How Las Vegas became the perfect runway for electronic musician Illenium to take off in a new direction

Photo: Maddie Cordoba / Courtesy

There aren’t many DJs who show up to a four-hour, stadium-sized set with a three-act structure in mind, but Illenium isn’t like other DJs. The 30-year-old electronic musician played the very first Allegiant Stadium show in July to a sold-out Las Vegas crowd, journeying through Ashes, Awake and Ascend, a trilogy of works that have become the pages of his origin story.

“Six years ago, when I started making Ashes, I just did it because I loved electronic music and I loved the community I found,” he said at the show. “And it turned into this trilogy, because it represents the phoenix for me and my transition from a sh*tty life.”

The Denver-based artist has opened up in his music and in interviews about his recovery from substance abuse and how he narrowly escaped a fatal overdose. “That was my past,” he added, looking out over the crowd of roaring fans.

That night, Illenium played the biggest show of his career, and simultaneously closed a chapter on a beloved saga. The fact that it all happened in Las Vegas is no coincidence. We’re a transient city for many, waiting to create a traveler’s next new beginning.

On latest release Fallen Embers, Illenium frees himself to go even bigger—and more ambitious in sound. Pop-punk tracks like “Paper Thin,” featuring Angels & Airwaves’ Tom DeLonge, are a breath of fresh air, while progressive cuts like “Sideways” build melodically over time until they’re practically spilling over.

Standout track “Blame Myself” features a collaboration between Illenium and songstress Tori Kelly. “‘It’s a really personal song and a really tough kind of subject matter and story that I wrote with one of my good friends,” he told Forbes last month. “I feel like when I played that live, that it’s kind of about loss, and it messes me up. It feels good though.”

Fallen Embers is all about conflicting emotions. Some songs, he told Forbes, are meant to feel nice, while others force you to think about things you don’t want to. But overall, the endgame is to feel healed.

Illenium’s latest work ushers in a new era for a phoenix that’s still clearly rising. And he’s keeping his flight path near Vegas for a while. You can catch the DJ at Omnia at Caesars Palace over the next few weeks, as he continues his Vegas residency. And come September, he’ll be spinning at the Life Is Beautiful festival on a bill that also features Billie Eilish, Tame Impala, Megan Thee Stallion and Green Day, among others.

Illenium August 13, 10:30 p.m., $50-$150. Omnia, 702-785-6200.

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Amber Sampson

Amber Sampson is a Staff Writer for Las Vegas Weekly. She got her start in journalism as an intern at ...

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