James Clements AKA ASC has slowly carved his own path through drum & bass over the last 12 years, operating on the edges, in the experimental outer limits. With the revival of an "anything goes" attitude in 170 bpm music ASC has moved to the fore under the watchful eyes of dBridge and Instra:mental...
You are in your 12th year as a releasing artist, and it would be fair to say you are at your most prolific ever at the moment. Heavily connected to the Non-Plus/ Autonomic/ Exit camp the last few years has seen what many consider to be your best work, operating sometimes at the peripheries, but always at the pinnacle of 170 bpm music. On reflection, how has the last few years been for ASC?
It’s been amazingly productive and positive. I’ve always been kind of behind the scenes, doing my own thing for many a year, so being involved in something that really took off from the start and getting a hell of a lot more recognition and attention than I’m used to is a nice change. I’ve always been a prolific artist, as I just HAVE to write music. It’s something inside me that I feel I’m cheating myself if I’m not at least putting down ideas in the studio. It’s a strange thing to explain to some people, especially other artists who aren’t quite as prolific. The last few years have been amazing for my workflow and ideas though, as I’ve really just broken out of any sort of confined space I may have found myself in and really just focused on one thing only, which is the BPM. I think by doing this, I’ve managed to create some of my best work ever and come up with new and intriguing ideas and production techniques too. I’ve also written some of my weirdest stuff also!
Having the debut LP on Nonplus was a great privelege and to see it get such praise from a lot of prople, especially outside of the usual circle of drum & bass DJ’s and producers was a great feeling. The great response to all of my music featured in the Autonomic Podcasts and being cited as a key member of something new and unique is something I’m also very proud of. So yes, I think the last two years have definitely been my best so far musically.
Evolving your sound over the last decade, you have been one of the standout producers in drum & bass's return to music as well geared for the listening experience as it would be for the party. This has also been a precursor for the re-establishment of developed structure and song writing approach to the genre of late. What has this trend meant to you, and the continuing development and exploration of the boundaries?
I hope this trend is here to stay. I’ve grown up with drum & bass since it’s inception and I’ve kind of developed a love/hate relationship with it. I love the tempo. 170bpm is a magical tempo for me. I think there’s still a hell of a lot more to explore with it and places to take it. On the flip side, my major problem with drum & bass has always been structure. The music had gotten really rigid and predictable for a long time, so to be able to really take these tracks to new places and not worry about certain elements being where people would expect them to be is completely refreshing. For all my complaints and bitterness directed at drum & bass, I still find myself strangely drawn to it, like a moth to light. I kind of expect it will always be like that for me, but as long as I’m writing at this tempo, I will continue to strive to do my own thing and push what I firmly believe in.
Your single "Starkwood" has just dropped on Autonomic. The single is more up tempo than recent followers may be expecting. The track definitely has strong dance floor leanings. How did you approach the track, was it made especially for Autonomic?
It wasn’t made for Autonomic, no. According to my project file, I finished it 26th March 2009, when I was going through a phase of trying to make more ‘traditional’ drum & bass stuff at 170bpm. I tend to go on and off that sort of stuff a lot, but at this time I was feeling it. I sent an initial batch of stuff to Instra:mental when they were first setting up Nonplus, which included Starkwood, Porcelain, The Touch, and a few others that eventually ended up on my LP. They were both big fans of it and it was originally gonna be on the flip of Porcelain, but as the label came to life, it was decided Focus Inwards was the better fit, so we switched it over to Autonomic. I recall coming up with that bass riff and immediately visions of old Photek stuff came to me. I don’t think it sounds very Photek in it’s execution, but I think that was the initial idea in my head.
The lines between electronic music genres have become blurred in the last few years, with the tempo or BPM just being a number and not necessarily a defining factor in placing a track musically. From the inside where do you place yourself as an artist? Do you associate yourself as part of a movement, or is your approach outside of a categorized approach to music?
Yes and no. I think my approach is definitely something that I’d consider uncategorised. I don’t try to fit in with any particular sound or style. Even within the Autonomic sound, my tunes sound like no one elses. You can usually spot my tunes in the podcasts and mixes quite easily. Obviously, I’m part of a movement though, since Autonomic is now recognised as that by many people worldwide. It’s a strange one though for me, as I’ve always seen myself as a bit of a lone wolf musically, probably because I’m a real introvert. I’ve always done my own thing and ran with it. It’s been a blessing that I had people like Instra:mental and dBridge who believed in my music and supported me as much as they did though, as this helped bring my sound to many people who weren’t aware of me before Autonomic took off.
We've recently heard a rumour of a project one of our own Organic residents is involved with on your label Auxiliary, being the nosey types that we are, we thought it would be a good opportunity to squeeze some exclusive information out of you! Can you tell us a bit about the project to de-mystify the idea and concept?
Auxiliary is very much a blueprint for deep music. That’s how I see it anyway. It’s split into three different projects. There’s the main label, in which I concentrate on my own tracks, with the odd remix thrown in for good measure. Then there’s Auxiliary Transmissions, which is a digital only outlet I launched recently for my stuff that’s just a bit too out there, or abstract stuff with no beats, and finally, there’s my brainchild, Symbol. Symbol is a special thing for me, as this is a very techno styled approach to putting out music. There’s no emphasis on track titles (in fact there’s none given), the art is simple 2 colour labels, and the vinyl is coloured and limited to 250 copies each, for no other reason than I want these to be released quick, sell out, then move to the next installment, while creating something special along the way. Everything released on Symbol is written especially for the project in hand. I see each release like an Airfix model, or a kit car or something, where every piece fits together to create something whole. This is something that I’ve felt deeply about for a long time, but I haven’t felt the time was right to do such a project until recently.
First up is Symbol #1 by myself. On the main side, there’s a 10 minute track that features all the trademarks of the Autonomic sound, while harking back to yesteryears drum & bass with slow break fills etc. On the flip, the second track continues in a similar manner, but strips down the beats even further and concentrates on the pads, while the third and final track, removes the beats nearly completely and focuses on pure ambience. This is out on orange vinyl on April 11th, through ST Holdings. There’s some really amazing music lined up for it by myself, Bvdub, Consequence and Sam KDC. I’ve given everyone the brief that you have a blank canvas with 10 minutes per side - go somewhere with this that you haven’t been before – take risks and don’t think about genres and what people will class it as.
I want each one to tell a story, and the artists I’ve chosen to be involved in this project so far, have all got that special ability which led me to ask them in the first place. I can’t wait for these pieces of vinyl to be out there and causing a stir.
What coming up next for ASC and Auxiliary?
I have a handful of releases due on Exit, Autonomic, Samurai Red Seal, 31 Records, Levitated, and a bunch of others that are completely evading me right now. There’s also my debut techno EP which will be released on Perc Trax later this year too, which I’m really looking forward to. There’s also remixes for Rubik, Nu Directions and a few others that are set to drop. Other than that, I’m still working on my second Mindspan LP, which is the name I use for my ambient/dub techno project. The LP has been on the go for a long time now, as I keep changing things, but I’m nearly there now I think. There’s also two full length purely ambient LP’s that I’m gonna get out this year too. I also want to start working on a follow up to Nothing Is Certain, but I’m really in no rush, so that will happen when it happens.
As for Auxiliary, Symbol #1 will be the next release on April 11th. Symbol #2 is also in production (ASC & Bvdub), so that will drop not too long after. Auxiliary Transmissions 001 is also set to drop around the same time as Symbol #1, so look out for that. After that, AUX003 will finally come out. That will feature No Secrets by myself and a remix to boot. I’m still undecided about a third track for the release, but that’s the good thing about running your own label. I can leave things until the very last minute before making my mind up!