Echospace, a notoriously elusive ambient and dub techno label out of Detroit, recently joined Bandcamp, putting its entire back catalog online. Like its hometown, Echospace’s music can seem cold and mechanical at first, but when you listen closely it brims with warmth and soul. Chicago native Stephen Hitchell runs the show, producing the majority of the label’s material under a network of names. He’s Variant for ambient compositions, Intrusion for more overtly Jamaican-influenced work (including 2009’s superb The Seduction of Silence), and Echospace for his collaboration with long-time music partner Rod Modell (Deepchord) of Detroit. Hallowed dub techno producers like Brock Van Wey, STL and Convextion have also released remixes on the label, and much of Echospace’s unique character comes from not being entirely clear about where one artist, project or release ends and the next begins. In Hitchell’s words, “The more skewed the perspective and the more out of focus the view, the less emphasis gets put on the hyperbole and more into what’s actually in the music.”
At Echospace Hitchell keeps the books, creates most of the art, and keeps an eye on vinyl production. He says Bandcamp has allowed him to start doing direct mail order again. “When you’re dealing with record distributors, accounts actually work on a consignment basis. You don’t see a return on your investment in an album for up to a year. Direct mail order gives flexibility to finance musical projects more quickly. That way I don’t feel like I’m hitting pause on albums I’m waiting to put out.”
One of those projects is the latest CV313 album, Dimensional Space. It began life as a series of recordings Hitchell made on reel-to-reel tape in 1995. Those were revived in 2007 and reconstructed as a series of singles. By 2010, a full-length was slated for release. “It was already announced and put on presale,” says Hitchell. “The reels were laid out and fit together, ready to be brought back to life.” Then, one weekend, a massive storm flooded his house while he was out of town. “My entire studio was literally under two feet of sewage water. It was awful. I wanted to cry. I lost a lot of equipment. Tapes and tapes, years of music, hard drives, it was the worst thing you could ever imagine happening as an artist.” Most of the original material was destroyed, but Hitchell decided to resurrect the project one more time. “I just had to go back to square one. I slowly started finding stuff from old sessions on samplers, dragging things off these analog, unstable machines from the 1980s.”
Almost 20 years in the making, Dimensional Space is finally complete. Like all CV313 material, it’s sprawling, spooky and hypnotic. A track like “Energies Collide” unfolds over 13 minutes, with ghostly synths rattling bare skeletons of kick drums. Area’s “Subtraktiv [Fingertip Contrail Remix]” stretches the original into a beatless track of endlessly tense waves, ebbing and flowing with epic grace. Hitchell is happy with the album’s current incarnation. “It’s not where it started or where it ended up initially in 2010 but now I’m 1000 percent behind it. It’s 1000 times better than where it began.”
Like all the label’s releases, Dimensional Space blurs the meaning of the words “old,” “new,” “remix,” “original,” “live” and “collaboration”. Hitchell has embraced that aspect of Bandcamp as well, saying “the relationship between Bandcamp and Echospace has illuminated a new light and platform. It has allowed us creative freedom and a voice beyond the limitations of standardized music distribution.” Since joining the site in September, he’s released two previously recorded live CV313 albums, as well as Thru The Cosmos, a long-form modular synth piece under his Variant guise. All are exclusive to Bandcamp. December brings the release of Home by Brock van Wey, with an Intrusion remix of the album to follow in January. There are also plans for a second Intrusion full-length in the works.
In the end, Hitchell is more a heartfelt conductor than a producer, orchestrating a mixture of machines, atmospheres and circumstances. He’s also a hypnotist whose work aesthetic mirrors his music. “When I make something,” he says, “if I can’t keep it on loop for two days straight in my house because at some point it bores me, or because I want to change something, it doesn’t come out. That’s just the way I view music. Sometimes I’ll keep a song looping in the studio for a week until it becomes like a chant. That’s when you know you have something special.” Talk about a man with patience.