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Favorite ThisKJ SAWKA & ill.Gates talk Unsung Heroes, stand-up comedy, and sabotage

Published: September 18, 2015

By: Anand Harsh

One of the most exciting projects The Untz witnessed this year was the innovative KJ SAWKA vs. ill.Gates MIDI battle which raged around the country as the UNSUNG HEROES tour, pitting the Ableton mastermind against the human drum machine. In addition to thrilling audiences with this incredible new performance methodology (and creating some deep belly laughs along the way with their goofy tour promo), some incredible music came out of this sonic kinship.

The Unsung Heroes EP is now live, from Sawka's new IMPOSSIBLE RECORDS label. The original mix of the track is reworked by newcomer Architekt, and one of our favorite glitch-hop duos, SugarBeats, and the creators of the track even took it upon themselves to whip up a drum & bass smasher, which we are thrilled to premiere here today. The EP is already crushing the charts, rising to #1 in both Dubstep and Glitch-hop over Nero and this guy Excision that KJ and Dylan haven't even heard of...

I got a chance to chat with these two MIDI maestros, and pick their brains a bit about touring, producing, and battling it out on the road.

Buy the Unsung Heroes EP NOW from Impossible Records!

KJ Sawka vs ill.GatesManaging two strong personalities in a studio can't be easy. In sex-positive terminology, who is the "dom" and who is the "sub" in this partnership?

Dylan: Sorry to be disappointing with such a loaded question, but it's actually really easy for us to get along in the studio. Depends on what task we are facing at the time. We each have our strengths and weaknesses and neither of us has much ego so usually whoever's best will handle any given task. During the making of the track for example KJ handled the drums and I handled a lot of the melodies, bass lines and workflow.
KJ: We swapped out the roles of dom and sub about 20 times in 4 days until all of our earholes were blown out.

Because the two of you met through Excision/Destroid, was there pressure to make sure the resulting live show and tunes were heavier than hell, or is that just how things naturally progressed when you starting working together?

Dylan: It was more of a natural progression as the shows developed. The battle format naturally had us competing to get the biggest reactions out of the crowd. It was really a fun challenge for me because so much of my material is midtempo or abstract, whereas KJ goes right for the jugular. I think the whole thing really made me step up my game as a headline artist to be honest. All of my solo shows since we started doing Unsung Heroes have been way rowdier as a result.
KJ: The only pressure that I’ve felt is to be true to ourselves as much as possible. So that is what we focused on from the get go. I love a pounding onslaught of raw EDM, juice but I love beautiful melodies and hip-hop grooves just as much.

KJ Sawka vs ill.GatesWhat was the worst fight the two of you had?

Dylan: We haven't argued about anything actually. I can't even think of a single time either of us has raised our voice at the other in anger. That's actually pretty cool to notice now that you mention it.
KJ: I tried sabotaging Dylan’s battle segment by super gluing his fingers to his MIDI fighter but ended up glueing my fingers to my forehead instead causing severe skin irritation and it turing into a rare swine condition called exudative epidermitis. I won’t be doing that anytime soon..

How did you settle on remixers for the EP?

Dylan: We wanted one funky remix and one heavy remix. I chose SugarBeats because they are really talented, and they know how to throw curveballs. I love when producers throw me curveballs. When the vocals came back with the lyrics all based off of KJs lines in our ridiculous comedy movie i immediately burst out laughing. They nailed it.
KJ: I chose Architekt who is the newest addition to the label. We wanted a heavy ass dubstep dance floor crusher remix. He fucking smashed it and it is a killer follow up to his single that came out last month.

KJ, what's been the biggest hurdle in starting your own label?

KJ: The biggest hurdle is getting all my shit organized, which involves creating a billion more things to add to my to-do list and actually making them all happen for a change. I’m much better now. I jumped in feet first, hardly knowing a thing about starting a label and learned a shit ton in the past 6 months. Its very exciting.

Dylan, you've been around the block--what's the trend in electronic music that excites you the most and keeps things fresh for you?

Dylan: Live electronic music. The number one complaint about DJs is that they just press play. We're pressing stop on the backing track, and then playing it live. The audiences have really gone mental for it. It's awesome. You see their eyes light up like they can't believe what's happening on the stage. Best feeling ever.

KJ SawkaBecause of the groundswell of support for not only the stage show but the tour and the resulting EP, do you feel like you're finally Sung Heroes?

Dylan: Considering that the SugarBeats remix has vocals based on KJ's dialogue from our silly movie I would consider him sung at least... We're still at least a million fans short tho. Gotta stay on the hustle.
KJ: We are waving our flag and singing proud but we have light years to go.

Finally, are each of you worried that the other will drop music to pursue a career in acting following those tour de force performances in the teaser video?

Dylan: I've actually started doing stand up comedy recently (not joking) so watch out! You might catch me telling raunchy green room stories at a comedy club in your town... I don't think i'd turn down an opportunity to act or direct again. It really is fun!
KJ: Oh I’m very nervous about Dylan’s excellent acting skills. But, without his acting history as a kid we wouldn’t have made the movie we did. Stay tuned for the next one, because its coming!

Tags: Drum and BassDubstepGlitchHip HopLivetronicaTrap