Digital Culture Traveller

Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture by Jace Clayton aka DJ Rupture

I took quite a few notes while reading this book. Here are a few of my favourite passages with a little commentary to boot.

DJs are Essential

“As a process, DJing is inevitable and necessary for our times, an elegant way to deal with data overload. As a performance, it’s what the kids are grooving to the world over. As a product, it’s largely illegal. . . . It’s hard to care. Viral culture doesn’t play well with intellectual property laws.

The DJ mix plays with the tempo of a moving crowd, in large part by pulling sounds from different eras into the same timeline.”

They Perform And Create

“That people remain comfortable barking orders at DJs to play this or that song (often fully out of touch with whatever the DJ is mixing at the moment) speaks to the lingering confusion about what a DJ is. Jukebox or creator?

Bands perform songs; DJs perform records. With the old techniques-scratching, cutting, beat-matching, and blending-DJs synchronize two records around a common tempo, using a mixer to blend the songs together.

…great live DJ mixes are exciting in precisely the way that great original albums aren’t: they’re heterogeneous, unanticipatable, improvisatory.”

For The Public

Rhyming live over vocals. Subtracting elements from a completed song to make a ghostly new one. Studio engineer as creative artist. DJing as performance. Sound-system operators as hero-librarian-curators. It all sprang from Kingston, Jamaica. In the late sixties and seventies the capital cities music community developed and refined those techniques, and many more. Visionaries with names such as King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry became out Plato and Socrates, laying down the foundations of contemporary electronic music culture.

Yet this is a country that could never have invented headphones. The idea of having something clamped to your head, creating a private little soundworld for you alone Nope. That wouldn’t have flown at all. Headphones cut people off. It’s a technology of isolation. The brilliance of Jamaician music lives for and in the public.

But We Need To Bring The DIY Mentality Back  

“Age-old prerequisites for music-making no longer apply. A physical instrument and space to practice it without disturbing your family or neighbors? No longer needed. Dexterity, technique, muscle memory? Out the window.

From Do-It-Yourself to Embed-It-Yourself . . . how did we get here?

The short answer is, blame tabloid king Rupert Murdoch. Well, him and almost every single musician you listen to. Remember MySpace. . . A decade ago, it was incredible. Murdoch bought it in 2005 and presided over the site through its glory years, when it was the world’s biggest network.

More than any other sire in the aughts, MySpace helped independent musicians steer their self-presentation and ramp up their networking, for free. You could create your own page with a customized URL, host streaming songs, lost tour dates, send private messages, maintain a blog, display your selection of “Top Friends,” and more. Enlivening your page with graphics was easy. This was before Facebook, before YouTube. Musicians flocked to it en masse.

The site was so useful that we didn’t think twice about how everyone’s page came slathered in crappy ads.

MySpace conditioned us to accept that what was previously known as underground culture was, from here on out, something that you’d discover or create by accessing a for-profit website, driven by business motives often at odds with the very culture of sharing and communication they sought to cultivate among their user base.

The hope is that music lovers will resuscitate the meaning of terms like do-it-yourself and indie to describe music whose distribution lies in the hands of its creators. Indie fans become those who support knowing that their money (or their “likes”0 will reach the artists with a minimum of third-party interference, and that the music will circulate among its audiences with a maximum of artist-friendly control.”

And Compensate Artists Fairly

“My desires here are basic: How can I access great new tunes and ensure that their creators receive the lion’s share of payment for their work? Some of the most exciting music being made right now is produced by people who can’t capitalize on it because their art enthralls a microaudience of fans scattered around the world. Enterprising DJs can make money and a name for themselves by being the middlemen between the source of the hot new track and its potential audience. To help the least connected musicians write the rules of their game, a properly useful DIY tool should use the power of the Web while going against the network logic that favors the well-connected.”

So Put the Phone Down

“A guitar in my hands, is just a strangely shaped piece of wood, a book in a language I can’t read. I whipped out my phone to grab some video, then my thumb froze above the touch screen. If I recorded it, I’d never watch it. These unrepeatable moments are as throwaway as they are priceless–they have to be.”

And Continue to Create

“It’s not about freedom. It’s about abundance, the compulsion to create instants when the song takes over. We’ll throw this beauty away since we can always make more.”

After All, It is Essential

I don’t think I have to say any more than that. DJ Rupture shares with us his thoughts on music and digital culture perfectly in this book that real music fans will appreciate. His take on how auto-tune took over the world is right on the money. It’s not a sound that I like; in fact quite the opposite, but you can’t front on the power of this little effect. Unfortunately, music everywhere is becoming more similar. He covers this in the book as well. And I liked his take on it all. Hopefully I can get him on my radio show to talk about it soon. Stay tuned!

My List of 2020 reads – my annual reading (b)log