Photo credit: Joe Novelozo of Photography Max
ASC, real name James Clements, is a drum-n-bass producer making his best music well over ten years into career. Faithful dubstep devotees and others who may balk at the mention of drum-n-bass, fear not; ASC’s music sits apart from his contemporaries, with a brilliant sense of depth and space as well as a penchant for stunning three-dimensionality that only continues as he further hones his sound.
Clements made his name in the early 2000s pushing his unique brand of atmospheric drum-n-bass, music that was as inherently beautiful as it was rhythmically punishing, sending frenetic breaks sliding right into fluffy fields of clouds and electrostatic haze. Releasing on labels like Nu Directions, Offshore, and Inperspective, as well as running his own label Covert Ops (ending in late 2009 with the release of the gorgeous Astral Traveller, potentially the swan-song for the ‘old’ ASC style), he has an overwhelming discography whose diversity is kept in check by the unwavering commitment to innovative and affecting sound design. If over forty releases weren’t enough, he also releases under other aliases, most notably Intex Systems, releasing the gorgeous Research and Development album which explored slower tempos and even ambient passages.
But in 2009, something changed. After releasing two LPs (the aforementioned Astral Traveller and the more charged Heights of Perception), Clements joined forces with dnb crusaders Instra:mental and dBridge as part of the Autonomic crew, pushing a newly refined and reduced sound exclusively on the duo’s labels NonPlus+ and Exit. Somewhere along the way, ASC’s restless rhythms boiled over leaving only the concentrated remains behind; his newest music feels slower, more deliberate, and certainly sexier. Where his music once revelled in carefully-conceived atmosphere, it now flourishes in silences. His first release on NonPlus+, 2009’s “Porcelain” / “Focus Inwards” single, presented a leaner sound with engagingly lifelike percussion. But it’s his new album Nothing Is Certain, the first LP release for the fledgling but already legendary NonPlus+ legendary, that is the most exciting. It’s a record that for the novice might not even register as ‘drum-n-bass,’ instead a manifesto for a new kind of industrial music, one focused on the inhumanly glossy and aerodynamic features of modernity rather than creaking joints and heaving mechanisms.
For Nothing Is Certain, Clements drafts in a number of varied influences and genres and folds them into his own established sound, creating an album that sounds as if it could be the work of no one other producer. Its motions are exacting, with the precision of machine thoughts, but the spaces between are bewitching, the wistful melodies and ambient tendencies of the record almost overtaking the focus from the, well, drums and bass.
Where does the name ASC come from?
It’s a weird one, but it actually came from the initials you’d find after a director of photography on film credits. It actually stands for American Society of Cinematography, but at the time, I didn’t know that, and just thought it sounded good. Once I found out, I then tried coming up with my own abbreviation, but everything sounded too cheesy, so I just dropped the full stops from A.S.C and started spelling it ASC, and didn’t really give out a meaning of it. That’s pretty much it!
You’ve been making music for quite some time now. How did you get your start and how did you get into dnb music?–
I was first introduced to rave/hardcore/breakbeat, etc., when a friend of mine at school gave me a recording of The Prodigy’s first LP Experience back in 1992. I was hooked on it and started to seek out more music like this. There was a group of us in our school at the time, and we were all hooked on this kind of music. We’d all hang out together, try to learn to DJ, think about writing tunes etc. — you know, all the kind of things you do when you are 14 or so and obsessed with music! Eventually, me and my good friend Chris Marshall (aka The Hired Assassin) ended up getting a slot on a local pirate radio station when were still in school, which was a big thing at the time for us. This then led us into our first experiments with producing our own tracks on the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. From there, I just stuck with the music and the labels I loved and followed it through to where we are today.
Around about 1997, I started to work closely with another good friend of mine, Michael Dunne. This is when ASC was born. We produced as ASC & Future Link for a number of years, until we were hit by a virus which wiped out our studio comp, ironically, just as we’d returned from picking up a ZIP drive to back up all of our progress! After that, Michael went off to work for Audi and became a qualified mechanic, and didn’t really have the time to put into the studio anymore. I decided to go it alone, and by around 1999, I’d come up with a 6 track demo which I was happy enough to try my luck with. I sent it to Nu Directions first, who picked up five tracks instantly, and gave me my break with my first release in 1999, (Nu Directions 005 – Lifeforce / Reverse Polarity / Chrysalis) and the other track got picked up by LTJ Bukem for his Looking Good label. Not a bad start, really.
You’re a UK expat living in the US — why did you choose to leave the dnb hub of the UK for the US? Do you think your music has been at all affected by living in the US?
I met my now-wife in San Francisco when I was over in 2004. I decided to move over and give it a shot, and we’re still together, so I’m glad I did. That was my reason for leaving the UK behind. I think my music has been affected in some ways by living out here, as life here in Southern California is very laid back and extremely pleasant. I’ve never really been influenced too much by what the scene dictates, as I’ve always done my own thing when it comes to music, so I don’t know if living here as affected my music that much. I definitely think it’s had a positive influence though.
A lot has been said about the state of drum n bass music, about how the glory days are over and it has been deteriorating — this talk has been going on for years. How do you feel about this, and drum-n-bass music in general in the 2000s?
As other styles come along, and people jump ship for them, a lot will always be written about how drum & bass is dead, or how it’s a sinking ship. For me, there’s been a lot of absolutely horrible music classed as drum & bass during the last four-to-five years or so, which has led us to where we are now – a backlash of sorts leading to some creative and interesting tracks being at the forefront over the last twelve months in particular. I do feel that drum & bass is kind of split down the middle these days though, and it’s almost like two scenes with itself. You have the more creative and deeper side of things, and then you have the jump-up party cheese.
What is your personal role in making dnb supposedly better or worse?
Haha! I don’t know if I’d assign myself a particular role to be honest. I’m just happy doing my own thing at 170 bpm and letting people decide.