DJ /rupture (real name Jace Clayton) waited an unprecedented four years to release a high profile mix following Special Gunpowder in 2004, but he couldn’t have had better timing. Dial back to midway through 2008. Connectedness was the current phenomenon exciting the experimental listener base, which seemed to grow by tens of thousands every week; by this point the 15-year-old ear could handle a lot, up to and including Einstürzende Neubauten. Last.fm, once a specialty service, ramped up in popularity and put American users instantly in touch with music from Estonia and people from the Faeroe Islands. The Internet was a charter plane without charter plane fares and airsickness, and we wanted it to take us everywhere, so everywhere we went.
Enter Uproot, DJ /rupture’s grand reintroduction to the cultural mainstream in 2008’s final weeks. It was another hands-on mix affair for the New York City DJ/producer, and it went everywhere: Finland, France, Jamaica, Afghanistan, you name it. It wasn’t the first dubstep mix of significance, but it gave the genre an eclectic new face — tropical, expansive, ragga-informed, wet and parched by turns — just as it was becoming entrenched in a holding pattern. /rupture embodied such a simple desire in adventurous listeners — wanting to be in all places essentially at once — that it’s strange to consider how few current DJs have really attempted it. Certainly, /rupture is a master craftsman who can shape the music he selects into an experience bespoke to him, but underneath the sedulous electronic artist is a breathless kid, beyond excited to have located a hidden corner of the house and to share it with the likes of us.
Solar Life Raft, DJ /rupture’s newest mix effort in conjunction with NYC DJ Matt Shadetek, finds him continuing to shuffle through a dozen styles and stack them atop each other with an almost obscene level of virtuosity. It is, in many ways, business as usual with respect to Uproot, though there is a significant difference between them: nearly all of Solar Life Raft’s artists come from or otherwise have ties to New York. /rupture explains this as largely a cost-cutting move after the recession hurled him back to America from Barcelona, but he and Shadetek are clearly proud of where they live and knew there was more than enough to work with in their own backyard. Truth told, much of what comes out of New York City has a pan-global quality about it, and Uproot featured New York islander Nokea and Quest/Team Shadetek’s “Brooklyn Anthem”, so there you go. Jahdan Blakkamoore, who appears on this record twice, is an authentic raggae singer/toaster signed to DJ /rupture’s NY-based Dutty Artz label and firmly calls Brooklyn his home. Solar Life Raft is bursting with these kinds of worldly surprises. Properly speaking, there are next to no disparities in style and M.O. between this mix and its predecessor.
Yet there exists a subtle but undeniable celebration of regionalism on Solar Life Raft, and writers before me have been able to detect it. They’ve used words like “intrusive” and “interruptive”. Without having insight into their experiences with the album, I find that judgment to be a little harsh. Instead, I would say that it’s relatively present and active, perhaps in the same way that New York City never completely settles, and how you can feel it all around you wherever you go. And then there are the artists themselves that have been tightly associated with the locale — Gang Gang Dance and Nico Muhly, for instance. The former’s “Bebey” gets the DJ /rupture remix treatment and becomes the sort of nervy, squawking dubstep track that Gang Gang Dance were probably after when they hired Tinchy Stryder to grime rap on Saint Dymphna. The latter’s “Mothertongue, Pt. 1” swoops in with shrill, multitracked, sped-up voices possibly reporting train departure times like a hundred simultaneous internal monologues. How’s that for a New York minute.
Once again, DJ /rupture’s traditional setup of three turntables and a mixer just astounds. Two turntables, and you’re aware of one song becoming another song in a kind of linear motion. Three turntables, and the spatial arrangement of the tracks completely melts. It’s a great metaphor for the instant connectedness that /rupture reinforces, and perhaps owing to the fact that he and Shadetek are both working the equipment, Solar Life Raft sounds more comfortable in its own skin than any of /rupture’s previous mixes. That’s a big claim, but my goodness, you must hear what happens between “The Bad Dance”, “Get on Up”, and “Green Disorder”, tracks separated by time and geography that fuse into a wily dubstep beast. Shadetek and /rupture switch from “Mothertongue, Pt. 1” to Mizz Beats’ “Blue Night” in the prettiest way possible, snuffing out all but several of Muhly’s voices and leaving the rest to twirl about like fireflies near to darkness. Five times better is the ménage-a-trois of “Layin’ in Bed/Watermelon City/Autumn Rain”, where a poem by Elizabeth Alexander (recall the controversial poet at Obama’s inauguration) about watermelon-flavored optimism in poor urban neighborhoods locks together with gritty, luminous musical backing.
Simply painting DJ /rupture as a restless child firing off in a million directions ignores how dedicated he is to refining his material. Case in point: the same Alexander poem appeared as the first track on 2004’s Special Gunpowder under the title “Overture (Watermelon City)”, but the music didn’t fit. Half a decade later it has a new home, and hearing it again, rolling and rollicking over Matty G’s irresistible beat and Lloop’s stormy strings, I’m grateful that Clayton didn’t chuck it. Yet this also relates to the one hang-up I have with Solar Life Raft — that after all of his eclectic achievements, he kept too many things the same. It’s a minor gripe; /rupture and Shadetek are masters of their form and this record is yet another exemplar of what they can do, but something about Solar Life Raft still feels relatively pedestrian, despite the uptick in the energy level. As the domestic Uproot — if not by intention, then in the way it turned out — this isn’t really a surprise. Only DJ /rupture and a handful of others working in his arena can release a slightly disappointing album that bests 99% of the year’s output, and if the next mix treads similar ground, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that we’ll still find a lot to like. Oh, but watch out for Caroline Bergvall’s mid-album cherry bomb “More Pets” — not even these two can sell it.