“I was a complete mental case. If it hadn’t been for meeting my now wife, I’d probably still be a total disaster.” Irish producer, DJ and electronic music-making polymath Jack Hamill tells us, of how his investment in hedonism and a party lifestyle consumed his life. Meanwhile, his alter-ego Space Dimension Controller has creatively fired on all cylinders.
Over the course of albums The Pathway To Tiraquon6, Welcome to Mikrosector-50 and latest release Love Beyond The Intersect, plus plenty of EPs and singles on labels such as R&S and Clone, Jack’s warm, space-age sounds exist in their own unique universe where science fiction rubs against robotic funk. This work is much grander and more ambitious than mere weekend club fodder.
Instead, his beats and bleeps mix up the past and present while straddling far flung musical worlds, earning him a reputation as one of our most forward-thinking producers. Concepts abound about the misadventures of ‘Mr 8040’, a disco hero from a Logan’s Run-esque future. Jack charts his journeys through galaxies, propelled by rich, rainbow synthesizers, ambience and ethereal funk. Jack’s take on dance music has always been inspired but, according to him, sobriety has helped open up his mind even more.
“The story of this latest album is about love, redemption and forgetting the rough times,” he explains. “It was about me finding myself and the music I started out doing and loving again. Over the years, I had drifted away from what I was about.”
Jack’s interplanetary musical adventures took off via a passion for the brute force of heavy metal before tuning his ears into the worlds of Planet Mu and Warp Records, sonic auteurs such as Boards Of Canada, Aphex Twin, Model 500 and the high professor of ambience himself, Brian Eno.
“It was during my early music-making years, before I became Space Dimension Controller, that’s when I exercised my weirder side,” he reveals. “I loved Aphex but also more offbeat IDM, ambient, noise stuff. A lot of people are now into these sounds, which is something I never would have imagined back then. I always felt like a weirdo, but these musical styles are much more accepted.”
His immersion into the complex, concept heavy world of Space Dimension Controller was informed by a love for eighties electro, synthwave and the rough shod futurism of Detroit. But pointed advice from his musical peers played a big role in helping him hone his sound and break through. Jack believes having someone willing to use their ears as a sounding board helped him as a young producer to not only find his style, but up his quality control. Even if it was at the expense of his feelings.
“The most important thing for me when I was trying to find my sound was having someone who just ripped me apart when I sent them new tracks. My friend Boxcutter put out my first record (the brilliant The Love Quadrant single), but he was a complete dick to me when I was younger,” he laughs. “I’d send him music and he’d just say “yeah man that’s completely awful”. It would bring me back down to earth, but it became my goal to make something he wouldn’t rip apart. The first tracks he didn’t end up criticising were the ones he wanted to release. So if you’re a new producer, just find someone who doesn’t give a shit about your feelings or making you sad when it comes to giving you feedback and you’ll be fine,” he deadpans.
Many of Jack’s long form releases as Space Dimension Controller have been coupled with a sci-fi narrative, charting the travails of space traveller, Mr 8040. Few artists have created such a huge, spiralling universe around them over their records. Fewer have married it to music drawing inspiration from film soundtracks to prog via underground electronica.
On Love Beyond the Intersect, our hero has crash-landed on a strange planet and relies on the kindness of a native woman to help him repair his ship and find redemption. With the colourful stories coming first in the creative process, these tales work as a narrative arc to help steer the direction of Space Dimension Controller albums, giving the music an out of this world, cinematic feel that is as much about UFOs as it is inspired by LFOs.
“The idea is pretty sweet for me. I dream up the story, then the track titles, and it works almost as a to-do list. Instead of just going into the studio and hoping to create something from scratch, I have a rough idea of what I want to begin with before I’ve even turned anything on and made any noise. It’s almost like a musical map of the album.”
Using the persona of Mr 8040 as a vocodered storyteller not only propels the recordings, but enables Jack to put more of himself into the tracks, yet without revealing too much of the real him. It’s a refreshingly offbeat approach in an age of social media oversharing, and is reminiscent of the approach David Bowie used in the early 70s with Ziggy Stardust.
“I feel more comfortable inserting Mr 8040’s voice in there than my own,” he says. “Using my real voice, complete with Irish accent, in a disco tune would sound really weird. So this is a fun way to not only start my music but for me to feel comfortable enough to put my thoughts and personality into it too, even if it’s via a character.”
Finding love beyond the intersect
If you plug yourself into Love Beyond the Intersect, it’s impossible to miss the krautrock and ambient textures running through its electronic glow, particularly on lush highlights like the slo-mo funk of Slowtime In Reflection or PVLN. Its delicate synths conjure up raw emotions that go deep into his neon cybernetic world.
“I was really influenced by [German electronic composer] Roedelius,” he states. “But more for just the palette of sounds – the softness, the noise and the way it’s mixed together. I’m really into that at the moment.” Once Jack locked into his creative groove, the record came together quickly over a six month period, finishing in May 2019. He puts this down to rediscovering his original musical mojo as well as having a great backstory in place.
“I’m comfortable making the music I love again,” he states. “The story was based on real life, which made it flow well too. But I’ve found the original source, the way I worked on those initial releases like Love Quadrant or early tracks on Clone.”
The creative process
Jack’s otherworldly sonic architectures were dreamed up and stitched together while toiling in his home studio, using a huge range of hardware and analogue gear to run ideas through. “When I started out, I would begin by making music just in the computer. I went from Reason to Logic to Ableton to Cubase, then I started buying equipment,” he remembers. “But I do find hardware a more efficient way of laying my ideas down. If I try and make music purely on the computer now, it just doesn’t work, it doesn’t inspire me.”
Jack’s studio set up is in his apartment, which is where all the music and mixing was completed. Because of concerns around bludgeoning his neighbours with noise, he followed a conventional daytime music-making routine. Sticking to a nine-to-five day helped spur on the creative purple patch he’s been enjoying.
“The routine was great. It really helped me get organised and plough through tunes. In the past, it would take me months to finish anything,” he states.
“At the same time, we’re moving into a house in the country fairly soon, which I’m really looking forward to. Even though we’ve had no complaints about the noise, it’s always in the back of my mind. So when I have my studio set up elsewhere, I’ll be able to go completely nuts.”
But the limitations of a small room also influenced the character of this latest batch of recordings. “Everything is crossing everywhere and there’s a hum I can’t quite get rid of. The bigger space is exciting, but at the same time I might look back fondly at the records I made here,” he says.
Space age gear
Understandably, some favourite pieces of gear were utilised in the recording of the new album. Drawing on his extensive collection of hardware had a direct effect on the outcome of the recording process as various pieces malfunctioned or were replaced.
“That’s the nice thing about using analogue gear. It breaks and is expensive to repair, but because you’re doing that, it changes your studio set up constantly too,” says Jack. “You’ll be using something for one record, then it will give up on you and you’ll have to use something else. It’s a bit annoying but it definitely gives your music variety.”
The Crumar Bit One, Moog Voyager, Korg Mono/Poly and the Roland KC-350 were among some of the choice items in his musical armoury. Jack is known as a hardware aficionado and his Space Dimension Controller alias takes its name from one of the first pieces of musical equipment he ever laid his hands on.
“It’s like an old Technics hi-fi separate and has a really short, dubby sort of stereo bucket delay in it,” reveals Jack. “I don’t really use it that often. I did at first as I felt like I had to, but I got it as my first piece of gear. Then I went big, got the Voyager and it’s stayed ever since. You don’t need many other monosynths other than that.”
“The Moog One can do all sorts of things and it’s so much easier for me to sit down with this one synth and keep recording tracks on it. The Crumar One was one of my first analogue polysynths; it’s so expressive, it sounds amazing.”
But despite all his futuristic gear and the stacks of synths capable of tearing a hole in the solar system when operating at full beam, his focus is on the quality of an idea rather than the musical fireworks exploding around it.
“I like to keep it simple and get the basic ideas before banging on compressors and effects. If you don’t have a good idea at the foundation of your track, then what’s the point in all the other stuff?”
One of Jack’s greatest skills, it seems, is to extract warm, human sounds from his cold-blooded machines. Amid the cosmic travelling and dystopian alien worlds, there’s a supple beating heart at the centre of his mechanically created music.
“I like soft sounding things, and using hardware is a great way to capture something sounding nice and cosy…”
Now that the hedonistic pastimes have been curtailed, Space Dimension Controller is very much feeling comfortable in himself. Easing back on DJing clubs has not only been good for his health, but it’s helped Jack rediscover the reasons and sounds he loved when he first entered the studio. “New producers should really look to do what feels comfortable, not something they feel like they have to,” he advises. “At some point, I ended up just trying to make music for the clubs I was playing every weekend. Once I took some time off gigging, my original sound and approach started to return, and making tunes hasn’t been this much fun in years.”
Jack is also keen to point out the challenges of producers who are DJs – they should try and avoid being led by the fast pace of a Friday or Saturday night club set. “If you’re playing a few shows a week, playing music which is different to what you produce, then your head is likely to become clouded; it’s not very sustainable. Some people are complete machines, but for me it wasn’t a good way to live,” he explains.
Aside from relaxing on the partying, Jack believes aspiring producers need to consider the kind of bleeps they want to capture and experiment accordingly. With so much technology now readily available, there are an almost bewildering number of routes into their music. “When I felt I had to make club tunes, I used to always start with the drums, but this doesn’t really work for me,” he says. “If you get nice synths, it’s much easier to finish a tune or get something good out of it.”
Since he’s cut back on DJing, Jack has found himself getting deeper into other creative areas, including mixing. “I really enjoyed it. I would even consider becoming a mixing engineer at some point,” he says. “When you’re writing something, you do tend to procrastinate. But whenever I’d be mixing, I would just focus on getting it right for hours and hours. Some people hate it as they don’t have the patience, but I loved it.”
Procrastination has been a challenge in the past for Jack, but these days he’s working faster than ever before. “I’ve got a new manager who is helping me simplify things at the moment. Sometimes I take far too long on tunes. Although the album came to me quickly, I can end up obsessing over the arrangement for months,” he says. “But I know when I’m onto something and to keep going with an idea. Synth lines will get continually repeated while I’m writing. If I have it going and it starts to irritate me, then I know I need to move onto something else.”
With a studio change coming, a critically acclaimed album recently released and other new music bubbling away, there’s plenty for this Space Dimension Controller to be excited by. Are there any other pieces of equipment that would help enhance his creative endeavours? “I don’t have the desire to buy up lots more synths. The Moog One does so much for me and that was the last piece I really wanted. I could probably do with a nice big studio desk. That’s not fun – it’s a bit boring. But my workflow could really be enhanced if I acquired one.”
A new live show is also being slowly revealed, although the dates are only steadily coming, allowing time for Love Beyond the Intersect to seep into his audience’s consciousness rather than rushing out to perform. “The album is a slow burner so I’m not going to do too many shows just yet. It’s more live than club so I reckon I’ll be performing early. I never like being peak time. I’m okay with being on early before everyone is wasted.” Which is as good a description as any as to where Space Dimension Controller’s head is currently at. As the blurb around his latest record says, he’s embarking on exciting new musical adventures deep in an uncharted galaxy. This new future may be unknown, but it promises to be very, very bright…