The most unrecognised and underappreciated Icelandic album of last year happened by design. ILO, a mysterious figure on Iceland’s ever-expanding deep house scene, put out a belter of an LP, to absolutely no fanfare. But, as it happens, that’s just the way he likes it.
A graphic designer by trade, ILO (real name Óli Breiðfjörð) keeps his musical ventures at arm’s length from his nine-to-five in his current hometown of Glasgow. “Music is just me thinking about me,” he explains. “The album is an extension of that mindset—and part of that is not doing any promotion. It just exists.”
His near-Buddhist approach to promotion is reflected in the album’s cover art—a plain white cover with a tiny sticker indicating the album title, with absolutely no other information on what it contains. In stark contrast to the austere visuals, the music is lush and filled with personality and nuance. ILO revels in delicately mixing disparate elements. The undulating filter work and cascading delays are the building blocks of his deep house excursions, some of which run up to 18 minutes long. He also has a knack for taking complete left turns when you’d least expect it.
ILO started out at the cross-section of graffiti and music, making a well-liked but overlooked trip hop album on local Thule Records in 2000. The same year, his first house music outing appeared, a samba inspired EP including “Poble Sec,” an all-time Icelandic house classic.
His current success began with an unofficial remix of New Musik’s synth-pop anthem “Warp”. With the help of local legend Maggi Lego and Chicago house music don Jordan Fields, the white-label release made it to the record bags of many of the world’s top DJs.
After getting word that bass music aficionado Martyn was playing the track at peak times of his set, he knew something was up—the track had struck a chord with the underground. “Suddenly I was hit by a tidal wave of messages from labels,” he explains. One of those messages led to his releases on Rebirth Records.
A chance reencounter on Facebook with Jordan Fields would then result in the release of “ILO Sessions,” his mostly overlooked but brilliant 2018 long-player. The influences behind the album were varied. “I was into hardcore as well as techno and house at the time, while also making my edits of other people’s work,” says Óli.
The tracks “No Demons” and “Do This Right” were made in conjunction with his Polish neighbour in Glasgow, after a chance encounter over a noise complaint. “I was tuning a bass drum sound and he came over almost shaking he was so angry,” says Óli. Once they started talking, they hit it off, and their combined efforts represent some of the best points on the album.
While he has no plans to release the album digitally, or even press more records, he does encourage Grapevine readers to seek him out when he’s in Iceland or Glasgow, playing his music to unsuspecting crowds.
ILO’s “ILO Sessions” is out now on double-LP on Headphoniq Records.
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