Thursday, April 15, 2004

Frequently in the Weekly, I run a feature called Jukebox Jury--the current one is with Ann Powers and Eric Weisbard of Experience Music Project, on the eve of the third annual Pop Music Studies Conference, for which I will be moderating a panel this Saturday morning featuring the author of a book I like very much, as well as a fellow blogger and ILxor. The Jury is an idea as venerable as Down Beat magazine, which has been running their “Blindfold Test” for a few dozen years. The format---play records for musicians, have musicians comment---is irresistible, but it took The Wire magazine, which began publishing its Invisible Jukebox feature in 1993, in which the records played for musicians (and, occasionally, authors) were tailored to them, the better to approximate an actual Q&A. That’s what I model the Weekly’s Jukeboxes on, and it’s also what Signal to Noise magazine based its Sound Unseen feature on.

Late in 2001, a friend told me about Gold Teeth Thief, the blinding mix CD and/or download put together by DJ /rupture, who would later create the equally impressive Minesweeper Suite for Tigerbeat6. GTT bum-rushed its way into my top-ten list, and I wrote about it for the Chicago Reader and City Pages. And shortly before Minesweeper Suite came out, I met /rupture--née Jace Clayton--at Kim’s, a NYC record store, and set up an interview. Portions of what follows made their way into a feature review that ran in the Baltimore City Paper, but I’d always enjoyed doing Jukebox Jury-type interviews, and /rupture seemed perfect for the format. So before I left my apartment to meet Clayton, I asked Signal to Noise’s Pete Gershon if he’d be interested in using the interview in his magazine, and he accepted. I conducted the interview as is without knowing it was going to be published; I just figured it would be fun to do, and it was. Below is the complete transcript; I restored discussion of three tracks (Krome & Time, DJ Skinhead, Petey Pablo) that Gershon wound up cutting from the magazine. A “director’s cut,” then, of one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done. Roll ’em!

Tested by Michaelangelo Matos

Jace Clayton was born in 1976 and raised in Andover, Massachusetts, a half-hour north of Boston. Attending college at Harvard, he wrote cultural criticism for the Washington Post and contributed entries on jungle, dub and King Tubby to Encyclopedia Africana, as well as playing records on the radio; eventually he took his act to area clubs as DJ /rupture, and moved to New York in 1997. In 1998, /rupture put together his first mix-CD, the very rare 1 + 1 = 3, whose raw-boned blend of hip-hop, ragga, drum & bass, broad Eastern accents, splatter-noise and spoken-word snippets resembled a shapelier version of the willful soundclashes of the city’s illbient scene. /rupture soon became besotted with modern Arabic music, moving to Madrid to study it further and fuse it with breakbeat science on his Soot label. In summer 2001, he put together Gold Teeth Thief, a 68-minute mix that fleshed out 1 + 1’s ideas until they vibrated with a life of their own; the disc was reissued last summer by Violent Turd. Around the same time, Tigerbeat6 issued Minesweeper Suite, a more controlled but still just as effective turntable merger of East and West, politics and booty, diaspora and Motherland. This interview took place in the apartment Clayton was renting for the summer in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

“Bone Machine”
from Rough Trade Shops: 25 Years
Mute, 1988

[immediately] Pixies. Great, great band.
I was originally going to play the Lemonheads track from this compilation--another Boston indie-rock band. Were you into that stuff growing up?
I was. The Pixies, of course, were major; I really like hearing this. I was a huge Mission of Burma fan--of all the Boston groups, they were the ones I was amazed by. The Lemonheads were . . . interesting.
Was the Toneburst Collective formed as a reaction to the indie-rock scene in Boston?
Not really. By the time Toneburst happened, all my interest in rock had just naturally faded, and all the bands I thought had been doing interesting things had been broken up for a couple of years. Mission of Burma was long gone, and the Pixies had sort of faded out. Those groups I liked a lot, but as a scene, it didn’t have too much of a presence by the mid-’90s. [Toneburst] came out of a lot of people who were listening to the same types of CDs, but there were no public spots where we could go and hear loud electronic music. There were some friends of mine who were really interested in dub reggae and hip-hop, who were getting into drum & bass. There was a rave scene, but in Massachusetts they were very much a suburban phenomenon. You’d get in your car and drive for an hour or two hours. I’ve been to maybe two raves in my life, because if you live in the city they’re really hard to get to--you’d have to borrow your mom’s car.

“The Slammer”
from Classic Subbase
Suburban Base, 1993

This is great; I know this track. Prodigy?
It’s “The Slammer,” by Krome & Time. Obviously, it’s early British pre-jungle hardcore. When did you first hear this type of stuff?
Probably about ’95, ’96, and I was really into it, the combination of these really poppy rave elements and this super full, very frantic drum production which was pretty amazing. I would get compilations of this stuff from England. All of it was very much in the pop tradition, but it was also really frantic, which was great. There was a lot of interesting stuff from Rotterdam records, and there was the English stuff. There was one compilation, called “Speed Limit” something . . .
Speed Limit 140 BPM Plus. It’s a series; this song was on the third volume. So the pop element attracted you to this?
Not really. [laughs] I didn’t even like music for a long time. I guess I was attracted more to the speed and the percussive elements than the pop. But they had the quality of making the pop elements really sweet, and at the same time with an attitude, so you’d find yourself singing along [along with the record]: “Losing control!” Of all the Speed Limit comps, I was really into the darkside stuff, the dread basslines coming in. I got interested in DJ’ing when I heard more later, proper jungle stuff being spun at the Loft, one of the few after-hours clubs in Boston. Armand Van Helden and DJ Bruno had a house floor, and there was a techno floor; I’d be on the techno floor--it was a little faster than the house floor--and for an hour every night they’d drop a jungle set. It was incredible, after hearing all this very 4/4, super-rhythmic stuff, to hear jungle, more or less for the first time, with this spacious sound at this volume. It was really something special.

“Straight Outta Compton”
from Straight Outta Compton
Priority, 1988

[laughs] For a second I expected to hear the Kid606 version.
I almost played “Fuck tha Police,” since Dead Prez’s “Cop Shot” is a staple of your sets. How important was this stuff to you growing up?
Not at all. Not the least bit. I really like this song, the Amen break and all this stuff. But for the most part, I wasn’t interested in hip-hop until a bit later on. And even still . . . like, there are people who find that old school hip-hop really endears their hearts, and I just don’t listen to that stuff. It’s just gotten so much more interesting to my ears over the past five years. For awhile, especially in North Andover, the only hip-hop was fairly mainstream, and it was drawing on roots I’m less interested in--like, classic funk has zero resonance for me. [laughs] Part of the reason that I think this weird, new Southern hip-hop is so great is that it doesn’t seem to have any recognizable lineage to the classics. You hear a Project Pat record, and it’s just weird synth lines; the Cash Money stuff from ’98 has more in common with Kraftwerk than with funk hits and soul samples . . . although this is a very nice track.
Did 606 approach you about joining the label?
He did. I tried to send copies of Gold Teeth Thief to all of the contributors on it that I thought would be the least big interested, and I sent a copy to him.
Did you send a copy to Timbaland?
No, I did not. I wonder what he’d think of the “High Resolution Remix” of the Aaliyah track [“We Need a Resolution,” which appeared on the Freakbitchlickfly 10-inch EP and on Minesweeper Suite].
Or more to the point, “Get Ur Freak On,” which segues into “Oochie Wally.” You didn’t send it to Nas, either, then?
No. If I’m going to send a person a package, especially from Spain, I have to know that it will actually reach them, and that they’ll actually listen to it.

“Get to the Point”
from The Best of Sizzla
VP, 2001

I have a different singer on the same rhythm, called “Put Your Guns Up.”
This is Sizzla. How were you introduced to dancehall?
One of the first people I saw mixing drum & bass and dancehall--I’ve gotta give props--was Mutamassik. It’s sort of funny, because then she wasn’t incorporating her Egyptian roots yet; she was a straight-up hip-hop and drum & bass DJ, and every now and then she’d drop dancehall tracks. Some friends of mine in Boston invited her to play in ’96, and we were playing a party together, and I said, “Wow,” you know? We’d been sort of playing with similar ideas, but I wasn’t that good a DJ at the time. 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, and to see a DJ play a non-monogenre set, it was like, “Oh, that’s good.” I think at the time, I was trying to do drum & bass and hip-hop mixes. And also, hip-hop would sample all this soul and funk stuff, and drum & bass would sample all this hip-hop. It’s almost like this weird history lesson.

“Wish U Had Something (Jonny L Remix)”
from Shades of Technology
F-111/Warner Bros., 1998

I have no idea.
It’s Jonny L, a very typical techstep track.
It’s funny, I started off as a jungle DJ, and I like to talk about jungle in linguistic terms: it’s very fertile, very overgrown, very dense, many layers, sort of flattening into drum & bass, this thing with just two parts. It’s sort of like that name has superimposed its formula onto the music. That’s what happened in this era, with these two-step beats; in terms of the track’s dynamics, it’s hit this plateau. We get two seconds and that’s it. Where with ragga-jungle was like one big buildup, and there’s all these crazy drum skids, rewind noises, there’s all these highs and lows. This is just stagnant. And it’s still stuck in it, basically. When I first heard DJ Scud, it was such a relief, because I hadn’t heard any fast, drum & bass-speed music that was the least bit interesting for the longest time. I saw him in New York, and it was such a lovely moment to leave a certain scene for awhile and then to pick up on an errant thread of it that was doing something really fascinating.

“Fucking Hostile ’96”
from Industrial F***ing Strength
Industrial Strength, 1996

[mockingly] Scary music. I can’t help but hear this type of music as comic. It’s kind of amazing, incorporating these “RAAAAHHHH!” samples, these nightmare samples, these beats.
You use this kind of stuff occasionally. I wondered if you’d had much exposure to it when you were a raver.
I was kind of interested in this stuff just because it was faster. I’m a big fan of the early industrial music, metal-banging, noisy stuff. For awhile, this was the closest anyone would get to incorporating those kind of timbres and sounds in electronic music, in a dance format. So that was interesting, like Lenny Dee’s stuff, Industrial Strength, Rob Gee. There are definitely moments where it found its feet as well, but all too often, it just turns into something either comic or laughable. It’s a problem a lot of hardcore music still has. You have people who title their songs or use samples that are supposed to be, like, shocking, but they’re based on incredibly conservative notions of what shocking is.

“I Told Y’all”
from Diary of a Sinner--1st Entry
Jive, 2001

[listens for a minute] No idea.
It’s a producer whose work you like.
It’s not Timbaland, is it?
It is.
It’s beautiful. The first thing I heard by Timbaland was Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” from the Dr. Doolittle soundtrack, and that just blew open the door--definitely the song of the year. In that song, it was just what he was doing with rhythms: amazing amounts of syncopation, amazing amounts of silence, dead spots, the baby crying. I hadn’t consciously heard any stuff before that. But he’d just done it: he’d formed his own way of thinking about funky rhythms and ways you can move sound around the sound-field, vocals, the whole deal. I hadn’t been listening to current R&B; before that track, I was less than excited by it. But I was like, “I have to get this, especially the instrumental version.”
Had you listened to much R&B growing up?
Older stuff was around, definitely--Motown, more classic stuff, stuff my parents listened to driving around the car. The neighborhood I grew up in was heavily white. All my family’s relatives live in Virginia; we’d go down there twice a year. It’s funny--when I’d explain to them what I do as a DJ, they’d say, “Oh, you do go-go.” It’s like, “No! It’s drum & bass.”

“Choli Ke Peeche”
from Khal Nayak OST
Tips (India), 2001

It’s Bollywood, right?
Yes, the theme of a movie called Khal Nayak. When did you first start listening to Arabic-flavored music?
One track was that opened the door was “Mantra,” by Material, of all people--Bill Laswell’s group. Akhir Hussain’s on tabla, and there’s this amazing, I don’t even know what it is, maybe a Moog tone throughout. I heard it on the radio in high school, and I was truly entranced by the experience--I was like, “This is amazing.” It was a really balanced production, it had elements of hip-hop, it didn’t have too overtly Laswell basslines sustaining it, and it had this incredible motion to it. So I went out and found it on this Axiom comp, and the comp also had some gnawa music, like the Master Musicians of Jajouka--some poppy, Western notion of what Moroccan music is. But that one track had all these elements in it, so that’s pretty much Ground Zero.
How do you get from Ground Zero to spending inordinate amounts of time studying it on your own?
Just a lot of curiosity. [laughs] 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. It was necessary, really, to figure it out: “Mantra” was like a hint, one version, and I figured there must be more behind it. So I’d scratch this and scratch that, and there’s this enormous, fascinating sonic place. But it’s rough, because with electronic music or Western pop music, the Internet is filled with almost too much information. But one of my favorite groups is Nass el Ghiwane; they’re this Moroccan shabi group from the ’70s. They were huge in Morocco, they had an enormous impact on the Arab world, their songs were covered, everything. It’s incredible music, but if you do an Internet search, you come up with a few random things in French. That’s not where the knowledge lies; it’s not all externalized and digitized like that. A lot of it is going and getting cassettes and trying to learn it piece by piece, at least for me, living outside of the major production centers.
When did you get involved in finding those clues?
I guess starting in high school, in just a steady progression. And I’m not some sort of ethnomusicologist or critic--you know, “This is the finest rebab recording from Algeria in the ’70s.” I like finding music I like. And with ready-to-DJ music like hip-hop or drum & bass, there’s fairly obvious posts--you still need to listen very carefully, but it’s easier to locate the nodes of interest. So I’ve had that same sort of approach; I’m more solo, at least on that path. But most recently in Spain, I’ve been buying more cassettes from Casablanca than any other types of music, because the record stores are sort of abysmal for contemporary music of any sort except for pop. There are a handful of Moroccans who live in the center of Madrid, so I go in and say hey.

“Theme from a Symphony (Variation One)”
from Dancing in Your Head
Antilles/Verve, 1977

Zero idea.
Does it remind you of anything?
No. [laughs] Which isn’t to say it’s unique. Actually, it reminds me of a theme from a children’s television show.
This is Ornette Coleman. Basically, this was inspired by his trip to Morocco with the music critic and clarinettist Robert Palmer, where they jammed with the Master Musicians.
I’m glad you played this track. I think it’s all Brian Jones’s fault. Actually, it’s not his fault, but he’s the primary culprit, and there are many co-conspirators. Moroccan music is huge, and the sort of equivalent of Western interest in the Master Musicians is . . . imagine going to Senegal, and people are like, “This is the finest American music ever made,” and they’re playing an completely obscure Appalachian tin-pan band. The Master Musicians are pretty much tangential to the vast, teeming, really creative music culture in Morocco. It’s a complete misrepresentation of what Moroccans are actually listening to.
There’s this thing like, Brian Jones went there and jammed with them in this weird shamanistic gathering. And then Ornette Coleman went there, and Bill Laswell and Sonic Youth--there’s this whole history of these Westerners who get hip and go to this mountainside and smoke a lot of marijuana and jam and are like, “Dude, I’m in touch.” It’s so sad, because there’s all this incredible, contemporary, outward-looking, very hybrid, very plural Moroccan music that changes constantly that’s actually much better and much more interesting than the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Music like that, ordinarily only musicologists would have any interest in it, but it’s got this odd hipster cachet. To me, it’s one of the many ways in which the Western world just doesn’t get it. Nass el Ghiwane are often compared to the Rolling Stones of Morocco, just because of their sheer popularity, but to my knowledge, there isn’t a CD of theirs commercially available, possibly anywhere. Actually, the French might be on it--I’ve seen them on compilations coming out of France, so there might be one or two.
But if you say, “Master Musicians of Jajouka,” people go, “Oh, yeah!” It’s weirdly condescending: “We went there and we jammed with them, and bread was broken.” And it’s actually kind of funny, because the Master Musicians realize it’s just a cash thing at this point; there are contending versions of them. Gnawa music, Afro-Moroccan trance music, is in a similar situation. And yet, labels like Sub Rosa put out compilations of it. At least people know about Umm Kulthum, in terms of Egyptian music. She was more famous than Elvis, so it’s fitting. But if you ask most people from Morocco about the Master Musicians of Jajouka, there won’t be any glimmer of recognition.

from The History of Township Music
Wrasse, 1962

Is this Miriam [Makeba]?
Close. It’s the same era, and obviously South African; the singer’s name is Irene Mawela. Do you pay a lot of attention to stuff like this?
No. I only heard [Makeba’s “Djiguinira”] a week before I made Gold Teeth Thief. There’s this label I like called Syliphone; I was out in New York for just a few days last year right before I did the mix, and I got this comp for its 20th anniversary or something, and it has that track. Once I heard it, I was like, “This is perfect.” I hadn’t DJ’ed in a while--I hadn’t had turntables in a year before I made Gold Teeth Thief. I was in Boston having visa trouble going back to Spain, so I was there two weeks longer than I was supposed to be. So I thought, “While I’m here, I’m going to make a mixtape.”
Were you surprised that it became as popular as it did?
Yes, I was really surprised. I’d only sent it to one journalist, and that was one of the only people who’d reviewed Soot #3, Peter Shapiro of The Wire. Then a friend of mine said, “Hey, you got this really nice review, you should check it out.” Then it all kind of starts from there. I did the same thing in 1998, with 1 + 1 = 3--a lot of people in Boston and New York have heard it, but no one else.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer: “Peter Gunn Theme”/Basement Jaxx: “Where’s Your Head At (Acappella)”
from As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2
Pias, 1979/2001

It’s like Axel F’s theme--no, wait, it’s the Peter Gunn theme song. It’s almost like a really synthetic tube [synth] kind of thing.
It’s Emerson, Lake & Palmer, from a live album. The vocal is from a Basement Jaxx track from last year. This is Soulwax’s mix-CD; had you listened to a lot of DJ-mixes before making your own?
Not really; there aren’t really any worth listening to. [laughs] Things like this are not my style, all hard-disk mixing. It’s like, yes, you can take two songs at different tempos and adjust them to a third tempo and play them on top of one another. I haven’t heard this, but that Best Bootlegs one [The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever] I wasn’t really into. To me, it’s just one bright pop object, and then another one, and yes, they can talk, but it seems sort of gimmicky. At least to my ears, [Freelance Hellraiser’s “Smells Like Booty”] never got more interesting than the Nirvana original or the Destiny’s Child vocal.
How do you feel about being lumped in with the whole bootleg thing?
I guess it’s understandable on some level; I’m more known as a DJ than as a producer, so people talk about me alongside people who do similar things. I don’t really mind it, because if you listen, I think we’re obviously working from very different frameworks.

from “62-56”
Tigerbeat6, 2001

Music of an experimental nature. I like it.
It’s a collaboration between Kid606, Blechtum from Blechdom, Electric Company and Lesser, recorded live last year. You recently played the Tigerbeat6 showcase at the Sonar festival in Barcelona. How did that go?
It was a blast. It was Kid606, Cex, Wobbly and myself, playing in a pretty large underground space. I’d asked Miguel [Depredo, a.k.a. Kid606], and he’d said, “It’s like playing to your greatest fans.” Essentially, a thousand kids were dancing to the story I was trying to tell.
Considering how many tempo changes your sets have, you manage to keep a floor going pretty well.
If it’s a dance situation, that’s what I try and do. Playing in New York sucks for that--you’re in small bars where it’s illegal to dance. But you get a real communication between yourself and the crowd--you can do a certain thing and if they like it, you can take it a step further. The idea is trust: if they’re prepared for what you’re doing, you can take them where you want to take them. [Summer 2002]