Interview: Space Dimension Controller
Posted on 15 October 2016
Heady dance beats, retro interplanetary funk, and thoroughly melt-minded synth jams is the royal flush Jack Hamill brings to the decks as Space Dimension Controller. Since his formative years, the producer and DJ has been actively mining static and square waves from a hypnagogic realm of VHS and colorfully violent cartoons. He’s a commanding presence in the UK and international dance circuit, and his albums are cult hits with nostalgia-heads and discerning dancefloor freaks. Every release brings something new, as Hamill seems unconcerned with building a brand around his words and personality.
Like the best of the Irish, Hamill is a straight shooter, but a friendly one, warmly touching on how his high school days in Belfast influenced Orange Melamine, now available on Ninja Tune. All the tracks on Orange Melamine were recorded by Hamill at age 18, before Space Dimension Controller’s debut, Unidentified Flying Oscillator. They’re presented in their original form and fit eerily well with all the lo-fi house and hardware synth music dominating the experimental scene. One could say that, by looking behind, Hamill was ahead of his time.
Hi Jack, How’s life been? Why don’t you share with everyone what you’ve been up to?
Great! Gigging a lot since the album came out and made some positive life changes. Been a whirlwind of a year so far but I’m really happy with it all. I’m literally finishing a remix for some friends as I type this but can’t reveal who.
Orange Melamine was a project you completed at age 18. What made you revisit the album, and have you made any big changes since preparing it for release?
I sent it to my manager and he loved it. I’d sat on it for so long I really was nervous about unearthing the music but Ninja seemed so confident that I just went for it. No, it’s completely the same as I wrote it all those years ago. Wouldn’t change a thing and happy to have it finally in the public domain.
Visiting the UK and Europe was the first real interaction I had with brutalist architecture and its retro-utopian aesthetic. It seems like the hard edges and unnatural shapes have a strong connection to electronic music and clubbing; where were you living when you recorded the album, and did your surroundings have any role to play in the kind of music you were creating growing up?
No my sound definitely at that time was based on escapism and the idea of space / sci-fi soundtracks running through the music. Belfast is an incredible place but it’s so rich in history it can struggle to look forward at times. I guess this was me dreaming into the future.
You mentioned in an interview that you started out making straight up ambient tunes. What led you to transition to more beat-driven, structured music?
Just naturally was drawn to making more dance-driven stuff, and it’s all a growth cycle really. You explore and push yourself in life — that comes across in the music you are making. I was going to see more stuff live as I was older and it opens you up to all sorts of experiences.
I remember spending entire nights staring at a computer screen, trying to figure out music software. What was your introduction to computer music? Compare to when you were 18, would you have changed anything about your process if you could go back?
I’ve always dabbled in computer music and probably at a friend’s house years ago using a spectrum. No idea what the software was called though hah. I wouldn’t have changed the process at all, in fact I could probably take some lessons from my younger self.
Does nostalgia play an important role in your music? It seems like this generation of producers have dived headfirst into nostalgia. At the same time, we are the ones reconciling the 20th century vision of the future with the “future” we currently live in – could you comment on what influence this echo chamber might have had?
I’m naturally nostalgic but I’ve always looked to the future for inspiration. I mean it might be a slightly dated idea of what the future is but it’s still looking forward. I think I’ve always loved the old stuff on , Skam etc and obviously influences / motifs are a huge part of my sound. It’s about taking them and generating something individual though.
“Multipass” and some others sound straight off the tape deck. Did you listen to cassettes back in the early aughts, and how do you feel about the increasing role of cassettes in experimental/small press music?
I love the idea of someone owning an old tape Walkman and taking a still up a hill while listening to rare Scandinavian ambient music. I think it’s great but digital is the reality now and personal preference is what decides the format you digest music on.
That lo-fi, sci-fi synth sound is all over the record, and seems to be quite popular with electronic artists lately – were you surprised at how current the sound on OM is now? And do you think the synths you used have developed a “timeless” quality to them?
I mean electronic music never dies and it’s just a new generation that makes it feel new again. Some of the equipment I used just has that timeless sound and in not surprised at all that the youth find it as interesting as I do.
Song titles like “Melting Velcro Shoes,” “Adventures in Slime and Space,” and “Today There is No School” are rather playful, yet ominous. In a way, it made me think of the sense of wonder that made the “intrepid Spaceman Spiff” from Calvin and Hobbes so captivating. Were you one of those kids that daydreamed about the apocalypse or space as an adventurous frontier?
I’ve day-dreamed my way through life haha. I loved all the old cartoons and I found finding music so exciting then. I was shy and a bit of a geek tbh. I definitely used these things to make my life more exciting, and thanks for the spaceman spiff reference; I’ll read that later.
Do you see your albums as being plot-drive, or having a storyline that maybe only you are aware of?
I have a screenplay I’ve been working on for around five years, which is fully narrative driven. My current albums have a beginning, middle and end, but not enough for me to say it has a plot. I kind of sprinkle the idea but it’s very loose.
You’ve expressed an interest in sci-fi movies and film in general, has this replaced music for you as a source of inspiration? How do you feel about the increasing role of visuals in the experience of music, to the point where some albums can hardly even be digested properly without their visual component?
I can hear something and feel hugely inspired but not as much as I would like. The modern lofi sci-fi movies are incredible and I loved that the music in Stranger Things. I think your paradox between the visual and sonic world is smaller than you think. I try to make people visualize with just my music so I’d love to fully collaborate with someone on the visual side.