Interview: ASC

For the avid ASC listener some would have noticed a renaissance in 2010 for the veteran San Diego-based  producer. Not in a comeback sense though, James Clements’ first label Covert Operations ran for nine years up until 2009, this was a shift in his production. Coalescing his foundation of drum & bass with ambient, dub techno and 170bpm electronica culminated in the launch of his new label Auxilary and  his spectacular Deep Space mix series. A series which “is an ongoing project in which I select some of my favourite ambient, downtempo, dub techno, IDM, whatever-as-long-as-it’s-deep music.  I think that’s probably the best way to describe it! Somewhere around mix 11-12, the series became zero beat – just purely ambient.” 

A career spanning almost two decades Clements began producing with friend Michael Dunne (Future Link) in 1997 and was quickly picked up by Neil Hutchinson’s Nu Directions label & LTJ Bukem in 1999. Since then Clements is not only pushing fifty releases under his ASC moniker, he’s also had a string of releases under Intex System and dub techno alias Mindspan. Whilst Mindspan has been a recent stray from the ASC moniker, Clements has succinctly captured the essence of his sound design from all forays into other genres and honed in on gently layering each aspect under one banner.

Clements innovative production has breathed  fresh air into the almost divided world of drum & bass. Imagine the Future, his 12th studio album and his second for Geoff Wright’s Samurai sub-label Red Seal, is the culmination of delicate slices of inspiration built within the structure of Clements unwavering commitment to detail. His previous album ‘Truth Be Told‘ was describe as “implacable distant noises… rustles here and there with carefully built ecosystems (which) are contained within each one“. Whilst it is far from an ambient album, Imagine the Future incorporates these ‘tiny ecosystems’ within sheer relentless aggression and washes of industrial soundscapes that ignite the imagination as to what Clements has planned for 2015 and beyond.

Let’s start with Imagine the Future, how did this release come about?
It came about by way of conversation with Geoff who runs Samurai. We were talking about my previous album, Out Of Sync, and decided that it was time to do another album. Enough time had passed since them that the sound and ideas had progressed and morphed into something new that we thought this album would be very different to what had been heard before.

Was there a particular concept behind this release?
My ongoing love of all things sci-fi. That’s the main theme anyway. There’s no real ‘concept’ behind it as such, other than a body of work that is cohesive in both theme and feel. I’ve never really done a concept album in the traditional sense of the word, i.e something like Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It’s something I’m interested in doing at some point though.

Are there any particular sci-fi authors, films or people that influence your output & aesthetic?
I’d say inspiration would be the key word here. Philip K Dick is the most obvious choice, also William Gibson too. I will be honest though, I don’t read as much as I’d like to. I never seem to find the time or usually spend that time working on something else music related.

Film-wise, again the most obvious choice is Blade Runner. It also happens to be my fave film of all time. Other picks would be 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I find fascinating and captivating still to this day. I pick out some nuance that I missed every time I watch it. Amazing film, but to be expected from a master such as Kubrick. Moon would also be up there. Another excellent piece of science-fiction which is a must see. I’m also a huge fan of Aronofsky and love The Fountain. His best film to date I think, although it seems to polarise opinions.

Was this album created in a similar process as your ambient releases?
No. This isn’t an ambient LP, so it wasn’t written in the same way I write my ambient releases. The frequency range is completely different for my ambient productions compared to the more beat driven stuff. There’s hardly any low end in the ambient tracks, as that’s never the focus. It’s all about capturing the mood and emotion for me and I usually achieve that with a lot of pads, texture work and field recordings. The process for this album and similar work is extremely different as you have to be a lot more precise in making certain elements fit into a specific frequency range in the overall mix. It’s still something I try and improve on every time I write this type of stuff as I’m always learning new tricks and techniques.

So you approach producing ambient music differently to your other music?
Very much so. The main difference for me when writing ambient is not worrying about structure. All of my beat-driven music is very much built for a DJ to include in their set, so the time signature is often 4/4 and most of the time you’d get the standard intro/main/outro parts that you’d expect to find in these types of pieces. In a way, writing ambient is very freeing in this sense, as the shackles are well and truly off and all I’m worrying about is making the atmosphere and emotion come through.

Who is behind the artwork for Imagine the Future?
Ryan Quinlivan from New Zealand, also known as RQ. Ryan has been behind all of the Samurai music from the start I think? Anyway, he’s usually very adept at getting across the theme/feel of the music in his art. He’s also a musician too and has released a fantastic ambient EP with some great remixes on Auxiliary. Well worth checking for anyone that might have missed it.

Are you heavily involved in creating an aesthetic for all of your releases?
More so with Auxiliary, my own label, than with artwork on other labels, but for albums, I usually have some say in the direction and what I’m looking for.

This isn’t your first release on Geoff Wright’s (DJ Presha) Samurai Music sub labels ‘Red Seal‘ and ‘Horo‘, so tell us how your relationship with Geoff began.
Geoff had got in touch with me before I signed to Nonplus back in 2009. I had a group of tracks he was interested in, but I couldn’t work with him due to commitments with Nonplus at the time. We stayed in touch and continued to build a friendship and as soon as I was able to work with him, we both jumped at the chance. Geoff is very open minded and into really experimental and eclectic stuff, so we pretty much hit it off from the outset. It’s been great having a hand in shaping Red Seal and especially Horo with him, as he often asks for my input and obviously releases a lot of my music. Outside of Auxiliary, him and Jamie from Silent Season are pretty much the only people I work with these days.

Speaking of Silent Season, you were apart of the labels showcase at Seattle’s Decibel Festival in September last year. How was that experience?
In a word, fantastic. It was the first time I’d been to Decibel and the first time I’d been to Seattle. The EMP building, where Decibel was held, is absolutely incredible. From the outside, it’s very abstract and futuristic looking, and the inside doesn’t let you down either. Initially, the showcase was supposed to be in the JBL ampitheatre, but due to a few last minute decisions, we were moved to Level 3, which was a split level open space loft. The sound was top notch and Danthon’s visuals were amazing to watch while Jamie and Segue played. It would have been nice to have seen what was going on behind me when I was playing too! I hope we are able to go back this year and do it again.

What were the other highlights of the festival for you?
To be honest, I was in and out very quickly, as I went to visit friends on the other side of the Puget Sound for the last day I was there, so I didn’t get to see too much. I enjoyed seeing Loscil at the Triple Door for the Ghostly showcase. That was a really amazing venue and of course fantastic music too.

Do you have any preference on performing live or DJ sets?
Decibel was the first time I’d played semi-live. I say semi, as I was performing a set from Traktor with 3 NI Kontrol controllers, using parts of my own tracks and mixing using the software, so in my mind, it’s kind of a mixture of live and DJ’ing. I’ve never done a proper live set yet, i.e taking the studio gear on the road with me. I’m not sure if it’s something I will do either really. Up until recently, I was playing from CDJ’s at shows, but I have to say I had a lot of fun with the Traktor setup I have now and will probably continue down that route for future events.

In your interview with Znaki FM back in 2010, you mentioned that when you first dabbled in production, almost twenty years ago, you were using software such NoiseTracker on the Atari ST. What’s your studio like now, do you still have anything from your original setup?
My studio contains nothing from my original setup, which isn’t surprising, as my original setup was a really low-spec PC, some hi-fi speakers, a midi controller and a small Samson Mixpad 9. These days, there’s a lot more hardware and a better PC, thankfully.

You’ve also done music work for film and TV. What can you tell us about your work, and will you engage in similar projects in the future?
I’ve just finished my first feature film score for an upcoming indie title called Bottom Of The World. It’s a psychological thriller with a great story. I’m also working on another film called Yesterday Last Year, which is a sci-fi puzzler involving a time machine and a love triangle. I see this as my future, so yes I definitely plan to engage in similar projects from here on.

Are there challenges faced when scoring film and TV that wouldn’t occur in the studio recording an EP?
Totally. It’s a completely different process for me. You are writing to timecode, meaning you play off the visual cues and try to match what is going on at that specific moment with the mood and elements of what you are creating. It’s very different to the usual structure of a piece of electronic music that’s normally in a specific time signature for DJ use, as you have to have certain themes and tones hit at precise timing.

I really enjoyed your piece on genre-defining and its relationship with Drum & Bass. This has been a reoccurring theme not only in the D&B community, but for many genres for some time now. Is it human nature to classify and define something or can there be a way to avoid creating sub genres of the sub genre?
I’d say so, yeah. I think it became common place with electronic music publications in the 1990’s, as it felt like there was a greater need to pigeon hole and define what we were all listening to. Since then, it’s become the norm to define music, but perhaps it’s taken too far on occasions.

So now that Imagine the Future is out now, will you solely be focusing on ‘Yesterday Last Year’ or are there other projects you can tell us about?
There’s a bunch of projects up in the air, including another album, but I’m not sure when that will be finished and released just yet. Yesterday Last Year is the next film score I’m working on and that will be a large part of my focus. Other than that, there’s another Silent Season release forthcoming, which will be a vinyl 12″ single with four deep techno cuts on. I’m also planning a solo release on my other label, Veil.

2014 was a pretty slow year for me release wise. I only put out one single (Loophole EP on Samurai Horo) and one album (Truth Be Told on Silent Season) as much of the year was taken up by writing Imagine The Future and preliminary work for the first film score I completed this year. There was also the ongoing problems with distribution for Auxiliary and its related labels, due to the closure of our then distributor, ST Holdings. This year has been slow so far too, with only one track on a various artists EP and my soon to be released album, Imagine The Future. It will be nice to put out some EP’s and let everyone hear what I’ve been up to.

What records haven’t left your bag recently?
I’ll give you a list of stuff that I’ve had on rotation a lot recently, as I haven’t really been DJ’ing much over the last year or so due to other commitments and health problems.

The Smiths – Meat Is Murder
Grouper – Ruins
HTRK – (Work) Work, Work & Psychic 9-5 Club
Född Död – Studie I Närhet, Längtan Och Besvikelse
Variant – Chromesthesia
No Joy – Wait To Pleasure
Varg – Ursviken
Conforce – Depth Over Distance
Lakker – Tundra

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