The funny thing about DJ /rupture (real name Jace Clayton) is that while so much of his output carries such palpable sociopolitical overtones, the jury is basically out on what they’re actually trying to express. Clayton the man isn’t particularly outspoken about his own sociopolitical views, so placing his music within a cultural context is a sticky proposition, and persons A, B, and C are apt to reach differing conclusions about the theories behind it all. Facile though this may sound, I’m of the opinion that each of his records is speaking at least about globalization. After all, nothing says “the world is flat” like two or more regionally disparate musical styles sharing a common space. But rather than simply throwing cultural ingredients into a bowl and hoping they’ll agree with each other, Rupture appears to swallow them up and spit them back out in the image of his choosing, whereby they become their own skittish, irascible animals.
Rupture’s career has been similarly difficult to pin down. Four years after the global pop party Special Gunpowder, he unveiled one of 2008’s most wonderful late surprises, Uproot, an idiosyncratic Eastern-flavored mix bound together by slow dubstep rhythms that obfuscated the line between where his raw material ended and he began. Time, genre popularity changes or Clayton’s own preferences could explain the moderate jump, but it’s only been a few months since Uproot‘s release and now here’s Patches: live tracks assembled from a 2006 tour with Andy Moor, guitarist for Dutch post-punkers the Ex. Moor picked up his guitar, Clayton stepped behind the turntables, and then the two of them improvised for the better part of the night. Wherever Rupture “was” musically in 2006, it’s pretty jarring to hear this with Uproot still fresh in our minds, especially given that it has the feel of a companion piece (the covers’ color schemes are nearly identical) and that Patches’ live origins aren’t immediately obvious without doing a little homework.
Moor and Rupture don’t create magic together, but that isn’t really the point. They are a fascinating pair. Rupture mans the breaks and the strange sound effects while Moor’s guitar cuts and scrapes them up like a rusty kitchen knife. When Moor lets her rip, as he often does, the guitar sounds quite similar to those explosively guttural basses Noxagt bludgeoned us with on their eponymous third record. Both artists favor the same harsh approaches on their respective equipment, at least for the purposes of this collaboration, but their dynamic relationship to each other isn’t very clear. Sometimes the music is a showcase for beatwork, with Moor acting as a secondary ballast; other times Rupture will hit the bench and let the guitars do most of the talking. But the two are never entirely in balance.
If pressed, I’d say that their roles are almost oppositional, like warring nations fighting for control over the same territory (how’s that for globalization). The mid-album stretch from “Ella Speed” to “Nawura” largely consists of Moor playing tuneless guitar among a barren wasteland as if he’d just wiped Rupture off the map. Moor doesn’t make it terribly easy for us to enjoy his instrument here: it howls, grunts, whimpers and babbles in atonal desolation, with only minimal accompaniment as a distraction. Though the varying timbral treatments Moor gives to his music generate some interesting contrasts—“Mateso” and “Nawura” are just similar enough to seem like the same entity experienced from two different perspectives—this section is still defined by how closely it resembles a wad and the considerable mental energy that’s required to traverse it. When “The Sheep Look Up” rolls on in with its retrograde post-rock angularity, it’s bound to provoke feelings of bewilderment and perhaps even frustration: Where are we, darn it, and what we doing here?
The music has a much higher listenability factor when Rupture grabs the reins, capitalizing as he does on the power of rhythms to make music sound cooler. “Is It Going” rumbles and snaps with a desiccated hip-hop beat that enforces the rules on Moor’s guitar. “Sometimes It Can Be Difficult To” extracts a slice of the oldest jungle drum loop in the file library and transforms it into dubstep lightning bolts. Most potent of all is “Our Enemies Have Watches But We Have Time” (a Taliban motto), which breaks the streak of Moor’s solo guitar musings after “Nawura”. The beat is one of the most distinctive in Rupture’s beat-laden catalogue, a dancehall monster begotten from sounds of military-grade weaponry, paired with a pounded three-note melody that has something strangely Middle Eastern in it. It’s a track that Muslimgauze might have hammered out were he alive today, after the War on Terror and East-West internecine bloodshed drive him to write songs with explicit violence. And as with Muslimgauze, the track repeats itself just a little too long not to feel creepy and obsessional.
It’s rough going, even when Rupture references music we’d otherwise find accessible. Beauty is the enemy and harmony seems antithetical to the album’s message. But what is the message? We could listen to the ghosted Tracy Chapman sample in “Tracy” for an answer as she speaks about the futility of the police, but I’m not convinced that Rupture would give it all away so easily, and I’m willing to let her settle into Patches’ sneaky cultural panoply with everything else. Persons A, B, and C aren’t likely to come to a consensus about this record either, assuming they get through it. But that’s one of Patches’ greatest strengths, and a reminder of what it is about Rupture’s music that’s so consistently rewarding: its projective potential, how it invites us to extrapolate so many meanings, on so many bases, from a single sonic document.