Secret Thirteen Interview - ASC

ASC - Secret Thirteen Mix

From ASC's photo archive

Pirate radio stations, sonic aesthetics, science fiction and other no less important topics are covered in this sincere interview with ASC.


James Clements (a.k.a ASC) is a forward-thinking British electronic music producer currently residing in San Diego, United States. ASC is one of the most prolific and honored musicians in the drum and bass scene and beyond. Growing up in different areas of England, he analyzed Motown, techno and the sparkling UK hardcore scene, all of which made a big influence on his productions. In over a decade he has released over a dozen studio albums and many more EPs and singles on such notable labels as Nonplus Records, Perc Trax, Samurai Red Seal, Exit Records and others. James curated his own label, Covert Operations Recordings, which has published numerous vinyl & CD releases between 2000 and 2009. Since then Clements has been focusing on his new imprint titled Auxiliary, presenting progressive and flexible electronic music. Throughout the past couple of years, Clements has been exploring the more experimental and innovative side of music by using motives gathered from such styles as IDM, downtempo, ambient and abstract music. The year 2012 was a very productive one for Clements - he released three studio albums and several EPs featuring such artist as Sam KDC, Consequence, Synkro and Ulrich Schnauss.

Pirate radio stations, aesthetics in music creation, record label management subtleties and other no less important topics are covered in this sincere interview with a skillful and mature music craftsman James Clements. Listen to the audio voyage recorded by ASC exclusively for Secret Thirteen as you read the interview.

Since old times people have been migrate for various reasons - land, food, war, and more generally the search for a better life. You have also moved from the UK to the USA. Why do you think people migrate nowadays? Why did you move?

I can only speak for myself, but I was in the position where I met my current wife when I was in the USA for a DJ booking and decided I had nothing to lose by moving to the USA and giving it a shot. Fortunately for me, it worked out well, and we have been married for eight years this December (2012).

How did the move from UK to USA influence your sound? How does the change in place affect you in general?

I think if anything, it made me less stressed and a lot more laidback living in Southern California. That in turn provided a knock-on effect, I think. I also loved being away from the UK and scenes over there. I am very much a solitary person when it comes to production and music, so not having that influence or being surrounded by it was a positive thing for my production. The weather here is usually hot most of the year round, as opposed to grey, overcast and wet in the part of England I was living before I moved here, so that also helped my mood and outlook in general.

What are the most important conditions for a fruitful creative process? Is it a special and proper environment, a contract with record label, an exciting offer? Or perhaps none of those things matter when it comes to music?

For me, it's having the right environment, the right workspace. I can't work well in cluttered spaces, so I keep the studio clean at all times. My studio is in a converted garage, so it's fairly spacious and I have a good energy in there. I also like to keep a tight knit group of artists that I work with closely for my label. This helps as we often bounce ideas and plans off each other. Inspiration for us all often comes from sending each other our music and striving to do better. Friendly competition is good for the creative process.

You used to DJ on pirate radio stations. What do you think, how has the concept of the radio station and broadcast changed in the age of the internet and social media? Do any pirate radio stations exist now? How has the meaning of the word "pirate" changed?

Good question. I believe the term originated from broadcasters taking to the seas to send their transmissions in the early 20th century and the term became synonymous with illegal broadcasts that became very popular in urban areas of the UK throughout the 1990's. I'm not sure if any pirate stations exist anymore, but I'd think there are one or two still going in London. The internet changed a lot of things for underground music - for good and bad. It was a lot easier to broadcast over TCP/IP than via FM when the internet boom came, so people switched to that. Even now, it is a lot easier to get a license to net broadcast than it is to do the same over the radio.

Your music is very aesthetically minimal, full of precise digitalization, many individual sonic modulations, but it was not always like that. How have your creative techniques changed over time? How much do you try to develop yourself in music? Do you feel sentiments for hardware and do you use hardware in your music?

That's correct. When I first started releasing music, I had the cheapest setup ever. Between 1999-2004, I was using a PC, amplifier and hi-fi speakers. Nothing more. Everything was done internally. Looking back now, and knowing what I know now (production wise), I have to laugh, but at the time, it was all about making do with what I had at my disposal and what knowledge I had. As you point out, it was not as complex and expansive as it is now and that was due to the fact that I was literally putting collages of samples together and seeing what happened. I got pretty good with that technique, to the point where I was releasing music on labels worldwide, and I do not know if I would have done things any differently if I had the chance to go back and do it again, but from a personal standpoint, I do look back and think some tunes were terrible and wish I had not released them! Having said that, it's all one big learning curve and I am still learning every time I switch up the studio.

My setup is a lot different these days, as I have a number of hardware synths and other gear in my studio that I rely on for my sounds and inspiration. My knowledge of how to put music together has gotten better over the years and when you add to that all the machines and tricks I have learnt, then my techniques are a lot different now to how they were back when I started, obviously.

What release has received too little attention throughout your career, even though you expected otherwise? What projects were you most interested to work with and why? Was it always music or perhaps some non musical activities such as cinema, theater or some inspiring collaboration?

I cannot think of anything that did not receive enough attention, but having said that, there are always periods where you expect the music to do better than it actually ended up doing. On the opposite end of the scale, linking up with Instra:mental and being an integral part of the Autonomic movement introduced my sound to so many new listeners from different genres. Both of my recent LP's - "Out Of Sync" and "Nothing Is Certain" - were both high points in my career, because musically they both said exactly what I wanted to say in exactly the way I imagined they would. It is always rewarding when a project comes to fruition in such a pleasing way.

What would you say is the balance between long-time ASC fans continuing to follow you through the website, and new fans who have been introduced to you first time through the web?

In all honesty, I'm not sure. There's been many stages of evolution for the ASC sound, and I am sure at certain turning points I have lost fans and gained new ones. When starting out, I was very much into manipulating breaks and that was the main focus, but soon I grew tired of that and needed something else. I started to focus more on synthetic sounds and more of a drum machine approach, which no doubt upset fans of traditional breakbeats. This shift will have also happened when I stopped producing atmospheric drum & bass and hooked up with Nonplus. It's all about cycles for me, as I can't keep doing the same thing over and over. I often burn myself out on one thing for doing it for so long. I do not see this as a bad thing, but more of a warning sign telling me it's time to move on, to find something new. These days, I find that happening less and less, as I am now writing a lot of different kinds of music, which keeps it varied and me happy.

How do you find the fact that many artists nowadays run their own labels? What, in your opinion, is a well managed record label? What should not happen in it and what aims should it have?

This is an area where you will find many conflicting points, but in terms of running a small indie label, I am of the opinion that having a small number of artists forming the core of the label’s identity and sound is a must. If you can find a small pool of talent that fits in with your vision, it is a lot easier to manage and communicate with these artists. That is something that I have learnt over time, with this being my second label that I have run. As for the aims, mine has always been to strive to put out high quality material and keep inspiring our artists and fans alike. Selecting music is a lot easier when you have that relationship and drive there with your artists. I am fortunate to have a wealth of amazing music sent to me by the people involved, which has allowed for a very rich and rewarding release schedule over the years. It has been imperative for keeping Auxiliary in the public eye since it's inception, and garnering kudos and respect. Running a sub-standard label does no one any favours.

It seems that you are a hardcore fan of science fiction. Tell us more about your favourite films, books, futurists, publications, social networks and similar things related to the future.

As cliche as it has become, I have to cite Philip K. Dick and "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" and of course, the film "Blade Runner". A lot of PDK's work such as "Valis", "Ubik", "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (which inspired "Total Recall"), are all great reads. He has been a huge inspiration for my music and even my track titles on some occasions.

"The Ghost In The Shell" movies and series are also a massive inspiration to me. A lot of anime in general is, and the more sci-fi it is, the more chances are I have seen it and loved it. Probably too many to list. As for other films, "Moon" would be up there. A brilliant film that I cite as one of my fave films of all time now.

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