Welcome to Mikrosector-50
Belfast's Space Dimension Controller is 'light-years ahead of his contemporaries'
No other record originating from these shores this year will show more invention, energy and chutzpa than Welcome to Miksector-50.
Sure, there have been many strong albums made by Northern Irish electronic artists in the last few years, but here Belfast’s Space Dimension Controller sets the bar so high as to make Mikrosector-50 seem from another galaxy altogether.
A few years ago, Jack Hamill made records under the name RL/VL. They were glitchy slices of electronica that were frequently easier to admire than they were to enjoy. Whilst they helped to establish the young producer on a national level, only a brave soul would have predicted that he would reach Next Big Thing status.
Releasing music under the Space Dimension Controller moniker as a sideline, however, this is exactly what happened. Hamill's perfectly produced tracks attracted an international audience with remarkable ease and speed. Similarly, Welcome to Mikrosector-50 stands out from the crowd in a number of ways.
Firstly, Mikrosector-50 is a concept album, dealing as it does with the story of Mr 8040, the titular Space Dimension Controller, and his journey through the galaxy. He eventually returns home to find that the world has changed in his absence.
Don’t worry though – Hamill has managed to blend concept, narrative and sound, creating a surprisingly coherent fictional setting that doesn’t interfere with the music.
Secondly, this 13-track album is unashamedly playful. With its cast of characters, sound effects, cover art and slinky grooves, the album just exudes a light-heartedness. There is no po-faced seriousness here.
Hamill’s genius – and it can genuinely be described as such – is how he makes a surprisingly complicated brew look so effortless.
Fusing 1980s-era electro-funk with sleek synths, ambient atmospherics and hair-metal guitar solos, Mikrosector-50 has the feel of a washed out, overplayed VHS tape with a suitably garish neon cover. You imagine it having languished in a long-forgotten bargain bin in some vacant video shop in Tokyo.
Rather than sounding like a work of pastiche, however, Hamill manages to make it all sound like his is the only music that matters, as if Mr 8040’s story could be told no other way, and that’s where the true success of the album lies.
So, when the Space Dimension Controller starts rapping in a faux-Barry White voice, it’s fun, but not funny. When the guitar solos kick in, we respond to them ironically, but they’re not ironic. This album sounds like the past, but it isn’t a nostalgia trip. Hamill has created a totally convincing and engaging aesthetic that owes nothing to retro fetishism. He is light-years ahead of his contemporaries.
In other hands, ‘When Your Love Feels Like it’s Fading’ may have seemed mawkish or sneering, yet it's an emotional high point of the album. Originally released as a single back in 2009, ‘The Love Quadrant’ still sounds incredible, a shimmeringly erotic slice of space funk, with jazzy synth solos and squelchy bass.
And peppered throughout the album, the various slices of spoken word narratives and pseudo adverts flesh out the sound, giving it a real sense of this being an album that is intended to be listened to from start to finish, rather than a disparate collection of tracks.
Welcome to Mikrosector-50 affirms that Northern Irish electronic music stands right at the forefront, ready to step up to a global audience – and beyond.