His "other stuff" comes up a lot during our conversation, which took place on a mild evening in March at a café in East London. In person, Ifill is just as he is on social media: disarmingly polite, humble and funny. He's soft-spoken, but when he gets excited his Tottenham twang bursts through. The first time this happens, he's telling me about grime, which is currently his genre of choice.
"Grime's important, man. I like the fact that they've made something for themselves. If you make a house record, or a rap record, you slide into a pre-existing structure. They didn't have any of that. You know, they created it themselves. I feel like there's a lot of energy in it. It just feels really local."
Locality is important for Ifill. His artist name, K15, is an combination of Kieron and N15, Tottenham's post code. Over the years, London's many strands of dance music have resonated profoundly with him, from jungle, house and garage in the '90s to broken beat in the '00s and now grime. It was the West London sound, pioneered by artists like Domu and Bugz In The Attic, that had the greatest impact on his productions.
Ifill's been making music for more than ten years and releasing it for just over half that. Most of what he's put out sits on Bandcamp, where you'll find a collection of well-presented digital releases, spanning everything from jazz, hip-hop, broken beat and soul to under-the-counter remixes of Dabrye and Radiohead. What you won't find, though, is many club tracks. For that you have to go to Discogs, where his two house EPs, Bordeaux on WotNot Music and Insecurities, are listed. These two records came out within several months of each other in 2014—late in Ifill's production career overall.
That said, Ifill's history with club music goes way back. Raised in Tottenham during the '80s and early '90s, hardcore and jungle were the first styles that really grabbed him, marking a significant departure from the pop, reggae and classic soul that flooded his childhood (his dad was a reggae musician and his mum an avid record-collector). Brewed locally, jungle's rabid, urban energy struck a chord. Ifill was only 12 or 13 when he discovered it, so he had to make do with listening to his older brother's rave tales while saving up his pocket money to buy records. He'd make tapes, too, and swap them at school. Hours were spent sitting in his bedroom playing his new 12-inches or listening to the radio.
As he got deeper and deeper into jungle, Ifill was also following his classmates' leads and checking out Simply Red, Nirvana and Jamiroquai (Emergency on Planet Earth was "a massive, massive deal.") Such an open mind is rare in teenagers, who, when they're not following trends, tend to be fiercely territorial about what they listen to.
Those years were pivotal for Ifill. "I remember getting really into 4Hero, and there was, like, a massive message board about different types of music. There was a guy called Domu who's a phenomenal producer. We used to talk about loads of different music, but he always used to go on about Kate Bush. I'd listen to these records and be like, 'I don't see any references to this.' But it was just about listening to other things, and just being open to different sounds."
Some time around the mid-'90s, UK house and garage usurped jungle and drum & bass as the club music of the moment. Finally of legal age, Ifill immersed himself in the scene and all that went with it, going to raves, locking in to pirate radio and keeping up with the fashion. He even stopped buying records, preferring to spend his hard-earned cash getting into Camden Palace (now KOKO) or Club Colosseum in Lambeth, where he and his mates would dance all night to the likes of DJ EZ and Karl "Tuff Enuff" Brown. The latter especially left his mark on the young raver. No matter what time Brown was booked to play, Ifill would stick it out, mesmerised by his raw yet soulful sound. Years later, much to his delight, Ifill struck up a brief email conversation with his hero after buying a 12-inch from him on Discogs.
"It was really exciting music," he says. "It felt quite positive in a way, quite optimistic. I was just out with my friends at the time, staying up until all hours. You know, enjoying all sorts of clubs, and doing whatever. It was just a really, really cool time, and I'm lucky to have had that. Sometimes I look around, and I look at young people, and I'm like, 'I don't know if you guys have access to clubs in the same way.' You know? I think, for me, that was a good thing to see what I liked, and what I didn't like."
Away from the clubs, Ifill would listen to Deja Vu or Freek FM at every opportunity, closely taking note of the impact of each track and trying to work out how the hell they were made. Even when the magic of garage started to fade around the turn of the millennium, replaced by flashy R&B nights, Ifill's newfound perspective on music remained. He stopped going out as much, and soon he signed up to a three-year course at London's University Of Westminster, studying English Language & Linguistics.
Ifill first dabbled in production as a teenager at school, messing around at a friend's impressive home-studio. At the time, he was listening to a lot of Madlib and J Dilla, so he had a crack at making his own dusty beats. They were, he says, awful, but he still took a lot from the experience. "There was something quite interesting about making whatever you made, and just saying: this is me." Further down the line, thanks to a particularly intense love of classic-era hip-hop, he'd learn about sampling from devouring the sleeve notes of his favourite rap records. For his production career, this was the game-changer.
"Hip-hop is one of those things, in terms of its production, that allowed me to see that actually you can listen to everything, absolutely everything and anything, and bring it into yourself. So there were guys who were sampling country records, or jazz records, or soul records. The way that they were bringing it back to themselves—I thought, this is awesome." With figures like Domu and 4Hero's Dego to look up to, Ifill started making beats with a quiet, zealous intent. He'd go to university, come home, say a quick hello to his brother and head straight to his room. He'd spend the rest of the evening randomly picking samples he liked and then trying to build something around them. "I was doing it through weird ways on my computer before I had my MPC," he explains, "and it was really just a case of 'I have this sample, I have to try to make something with it.'"
It's rare that producers can pinpoint the moment they switched from hating their work to acknowledging its value, but Ifill remembers it well. He had made a hip-hop tune using a sample from Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway's "Where Is The Love." He passed it on to a rapper friend, who spat over it and sent it back. The finished version sounded like, well, an actual song. That led him to appreciate his music for what it was, and crucially stopped him from constantly comparing himself to more experienced producers.
The journey from bedroom novice to artist took Ifill the best part of seven years, and in September of 2008 he unveiled his first record. A New Path was a collaboration with New Zealand soul singer Lisa Preston, with whom Ifill connected via Myspace ("the best music platform ever," he says). The pair never met, though you wouldn't guess it from the tracks. Her free-flowing, Erykah Badu-style delivery glides over Ifill's crackly, low-slung beats. In the end, though, no labels took the bait, and the EP ended up on iTunes and then Bandcamp. For whatever reason it's not available anymore, but Ifill doesn't seem too bothered. He got what he wanted out of it: his first CD.
The next milestone came in 2012 in the form of Theme Music For A Pariah, Ifill's first label release (on London outfit WotNot Music) and arguably his strongest work until Insecurities. The four tracks clearly reference the lilting drums of Bugz In The Attic but they're also unmistakably Ifill's. Pitch "Beat Intoxication" up several notches and you have a two-step banger. Isolate the percussion on "Nanosmiles" and it's impossible not to hear jungle rhythms. And then there's the EP's standout cut, "Remembrance," a slice of stuttered broken beat that's as danceable as it is dramatic.
Ifill would only put out one thing the following year, but it would spark the chain of events that led to his big break. Umbra is another four-tracker in the vein of Theme Music For A Pariah, though it feels more experimental. Perhaps this is what appealed to Kyle Hall, who stumbled upon the tracks and liked them so much that he hit Ifill up on SoundCloud. The Londoner was suspicious at first—"You're really Kyle Hall right?"—but soon the pair were emailing back and forth, sending each other music. By chance, Ifill was making a lot of house at the time, inspired by Glenn Underground's jazzy aesthetic. He sent two tracks to Hall—"Insecurities" and the Gypsy Woman-sampling "GWRH"—and then uploaded them to Bandcamp as usual. They were both immediate hits for Hall, who'd play them out and send Ifill videos of the crowd's reactions. Ifill sent Hall another bunch of tracks in a similar style. Hall picked his three favourites and signed them, plus the earlier two cuts, as a five-track double-EP. In November 2014, Insecurities hit the shelves, released on Wild Oats.
For the most part, Ifill's productions don't grab you by the lapels. The music, much like the man, has a shyness to it, and only those willing to spend time appreciating the subtleties are rewarded. Insecurities is the opposite of that. "The Story Of Her Life," the A-side, was the first thing I heard from K15, and it took all of ten seconds to draw me in, seduced by the dulcet desperation in Kim Payton's voice (Ifill told me he'd found the original in Soul And Dance Exchange in Soho for 50p). All five cuts had the same effect on me, and I kept revisiting them, half expecting their charm to wear off. But even now, the record's rich soulfulness is stronger than ever. At the time of writing, Wild Oats had just announced the EP's long-awaited re-press.
Insecurities was actually one of several killer releases from Ifill in 2014. There was the summery synth house of Bordeaux, the brilliant, DOOM-esque hip-hop of Dying Breath (with US rapper DistantStarr) and a lively remix of Omar's "Dancing." But the year started on a sadder note, when Ifill's mother passed away. Not long after the funeral, he released The Black Tape through Dutch outfit INI Movement. Featuring chanting and drumming recorded live at the burial—and track titles like "Dealing With" and "Ascension"—it's a candid, heart-on-your-sleeve record that explores the ground between jazz, ambient and broken beat. "It wasn't supposed to help, this was just what mattered to me at the time," he says. "Maybe you hear it from the music, or you hear it from the song titles."
For Ifill, life has been different since Insecurities. Aside from all the traveling (which he loves) and the remix requests, there's dealing with the new weight of expectation from the public, the industry and himself. He was happy, then, to follow Insecurities with M I S T, the first release on Kyle Hall's new No Room For Air imprint. Comprising two dreamy, R&B-soaked cuts and one beatless number, the seven-inch was an important move for Ifill. "I'm glad it came out, I'm glad that people got to see that I can do, or that I enjoy doing other things too, rather than 'Ah, he put this [Insecurities] out, this is heavy. Let's hit him up for ten more of these house tunes.' I might do that, but then, I like other stuff, and I want to make other stuff too."
Another way of getting this message to his fans is through his DJing. Though it's never been his main focus, playing records is Ifill's second love. He's a dab hand too, thanks largely to a lengthy stint as warm-up DJ for a night called UK Soul Jam at Camden Town's Jazz Café in the late '00s. Before I saw him play at Village Underground last month, where he was supporting Matthew Herbert at Convergence, I wondered if he ever felt the pressure to play his hits. He assured me that he hasn't.
True to his word, throughout his hour-long performance I didn't hear a single track off Insecurities, nor anything else that I recognised as his. I did, though, join the rest of the timid early crowd in nodding along to Nuyorican Soul, Tony Allen, Azymuth, Karizma, 24 Hour Experience and German jazz vocalist Monika Linges, whose 1982 cut "Running" was one of the night's unexpected highlights. His mixing was fast and tidy, and his whole body rocked vigorously to the beat as he played. If you went in thinking K15 was a house artist, there's no way you left feeling that way.
Thanks in part to his new agent, Ifill is busy this summer. But despite that, he's still an artist only on evenings and weekends. During the day he teaches English Language at a Pupil Referral Unit in East London. He likes his job, mostly because of the kids, but he could feasibly leave at any point. So what's stopping him? "My goal right now, and this might change when I get home, or even tomorrow, is to just keep enjoying it. I think it's very easy for the enjoyment of music to just get sucked out of it, like quick, quick. Whether it's through other people's demands, or excessive pressure on yourself, I think it's very easy for you to not enjoy what you're doing, to not enjoy that process. I really don't want that to happen. I like how I like music."
K15 plays at Love Saves the Day, which takes place at Eastville Park in Bristol between Saturday, May 23rd and Sunday, May 24th.