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Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture

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In 2001 Jace Clayton was an unknown DJ who recorded a three-turntable, sixty-minute mix and put it online to share with friends. Within weeks, Gold Teeth Thief became an international calling card, whisking Clayton away to play a nightclub in Zagreb, a gallery in Osaka, a former brothel in Sao Paolo, and the American Museum of Natural History. Just as the music world made In 2001 Jace Clayton was an unknown DJ who recorded a three-turntable, sixty-minute mix and put it online to share with friends. Within weeks, Gold Teeth Thief became an international calling card, whisking Clayton away to play a nightclub in Zagreb, a gallery in Osaka, a former brothel in Sao Paolo, and the American Museum of Natural History. Just as the music world made its fitful, uncertain transition from analog to digital, Clayton found himself on the front lines of creative upheavals of art production in the twenty-first century globalized world. Uproot is a guided tour of this newly-opened cultural space. With humor, insight, and expertise, Clayton illuminates the connections between a Congolese hotel band and the indie-rock scene, Mexican rodeo teens and Israeli techno, and Whitney Houston and the robotic voices is rural Moroccan song, and offers an unparalleled understanding of music in the digital age.


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In 2001 Jace Clayton was an unknown DJ who recorded a three-turntable, sixty-minute mix and put it online to share with friends. Within weeks, Gold Teeth Thief became an international calling card, whisking Clayton away to play a nightclub in Zagreb, a gallery in Osaka, a former brothel in Sao Paolo, and the American Museum of Natural History. Just as the music world made In 2001 Jace Clayton was an unknown DJ who recorded a three-turntable, sixty-minute mix and put it online to share with friends. Within weeks, Gold Teeth Thief became an international calling card, whisking Clayton away to play a nightclub in Zagreb, a gallery in Osaka, a former brothel in Sao Paolo, and the American Museum of Natural History. Just as the music world made its fitful, uncertain transition from analog to digital, Clayton found himself on the front lines of creative upheavals of art production in the twenty-first century globalized world. Uproot is a guided tour of this newly-opened cultural space. With humor, insight, and expertise, Clayton illuminates the connections between a Congolese hotel band and the indie-rock scene, Mexican rodeo teens and Israeli techno, and Whitney Houston and the robotic voices is rural Moroccan song, and offers an unparalleled understanding of music in the digital age.

30 review for Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture

  1. 5 out of 5

    Peter Hollo

    I've been an admirer of Jace Clayton's work since he put the first DJ /rupture mix GOLD TEETH THIEF mix up for download. A superior tastemaker, he's also an extremely astute observer of technology, culture and human behaviour, and all that comes out in this focused collection of essays exploring the way digital (and analogue) technologies interact with different strata of different cultures. He doesn't shy away from the potentially deleterious effects of technological change - especially when dri I've been an admirer of Jace Clayton's work since he put the first DJ /rupture mix GOLD TEETH THIEF mix up for download. A superior tastemaker, he's also an extremely astute observer of technology, culture and human behaviour, and all that comes out in this focused collection of essays exploring the way digital (and analogue) technologies interact with different strata of different cultures. He doesn't shy away from the potentially deleterious effects of technological change - especially when drive by corporate interests - but he presents a consistently upbeat view, especially when observing how technologies are upended and creatively misused.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maciek

    A great read for every person interested in this weird thing called 'world music'. There's a lot of traveling, listening, DJing, preaching, criticizing, and commenting here. And yes, a contemporary music business is extremely complicated.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John

    Number of times this book made me cry: four. I intend to re-read it to capture the most wonderful quotes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tristan Bath

    Jace Clayton talking about music is just a joy to read. Not only is he full of great little nuggets from a career as a DJ, traveller, and musical explorer - he’s a motivational speaker teaching us about how wonderful our era of music making is! Leave out the money, and we live in the most creative and explosive era for a new and truly global musical landscape, where the global South and North can create with equal ease. There’s a lot here to learn about - above all how to be optimistic about the Jace Clayton talking about music is just a joy to read. Not only is he full of great little nuggets from a career as a DJ, traveller, and musical explorer - he’s a motivational speaker teaching us about how wonderful our era of music making is! Leave out the money, and we live in the most creative and explosive era for a new and truly global musical landscape, where the global South and North can create with equal ease. There’s a lot here to learn about - above all how to be optimistic about the 21st century’s music. Inspiring!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Sedor

    Open all borders

  6. 4 out of 5

    K

    I read a lot of music books, but Clayton's take on the present state of music is astute and will no doubt wind its way into my teaching and scholarship. I especially loved the chapters on Red Bull and Tribal.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris Marmo

    Full of rich vignettes examining the intersections of music, technology and culture. I really liked the threading and layering of autobiography, travelogue reportage and nearly-academic writing, but found that the moments of self-awareness through the book were occasionally self-serving. The author does call out his positionality to some degree, but I would have liked him to spend more time being explicitly reflective about his own case as a taste-maker and cultural flaneur, now author and self- Full of rich vignettes examining the intersections of music, technology and culture. I really liked the threading and layering of autobiography, travelogue reportage and nearly-academic writing, but found that the moments of self-awareness through the book were occasionally self-serving. The author does call out his positionality to some degree, but I would have liked him to spend more time being explicitly reflective about his own case as a taste-maker and cultural flaneur, now author and self-positioned cultural mediator. What does he make of this persona? And it surely is one that's been cultivated. For all it's beautiful threads I finished this book being a little unsure about where Clayton stands on this, and a number of other issues he raises through the book - what does he actually think of corporate sponsorships? Is M.I.A actually a sell-out or just an always-already opportunistic bricoleur? A singular opinion on these things may be there, but I feel like he took a bet each way on most issues. Given the ethos of the topic, that's probably the point. The writing on the various places and societies he selects to include are where this book excels. The self-assuredness of the writing meant I felt like I'd learned a lot from the book - I have a list of bands and artists to research. Still, I'm not really sure what the author learned in writing it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    i loved this book. he writes really well and provides music from all over the world on this flat plane (just as his subject, the internet, does). his judgments mostly land on corporate sponsorships and record labels throughout the book. i loved the chapter on world music/world music 2.0 and the excerpt on omar souleyman/exoticism. the souleyman thing is really great because sometimes the press and branding with souleyman seems facile, the pursuit of the exotic, or that sometimes it's some sort o i loved this book. he writes really well and provides music from all over the world on this flat plane (just as his subject, the internet, does). his judgments mostly land on corporate sponsorships and record labels throughout the book. i loved the chapter on world music/world music 2.0 and the excerpt on omar souleyman/exoticism. the souleyman thing is really great because sometimes the press and branding with souleyman seems facile, the pursuit of the exotic, or that sometimes it's some sort of badge of cultural awareness, digital trophying, e-colonialism, somehow helping a wartorn nation by streaming one guy from it, idk. i think he's fair throughout, but some might think he's pretentious because he says there's other dabke artists who are better who deserve the attention, but it's mired in the greater point of western exoticism. he has a great and thorough accompanying listening guide on his website for everything he references. the autotuned north african music is cool. also im gonna stop playing guitar because all my western music isnt complicated enough because it doesnt have unceasing polyphony and polyrhythm or quarter tones so, if anyone wants a piece of shit epiphone sg or some behringer pedals, they're yours. actually, if anyone wants my identity, my social security number is

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jack Duff

    Long-form music journalism is hard to come by these days, and full volumes of music-focused nonfiction that aren’t historical or biographical are nearly nonexistent. I didn’t expect much of Uproot, and was expecting more of a discussion of Napster and Pitchfork like all the other “21st-century music” books. I was very wrong - this collection is a vibrant, energetic approach to the very concept of music, through the exploration of global dance music, electronic and otherwise. I can’t think of any Long-form music journalism is hard to come by these days, and full volumes of music-focused nonfiction that aren’t historical or biographical are nearly nonexistent. I didn’t expect much of Uproot, and was expecting more of a discussion of Napster and Pitchfork like all the other “21st-century music” books. I was very wrong - this collection is a vibrant, energetic approach to the very concept of music, through the exploration of global dance music, electronic and otherwise. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t find something to love here. Open-format DJ? You’ll love and take professional benefit. Travel aficionado? Clayton’s tales of personal encounters in Africa, Asia, and Central America are engrossing and enlightening. General music listener? I honestly haven’t read any writing about music that expresses such unbent glee about each detail, such enthusiasm for local and folk genres otherwise unloved in the West. I was lucky, especially given the acknowledgement directed toward public libraries, to find this in my local stacks. Maybe it’s in yours, but if not, it’s well worth the money for your own copy.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Fabrício Calado

    Better read with headphones on. Every chapter brought with it a piece of music, old and new, which left me searching for it wherever it was available (see, Spotify and YouTube, totalitarian as they might be, don't have all the answers). Highly informing without sounding condescending, it breathes optimism. For sure, there are rants about the way things are right now, but there's also hope, fueled by travels and enlightened by sonic visions, that things can be different. Definitely a good thought Better read with headphones on. Every chapter brought with it a piece of music, old and new, which left me searching for it wherever it was available (see, Spotify and YouTube, totalitarian as they might be, don't have all the answers). Highly informing without sounding condescending, it breathes optimism. For sure, there are rants about the way things are right now, but there's also hope, fueled by travels and enlightened by sonic visions, that things can be different. Definitely a good thought in these turbulent times. Also, as good books should be, it was fun. Reminded me of the Mudd up! days, when you had to wander around The Internet instead of heading to the same destination everyone is hanging out at.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John

    As much as "The Song Machine"(TSM) depressed me about the state of music, Jace Clayton's 'Uproot' restored my hope in music made and listened to for the joy of music (rather than money ala TSM). The intersection of music with digital production and DJing around the world is really cool, and the website that accompanies the book has an excellent listening guide that I listened through as I read the book, and was exposed to a great deal of interesting music from around the world. The early chapters As much as "The Song Machine"(TSM) depressed me about the state of music, Jace Clayton's 'Uproot' restored my hope in music made and listened to for the joy of music (rather than money ala TSM). The intersection of music with digital production and DJing around the world is really cool, and the website that accompanies the book has an excellent listening guide that I listened through as I read the book, and was exposed to a great deal of interesting music from around the world. The early chapters are the strongest, but the whole book is excellent.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ira Carter

    There are a lot of excellent comments about how cool this book is. If I were to write a review per se, I would be repeating a lot of what they said. The book is about current styles of dance music, where digital culture meets that music, with lots of tasty world travel stories thrown in. The pace occasionally bogs down for a page or two, but overall it is a crisp, fascinating read. Another great book to take to the beach on vacation.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Owen Duckworth

    Amazing read, great for music heads and travelers alike Loved reading a book about music and international travel written by a person of color and a person who clearly nerds out on music as much as I do. Lots of excellent perspectives on navigating different cultures, places, technological realities, and the evolution of the music industry and how people around the world engage with music. Highly recommended!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Gutman

    I really liked this book. A fun travelogue and a lot of interesting thoughts on music, taught me a lot about DJ culture and dance music. Sometimes the flow of the writing was a bit hard to follow. Fav quotes: "I haven't studied global development. I think abolishing international borders seems like a step in the right direction. Until that happens, I want 320 Kbps MP3 dance-floor heaters, and I'm willing to pay."

  15. 4 out of 5

    G.

    Music is as much about the discovery as it is about the listening. Follow Jace Clayton's Third World voyage through the time of DJ-ing and the space of underground supply channels. This book makes me want to hear everything played in every kind of setting. Never knowing it all is the drive that fuels the quest.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    best book on contemporary music production that i have read. takes ethnomusicology out of the decidedly murky pool of "world music" and sets it on a course towards understanding global culture as a web or network of influences acting upon one another. who would have known dj /rupture was also a brilliant essayist?

  17. 4 out of 5

    Eliot

    although he mentions a lot of fascinating subcultures, and this is a great place to find starting points for hours on youtube or spotify, uproot is ultimately self-indulgent - Clayton seems to be trying to convince us of how cool he is, with a scoreboard of 'scenes' he's infiltrated, rather than make any overarching point. Am i just jealous? Maybe.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Erudite, thoughtful, funny, entertaining. I have read a handful of Clayton's essays over the years and they have always struck me as written by someone who is constantly in motion, extraordinarily thoughtful about music and its role in cultures all over the world. These did not disappoint. He has a catholic taste (obviously leaning toward electronic work) and is deeply invested in the way music lives in the cultures from which it springs. His piece about the Berbers in Morocco was really well-wr Erudite, thoughtful, funny, entertaining. I have read a handful of Clayton's essays over the years and they have always struck me as written by someone who is constantly in motion, extraordinarily thoughtful about music and its role in cultures all over the world. These did not disappoint. He has a catholic taste (obviously leaning toward electronic work) and is deeply invested in the way music lives in the cultures from which it springs. His piece about the Berbers in Morocco was really well-written and a fascinating essay about how that music works in the country. His thoughts about dabke and konomo no 1 and the problems with stripping them of cultural context left me thinking a lot about the plucking of exotic sounds and handing them to americans and how that music becomes hip. It made me reconsider things like subliminal frequencies and labels of that ilk. He also has a love letter to the mp3 and its democratization of music sharing. Overall, I kinda loved this book. It made me think a lot about music, which is always enjoyable.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tankboy

    On one hand this is wonderful nostalgia, reminding me of the shift from physical to digital. More importantly it's a great look into how the resulting fragmentation could be a great thing, should we embrace it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Heuer

    A singular work, that I can imagine no one but Jace Clayton writing. A peripatetic survey of what it means to engage with global music now, still near the dawn of the third millennium. There are musical instruments, genres, languages… entire peoples here, which you are likely encountering for the first time. And, as always, dj rupture tells their stories in a personal and deeply humane way, while carefully acknowledging his own complex relationship to engaging with off-the-grid music from a priv A singular work, that I can imagine no one but Jace Clayton writing. A peripatetic survey of what it means to engage with global music now, still near the dawn of the third millennium. There are musical instruments, genres, languages… entire peoples here, which you are likely encountering for the first time. And, as always, dj rupture tells their stories in a personal and deeply humane way, while carefully acknowledging his own complex relationship to engaging with off-the-grid music from a privileged, Western perspective.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I want everyone to read this book if they like music.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brucie

    Seriously important and consistently interesting reflection and insight on world music culture.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Frieantpieaggio

    "The early twenty-first century will be remembered as a time of great forgetting"

  24. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Terrific explanations of some current music trends.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cody

    Digital culture is complex. I personally owe what little audience my music has to the internet. It’s such an incredible tool for creation and community. But, in the past decade or two, just about every cultural construct has been digitally disrupted, whether it’s the music and publishing industries or journalism or physical media. I tend to agree with Jace Clayton that this upheaval is predominantly good, but the degree to which seemingly everything has been undermined has left us all in a kind Digital culture is complex. I personally owe what little audience my music has to the internet. It’s such an incredible tool for creation and community. But, in the past decade or two, just about every cultural construct has been digitally disrupted, whether it’s the music and publishing industries or journalism or physical media. I tend to agree with Jace Clayton that this upheaval is predominantly good, but the degree to which seemingly everything has been undermined has left us all in a kind of vacuum that is often quite dizzying. That’s why a book like Uproot is pertinent and necessary, as it’s trying to sort through the rubble in an effort to build up new narratives. In a range of chapters dealing with everything from auto-tune to cut and paste to what world music actually is, Clayton begins to map a new sonic terrain. He shows that the openness that has long defined folk music is alive and well, lending cultural legitimacy to a global community of creators. He finds the spirit of the Arab Spring not so much in Tahrir Square, but in the Cairo exurbs where DJs mirror the chaos of car horns and mega city life in FL Studio beats and traditional Arab music mashups. He draws insightful (and frequently hilarious) ties between disparate art, such as how Whitney Houston might have something to do with contemporary Beber music’s obsession with auto-tune. Throughout, Clayton is incisive, unpretentious, and refreshingly irreverent. Who knows how all of this is going to shake out, but that’s all part of the fun, right? After all, as Clayton reminds us, “Music is a social act. And it’s never been healthier…” (p. 24)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Atte Tuomaala

    Uproot is a beautiful and heartfelt discussion of how modern digital methods of creating and distributing music have affected the entire art form and the culture surrounding it. The topics vary from auto-tune and Fruity Loops to .mp3 files and sampling. Clayton's travels as a world-touring DJ and a passionate explorer of sounds, places and cultures often considered exotic ground all of the book's themes and allow the reader to get to know the people behind the phenomena the book describes. Cities Uproot is a beautiful and heartfelt discussion of how modern digital methods of creating and distributing music have affected the entire art form and the culture surrounding it. The topics vary from auto-tune and Fruity Loops to .mp3 files and sampling. Clayton's travels as a world-touring DJ and a passionate explorer of sounds, places and cultures often considered exotic ground all of the book's themes and allow the reader to get to know the people behind the phenomena the book describes. Cities often serve as protagonists as Clayton links their stories and histories to their musical currents. There's even a bunch of social commentary. This book is filled with curiosity, humility and empathy.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Phil Overeem

    I learned so much from this book, and had my mind opened so often. It even has me considering creating digital music, something I've seldom ever imagined doing. Plus, it's turned up the heat further on my desire to travel abroad to LISTEN as well as see. A truly great book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ben Bush

    Best piece of music writing I've read in a long time, but I'd recommend it not just for music fans but also for those interested in new technology, global econ, North Africa, etc. I read this the week of the deaths of Prince and Richard Lyons of Negativland. This book bridges the gap between those two artists.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Vuk Trifkovic

    Excellent book. I love his music, and his writing is just as strong. It is insightful, honest, fierce. Along with Heffernan's "Magic and Loss" it is by far the best recent book on intersection of technology and culture too. Go read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Excellent and fascinating read. A musical travelog of sorts. Jace has seen and heard a lot of music all over the world. He's got some interesting stuff to say about the state of music and technology, past and present. Lots of fun and super eye-opening.

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