DJ /rupture: A Post-Digital Guy Spinning in the Immaterial World

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 11.30.11 in Spotlights

No disc jockey transports me back more reliably to the free-form radio trance states of my misspent youth than DJ /rupture, the laid-back yet knowing and networked host of “Mudd Up!”, a weekly hour of power on one of the world’s last two or three great radio stations, WFMU. Rupture’s Monday-evening slot hits the sweet spot between freedom and formalism. A typical show includes international electronica, exclusive dance mixes, contemporary classical music with a minimalist bent and trendy post-rock, along with cumbias of many nations and both traditional and modern music from the Middle East (mostly Morocco). As a post-digital sort of guy spinning in the immaterial world, Rupture shares nearly as many files as disks along with accompanying metadata.

A master of the triple wheels of steel, Rupture (AKA Jace Clayton) is also a noted DJ/turntablist of artier clubs and festivals. “Mudd Up!” can be heard as a linear commentary and footnotes to the blend of beats, textures, voices, and noises he holographs together in person, often alongside members of his Brooklyn-based Dutty Artz posse. He’s made some masterful albums, too, including the mind-bending Minesweeper Suite mix (2002); Solar Life Raft (2009), an immersive dubstep collaboration with Matt Shadetek; and Patches (2009), an adventure in improvisation alongside guitarist Andy Moor of the Ex.

I recently drove over to visit Clayton in his new apartment in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. In between unpacking books and finishing a radio play about the tragic black minimalist composer Julius Eastman, Clayton explained the long delay between the two albums he’s released under yet another rubric: Nettle. The first Nettle album, 2003′s Firecamp Stories Remixes, “was essentially just me,” he says. “I was thinking about taqsims and how Arabic improvising could influence electronic music.” Eight years later, Clayton’s solo foray into Arabic music has expanded into a five-piece live band and El Resplandor: The Shining in Dubai, a haunting new album with strings, vocals and a high concept suggested by architecture writer Geoff Manaugh.

“He joked about setting Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in Dubai and the idea stayed with me.” Clayton says of Manaugh’s idea. “His liner notes are sort of a movie treatment about a European family of four who move in to a deserted luxury hotel and have to stay in spite of how scary things get, because debtor’s prison is real in Dubai. But the biggest thing was that the whole soundtrack concept would have no beats. It’s my first thing ever without beats.”

Clayton spent much of his own teen years immersed in the nocturnal mysteries of local radio. “Late-night Boston college radio made a huge impression on me,” says the Harvard graduate. “I’d fall asleep listening to and taping shows. I really wasn’t into music until I heard the weirder stuff. Japanese noise bands made a huge impression, then dub reggae and different types of techno and electronic music. I didn’t care about rap or hip-hop until the late ’90s. Working as a club DJ is an entirely different thing, but I take people on a narrative journey through sound either way.”

After moving to Barcelona early in the millennium, Clayton was able to learn a lot more about the Moroccan sounds he’d discovered while still in high school. “I was mainly interested in how Auto-Tune is used in Moroccan music, where it’s been popular for a long time, often around otherwise completely acoustic music. It ended up being used in a very non-Western-pop way.” In 2011, Clayton and several visual artists Kickstarted enough funds for a month in Casablanca and documented their adventures as Beyond Digital Morocco, which Clayton describes as a “hard research residency thing.”

He has also designed a series of free Sufi Plug-Ins, musical software designed to emulate Middle Eastern sounds and scales.” It’s my version of an app,” Clayton explains. “It’s free, it’s weird, and it’s not necessarily user-friendly.” His plug-ins are clearly labeled – in Berber script. “The idea is that it’ll slow people down.” As a sort of homage to the muezzin father of a musician he befriended in Morocco, Clayton has included a Devotion feature that lowers the software’s volume five times a day for religious observations. Moreover, it can be adapted to the theological preferences of users who consider themselves “fervent, agnostic, observant, and maybe even atheist, which wouldn’t do anything at all.”

This fall, Rupture hosted his radio show from the projection booth of Spectacle, a tiny, 30-seat cinema in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, and played YouTube and DVD versions of a bunch of great rai and Moroccan tracks. “I’d never done radio in a public space before,” he says. “I’m usually on a mic in a studio, so if you make a joke, it’s as silent as ever. But last night people laughed, and I was like, ‘Oh, yes: feedback!’ I’d forgotten about that.” And as a rupture from the usual party scene, maybe he could make it dinner and a movie. “I would love to do an event working with food,” Clayton says. “Like a dinner party where the music is there but the food is foregrounded.”