With an extensive history of sculpting music spanning over twenty years, ASC has an incredible catalog covering a large spectrum of styles including music for film and tv. ASC is always pushing forward but remaining steadfast to his own ideas and creative process, with no energy spent worrying about current trends. He remains focused on operating his Auxiliary label and just launched an excellent new sublabel titled Spatial, which delves into atmospheric Drum & Bass. Even with a long list of desirable studio equipment at his fingertips, he feels that it now might be time to downsize to help improve workflow. However he hasn't slowed down as there is plenty of music on the way this year from ASC on his own labels as well as others. His productions have gained him a following across various electronic genres and he was kind enough to offer some time for a few questions.
Hello James, thank you for being involved and having a chat. How have you been doing recently?
No problem. I’m doing well, thanks.
The amount of music that you continue to put out on a regular basis is amazing. You have set a certain quality standard for yourself and it shows. Having so many music projects that don't get released but are still solid productions, will these always be left behind on a hard drive and never heard by the public, or could we some day see unreleased music finally come out as a collection series of some sort? With so many years of music being put out on you own terms, at this point do you ever have times of self doubt when preparing to release something new?
I write a lot of different styles and have done for many years now, so I’m fortunate to have multiple outputs for techno, ambient, experimental, abstract, IDM, jungle etc, so not a lot of music is left on my hard drives. I’ve made compilations with this sort of approach in the past, like the Colours Fade and Pattern Recognition series on Auxiliary. Anything left on the hard drives is usually not up to par, experiments that were never meant for release, or things written just for mixes etc.
I still have a bit of self-doubt here and there, and I think that’s a natural thing for many creative people to experience. I think it’s healthy to perhaps double-check yourself and your standards here and there and perhaps ask yourself ‘is this is up to par with music I’ve released before?’ Ultimately, I’d say I’m somewhat self-assured and will trust my judgement on most things, and perhaps get the odd second opinion from people I work with.
So I just have to mention how great of a start your new sublabel Spatial is off to. The first three records to kick it off are all equally great and you even brought Aural Imbalance in for one of them. I also see that you have the next three already in production which will be two more from you and volume two of Utopian Society by Aural Imbalance, as well as a collaboration record with Aural Imbalance planned for 007! How long have you been preparing this idea for the Spatial sublabel before the recent launch? Any meaning behind why you chose that name? Are you accepting demos for Spatial or keeping it in a tight circle of artists like you prefer?
Spatial came to life in early 2021, about the same time as Ideasthesia came out on Veil. I’d been writing a lot of atmospheric drum & bass, with no real intention of doing anything with it, basically just writing for the love of the music. I had no intention of fitting in with the rest of the drum and bass scene, hence why the tempo and vibe is based around the mid 90’s atmospheric drum and bass sound. At first, I thought I’d test the waters with Ideasthesia, put that out and see what the reception was like. It sold out almost instantly and we ended up repressing it, so this told me there were people that still really wanted this sound on vinyl.
I decided instead of putting further releases out on Veil, I’d come up with a brand new project – a new label. It wasn’t initially intended to be an Auxiliary sub-label, but for accounting purposes with distribution and Bandcamp, it made sense to have it all under the same umbrella. It took me a long time to come up with the name for the label, as this is always the hardest part of the process for me. A name is everything for me. It’s integral to conveying the message of what the music is about, whether that be a concept, feeling, mood – it has to be descriptive and make the listener pay attention and eventually mean something important to them also.
The name has a few meanings. The first being the space between the breaks due to the tempo the music is written at. Secondly, relating to the root word of space, meaning all things astronomy related, and the dictionary definition, which is: the infinite extension of the three-dimensional region in which all matter exists. Spatial means all of these concepts to me, plus I really like naming my labels single words, without adding recordings, records, or any other obvious descriptions after the main word. Once I had the name, I floated the idea and plans to Simon and told him what I was planning on doing and asked him if he wanted to be part of it, and he jumped at the chance to be involved.
I’m not accepting any demos, as me and Simon have more than enough quality music between us to put out to keep the label ticking over and the standards high. I am listening to bits from select artists though, and I might get others involved at some point in the future, although the main priority will always be ASC and Aural Imbalance.
I'm glad that you decided to go forward with this new project and love everything about it. It all sounds and feels right, almost as if it was destined to happen in a sense. Every song on these records is of the highest standards and some of the best atmospheric Drum & Bass you could ask for. As you mentioned there is still a large number of people that enjoy the type of music you are putting out on Spatial. Having Aural Imbalance to provide music for Spatial is a bonus. Simon has always been a favorite artist for me and he always provides quality productions. How far back does your friendship go with Simon? For you personally, what would you say are the more challenging aspects to running a music label?
Thanks for the kind words about the first releases. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep the quality consistent from here on. I’ve got a good feeling that we can do it, as both mine and Simon’s standards are pretty high. For example, we recently scrapped two collaborations for a future EP, as we both felt we could do better. We’ve set the bar pretty high with Spatial 001-003, so the aim is to keep trying to outdo ourselves with every future release on the label.
I’ve known Simon for quite some time now. We usually chat over Facetime every week or so and we eventually started collaborating on music projects, which started with the Dimensional Space and The Moons Of Saturn ambient albums on Auxiliary. Simon is very much like me, in so much we like a very specific sound within Drum & Bass, so when the Spatial concept came about, it felt natural that he’d be the first person I’d ask to get involved. A perfect combination, you might say…
The biggest challenge of running a label for me is to never get bored. I think when it feels like you’re going through the motions, and you lose that excitement and passion, then it’s time to think about moving on.
Knowing that you are particular about various aspects of the music creation process, how did the Okbron record last year featuring your remix of "Proximity" by G-Force come about?
My friend Luke used to work for Good Looking Records doing web design. I remember he called me up one day from the office and said he’d found a DAT of Proximity. This must have been around about 2001-2002 or so… anyway, he encouraged me to do a remix of it and that was that – just a little thing for fun.
Fast forward to a few years back, and Alex from Okbron contacted me saying Mark G-Force was going to recreate the original mix of Proximity to release on Okbron. He asked me if I’d be interested in releasing the remix I did back in 2002 as the flip to it. Since I was now writing mid 90’s inspired atmospheric Drum & Bass again, I asked him how he’d feel about me doing a brand new remix that would be infinitely better than what I did back in 2002. He agreed to it and we released it on vinyl and digital in 2021. I’m happy this happened, as everyone got to own the seminal original piece by Mark, and it allowed me to go back and do a much better remix that I did the first time around!
A number of years back, you had stated that you felt like you were, in a sense, done with Drum & Bass as you have said all that you wanted to say with it. Listening to a number of your jungle productions that have surfaced in the past two or three years, would it be fair to say that your experience with the ambient realm and breakbeats has reached a new level of depth and character? What is some advice you can give when it comes to creating the vibe in a song that involves many layers but without sounding too busy or messy?
I still feel I’m done with drum and bass, or anything current at least. It’s not music I enjoy at all these days. With the Entropic trilogy on Samurai, and then the Spatial stuff, I’m simply going back to my roots, doing what I couldn’t do the first time around. I got into production around about 1997, with a very rudimentary setup that was nowhere near good enough to be able to do what I wanted. Even though I learnt French horn and piano and musical notation in school, I am self-taught in every aspect of production, so it took me a while to get to the point where I was somewhat happy with my music. By around the time I was getting more confident in my musical ability and production skills, the scene had changed dramatically, and for the worse in hindsight.
Fast-forward to 2019, and a chat with Geoff at Samurai Music where we were reminiscing about the Jungle and Drum & Bass music we loved in the mid 90’s, it became a realization that I was going to dabble and start experimenting and do a few side projects. I decided that 25 or so years later, I’d go back and write the music I wanted to do back then, but with much better equipment and a few decades worth of production experience. I’d still say this is a side project, as that’s how I view all genres I write. I don’t like tying myself to any specific genre or style. I class myself as an electronic musician first and foremost, and I write a lot of genres and will continue to do so.
It’s hard to give advice when creating soundscapes, because a lot of it comes primarily from a feel for what you’re trying to create. After many years of honing your craft, you tend to create an autopilot mechanism in your brain. You enter that subliminal flow state and you’re adjusting and tweaking, edging further toward the goal without even realizing it. It’s a very natural process that’s hard to explain really. I could give a very obvious answer in production terms, such as keep your EQ’ing clean, and don’t let multiple pads take up too much of the same frequency range or something, but ultimately creation of emotion in music is down to feel and knowing what your target is - It’s essentially audio-sculpting.
You certainly are good at creating great atmospheres and setting the mood with your music. Some years ago you had started working on making music for film and television. Is this something that you have still been working on? Where could our readers check out some of your more recent or known work of this type?
It’s something I’ll always continue to work on side by side with my personal projects and work for other labels. It’s a very satisfying feeling seeing pictures married up against your music. Something I’ll never tire of. It’s kind of dried up a bit since the pandemic, but I’m starting to get some requests again, so hopefully more projects will be happening over the next few years. For more info on some of the projects I’ve been involved with, please check my IMDB page: ASC IMDB
When you first got into production, your setup was very simple with just a computer, amplifier, and some speakers. I'm guessing that your current studio setup has a nice selection of hardware to help you create your visions and over the years you have probably had some equipment come and go. Is there any one piece of equipment that you let go and wish you still had or plan to get again? What hardware would you suggest or say is essential for new artists trying to pursue a similar approach with a setup?
My current studio setup is actually far too big, and has become a bit of a museum, or a collectors paradise to be honest. It’s something I’m working on downsizing, as it’s actually got to the point where it’s impacting my work flow at times. I’ve gotten too sentimental about certain pieces of gear over the last decade, even though I might hardly use them anymore.
So with that said, I’d honestly say that all anyone needs these days is a high quality audio interface, possibly a good AD/DA converter, monitors and a decent computer. I’d advise anyone these days to spend their money first and foremost on high quality monitors and a really good audio interface. Don’t skimp on these parts of your setup.
But yeah, having a hardware setup is a luxury these days, and hardly important at all. Software has come a very long way from the introduction of VST’s back in the early 2000’s and some of the stuff in this day and age sounds incredible. You’d probably be hard pushed to tell if it was hardware or software in the right context. Ultimately, the listener isn’t going to care what you wrote your music on either, so as long as the results are up to par, then you’ve got nothing to worry about if you don’t own hardware synths or drum machines or whatever.
Any other news or updates you would like to share with readers about upcoming projects or things regarding your labels and artists that you work with?
There’s a bunch of releases coming out shortly. Firstly, there’s a piano and string based ambient LP called Original Soundtrack due out soon on A Strangely Isolated Place. Then there’s a Grey Area EP on Auxiliary – ‘Return Of The Emissary’ Remixes. This EP is exactly what the title would suggest – four remixes of the tracks from the original 2014 EP. There’s a Entopic trilogy style jungle remix of Presha’s Vendetta track from his RATS EP. There’s also my second Over/Shadow 12” which will be out in July/August all being well. This is more mid 90’s style atmospheric drum and bass, as you’d probably expect.
October will see the release of another ambient LP on Auxiliary, but I don’t want to say too much about that just yet, so more info nearer the time. Then we’ve got the return of Spatial in November. We’ll be dropping 004 (ASC), 005 (Aural Imblance) and 006 (ASC) together along with some merchandise in another bundle. There’s a bunch of other stuff in the pipeline too, but I’ll save that info for later in the year, and for when the labels involved are ready to make the info public.
Any closing thoughts or shout outs?
Thank you to everyone supporting my music and my labels. It means a great deal to me and it’s not something I ever take for granted.
Keep tabs on ASC at the following linksASC/Auxiliary Blog