Clad in a backwards baseball cap and tie-dye hoodie that complement his chill demeanor, Illenium fills the frame of my computer screen.
“Now,” he says, “it’s like super-grind mode.”
Indeed, the producer has spent the last five months painstakingly designing his upcoming tour. The run is not only his biggest yet, but one that firmly places him in the elite echelon of electronic artists who can play arenas, stadiums and amphitheaters, venues that few acts in this genre ultimately reach.
Following the release of his self-titled fifth studio album this past Friday (April 28), on May 27 Illenium will set out on a 37-date tour with stops across North America, Europe, and Australia. The 27-show domestic leg, which cost nearly $9 million to produce and which will position Illenium on 60- to 80-foot-wide stages, is the largest of the three. The run will be supported by six semis and a stockpile of pyro.
After the self-titled set, released via Warner Records, went off to a vinyl pressing plant upon Illenium finishing it last November, the DJ-producer began conceiving its live show, a process during which he transformed the album he’d just made for the live format. This audiovisual experience — complete with longstanding Illenium-centric imagery of phoenixes and ash trees — narratively positions ILLENIUM as the prequel to his four prior albums, while indulging his love for fantasy and world-building.
“The show creates the baseline world that my music lives in,” he says. “If you watch it five times, you’ll notice new things each time and will see how deep it is.”
After opening at the Gorge Amphitheater on May 27, the amphitheater-focused North American leg will make stops at 13 other open-air venues, including three stadiums. Not counting the two festivals included in the tour — Electric Forest in Michigan and Veld Music Festival in Ontario– nearly half of its domestic dates are at outdoor venues.
The decision to lean more heavily into amphitheaters and other open-air spaces comes down to their ability to accommodate Illenium’s large-scale production needs.
“Amphitheaters usually fit our big goals and dreams; we have a lot of custom pieces that require a large stage,” says Illenium’s manager Sean Flynn. “Whereas a lot of the time when we come up with some crazy production that fits some huge stage and we have to work around a smaller stage, amphitheaters already fit what we want to do.”
Synchronicity between a venue’s capabilities and the specs of this tour is paramount, particularly given its full-band format that echoes the live rock focused sound of the latest album. Like 2019’s ASCEND tour, the ILLENIUM live show will feature a full band, including a pianist, drummer, guitarist, and, for the first time, a string instrumentalist. (Illenium will also play guitar and some drum pads.) The space required by these musicians, along with supporting acts like hardcore band I Prevail, demanded venues that could hold all these elements.
“We’d rather sell 85% of a 20,000-person venue with every production need that we want,” Illenium says, “versus a sold-out 10,000-person venue with production restrictions.”
Although the ASCEND tour took Illenium across the country in 2019 and later sent him to Australia at the start of 2020, he and his team did not announce the tour’s domestic and international dates simultaneously. He says their choice to do so this time around feels “much more impactful.” Fans appear to agree: 27 days out from the first stop, the tour has sold roughly 160,000 tickets.
In October, the tour heads to Europe and come November, to Australia. Some of the stages in these European venues are “much smaller” than those in the United States and Australia — just one of the challenges of international travel. Touring with a full band is costly, and without the six semis, the team will take a more minimalistic approach to hardware. Still, Illenium pledges to bring the “sweaty crazy rock show vibes,” and Flynn is adamant that the international portion is “an investment in the future.”
“We’ve played some European shows before, and getting to the point where we can bring the band has always been in the back of our minds,” Flynn says. “It just feels like a natural progression — and if these shows are successful, it’s only going to help grow everything.”
The crown jewel of the tour, however, is Trilogy: Colorado, to be held on June 17 at Empower Field at Mile High in Illenium’s hometown of Denver. With a 76,125-capacity, the stadium — home of the Denver Broncos — dwarfs Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, where the producer held his first Trilogy show on July 3, 2021 to a sold-out audience, becoming the first artist to play the venue in the process. (Although Allegiant Stadium can hold a maximum of 65,000 people, the size of Illenium’s production reduced the stadium’s capacity to 40,000). The event grossed $3.9 million and sold 33,000 tickets, according to figures reported to Billboard Boxscore.
On March 30, Illenium announced that Trilogy: Colorado has already outsold its predecessor. “It’s gonna be the biggest show I’ve ever played,” he says, in a tone more even-keeled than one might expect given the magnitude of the statement. (At the ILLENIUM release party on April 28, the producer also confirmed that a third Trilogy show is in the works and will come to Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium in 2024.)
Illenium is used to setting and shattering his own records. In recent years, he’s arisen as one of dance music’s most prominent, active and successful acts, playing — and selling out — some of the country’s largest stadiums and arenas, including Madison Square Garden in September of 2019. While interest in dance music in the United States is healthy, only a few of its acts — Kaskade, Kx5, Swedish House Mafia, Skrillex with Fred again.. & Four Tet and ODESZA among them — sell out arenas and stadiums, and in some cases only for one-off shows. Illenium became one of these acts through a strategic focus on scaling the size of his events year over year.
“Everything we’ve done throughout Nick’s career has always come down to asking, ‘How do we push things forward?’” Flynn says. “When booking a tour, we’ve always looked to the next highest capacity venue in the area and tried to secure that for the next tour. Or if that didn’t make sense, we’d try to do two nights at the same venue… We’ve always just tried to take whatever that next step was in major markets.”
Fans are of course at the heart of this success. Illenium’s music forges deep bonds with listeners, who have “grown with Nick from when we first started,” says Flynn. The debut Illenium album dropped in 2016, and although he has yet to score a top 40 crossover hit on the Hot 100 (his sole entry to date, “Takeaway” with The Chainsmokers and Lennon Stella, peaked at No. 69), his dance stardom is well-illustrated on Dance/Electronic Songs, where he’s earned seven top 10 hits. Forty-eight of his songs have graced the chart, including ILLENIUM’s lead single, “Luv Me a Little.”
In recent years, his success has also extended well beyond the charts. In 2022, he won his first Billboard Music Award when Fallen Embers triumphed in the top dance/electronic album category, an award handed out on the live telecast. In 2021, the same LP scored him his first Grammy nomination for best dance/electronic album. Fans have come along for the ride, with many catching flights to Cancún to attend his festival, Ember Shores. Following its 2021 launch, the event sold out in less than two hours. Its 2022 installment also sold out, and this year’s iteration this December is on track to do the same.
These wins are why Illenium, who calls himself “super-sensitive to crap online” and says he’s previously deleted his social media apps, became “a little more nervous” in the weeks leading up to the release of his eponymous LP. Although rock elements are not new to his music, ILLENIUM marks his heaviest embrace of them yet. With “symphonic Hans Zimmer-esque stuff” and features from Blink-182’s Travis Barker and All Time Low, the album diverges from the synth drop dominance of his previous LPs. In a December 2022 Reddit comment that felt like a disclaimer, Illenium called the LP his “favorite” — but acknowledged, “it’s definitely not gonna be everyone’s favorite.”
“Even though the majority of my fans definitely support whatever I’m going to try, I’m susceptible to the trolls,” he says. “Everyone has emotions and is a human … it’s easy to second guess myself, even though [the album] is already done.”
He says he’s transformed the album for the tour, and that while “it’s still gonna be extremely live and rock, I’ve made a lot of changes to the live show so it’s still familiar to fans.”
“It’s not just full-on metal freaking craziness,” he continues. “It’s this middle ground that I think people are gonna be really surprised by and stoked about. I think it’s gonna sound better than any of the other live shows [I’ve done].”
Now 32, Illenium has both the self-possession of an artist who knows how the game works and the openness of one who’s new to it. With a sharp sense of self and what music he finds “fulfilling” to make along with clarity of what he wants out of his career — “an impact that is original and unique” — it seems that stifling his creative interests for fear of what people might say would sting more than any negative comment could.
He says he’s gained insight and clarity over the last few years, but remains a “very impatient” person who struggles to “take a second and just chill,” making the delineation between his personal and professional often opaque.
“I’m a recovering drug addict,” he says, “and I’m very one-track-minded, like addicted-mode-on for the show. Whatever it is, [I focus on] doing it and maxing out as hard as I possibly can on it. I haven’t really grown out of that.”
Illenium, who previously struggled with opiate addiction and got clean in 2012 after overdosing on heroin, is partnering with the non-profit End Overdose on the tour to train attendees on how to administer naloxone — used to reverse opiate overdoses — and recognize signs of an overdose.
At this stage in his life and career, he’s also newly thinking about his legacy. Making albums that are essentially copies of each other strikes him as “soulless,” and ILLENIUM — a project that he calls “the core sound of who I am” — has roots in his middle school days, when alt rock, metalcore and pop-punk first forged his own bond with music. Though much has changed for him since, his love for these genres has not. By engaging with these early influences on ILLENIUM, he’s arguably the most himself that he’s ever been on an album.
“Whenever you first listen to something and it has a deep impact on you, I think that stays with you, and I think that’s what happened to me with this type of music,” he says. “It’s just a very deep emotional connection.”