release Phantasmagorical—but first, I wanted to touch on something I see as a sort of background "theme" in your work for the past few years: collaboration and community. You've done a lot of collaborative music, you developed the Slap plugin with Yum Audio, and you've built an amazing online community through mrbillstunes.com, YouTube tutorials, podcast, etc. What is the significance, for you, of engaging with the music production/performance community? Aside from being a musician, how do you see your role in that community?
Mr. B.: The way I see it, is I'm extremely pro-electronic music, and so anything anyone can ever do (no matter how big, or small) to better that space in terms of sound-quality, technical information, building better equipment, building better tools to make music with, figuring out how to spread music more efficiently, creating communities for producers to come together & collaborate, and share ideas & learn together, etc. (whatever it may be) is GOOD.
When I started doing electronic music in Australia in about 2006, it was seen as a literal joke. My friends looked at it as music they'd hear in video games, or slot machines, but they never saw it as a real form of music, they thought it was talentless, soulless garbage. So, to see where it has come in the past 15 years is awesome! And the only reason that all happened was due to sharing information, making better tools, better sound-systems, better visual systems, etc. Without those things, producers wouldn't have gotten better, the full-body, sensory-overload experience you can have at a show would still be mediocre, and it'd likely still be seen as something not worth taking seriously. So, I feel like I just want to help in any way I can to build on the electronic music culture, as I love it very dearly.
PC: And as for collaboration—you've done so many collaborative projects. What is it that draws you toward collaborative projects? How do you decide when it's right to bring another artist or third party "into the fold" on a project?
Mr. B.: Yeah! I love collaborating with other producers. I think we all have our strong suits. I think I'm good at being creative & I'm OK at sound-design & mixdowns maybe, but there's other people who are just so much better than me at other things, like the song-writing/arrangement side of things, or they might be really good at writing melodies, or really good at making insane bass sounds, or drum sounds, or something else. Or, I might just like their overall style a lot & think we could create something interesting as a blend between both our styles.
It really depends, but in general, I like collaborating because it yields something impossible for either party to have created on their own, and I have all the time in the world to make music on my own, so I like to take the opportunities I have to work on music with others when I can. That usually happens whilst I'm traveling in other parts of the world. I'll get to sit down in a studio with another producer, we'll start something, then finish it over Dropbox over the coming weeks, months, or in some cases, years.
PC: Are there any collabs in your past that stick out as being particularly special or memorable? Any ongoing collabs you're particularly excited about?
Mr. B.: I'm definitely always stoked about the collabs I'm working on. If I'm not, I generally just don't work on them, or start them. I feel like I'm pretty good at picking good collaborators to work with who will hopefully get me excited (and hopefully I'll get them excited, too), but yeah, I have a bunch I'm working on at the moment for the next Mr. Bill album, with Culprate, Skope, COPYCATT, eliderp, Encanti, The Widdler, Clockvice, and some other ones I probably shouldn't name here right now ;)
And yes! I have a side project with kLL sMTH named kLL Bill, which is kinda more on the heavy, jankier bass music side of things. We did our first EP, followed by a string of dates in early 2022, and Kris is about to head to my studio this week actually, and we're going to work on our second EP over the next few weeks here :) Hopefully it does as well as the first! I think we were both really happy with how that one was received. And if it doesn't, it's no real loss, cos' working with Kris is great. He's an amazing human being, very easy to work with, and I think we both really complement each other's styles well. The things he's really good at, I'm not good at, and I think I fill in some areas in his writing, too that he doesn't necessarily excel in. So, I think it's a really cool combo & I'm glad we found each other for it!
Phantasmagoria to Phantasmagorical
PC: So, the new album Phantasmagorical is a remix album of tracks from your last major release, Phantasmagoria. Phantasmagoria itself is a pretty remarkable album, made mostly out of collabs with other artists. How did Phantasmagoria come together?
Mr. B.: My general style for putting albums together is simply just starting a lot of stuff with different people, and then usually I'll just see the vision for an album whilst cleaning up my project folders one day, I'll be like "Oh shit, that's like a solid album right there…hm", and I'll put all the ones that I think would work together on an album in a Dropbox folder, then hit up all the collaborators & tell 'em I have an idea for a new album that I think this collab we started one day might work on, and see if they're interested in working on it, and if so, I just spend a few months doing rounds on the tunes until I can't be bothered anymore because, I hate them all, and at that stage, that is how I know I'm done xD
PC: Are there any moments or tracks that really stood out to you when putting Phantasmagoria together? Do you feel you learned anything from Phantasmagoria that you've carried through into new work?
Mr. B.: Oh absolutely! One massive standout thing for me is something so stupid, that I learned at college, but for whatever reason just wasn't doing in my workflow a lot on Phantasmagoria (but have been doing a lot on my new album), which is grouping things & using saturators or waveshapers to squash em' together to get a more cohesive sound. I remember spending SO long on "Pasta Masta" trying to get all the layers for that main bass to sit correctly, and with this new method of just slamming elements together to get them to sound "glued", or sitting as like one singular wall-of-sound, it's extremely easy to get those types of basses sitting right.
Also, I just purchased an Arturia Polybrute, there's little to no analog stuff on Phantasmagoria (apart from the opening tune, "Sad Pro"—which, isn't technically analog, cos it's made on a [Sequential] Pro 3—but I'm counting it, cos it was at least an outboard synth!), so I'm really excited to try to get some more analog vibe sounds going on this new album.
My buddy GARDNSOUND recently bought a tape machine off Craigslist & refurbished it, so we've been using that a bit on our collab which will likely be on the album. So just random little fun stuff like that I haven't experimented with too much in the past, I want to mess with more. Mick Gordon said in his GDC talk "If you want to change the outcome, you need to change the process" (or something similar), so I'm trying to do that a bit.
PC: As for Phantasmagorical—the first obvious question is...well, why make a remix album?
Mr. B.: So, the original album just did really well, and people really liked it. And, I really enjoyed making it, and still enjoy listening to it from time to time, so I figured it'd be an interested idea to try & get artists I thought could do the things to those track ideas that I couldn't do. For instance, there's no way I could ever make a Virtual Rioted version of "Pleasure Seeker," but I was way too curious to hear what that would be like to not ask him to take a stab at it. Or "Not Behd," that's essentially me trying to be Culprate anyway, so why not get the real deal Culprate to just make that tune what I always wanted it to be :p
As a result, I think we have a second album basically that is just an enjoyable of a listen as the first, but with in some cases, better versions of the original tunes! And in a lot of cases, certainly more DJable versions the tunes!
PC: Why was Phantasmagoria in particular the right material to recontextualize in this way? I find it interesting that it's a remix of material that was already created collaboratively...like, Phantasmagorical is an extra layer of collab on top of already collaborative music? Meta collab, perhaps?
Mr. B.: Haha, yeah exactly, it's like a matryoshka doll of collabs xD
I think even with a second (or third) person on the tune, you can still only see so much of a tune's potential together, where as a remixer generally has no attachment to the original idea, so they're more inclined probably to just go a completely different direction with it, and I'm just always interested to see what that direction is & what else that idea can be.
PC: How did the process work with Phantasmagorical? I've got to say, it's stylistically very broad, but it really works, still. How did you choose who you wanted to work with? Aside from sending artists stems, did you have any input on the direction for their remixes?
Mr. B.: So, as I said, I really wanted to essentially create a similar type of album to Phantasmagoria stylistically, but seen from the angle of other artists that I think do those sounds better than I do. For instance, "Gliitchake" was originally called "Mushroom IDM", because, that style of flowy glitch always reminded me of mushrooms, hence the name "Gliitchake" (shiitake + glitch), and I think Bwoy De Bajahn really nails that sound, so, in that case, I thought it was a no brainer to try & get him to have a go at it.
Basically, all the remixes I chose were for similar reasons—I just thought they'd do the thing I was trying to do in the original better than me :p (though, got a few surprises when receiving them back for sure!). I gave some artists some feedback on their remixes for sure, I always feel shitty when doing that, cos' I'm not really a fan when someone asks me to change something, so I get it, but, I think in the end it worked out for the best, as I'm really happy with the album, and I hope others are, too! (though, only one way to find out. If you're reading this, go listen to it :p)
PC: Are there any parts of Phantasmagorical that you feel are especially strong? Any personal favorite mixes among them, or favorites for particular moods/settings?
Mr. B.: I think the Virtual Riot remix is probably the strongest on there in terms of playability in a set, honouring the original idea (in his own way), and the sound design/mixdown, but that's just normal for him, he's a god-tier producer, and imo just a step above everyone else all the time it seems, his drive to just always get better & more efficient is always so impressive to me. Though, I really like all the remixes on there obviously (or I wouldn't be putting them out), other standouts for me personally are The Widdler, Integrate, Resonant Language, Culprate (obviously), Dirt Monkey (I really like that he went dnb with his one), voljum (that one actually might be the standout in terms of sound-design now I think about it, that kid is INSANE).
PC: How did it feel to get back all of the recontextualized tracks? Does the feeling seem different from you than the process of other collaborative works in your past?
Mr. B.: Very different feeling yeah. When receiving collabs back, I'm generally listening from the Ableton session, so whenever I hear things, I can go in & solo it, change it, mess around with arrangements, etc. When getting a remix back, it's always just a render (WAV, or mp3), so sometimes I'll get kinda frustrated cos it's not doing the original idea in the way it was originally done (not that it's supposed to, but because I'm so used to hearing the idea another way, it takes some getting used to), and not being able to change anything about it certainly elicits a different feeling.
I always love getting remixes back though, it's exciting to be like "ohhhhh!! I wonder what it's gonna' be like!", it kind of feels like opening an Amazon package you forgot about ordering or something, or receiving a gift might be a better comparison.
PC: Can you point out any roadblocks or highlights in the process of curating/creating Phantasmagorical? What have you learned through the process of building this release that you'll take forward into other projects?
Mr. B.: I think if I ever take on a remix project this big again, I'm going to figure out another system for sending out stems and receiving versions back. Having 20 different conversations with different artists, and having to hit them up all the time, check where they're at with things, or remind them of deadlines (or whatever else) is definitely taxing. I kinda wish there was some Dropbox-type system that would work well for that kinda thing, it just auto-pings remixers or something until they submit a remix back into a file request box or something. That'd be cool…
PC: What's next for Mr. Bill? New music? Tour? More educational work? More plugins?
Mr. B.: All of the above, yeah! Definitely more shows this year than the past few years. I want to try & finish a new Mr. Bill original (or collabs) album this year + definitely more educational content going up on mrbillstunes.com all the time, and hopefully YouTube, too. And yeah, I'm working on a new plug-in atm, but nothing I can talk about just yet ;)
PC: Most of the readers of our blog are electronic musicians themselves, many of them looking to break into the world of professional music-making. If you could give them any advice—be it technical, musical, or personal—what would it be?
Mr. B.: Honestly, just write a lot of music & find a good manager (friend, partner, colleague, whatever) to work with to help you along the way with things like music releases, marketing, etc. (and obviously pay them a percentage of your income to do that as both compensation, and incentive for them to help you grow)—there's just not enough time in the day to be really good at music, and fully managing the other side of things, too. You may not need that management at first if there's not much to manage, but eventually when merch, relationships with agents, venues, promoters, distributors, PR companies, etc. are in play—you can't do it all alone, but it's good to grow with a manager/sidekick type person, that way you build up a level of trust & develop cool systems that work for you both & that can be really powerful when done correctly.
Ultimately though, the better you get at doing whatever it is you do, (so long as you're managing your work correctly) the more you'll be rewarded, I promise. I think people have this idea that things are too saturated to make any buzz these days, but I don't think that's true, you just need to just as creative with how you're putting yourself out there as you are with your music (or whatever your craft is!).
Want to hear more? Pick up your copy of Phantasmagorical here!