Space Dimension Controller aka Jack Hamill’s last full length feature was 2013’s Welcome to the Mikrosector-50, an album which filled with references from funk to techno and ambient. Not afraid to experiment, the recently released Orange Melamine on Ninja Tune is unleashed from the producer’s teenage archives and comes as a stark contrast from the previous more dancefloor leaning efforts. Filled with tape hiss, lush soundscapes – and of course geek references and sci-fi movie quotes to narrate and encourage imagination – it lends a window into a nostalgic, almost dusty time. Never shying away from vocalising his love for hardware, we caught with Jack to discuss the lengths that went into making the album, gifts from his mother, studio setups, creative blocks and to how his production has evolved in that time.
Orange Melamine is out now on Ninja Tune.
What was your setup when you first starting making music?
I had an eMac with reason 2.5 on it. Just that.
So what was the first bit of gear you actually bought?
That would’ve been a Technics SH-8040 Space Dimension Controller – that’s what I named myself after in the end.
So sort of similar to Aphex Twin?
No, not intentionally. The first synth I got I begged my mum who put a payment plan down on a Moog voyager [laughs].
That’s quite an impressive piece of kit for a first unit. My mum actually did the same with a moog little phatty in the same way in an effort to stop me playing so much World of Warcraft.
I was already kind of out of my addiction by that point – well, a little bit into it.
You made your new album when you were 18. What was the decision to resurface the material as a new album? I’ve read that it was quite personal to you and was something that had taken you a lot of time.
I kind of just shelved it after I finished it. I tried sending it to some labels under another name for a little while, but I just felt it wasn’t going anywhere and decided to leave it. Since about 2011 I would always find it again and listen to it, but still had no intention of releasing it anywhere. It was actually my manager that put the idea of releasing it into my head. It’s personal in a way that a lot of the samples and influences on the album remind me of when I was a kid. Massively biting on Boards of Canada in parts, but I was just a very impressionable 18 year old at the time that really had no desire and no idea that my career would turn out to be music.
The album feels quite isolated and nostalgically dusty, like going over an old photo album. How did it feel to go back and get thrown back into those memories and emotions? With the imagination you often portray I can imagine it would still be quite a visual and vivid experience for you?
It didn’t feel much different than how I always feel. I’m constantly thinking about the past, it’s a bit of a pain. I like to look forward too, but I sometimes tend to dwell on things that i’ve done or said or experienced. Listening to the album doesn’t remind me of what I felt about being a kid when I was 18. It reminds me more about how I felt being 18 now that i’m 26 and all the things that were going on in my life back then. 18 – 20 was a big turning point in terms of a lot of things happening very fast.
Was there much re-touching to the works or was it all left as is? Ninja Tune seem like one of those labels that trusts their artists creative direction – did the label have much input or give much feedback when you initially presented it?
Other than the album actually getting properly mastered, no. I couldn’t have touched them up and all. It was made on Cubase 3 on an old PC using all sorts of cracked plugins. When I try to open the project files on my Mac now in Cubase 8 it is a complete mess. I still have all the audio for the individual tracks which will be helpful for the live shows, but there is absolutely no way I could have touched the tracks up while keeping everything the same without completely losing my mind. It was presented to Ninja Tune as is.
Is there anything from that period that still resonates in your productions today, whether they’re being recorded for an audience or not?
I really miss the naivety of those days. I was just making music for myself. In a way I still mostly do, but subconsciously there is something that makes me make things that I think people will like. I guess that’s just a side effect from playing in so many clubs over the last 6 years or so. I remember when The Love Quadrant came out, it was high up on the Juno deep house charts and I had to e-mail Boxcutter (the owner of the label) to ask what deep house was. I wish I was still that clueless, I think clueless people make the best music. The production of this album is much different from anything i’ve produced since because it is so heavily taped. I do still use some of the same techniques, but very few. It’s just not very efficient when you spend 10 hours recording 4 tracks of cymbals to the same cassette over and over again.
After you recorded the album did your set-up did it progress much from that?
Oh yes, a lot, that would have been early 2007 when I had that but I didn’t get my first piece of proper hardware until January 2008. It was pretty much all digital up until that point, but that album is all hardware apart from the drum sounds which I made myself using granular synthesis.
Is there anything there that’s a staple to the sound you’re trying to create at the moment?
I haven’t actually made much in a while but I just got one of those Prophet 6s. I haven’t got around to making anything with it yet. I’d say the 808 is the staple but that’s the obvious one.
What’s the current studio setup you’re going through at the moment.
That Prophet 6, 808, 909, DR-110, DSI Mopho, Roland MKS-80, MKS-70, Wahldorf Microwave V1, Roland SHC-350 Vocoder, Soundcraft Desk, Egg Monitors – that’s all I got in the room at the moment – plenty of stuff in the cupboards.
What about the outboard?
Lots of analogue of delays and spring reverbs I made myself.
Do you find your creativity flows alot better on that equipment without having to do so much fiddling around?
I can’t be arsed, you don’t feel the same. It’s crap. Even though it still sounds the same – it’s just not the same feel. You don’t get the same inspiration.
So you’re obviously happy with it. Are there any holy grails you wish you had?
No, I’ve got too much, I need to focus on fixing what’s in my cupboards first. My most favourite thing that I’ve ever had, I haven’t used since – the Kruma Bit 1.
What was that used on?
It was used for the main synth on ‘Jerry’ on R&S. I just turned it on one day and it broke. I only bought it for £200.00 and there’s no one in belfast who can fix it.
Maybe have another gig with the fox outfit to whoever can?[laughs] maybe it might become a celebrity in Russia.
You said your studio has become a bit more organised. Was there any approach to building that?
No approach at all, it was just to maximize workflow. It’s better for the equipment as well. If you’re constantly unplugging jacks you’re constantly fixing them.
Did you learn any theory to those instruments before hand?
I’m mostly self taught. I had a few tips, off Boxcutter and a few guys from Belfast like Bill Kieran, like mix down tips and not being able to use things. The rest of it I just nerded out online.
Did you feel the need for music theory helps the process?
I know absolutely nothing about music theory at all.
So you feel the naivety helps?
I feel if you know all about music theory even when you’re not thinking about it you’re still sticking to rules. Whenever you don’t know anything about it you’re just doing what sounds good, that’s just you, Whats in your head. That could be more unique if you know what i mean? Because I know so many musical theory guys who tell me “you can’t do that” and it’s like “why the fuck can’t I do that?!”.
I know a lot of producers share that same sentiment – it’s a bit of touchy thing for some producers, some scream by it, some don’t. I know a lot of people feel it’s necessary in order to push past an idea you might be stuck or creatively blocked on. Do you have any process for that as well?
I just take it slow. I go through periods of not writing anything. It’s not creative block, I just have no interest in making any music, and I’m in one of those at the moment. I know I could make something but I just don’t want to go into the studio, it’s just weird.
How long will you spend when you do go in?
Nothing [laughs]. I literally have no interest in going near it. It would annoy me. I have producer friends that are constantly in the studio and I wish I had that same drive.
Is this a process of being unmotivated just simply accepting that you don’t feel like making music? Is it the chronic procastination everybody in 2016 is all too familiar of or would you prefer to hark the downtime as an untapped mystery to your creativity?
I would say its a bit of both, mostly just accepting that I don’t feel like making music. A few personal things also come into it. I’m back in the studio now and I can feel it slowly creeping back in. Hopefully i’ll have some stuff finished by the end of the year.
Where abouts is your studio situated?
It’s in my apartment now after I moved it there at the start of the year. It used to be in an old mill. It was a fucking massive room and it sounded shite as well. I just didn’t like having it away from my house. Just being able to sit in your dressing gown and fiddle about, rather than have a shower, get dressed, have lunch and go to the studio. It’s a pain in the arse. The place I was in before was a gated lodge, like I always wanted when I was in school. I dropped out of that school and it was ironic because they were my landlords, I could just be as loud as I wanted but it had mould problems. Any normal person would have left and the only reason I stayed was it was so perfect for making music. That’s where the whole SDC album on R&S was made.
We’ve just about run out of time – do you have any tips for producers before we wrap it up?[laughs] fuck. I have no idea. I used to have really good advice, but now its gone. That’s a hard question!