Jace Clayton is a writer and musician living in Brooklyn. His essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Abitare, and n+1, and he is a regular contributor to Frieze, Fader, and The National. The New York Times calls Clayton “a thoughtful pipeline for music from countless distant and obscure outposts.” He has lectured at Harvard University and educational institutions in Germany, Spain, Peru, Holland, and Brazil. As DJ /rupture, Clayton has performed in over 30 countries, DJ’ed in a band with Norah Jones, and was turntable soloist with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. He blogs at www.negrophonic.com and hosts a weekly radio show on WFMU.
Excerpt from “Confessions of a DJ”:
I’ve DJed in more than two dozen countries. What I do isn’t remotely popular in any of them.
It’s hard to reach North Cyprus’the Turkish portion of the island that seceded after a war with Greece in 1974’not least because only one country, Turkey, officially recognizes it. Yet there we were, whizzing through arid country past pastel bunker-mansions, the architectural embodiment of militarized paranoia and extreme wealth, en route to an empty four-star hotel. We were going to rest for a day and then play music in the ruins of a crusader castle. It was the year 2000. I was turntablist for an acid jazz group from New York City. The band didn’t really need a DJ, but it did need someone to signify “hip-hop,” and that was me. There were six of us’our saxophonist leader, Ilhan Irsahim; a singer, Norah Jones, before she was known for anything besides being Ravi Shankar’s daughter; a bassist, a drummer, and a Haitian sampler-player. There were four attendants in the hotel casino, bored behind the gaming tables, and only two other paying guests’British pensioners, holdovers from remembered pre-1974 days when Cyprus was undivided.
I sat beside the pool talking to our host, trying to figure out why we were there. Down the coast, thirty miles away in the haze, a tall cluster of glass-and-steel buildings hugged the shore. “What’s that city?” I asked. Looked like Miami. “Varosha,” she said. Completely evacuated in the 1974 conflict. A ghost town on the dividing line between North and South Cyprus. The only people there were UN patrol units and kids from either side who entered the prohibited zone to live out a J. G. Ballard fantasy of decadent parties in abandoned seaside resorts.
If North Cyprus represented the forgotten side of a fault line of global conflict, how were we getting paid? Who owned those scattered mansions on the way from the airport with their thick walls? Was our trip bankrolled with narcodollars, to please the criminals hiding out in an empty landscape, or with Turkish state funding, to win tourists back? I never found out. I bought a laptop with my earnings, quit the band, and moved from New York to Barcelona.
DJed music develops in the great centers: London, New York, or Paris. But the artists make much of their living in forays to the periphery. To state culture bureaus, our music sounds like art and the “avant-garde,” a means of prestige. To kids coming of age in a world of technology and unhinged capitalism, our music seems to sound the way global capital is’liquid, international, porous, and sped-up.
Yet our sounds are also the vocabulary for those who detest the walled-off concentrations of wealth, and steal property back: the collectives that build their own sound systems, stage free parties, invite in a global ghetto music of the broken beats and traditions we learn and carry from place to place. The international DJ becomes emblematic of global capitalism’s complicated cultural dimension.