Clements' music has always sat between lines, not within them. For over ten years he was a prolific drum & bass producer, releasing melodic tracks for labels like Offshore, Inperspective and Nu-Directions. Clements' tracks favoured space and dynamics instead of loudness, and his full-lengths—like Environments or Deep Spaces—had downtempo interludes that showed a different side of his personality. Around 2009, after the release of The Astral Traveller, the LP that perfected his formula, Clements found new inspiration in dBridge and Instra:mental, the Nonplus label and the Autonomic sound.
Clements fell into Autonomic—a new subgenre of drum & bass that was influenced by IDM and Detroit techno and electro—just as he was growing tired of his sound. Autonomic provided him with an avenue to explore the possibilities of 170 BPM in a different mindset, bringing him to an even more three-dimensional and wide-open sound. Where his previous work looked back to the "intelligent" strains of drum & bass, he now made gestures towards the atmospheric moments of Autechre and Arovane. This new phase of ASC culminated with 2010's masterpiece Nothing Is Certain and a stunning RA podcast.
Around the same time, Clements started a label, Auxiliary, which has since sprouted a few sublabels, including Diode and Veil). It was originally meant as a side project to host the overflow of his Autonomic productions, but as that scene began to disintegrate, Auxiliary became his main label alongside Samurai Music. Samurai's like-minded founder Geoff Wright would form an important alliance with Clements. The two pushed each other into the furthest reaches of drum & bass and beyond, particularly with the experimental Samurai Horo sublabel, which embodies the free-for-all nature of ASC.
With Auxiliary and Samurai as his outlets, Clements embarked on the most prolific period of his career. There were countless EPs of misty 170 beats. There was the conceptual Symbol series and many collaborations, plus techno 12-inches for Perc Trax and Mote-Evolver. Almost all of it was excellent—haunting at some moments, experimental at others. But it was when he stepped away from the drums entirely that Clements made his biggest mark. He began a partnership with the Canadian label Silent Season with 2011's The Light That Burns Twice As Bright, a record that, along with its follow-ups Time Heals All and Truth Be Told, stands as some of the finest ambient music of the decade.
Clements takes to ambient naturally. Mixing field recordings, synthesis and Stars Of The Lid-style melodies, he creates detailed ecosystems of sound. Half organic and half synthetic, his approach is classic in spirit yet modern in execution.
Those ambient records also marked something new for Clements: they came out under the same moniker he uses for his 170 BPM material, abandoning previous aliases like Mindspan or Intex Systems. The decision to consolidate his music under the ASC umbrella was important, as it meant that his influences and ideas could blur together more easily. As ASC, techno, ambient and 170 not only coexist but intermingle, which is most clearly represented on Clements' latest LP, Imagine The Future. Maybe best described as "ambient drum & bass" (though he doesn't consider his work drum & bass anymore) it sounds like absolutely nothing else out there.
Clements spends most of his time in the studio. As a producer who also does work in multimedia sound design and scoring , he's able to make a living off of his craft. When he does play out, which is rare, it's usually memorable. He's done live techno sets, standard DJ sets and all-ambient performances (check out his Tar & Feathered set from 2012 or his ambient performance at Decibel festival from 2014 for two particularly good examples).
It's remarkable that he's come this far on his own terms. It's not easy to make your name in electronic music without fitting into one box, but through his tireless work ethic and commitment to new and interesting projects, Clements has created a little scene all his own, outside of both drum & bass and conventional dance music.
People have moved on from Autonomic, and so have you. Was it hard continuing after it died down?
I don't think it was hard. I mean, I think for me it was still challenging. I think the main thing was, production-wise, I broadened my horizons during that time so that I never felt I was tied down to one tempo. I didn't find it hard pushing—I don't know if it's right to say pushing boundaries, since I don't think that's for me to say—but I don't feel it was particularly hard to carry on. In fact, it was a challenge because no one else was doing it. I was flying the flag on my own for a bit.
How did you broaden your horizons?
I think around that time—probably about 2008—I was just listening to a lot of techno and a lot of ambient. I got hugely into what Sandwell District were doing. That in itself gave me more scope—well, more passion to do other music rather than drum & bass or anything at that tempo. That was a catalyst in some way.
Do you think your music became more ambient because of that?
I'm not sure because I think that's always been the identifying thing that people can see straight away from the surface. They always think, "ASC—OK, atmospheric, deep, whatever.'" So I think that's always been there. If anything, doing this moved me well and truly away from dance floor music. So in a way it definitely did get deeper I suppose.
NonPlus changed directions and you started your own label, Auxiliary. What made you want to launch your own label?
It was actually an idea from Al [Boddika] from Instra:mental. He told me the plans for NonPlus, said, 'You know we're going to be doing other stuff as well as 170, and eventually, probably phasing it out, so it would probably be a good idea if you had your own thing." We set it up through [the UK distributor] ST Holdings and that was it really. The name Auxiliary was because it was meant to be a side project originally. But obviously everything took off for Al, and he's doing huge things now, which is great for him, so Auxiliary became my main thing.
What is the vision for the label? Obviously it started as a side project but what changed?
Well, it became my main vision, my main output of music that I was doing at the time. I think as soon as we progressed after Autonomic, I got to the point where I didn't feel like anything I was releasing was Autonomic anymore. It was its own thing now. I think we had evolved past that and it had become something else and it wasn't really drum & bass anymore.
You say it's not really dance floor, it's not drum & bass, it's not Autonomic—so what is it? Because you definitely have a sound.
That's the thing. It's a huge can of worms because personally I don't feel any attachment or involvement with drum & bass. I don't really listen to it, I don't play it, I don't buy it, I've just got nothing to do with it. It's not that I hate it, it's just not in my interest anymore. I don't feel any affiliation with it at all, which is kind of strange because everyone else seems to lump us in with that. But I think that's because we haven't really got a name for what we are doing. And because of the tempo it kind of gets lumped in with drum & bass.
Why do you stick to that tempo?
There's just so much to be explored at that tempo. If I stop doing it, then who else is going to do it?
Do you get annoyed at being associated with drum & bass because of the tempo still?
I don't think "annoyed"—I think it's a misrepresentation, especially for people who are actually into drum & bass. They would go and listen to something of mine and then go, "What the fuck is this? This isn't drum & bass. I don't wanna listen to this." And you know, fair enough, because they want what drum & bass essentially is, which is fast breaks, basslines, big tunes that sound good on huge systems and stuff like that. And that's not what I'm doing at all. It's just more of a conundrum of, "OK I understand why I'm being labelled this way, but what else can we call it, really?" without coming up with a stupid Beatport genre name.
So operating in a sphere that isn't really drum & bass and not really techno, were you nervous about how Auxiliary would be received? Especially with the Symbol releases, where you were making stuff that was weird for the sake of being weird.
I think so. To be honest I'm nervous every time I put a piece of music out, just because I feel I don't fit in with anything really. I'm just doing my own thing so it's like, how are people going to perceive this? Are they going to understand what I'm doing or is it going to go over people's heads? There's always that apprehension with what I'm doing.
But with the label itself, because of the way we broke it down there's been three phases of Auxiliary so far. The first phase was pretty much the tail-end of Autonomic, from release number one to six. And then seven was the next phase, which I think the first release was me and Ulrich Schnauss and then that was the metamorphosis of what Autonomic was and what we turned it into—[a platform] to do our own thing. Now we are in what we call phase three, which is this whole Grey Area thing—me, Geoff and Sam KDC are pioneering it.
Are you the kind of person who likes to have these things planned out far in advance?
Yeah, definitely. I'm really OCD about that. I'm the type of person—I can't work in my studio unless everything is clean and tidy, so I have to have everything neat and arranged and organized and everything planned out and text files and that.
One thing I find is that your sound is clean. I wouldn't say dry, because there's a lot of reverb and emotion, but it's a very clean, futuristic sound. What's your studio setup like, without giving too much away?
I've got nothing to hide, because even if I told everyone what's in my studio I don't think anyone could come up with the same tracks that I do, because it's all what comes out of your head. I'm running PC. My main sequencer is ReNoise, which is an old tracker sequencer, based on a really old tracker called Fast Tracker 2. That was actually the first thing that I made music on. I mean, I was messing around on the Atari ST probably around about '96 or '97 but I don't think I would call them tracks, they were just experiments to try and work out how to do stuff.
I was using one of the early versions of Cubase, and a real rudimentary protocol called Tracks, which was just a very, very basic timeline sequencer and just sequencing MIDI from a shitty Casio keyboard or something at the time. I didn't know what I was doing, but it was enough to give me the passion for it. And it was at that point I switched to Fast Tracker on the PC, bought myself a setup, went through that for a while. Did my first bunch of releases using that. It was a very, very basic setup—hi-fi speakers, a crappy PC, a Yamaha CS1X and a Behringer Ultra Effects Pro—and that was that. I was running everything though this. I mean, it was good at the time, but when I listen back now I can really hear how bad the tracks sound. It's kind of funny.
Going on to what I use now, I'm still using ReNoise—the latest version of it—but I've got quite a lot of outboard synths and tons of effects units in here.
Is there anything that you think helps give you your signature sound?
For the pads and atmospheres I tend to use two pieces of equipment a lot. One's the Yamaha TG33, which is a vector synth, it's this little desktop unit which looks like a '90s fax machine. It looks absolutely horrible, it's such an ugly eyesore. But the pads you can get out of it blow my mind. I paid I think $110 on eBay at the time… I think now they go for at least double that, maybe close to $300 or something. I think everyone worked out that they're a bit of a hidden gem. There's that, and the other thing I use a lot is the Roland JD 800, which is an old '90s digital synth, but it's the control you've got on the front panel. You can just morph stuff into amazing soundscapes and pads and evolving atmospheres. That comes in handy a lot.
How long have you been listening to ambient?
Since around '93 or '94, but back then I think a lot of downtempo was thrown in with that, just real chilled stuff, like Global Communication. To name check: 76:14 was a big eye-opener for me just as to what ambient music was and what was out there at the time. So that got me into a lot of other stuff such as Future Sound Of London. But again they're not really 100% ambient. The very first track I heard was a track by Moby of all people, it was track four on a CD single, and it was called something like "The Rain Falls And The Sky Shudders," and it was exactly what you'd think from the track title. It was atmospheric with effects from weather and real nice tones and real smooth stuff. I'd never heard anything like it at the time, and I played it over and over and thought, "OK, this is actually really cool."
Why did you like it so much?
It just resonated with me. Just the atmosphere and the emotion that I took from it. That's a very big part of music for me, its emotion. I have to feel something from a track to resonate with it. It's a weird thing to explain.
Do you feel that your work since 2010—besides the actual ambient music—is more inspired or informed by ambient than what came before?
Definitely. It was actually Chris from mnml ssgs—he introduced me to Brock Van Wey [bvdub] and we became real good friends. It was hearing his album for Echospace, White Clouds Drift On & On. For some reason that was a big, big catalyst to make me think, "Shit, why am I not producing ambient? I can do this!" It influenced the way I started to go about looking at producing ambient stuff, even though I would say mine sounds nothing like what Brock did. But it was a very important piece for me, and, just speaking with Brock, he was a massive help at the time. He was like, "Yeah, you should be doing this stuff. There's no reason why not. Give it a shot."
Was it daunting at first or did you fall into it?
If there's music I'm really into, I give it a go. I find it really easy to convey my thoughts straight away. I think as a producer I've always been the type who thinks outside the box and has never been confined to whatever is flavour of the month. So I think that's a massive help for me in many ways because I can never feel that I'm bogged down or, because I wrote drum & bass for a while, everything is going to sound drum & bass-influenced.
How did you come into contact with Jamie from Silent Season?
I did a three-gig tour of Tokyo back in 2011, and I played a mnml ssgs party. Russell from Labyrinth was there and we'd been chatting and I played the first disc of Time Heals All, so it was just over an hour of all that ambient stuff. It was the first time anyone had heard it, and Russell said, "You really need to get in touch with Silent Season because this would be such a perfect fit." And that was it, actually. I hit Jamie up as soon as I got back, sent him the stuff and he's like, "OK, let's put it out."
Were you aware of the label before that?
I'd heard of it but I wasn't actively checking it out or anything. Mainly because for a while I just got so bored of everything that was labelled as dub techno. Because I felt after Chain Reaction died there was hardly anyone other than the odd Deepchord or Echospace releases that were doing anything new or original in that genre. I think it's still very much a problem with the genre as well. It turns out that Silent Season... I mean, they do dub techno, but a lot of it was melodic techno and ambient was well. Real chill stuff.
And you had the material for the first two albums written way before?
I had. Time Heals All was originally just the first disc, and the second disc was an album of its own, Stone Of Avoidance, some kind of massively space-themed piece of work. I had that just lying around and I actually didn't send that to Jamie until later because at the time I thought, "OK, he's got two albums by me, I think three might be pushing it." Then he said, "Have you got anything else I can hear?"
How did you go about arranging that material into albums? Was there something that tied those tracks together?
When I start an album as a project it's kind of a mindset that I'm in. I know straightaway if a track is right for the project I'm doing, and usually I'm continuously in the mode for so long that without realizing it I've kind of written the body of the work. It's after you listen back and then realize perhaps this should go in this order, perhaps that should go there, just move things around. It comes to me naturally.
Do you approach writing an ambient track differently from a track with beats? The ambient tracks don't just sound like ASC without drums.
Yeah. I think the main thing for me is I don't have to worry about the low-end frequencies so much, because when I'm writing 170, I'm constantly getting the subs and the kicks and all the frequency ranges sitting extra tight so there's no crap mix-downs. But with ambient, because pretty much all what I do is beatless and I'm not requiring any basslines, there's a whole frequency range to use for pads and effects and everything.
Obviously you had you ambient albums but also you had your Mindspan project for a while. Can you talk about how that happened?
I think at the time I was fascinated with creating aliases for the sake of it, which seems so redundant these days—which is why I haven't done anything else under the Mindspan name. But at the time I was still doing my first label Covert Operations, and I was into Chain Reaction and Basic Channel at the time. I wanted to do stuff that was more ambient techno rather than dub techno because I guess that's just what I was leaning towards, more than the ambient side of it. So I did that project and then decided I would put it out under a different name just to differentiate, because at the time ASC was very much a drum & bass thing, very conventional drum & bass—breaks and basslines and stuff.
And then later on, I think around 2012, you started making techno tracks. I remember you did sets in LA and New York that were all techno. Where did that come from?
Again, it was just one of those things. As I said, I was getting into Sandwell District around 2008 and 2009. My love for techno had been getting bigger and bigger and bigger to the point I was like, "OK, I gotta write some stuff," so that was it.
You had a lot of tracks, enough to make a two-hour live set. Why did you stop, and why were most of them not released?
In all honesty, I didn't feel they were good enough. I'm very critical of all of my work in general. If I don't think something is worth releasing, it usually doesn't get released. The feedback I was getting was that everyone liked it, but everyone was saying—this was from techno DJs—it's very abstract and different and not very dance floor-oriented. That kind of made me think, "OK, perhaps I'll put a few out myself." There was the release on Perc Trax and also the Mote-Evolver EP and stuff like that, but as a whole, I dunno. Around the same time also I started incorporating what I do with techno into 170 stuff, and it became this new entity. It was still 170, but to me it was very techno music. They cross-pollinated.
What do you mean by incorporating techno into 170?
Just the aesthetics, like the way a techno track is written. Here's the thing with 170—well actually, let's use the term drum & bass, because I think people misuse the word 170 when they just talk about drum & bass. I don't think it's the same thing, it's just a tempo if you ask me. If you listen to a drum & bass track and the way it is structured, there's usually so much going on. There's so much attention to detail, the intricacies of when things happen, usually stuff is very much announced—if a change is going to happen in the track, there is a cue towards it. If a bassline is going to come in, you know when it's going to happen. Whereas in techno, it just happens organically, things just come in and out of the track. So a lot of that aesthetic, that was how I was approaching what I was doing with 170.
Do you have any interest in going back and making straight-up techno?
It's actually something me and Sam KDC have at the moment called Saturne, and what we're doing is very techno. But it's hard to explain without giving away the whole process, which I don't really want to do just yet, because it's going to be something that catches on. But other than ambient, techno is all I listen to anyway.
You've said you don't like collaborating, but you've done a lot of collaborating with Sam KDC. What is it about him and his music?
The main thing with me is I don't like collaborating in person, because I work very strangely and sporadically. I might work for ten minutes and then just have a loop in my head, and then I'll come back to it an hour later and then work on it a little bit more. Then I might not come back to that track until two or three days later. I might start something else. I think that would be very frustrating for someone who just wanted to come in and do a track in eight or nine hours, just sit there all day and hammer something out. And I can't do that, it's not the way I work. I find it a lot easier to work with Sam, obviously, because it's all done over the internet, and we can just send pieces backwards and forwards. I've always preferred that way of working because I can do things at my own pace and in my own time.
What can you tell me about the Grey Area project?
Well, this is kind of what I touched on with what me and Sam are doing. The way we look at it, the Grey Area thing is not going to be limited to a tempo—obviously there's gonna be the 170 stuff as well. But the whole idea and concept behind it is music that doesn't fit. You can't class this as one genre or another, and that's where the Grey Area thing came from. That's how we were talking about it, because it's like, "OK, we've got this music that sits in a grey area and we don't know what to do with it."
One thing a lot of artists do worry about when they are in a grey area is bookings, because it can be hard to get bookings if you don't do something that's easy to describe. You don't play out a lot. Is that by choice?
Yeah, that's by choice. My problem is I've had huge problems with back pain over the years, and being on planes really fucking messes me up. For instance, when I played in New York for the techno thing at Tar & Feathered, I had to go see an emergency chiropractor the day before, while I was there, which cost me a fucking arm and a leg. I've just always had weird problems with my back, and being crammed up in those sardine tin airplanes for five or six hours crossing the USA is not very comfortable, so I've turned down a lot of gigs. International stuff is a bit easier, because I feel the planes are a bit more comfortable.
How do you make a living if you're not playing out?
Mainly royalties and a lot of stuff I do outside of the electronic music scene. I do a lot of stuff for TV commercials. I finished my first film score this year, and that's something I'm hoping to break into a lot more. Working on a second one at the moment, so yeah—there's definite ways I can earning money without playing out.
Do you make anything from releasing music?
Yeah. I don't wanna say it's great money because the units involved these days are very, very low compared to how they were when I first started releasing music, but it's a lot healthier now that things are kind of more DIY. You're cutting out the middle man, so sales are done more directly and you earn more money that way.
How do you stay inspired when you're constantly working?
That's a tough one. Last year I actually had a massive bout of writer's block for about two months, which is the longest I've ever had. It was worrying at the time because I got a bit burnt out, to the point where I was like, "Is this worth doing anymore? What's the fucking point?" I think a lot of that comes from my ongoing problems with depression. I've been dealing with that all my adult life so it takes its toll on music every now and again.
Living in San Diego, it's separated from everything. Is that a positive or a negative thing?
It can be a bit of both I think. There's no real music scene here. If there is, it's very generic, whoever's on tour, bring them through type thing. There's nothing going on locally. We tried to—me and my friend Will who helped me run the label—put on this night called 170 SD. It was starting to catch on for a bit, and then the club we were using got sold to a different owner and eventually we lost interest in really trying to push it, because it was a lot of work to juggle with doing the label and my other productions. It left me with more of a negative feeling about the city. I do like that I'm not influenced by anything here. I'm away and doing my own thing and that works very good for me, because I'm an introverted person and just like to keep to myself.
About two months ago we were talking about one of your old mixes from Knowledge Mag on Twitter, and you said you were embarrassed of it. Are you generally embarrassed of your older music?
No, I wouldn't say embarrassed. I think just… when I listen back I hear, from a production point of view, how basic or how dated it sounds. That's the best way to put it, because what I'm doing now is far more advanced, especially production-wise. I'm not too hard on it because that helped me to do what I'm doing now. That was the foundation for the ASC sound, so t's all good.
What are you working on aside from Grey Area?
There's an ambient, chilled techno 12-inch on Silent Season. There's like four tracks that are right off the end of the live set which I did for Decibel which is still on SoundCloud, that's probably gonna be the next release. Then there's an EP I've done on Veil, which is coming up in the next few months. Then there's also an EP for Samurai Red Seal, which again is—I think that's almost what we're calling Grey Area because, to me, it's very much techno at 170, even though techno isn't 170, so that's going to be an interesting release. After that, a bunch of other stuff, new projects on Auxiliary and Samurai and, no doubt, more ambient on Silent Season.
So no slowing down anytime soon?
Not really. I don't know any other way, to be honest. For me, it's just how I am. I just like to create, so I'm always doing that.