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Breaking Beats

DJ /rupture Cuts and Splices Rhythms and Cultures

By Michaelangelo Matos | Posted 8/14/2002

On a late-June weekend, the ninth floor of a Brooklyn, N.Y., loft isn't holding a rave. Not quite. Music is background here rather than center; there is just as much emphasis on the tire swing and the fire machines and various revelers' costumes. The crowd is older than the candy-rave norm, and there are far fewer drugs, though a few folks discreetly toke up here and there. Beer is sold to wristband wearers. What's being played on the record decks, perched atop a platform in the middle of the room, is hardly new to ravers: liquid-textured drum 'n' bass with ragga vocal flourishes; epileptic, superfast gabber; block-rockin' hip-hop. But while the man on the decks, 26-year-old Jace Clayton--aka DJ /rupture--keeps the dance floor full and moving throughout his two-and-a-half-hour set, his playing style has little in common with the steady mastery common to aspiring superstar DJs.

As the name implies, DJ /rupture is all about disjuncture, but his self-interruptions are more than merely willful. Rather, his shifts from current Jamaican dancehall hits to classic Timbaland productions (he closes his set with a viscously slowed down instrumental version of Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody"), from noisy jungle to Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song," achieve a synthesis rare in DJ culture. "Give me two records and I'll make you a universe," DJ Spooky proclaimed in the liner notes to his 1996 album, Songs of a Dead Dreamer, but he's never really followed up on that claim. DJ /rupture does. What he's doing is both less grandiose and far trickier: He's re-creating the world we live in, delineating his vision of the African diaspora through an aggressively modernist lens. When mixing together African music with African-influenced music from both old and new worlds, past and present, DJ /rupture unifies continents, eras, and their politics on his decks.

Clayton was raised in Andover, Mass., and entered college a few miles south at Harvard University in 1993. He penned book reviews for The Washington Post; contributed entries on jungle/drum 'n' bass, dub reggae, and King Tubby to the Encyclopedia Africana (he currently writes for Grooves, an electronic-music magazine); and began hosting a show on campus radio station WHRB.

"I wasn't that good a DJ at the time," Clayton says. "On my show I wouldn't mix things, but I'd put a lot of different types of music together in a fashion that I thought was coherent. At the time, I was trying to do drum 'n' bass and hip-hop mixes."

He was also cultivating an interest in Middle Eastern music, triggered by a late-night radio encounter. "I heard 'Mantra' by Material, Bill Laswell's group, in high school," Clayton says. "It was a really balanced production, it had elements of hip-hop, it had this incredible motion to it. It's not something you just go to the record store and say, 'I'm looking for this kind of music,' and the guy hands you a couple of records. It's something that I was really fascinated by, and it spoke to me enough to keep me looking further and further."

Clayton graduated and moved to New York in 1997. The following year he put together 1 + 1 = 3, a raw mix CD that showcased his developing ideas. Bouncing Southern hip-hop grooves ambled out of the speakers only to be ambushed by lightning-fast drum 'n' bass; dancehall chatterers crowed broadly over Middle Eastern accents; spoken-word poetry from Gregory Whitehead occasionally floated over the proceedings. The disc became something of a cult favorite and, though a little thin-sounding today, it laid the groundwork for the DJ /rupture formula.

Shortly after 1 + 1, Clayton moved again, to Madrid, Spain (where he still lives most of the time), to be closer to the production centers of the Arabic music with which he was obsessed. He began his Soot label, which bears the slogan "Contemporary experiments in digital-audio and breakbeat reconstruction are informed by North African musical traditions." Soot's releases, by Clayton himself (under the name Nettle) and Mutamassik, a Brooklyn DJ born and raised in Egypt, wed keening Arabic melodies to hard, overdriven drum 'n' bass beats, with a directness lacking in similar fusions by Talvin Singh or the Asian Dub Foundation.

The best of these may be "Rumbo Babylon," a stunning seven-inch issued by New York label Broklyn Beats, which matches hard-charging jungle breaks, distorted noise, and a latticework of sound bites. The results sound like the "sample orchestra" constructions of New Jersey garage producer Todd Edwards in a pissed-off, ironic mood.

Visiting the States last summer, Clayton was held up in Boston for two weeks due to visa problems, so to kill time he put together another mix CD. On Gold Teeth Thief--just reissued by Violent Turd, a label distributed by Tigerbeat6, the label run by California beat provocateur Kid606--the underdone feel of 1 + 1 makes way for a thicker, headier, denser stew. The disc explores dualities galore: hip-hop's recent obsession with Arabic sounds (the opening one-two punch of Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" segueing into the instrumental mix of QB Finest's "Oochie Wally"); laptop-tronica's love/envy relationship with hip-hop (Rude Ass Tinker's hilarious deconstruction of MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This"); the tropical jungle vs. the urban jungle ("Duende," an atmospheric Nettle dub evoking the "jungle" where Capt. Willard hunted down Col. Kurtz, is followed by the Jamaican-influenced "Cop Shot," by militant New York hip-hoppers Dead Prez).

Thief ends with a sequence that blends the pop of Paul Simon's "Homeless," which features the South African a cappella gospel group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, with the politically charged sounds of British Palestinian sympathizer Muslimgauze's "The Taliban" and a live version of "Djiguinira" by singer Miriam Makeba, who was exiled from her South African home for 30 years during apartheid. It's a poignant sequence not because of its idea mix but because in DJ /rupture's hand they all sound a part of a piece; the African textures don't merely evoke a folkloric past (Paul Simon) or an exotic act of political solidarity (Muslimgauze).

DJ /rupture's new mix, Minesweeper Suite, starts off where Thief left off, with the neotraditional chants and drums of Mahmoud Fadi's "Jibal Al Nuba." When /rupture makes the jazz-funk keyboards in J-Boogie's "Gemini Dub" suddenly crinkle unnaturally, though, it's a harbinger of the fucked-with sounds to come. Where Thief was groove-centered, Minesweeper is deliberately fractured, as /rupture stretches his theories as far as he can.

It helps that he moves things along so speedily. Bubba Sparxxx's "Ugly" instrumental loops under the ragga chants of Mr. Faycal featuring Mad Killah's "62 Ouf"; the quicksand ragga shouts and displaced siren calls of Wax Poetic's "Angels" are underpinned by the frantic drum 'n' bass rhythm of DJ Rush Puppy's "Bad Man Lighter-Jump Up Mix" and Elastic Horizons' "Drums Conductor." And /rupture floats Missing Linx's a cappella rap "In Front of You" over music grimier and more "cinematic" than much post-DJ Premier hip-hop--except it evokes Cairo rather than Brooklyn. By the time "Killing Me Softly With His Song" enters near the disc's end, it's a good joke, coming after all DJ /rupture's ruptures. And when he matches it with "Are You That Somebody?" he bridges R&B's past to its present, throwing open the possibilities of both the musics themselves and the dialog between them.

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