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This DJ mixes the world’s local music to create a global sound

September 29, 2016 at 6:20 PM EDT
Jace Clayton, aka DJ/rupture, spends his time traveling, absorbing music as well as creating it. To create his art, he mixes various melodies and rhythms from all over the world in order to create new, complex sounds. Jeffrey Brown speaks with Clayton about his new book, “Uproot,” in which he chronicles his travels and journey to amplify musical conversations.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: An acclaimed deejay has been traveling the globe documenting the changing landscape of music and digital culture.

Jeffrey Brown has another edition to our Bookshelf looking at the result of these travels, the new volume, “Uproot.”

JACE “DJ /RUPTURE” CLAYTON, Author, “Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture”: So, what I will start off with, scratchy old 45 that I found in Morocco, just kind of randomly dropping the needle on the record.

Let’s see.

JEFFREY BROWN: What does a deejay do? Well, Jace Clayton, AKA DJ /rupture, takes musical pieces from around the world, adds his own sounds and mixes them together, creating something that will make you get up and dance, or maybe listen in a brand-new way.

JACE CLAYTON, Author, “Uproot”: Activating music, you know, keeping music alive.

JEFFREY BROWN: Each part is alive on its own.

JACE CLAYTON: Each part is alive on its own, but I love the way in which, when you bring these things into overlap or superimposition, they start talking to each other in new and surprising ways. And you can tell all sorts of stories with this.

JEFFREY BROWN: The 41-year-old Clayton graduated from Harvard with a degree in English, but music has been his passion since middle school.

In 2001, he put a mix called “Gold Teeth Thief” on his Web site and was stunned when hundreds of thousands of people around the globe started sharing it.

He’s traveled the world ever since, both making music and collecting it, and tells what he’s found in a new book, “Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture.”

These days, New York is home, and that’s where we talked.

JACE CLAYTON: All this disruption through technology, how all these digital changes are transforming how we think about analog, how we think about what music used to be and what it’s becoming.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, when you say travels in 21st century music and digital culture, what are you looking for?

JACE CLAYTON: I’m looking for the surprises, you know, and…

JEFFREY BROWN: The surprises?

JACE CLAYTON: Exactly, the unexpected moments of technology, the unexpected moments of musical creation.

Every time I’m in a foreign place and a different city, I’m always asking around to say, OK, well, what’s special here in this particular place? What makes these people move here and why?

And so I’m one of the people who will hear a song in a taxi and be like, stop, stop the car. Like, let’s go back. What was that?

JEFFREY BROWN: You mean literally?

JACE CLAYTON: Literally, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Stop the car.

JACE CLAYTON: Stop the car.

JEFFREY BROWN: Because you heard it coming out of some storefront?

JACE CLAYTON: Exactly, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: That approach has taken him to side streets off the beaten path in more than three dozen countries, Morocco, for instance, where he spent time with local musicians and performed with his own group, Nettle, mixing his electronic sounds with traditional instruments and a singer, and Mexico where, again, he found that, in the age of globalization, while everyone now has access to the same music, local culture continues to thrive, and music is a way to understand it.

Clayton writes of the young people he encountered making North Mexican teen rave music.

JACE CLAYTON: They’re saying, oh, we hear all this sort of international techno is really popular here. But then they grew up in this world of hearing rodeo music, sort of cowboy music from their parents.

Then they go on YouTube and they’re seeing Shakira videos. And so they’re thinking, so, like, what is local to us right now? And so the idea that local now draws on all sorts of international, all sorts of layers of input, and yet they’re still making something which would only be made in Monterrey, Mexico, in this moment. This is urgent music. We need to discuss it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is there a general theory why, in Benin, there’s this, and, in Morocco, there’s that, and in North Mexico, there is this?

JACE CLAYTON: Well, that is why is so exciting. It’s like there is no general theory. And so, if there’s anything I have learned, it’s to sort of be sensitive to what — to how much — to how creative the act of listening is and to how powerful the act of listening is.

JEFFREY BROWN: He makes his living playing at clubs and at major festivals like here at Pitchfork in Chicago.

In a world in which music travels as never before, when a young producer can bypass big record labels, and so much music is consumed for free, I asked Clayton how he sees his role.

JACE CLAYTON: I do think of myself as a taste-maker, yes, absolutely. And so much of what deejays like myself do is, I’m very interested in — I’m constantly looking for new music, constantly digging, but then also I am thinking about how to present it in a way that kind of makes sense to people who are less — sort of less with their hands in it than I am.

JEFFREY BROWN: I wonder if you run into people, if you say, what about just the human voice? You know, what about just somebody playing a guitar?

I love watching — going to a cafe, and I just — somebody plays a guitar, and that’s beautiful.

JACE CLAYTON: You know, I say, me, too.

(LAUGHTER)

JACE CLAYTON: Most of the summer here in New York City, I have just been going to hear coral music in churches, completely unamplified, the human voice, maybe an organ.

JEFFREY BROWN: The guy who is writing about digital technology and musical culture just goes to church and listens to a chorus?

JACE CLAYTON: I know. Yes, I have got to look at the flip side of things, because, in a way, music is always a conversation, you know? It’s a conversation between the musician and their tools and their technologies.

It’s a conversation between people and their community, you know, people and — and deejaying, it is a way of amplifying that conversation and kind of putting that conversation on blast in a way. But at a very basic level, it’s records talking to records.

JEFFREY BROWN: From New York City, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”

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