What Jacques Cousteau was to the ocean, Jace Clayton aka DJ Rupture is to music. No melodic, rhythmic, harmonic corner of human expression escapes his thorough exploration. Bringing his brand new book Uproot: Travels in 21st Century Music & Digital Culture, he will be in our store this Thursday, October 6 at 7pm – with guest DJ sets. Here’s a short preview…
Eric Larkin – Tell us about your earliest music memory.
Jace Clayton – Driving around with my parents listening to my father’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo cassettes, going to visit a petting zoo! I talk a little bit about Paul Simon’s Graceland in the book — the full backstory is that my family had that tape, and it got my father really interested in Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which sounded a bit like gospel but was basically unlike anything I’d heard until then, so it made a huge impression on me.
EL – Your music and your studies cover a huge range of styles. Are there one or two sine qua non influences?
JC – Boston-area college radio stations, especially the weird late-night shows — these were major for me. I would stay up late in middle school, taping the radio, then leaving a blank cassette in recording when I went to sleep. It was a window onto another world.
EL – I’ve sometimes thought it was odd to write about music, in the same way it’s odd to have TV shows about food: I can’t actually taste what the guy is making, so what’s the point? In a book, I can’t hear the music, so…? But with “digital culture” right there in the subtitle – Uproot has a huge on-line section where you’ve linked to a ton of the music you talk about. So, I could sit there reading, and when you mention the “I’m not here to make friends” compilation, I can just click over and check that out. (Reminds me of when I used to draw a comic for a girlfriend, and then include the mixtape soundtrack.) Is this an idea in your work, to connect different forms?
JC – I really believe in creating truly interdisciplinary or in-between connective spaces, for sure. It’s quite important to work outside one’s comfort zone and interact with different systems of art-making or communicating. That’s when things get exciting. And I love the challenge of writing about music in this era now when it’s quite simple to listen to almost anything. So yeah, when I was working on the book I knew already that I’d have some sort of cool online component that collected the more obscure pieces of audio and video so that everyone can check it out. Some of the pieces are fairly easy to Google, but for much of the listening guide I was uploading pieces of audio that weren’t online, like lots of the Moroccan music I discuss. As a writer and DJ, it’s important to share your excitement with finding stuff, and at a basic level that boils down to putting out tracklists, giving musicians credit, basic things.
EL – There must be thousands of musical styles in the world, but then something like hip hop comes along that goes everywhere. Why or how does a particular style of music travel and hold its shape, while some remain local?
JC – This is such a major question — versions of it come up in the book a lot. For example, I’m fascinated with how hiphop became a global inspiration, but what gets really fascinating is how peoples’ interpretation of it vary from place to place. Like in Latin America, lots of rap is on the “conscious” lyrical tip, like classic American backpacker rap from the 90s, and that’s “real” hiphop there. Whereas there’s so much West African rap which is sonically incredibly progressive, mutating even faster than stateside rap sometimes. So for a genre to really spread, it needs to be flexible to a certain extent. Then again, sometimes you need a hyperlocal music that goes inward and evolves in strange ways, and eventually when it hits broader recognition, you realize that it’s relative isolation actually allowed it to develop and grow into something truly unique — and we’re living in a time when the allure of hyperlocal is something that multinational corporations are extremely interested in: you can charge more for the product if it is ‘local’! These are tensions I explore in Uproot for sure.
EL – What are the best books you’ve read recently?
JC – Leonardo Sciascia – Death and the Knight — such a classy and precise writer! He’s from Sicily, and wrote this novella a year or two before he died in the 1980s. Existential crime fiction in which, like all of his work, the criminal herself is never caught, it’s all about the system that creates criminality and doubles as a wonderful portrait of life (and justified paranoia) in Sicily. So good.
Then two African Francophone novels recently translated by Deep Vellum: The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, a hilarious short story collection by Moroccan writer Fouad Laroui. I’m not so into short story collections, but he nails it. Much of the book is conversations, a wry absurdist take on bureaucracy, life in Morocco, life in Belgium, storytelling itself.
And Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila — energetically written Congolese satire that goes dark and funny in its depiction of a city-state around a mine where everything and everybody is for sale, neoliberalism on full-blast.
Jace Clayton brings damn near all the music in the world to us Thursday night, with Josh Kun, Kid606, Vicente Pedraza and Xandão.