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illyr prelude

The new London composer inspired by surveillance & sex clubs

illyr is a choreographer and composer with a stunning voice, singular sound and unique vision – watch his debut video for ‘prelude’

The music that illyr (pronounced il-leer) makes is soaring, atmospheric and full of left turns. On “prelude”, his operatic voice soars over a bed of strings, interrupted unexpectedly by bursts of visceral, gut-churning sub bass. It builds to a dramatic chorus, only to pull back abruptly at the moment of release. It’s music that feels physical, alive – which is perhaps no surprise given illyr’s background in contemporary dance, attending the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. “I don’t know what this is,” the composer/choreographer confesses when we meet in east London. “I don’t know if this is music, or if it’s dance.”

The video for “prelude” is the first of four short films that contribute to scrolling subconscious, a multimedia exhibition taking in music, film and installation art, and exploring love, lust and sexuality in an era of digital surveillance. Taking place at London’s Ditto Gallery, the exhibition brings the videos to life using fragments taken from the production process – destroyed screenshots, photo prints, discarded objects, and garments worn by the men in the video. As illyr puts it, the exhibition is a documentation of a virtual love affair. “It moves from capturing the love affair in ‘i.chokehold’, ‘ii.feed’ is this digital purgatory of lost souls, then the third piece, ‘iii.too many times’, is going to be a dystopian digital wasteland,” he says.

illyr’s visuals were created by artist and filmmaker REMEMBER YOU WERE MADE TO BE USED, his primary visual collaborator. “I think there’s something about choreography and film editing that come from the same place – it’s like a heartbeat – sequences of movement based on instinct and emotion,” REMEMBER explains. “Maybe that’s why we work together so well. illyr puts all of that, and his past, into bodies and breath.” The video’s first shot shows an industrial lift opening out onto a row of men with shaved heads. “He chooses these boys not just based on their skill level but their sort of human presence,” they continue. “He makes these beautiful narratives, but then as I film it I put myself in this unknown spectator perspective. So I have my own narrative on it, that I then fragment later in the edit.”

Watch the video for “prelude” below.

Do you see your background as predominantly musical, or more in dance?

illyr: My background is contemporary dance. I wasn’t musical at all (growing up) – the singing and the dancing was completely separate. In my last year in school, I made a duet with another boy. We performed it in London and danced in Poland. It was really powerful – we were having an affair and everyone knew. It was very dramatic; it didn’t end well. After that, I stopped dancing, became a recluse and didn’t speak to anyone. My nan got me a guitar and asked me to start writing stuff. I started reading a lot of literature and started to make music.

What are some of the things you’re most influenced by?

illyr: I don’t make music just as music – I feel like I make music to choreograph to. So I see sound, I see movement, and that helps me feel the beat or find the sound that I want. And then I work with REMEMBER, and they kind of visualise it. I don’t trust anyone else with the visuals. I took a lot of classes with Pina Bausch in Germany, Batsheva in Israel, and I saw this ferocity and beauty in their movement. I work in a sex club; my job is to watch CCTV for all the people doing drugs and pick out the ones to call security on. I only work there two days a week, but it’s interesting. I always see these men glowering around this sauna in a melancholy storm. They don’t ever see me; I get to watch really intimate moments of their life. I record sounds from that.

“In my last year in school, I made a duet with another boy. We performed it in London and danced in Poland... we were having an affair and everyone knew. It was very dramatic; it didn’t end well” – illyr

How did you meet REMEMBER?

illyr: They did a video with my boyfriend, who’s a model. I’ve admired them for a long time. I emailed them like, ‘Let’s make something.’ And I sent them the first song I did, which was ‘i.chokehold’. We went to Paris, I got one of the best dancers I know, and we made something that I think is really beautiful.

What sort of ideas did you have about how you wanted to express yourself visually?

illyr: I just wanted something true to where the music came from, and from where I came from. I give them this choreography and they capture these intricate moments between people. It’s like how I see people in the sex club – I see the moments that aren’t choreographed. They pick the bits out where we’re rehearsing, or they find the beauty in the life of... I don’t know. We used to send each other videos back and forward; we’d Skype all the time, send each other references. They’re obsessed with William Burroughs and Sarah Kane. That’s where a lot of the lyrics came from too – like, two words from a Sarah Kane play or a Thomas Mann novel like Death in Venice. You put your own contextualisation on to it and it becomes something that’s really personal, but also more than yourself.

How does classical music factor into your sound?

illyr: I’ve got very particular things that I like to listen to. I’m really obsessive about sounds. I love electronic music, but I love real-life strings, and I love a naked voice. I hate double-tracking, and I hate excessive augmentation. You want to connect to something, something personal. I try to fuse the live strings with weird samples I find from opera arias, and then you put (the sound of) someone having sex, like mouth sounds, over the top, and it becomes completely different. But they’re all from different parts of my life.

Tell me about the video for ‘prelude’.

illyr: This is the introduction to the whole triptych. It was so much fun. I’m fully in love with some of the dancers. I know that’s so not allowed, but… (laughs) It’s just all these little bits of footage that don’t quite fit into the other videos.

“I work in a sex club; my job is to watch CCTV for all the people doing drugs and pick out the ones to call security on” – illyr

How does it relate to the exhibition?

illyr: The exhibition is like a physicalisation of the music videos – catering trays with garments hanging inside from what the boys actually wore in the video. REMEMBER’s work is on the walls, covered in plastic. For the last video, we want to shoot in plastic. The new work we’ve done together is on top of the plastic. Hard drives with see-through photographs of boys. It’s different things, pictures that we really like that we captured candidly on set. And with the live element yesterday, together with the space, it made something really special.

What were your inspiration for the locations used in the video?

illyr: Have you heard of the Panopticon prisons? It’s this idea where the prison is on the outside, and the guards are in the middle. We talked about that and social media, how you’re always being watched when you never know that you are, and how you present yourself to people. (We used) these really strong, iconic architectural structures that are brutalist and have a communist feel about it. All these boys shaving their heads, getting rid of who they are, like replicated souls copying again, and again, and again.

scrolling subconscious runs at Ditto until September 28