Sharply detailed exploration of how technology and globalization have transformed participatory audio culture for top-dollar DJs and African ensembles alike.
Clayton, a contributor to n+1 and the Washington Post, among other publications, has toured and recorded as DJ/rupture, reflecting a lifelong obsession with the behind-the-scenes functionality of popular music. “I’ve spent time in music venues all over the world,” he writes, “from bacchanalian raves in Bristol to Egyptian street weddings.” His fundamental thesis is that the current pessimism (and shaky finances) surrounding the music industry conceals remarkable opportunities. “For each of the avenues closed down by the proliferation of digital technology, unexpected new pathways have opened up,” he writes. Though his cultural perspective seems sprawling, this collection is cohesively structured: each essay examines different technological innovations alongside the far-flung musical subcultures utilizing them to leapfrog past relative obscurity. For example, he discusses the controversial song-polishing program Auto-Tune via its embrace by Moroccan Berber pop musicians: “Auto-Tune sound tracks…a bucolic nation made real only in its digital diaspora.” Similarly, Clayton examines how a Brooklyn entrepreneur became a promoter and archivist of the music he’d collected off discarded Saharan cellphones, while controversial self-taught “cut and paste” rapper M.I.A. “sliced across style lines to become [a] must-hear secret.” The author occasionally delves into his own wry tales of incongruous experiences as a globe-trotting DJ, but he minimizes such personalization by focusing on the nitty-gritty of musicianship, showing off the gearhead obsessiveness and deep playlists essential to his career. Clayton writes adeptly about more forms of music than his DJ identity might suggest, contrasting the communities developed by underground rock ensembles like The Ex and Fugazi with the alienating experiences of obscure acts abruptly “discovered” by the hipster hype machine—e.g., Konono No. 1 or Omar Souleyman. “Musical innovation and excitement,” he writes, “emerge from a community experience, wherein the most groundbreaking or influential artists are rarely the most lauded.”
An engrossing tour of the global cutting edge, balanced between memoir, musicology, and technology.