On Ninja Tune
Restless as a DJ and adventurous in his productions, Illum Sphere (real name Ryan Hunn) is both a key player in the Manchester music scene and a unique presence on the global stage. Deliberately oblique in his approach, he’s had a vital impact on electronic music, and it’s about to get bigger.
Hoya:Hoya, the club night he founded in 2008 along with Jonny Dub, has steadily expanded its reputation in and outside Manchester: they now boast Eclair Fifi, Jon K, Lone, and Krystal Klear as resident DJs, as well as mic skills from Chunky, Fox and visuals by EMN.
That’s a hotbed of talent from which radio stations, festivals and record labels outside Manchester draw. Hoya:Hoya also brings names like Four Tet, Dabrye, Ikonika and Kuedo to the city, helping to build its reputation as a nightclub singular in style, and simply as one of the best parties in the country. It’s well known that you can’t fully predict what music you’ll get on a Hoya:Hoya night, let alone from one of Illum Sphere’s own DJ sets. He’ll skip effortlessly between hip-hop, psych, techno, boogie and myriad more styles, before you even know what’s happened.
It’s partly through this reach that Illum Sphere has attracted international attention. He’s played parties everywhere from Low End Theory in LA to Sydney, Australia. XL Recordings asked him to remix Radiohead, who then invited Illum to appear on the seminal King of Limbs remixed edition of Boiler Room, alongside Caribou, Jamie XX and Lone, as well as to DJ at the afterparty of Radiohead’s 02 concert.
Besides releases on Manchester’s own Fat City, he’s released music on a plethora of electronic music’s best imprints: Martyn’s label 3024, Pinch’s Tectonic and Young Turks.
Now, he’s found a permanent home in Ninja Tune. As with his boundary skipping DJ sets, Illum Sphere’s releases are marked not by a regulated approach beginning with tempo or genre, but a free-spirited attitude that encompasses a range of genres. With his series of EPs for Fat City, Illum Sphere started out in sci-fi atmospherics and loosely slung beats, before quickly venturing into more exotic grooves. "Titan" (on 3024) achieved a new, bleepy dancefloor leverage while "Dreamstealin" (on Tectonic) is a trip, awash with warped and droned strings, far out rhythms and a soothing boogie comedown.
His Young Turks EP saw Illum Sphere stepping out with a new 4/4 fearlessness. Both tracks are dancefloor to the max: while "h808er" effortlessly sweeps you up into storming Drexciyan techno and then lifts unexpectedly into breezy psychedelia. "Birthday" is full on bump, coupled with Illum Sphere’s distinct musical humour.
Just as his DJing style fuses the explorative and the unexpected, so do his productions, and with the talent to match his idiosyncratic style, he is now achieving a newfound confidence and artistic distinction.
Photo by Louis Reynolds