“Classic principles, contemporary techniques.” This is how Chicago producer Hakim Murphy describes the music he makes with studio partner Ike “Release” Velez. While it may seem more like the way a chef would describe his approach to cuisine, or an architect his constructions, it’s also the way a number of reviews have characterized their sound, and it sums up their music as Innerspace Halflife perfectly.
Sparse, full of vintage handclaps and often given over to the fluid modulation of an acid line, the Innerspace Halflife style of house music could easily be mistaken for that of the late ’80s or early ’90s. “I think drums make how it’s perceived,” Murphy, 35, says over coffee at Filter recently. “606 or 707, that’s Chicago or Detroit,” he says, referring to Roland drum machines from the ’80s that were an integral component in early house and techno productions, and are a big factor in their retro sound.
Their improvised composition style and small number of moving parts are other factors. “There’s not much going on. Most of the tracks we’ve done together are no more than two or three components,” Velez, 32, says. “That’s where the classicist principles come from,” Murphy adds, “one synthesizer, one drum machine and maybe an effects unit.” On “Wind,” a recent and well-received release for Dutch imprint MOS Deep, teeth-chattering hi-hat and a low-slung padded thump are joined by little more than the careening stutter of an acid bass line and a wispy sci-fi synth melody. Each of these components comes to life over the course of “Wind,” but nothing more is added to the mix.
Innerspace Halflife makes cerebral stuff, and yet it still jacks hard enough for an underground dance floor. And though it recalls the stripped-back nature of an earlier era of dance music, much of it is done with computers and programs that can mimic vintage machines—hence the “contemporary techniques” (although Murphy and Velez are steadily amassing a large collection of analog gear). This creation process, both say, has been a learning experience.
The collaboration began as a pen pal relationship of sorts, with the longtime friends e-mailing tracks back and forth for feedback between 2008 and 2011, while Velez was living in Berlin. After he returned home to Chicago last year, the two teamed up, and the studio time they’ve carved out since has been an extemporaneous navigation through each of their areas of expertise. “Coming from drum ’n’ bass and dubstep, sound design was always the emphasis,” Velez says of his background. “I was definitely more uptight in the studio. Now, for this particular project, the way we work is more just letting things happen.”
“I’m sure he wasn’t comfortable with that at first,” says Murphy, who’s in his element making music fast and loose. “For me, the influence has always been that warehouse, loft-party-style sound,” he continues, describing a side of dance music that’s always been praised for its unpolished rawness. Adds Velez, “For what we’re doing, it seems natural. I don’t know if it’s because we’re in Chicago; it’s very familiar, I guess.”
Though they’re hesitant to overly contextualize their sound within the scene, demand for Innerspace Halflife is growing. They make their debut at Smart Bar’s Hugo Ball party on Saturday 15, performing a live PA set where they will re-create their productions live using a mix of analog and digital gear, and their first three vinyl-only releases all sold out almost instantly. Each were limited-edition pressings, which the pair say keeps their music more authentic. “We’re fighting against disposable music,” Murphy says. “When you have 3,000 digital releases in a week, who’s going to sit still and listen to all that?”
Innerspace Halflife makes beats live at Smart Bar on Saturday 15.