Label of the Week: Outer Time Inner Space – OTIS Records

With a path reminiscent of one of our previous Label’s of the WeekGood Company Records, the physical record store seems to be a bit of a gateway into something more. That’s what happened with Sydney’s Outer Time Inner Space, referred fondly to as OTIS Records.

Hubert Clarke Jr AKA Hugh B opened the OTIS Records physical store in Chippendale in 2015, specialising in a range of new house and techno. A lot of the stock he personally sourced from over in Japan, and the variety of pre-loved sounds that hit the shelves spanned from Japanese pop to African folk and more.

The twelve months the store occupied that space in Chippendale was one that I unfortunately missed, but the community spirit the store held has to this day remained relentless. From their website, they attribute the physical stores closure to a “turbulent 12 months navigating the pressures of an inflated rental market and increasing bureaucratic pressure from the city’s council”.

Four years on from this sentiment, and it still feels as though nothing has really changed. The closure of the store could be felt as a ripple effect of the (at least) 418 licensed venues that have closed throughout the Cross and Sydney CBD since the lockouts came into effect. However, this was not the end of OTIS, and from there, they made a decision to take it all online and expand the focus of the store to include a record label too.

They also continued to run their infamous Sweet Echoes parties which helped put the spotlight on underground artists and communities in Sydney who were being overlooked. Continuing in stead with that ethos, their decision to refocus and put their efforts into nurturing Sydney’s underground talents seemed like a natural next step for them.

And it was in March 2017 that the label saw their first official release, OTIS001, Sean Thomas‘ The Weigh.

Thomas McAlister AKA Cop Envy AKA Sean Thomas does a hell of a lot. Alongside his various recording projects, he works with Ben Fester‘s Sydney based Heavenly collective too.

His Sean Thomas moniker was responsible for the first of OTIS‘ output, and the four-track EP saw him take on the name to explore something other. The EP saw him explore pared back, harmonic, deep house that takes a big step away from his largely club-ready music.

Kicking off the A-side is the title track. Pairing a light, driving percussion with the chug of the deep house kick, the dense percussive soundscape never once feels crowded. The repeated chord sequence pushes along throughout the tracks entirety, eventually becoming the premise for the drop. A2 ‘9T2’ takes us out into the stratosphere with streaky sounds, hot percussive licks and a channeling of light electronic sounds that lightly bounce around the soundscape.

On the B-side, deep house treasure ‘Can’t Stand It’ begins to take us home. The lo-fi clap sits neatly underneath the cosmic meteor of the tinkling melody that slowly flies atop the rest of the track. And ‘Swim’ brings it all together with an off-kilter, warm key line and shuffling percussion for what was a defining first release for OTIS.

For OTIS002, OTIS Records owner Hugh B and Jon Watts came together for a sonically unlikely pairing. Where Hugh‘s sound leans more towards jazz and house, Watts leans more towards the subtleties of broken sounds, wallowing in shades rather than textures. But their coming together made way for something new, and the relationship saw the initial release of Another View.

Combining the sonic subtleties of Watts technique and Hugh B‘s jazz tendencies, the eponymous opener is the perfect introduction to the pairing. A nature scene is initially set complete with bird sounds and rippling water, but as the frantic jungle beat comes in, lush pads are drawn carefully atop one another and a fitting trumpet comes blaring in to take the melodic reigns. A2 is Melbourne’s Rings Around Saturn‘s pleasantly dissociative dub of track four, ‘Stillness’. On the flip, ‘Feel Low’ makes us feel anything but, with jazzy looped piano sequences sitting calmly under Watts‘ frantic percussion. And finally, ‘Stillness’ brings us home with tranquility, a nice settlement of both producer’s understanding of each other’s styles.

Label boss Hugh B returns for the label’s third release, floating on a trippy biscuit. If you could bottle up the aesthetic elements of space and put it all into one, dense, dubby record, this would be the result.

‘low pressure system’ pairs low flung wubby dub with skittish breaks. Dotted with hints of jazzy keys and limitless dub echoes, the opener kicks us right into gear from the get to. The title track brings it down a few notches, sitting us atop a roaming breakbeat that floats low beneath the cloud-like pads. The echoey electro kit only hints at its skirting of the genre, never giving in.

A remix of the EP’s end to the B-side ‘I Just Feel Like’ comes in from OTIS001 contributor, Sean Thomas. Crashing us back into deep house territory, the jerk back to earth from this one doesn’t last too long before we’re thrown into an aurora of glitchy, echoed keys, blissful bass and well-crafted dynamics. And finally, we’re left with ‘I Just Feel Like’ in its originality. Hugh B strips it all back, taking it into thoughtful jazz with those beautifully choppy breaks. It’s the best way to end the EP, and rather than leaving us with a feeling of melancholy, it leaves us feeling contemplative.

Sean Thomas returns for OTIS‘ fourth release almost a year and a half after his first. An introspective four-tracker, Being saw him bring with him his crafty penchant for deep house. Spanning four cyclical slices, the cosmic release feels beautifully thoughtful.

‘Crew Cut’ warms things up, with a fat, contemplative bassline, inklings of some springy dub echoes and a cantering closed hat pushing it all along. ‘ITXC’ propagates satellite sounds to create an eery, extraterrestrial soundscape. The mood of the track shifts when the breakbeat hits around the two minute mark, kicking things into gear.

The B-side simmers down with ‘Being (Straight Mix)’, but the deep house number quickly falls back into a heady beat, woozy hi-hats and echoey pads to create one lush, howling image. ‘Actuall’ closes out the record, a heady house haven accented by numb strings and that sickly sweet bassline pulsing just atop the kick.

Jon Watts delivers a locked cut on each side of the record for the physical release.

And for the label’s most recent release, a compilation! SWEET ECHOES Vol. 1 is the first in a series of compilations the label is running exploring “music for the modern age framed through the lens of music’s past.”

With a stellar cast of producers contributing to the compilation, the blissful release takes you through dissociative dub, one trippy echo trail at a time.

Melbourne’s Butter Sessions boys Sleep D kick it off with ‘Connexion Dub’, a frenzy of relentless, tinny percussion, accented by acidic brass and a rumbling bassline. Mali-I out of the UK brings classic deep dub for track two, but with the same glitchy goodness all OTIS Records releases have captured. Thin spacey breaks, a pared back bassline and bouts of echo to create the feeling of spaciousness. To end the A-side, we return to Melbourne with Midnight Tenderness for the stoned sounds of ‘Coxton Yard’. The bassline on this one runs along hard, never wavering for a second. The echoey percussion sits nicely atop the definite hum of the bass, and it’s the pad synths soaring atop it all that really ties it altogether.

On the flip, Melbourne’s Rings Around Saturn returns as a contributor to the compilation for the laser-focused ‘Ghosts of Bookar’. Making use of every nook and cranny in the track, there’s never a dull moment. Whether it’s the panned phaser ticking away like a satellite atop the complex kit, or the constant in and out of found sounds, the track never wavers in its interest. Sydney’s Cousin starts to bring us home with the tom-heavy ‘Wah Day Toms’. Slowing it down for a bit of a breather, you don’t get much time to slow down before we’re thrown into a pool of echoed sounds, tentatively swirling amongst one another. And Low Flung takes us home on ‘Knee Dippy’. Arguably one of the best dub producers in the country, it’s the perfect track to end on with its warped synths, phased drum kit and stabby bassline.

Put out at the end of November 2018, the first compilation from OTIS Records feels like an amalgamation of the sounds and images explored by the label to date. Characterised by their relationship with time and space, the choice to make an intergalactic dub compilation featuring some of the country’s best producers and selectors is a seriously apt one.

It’s no doubt that the last five years in Sydney have been creatively and economically turbulent for anybody in music, but it’s labels like OTIS who have remained true and persistent in their vision that are continuing to last. Because if there’s a will, there’s a way.

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