DJ /rupture: Most musicians don't become Shakira -- you try and you struggle

Categories: Q&A

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Better known as DJ /rupture, New York-based Jace Clayton has made quite the name for himself as an internationally renowned DJ and producer following the breakout success of his first mixtape, Gold Teeth Thief, released in 2001. Clayton's latest project, though, may surprise fans that know him best by his dance mixes.

The Julius Eastman Memory Depot is inspired by the life and creations of Julius Eastman, a gay African-American composer and pianist whose works were influential throughout the '70s in postmodern circles. Despite his success, Eastman never received the fame or recognition that he so deserved, and died tragically young at 49 years old after a long struggle with substance abuse. In The Julius Eastman Memory Depot, Clayton revives two of Eastman's most notorious piano pieces -- "Evil Nigger" and "Gay Guerilla" -- by feeding the live recordings through his laptop and adjusting the sounds.

When it came to performing the album, Clayton chose to make it a performance piece rather than a straightforward concert, also in an ode to Eastman. The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner is set up as an interview meets music, where Clayton explores the delicate nuances in Eastman's deft compositions and his playful touches of humor.

Jace Clayton will be in town on Thursday and Friday this week at the SPCO Room in St. Paul to perform The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner. Ahead of his show, Gimme Noise caught up with the lauded artist to chat about his attraction to Eastman's works, what the performance will entail, and his need to be constantly challenged.

Gimme Noise: Julius Eastman led a pretty dichotomous life -- an acclaimed composer who died following years of addictions in relative obscurity. What do you think is the biggest lesson we can learn from Eastman, through either his life or his music?

DJ /rupture: Well, the music offers many lessons, and the reason I say that is because we're playing 25 pieces and they have this visceral connection and there are moments where it's this very beautiful, moving classic power. I feel like the musical reference he has to share is the full spectrum of emotions. As far as the rest of his life... while thinking about the story of Julius and the story of the musician who tried and got pretty far and for one reason or another didn't get all the way.... I think his case is most typical in music stories, which is that you don't become Shakira, you know, is that you try and you struggle.

Give me some background. What did it take to make this album?

So I spent some time with Emily [Manzo] and David [Friend], and I started off explaining the whole concept, and then we set about wording and recreating the scores and looking back at some of the recordings -- they were recorded beautifully and sensitively. We spent two days recording the two piano pieces in this beautiful concert hall, the Merkin Concert Hall, and then I took all that data and all that information, and I was looking at the different ways to transform that information. I spent several days tinkering with those sounds and running through them... In order to get the best piano sounds I couldn't do the electronics live in that setting.

What did you enjoy most about this album and the process of making it?

It was a very fun album to make. Because people came to know me as Jace instead of /rupture, and with /rupture it was all about taking sounds from different parts and places and running them together and making a story, and for this it was the opposite of that. It was taking one person's life story and making an album entirely about that. Instead of being able to take any record I wanted and add any beat, I was like, "I'm only going to take piano sounds," so it was a very conceptually focused piece, and so that was great. I think, as an artist, it's important to explore new curiosities.

The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner is a performance piece, not just a music piece. Why was it important for you to do the show this way?

I was really interested in how Eastman is explored or how he's not explored. I saw this really ridiculous write-up about him, and it was really wrong and really off, and so of course airing my version kind of takes on that. [The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner is] reading reactions to his work, so the whole framing of it is a live interview. There's kind of a schmaltzy, touristy interview perspective, where people can witness his life, and that's where the whole interview for this performance piece happens. There's this music, which is very moving and serious, and then there's moments when humor enters it, so it's like avante garde piano music and then there's some more heavy scenes. I felt like that was a way to kind of make the night my own and say things beyond just piano pieces.

For the Twin Cities performance, you're going to have four live piano players instead of the usual two. This is exciting and incredible. Tell me about how the night will unfold. What does this performance look like?

It's gonna be intense. It's kind of a question mark for all of us, and it's gonna be fun. I've been joking that a piano is a huge piece of furniture that can make sounds -- I'm really joking, obviously -- but somehow the sound is gonna get much bigger and we're gonna be able to play the dynamics in density for an even greater range. It's gonna be a sonic experience, I can say that much.

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music series presents Jace Clayton (DJ/rupture) performing Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner with special guests Bryan Nichols, deVon Gray, Emily Manzo, David Friend, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and Arooj Aftab. Performances will be taking place on Thursday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Friday, April 26 at 8 p.m. at the Music Room at the SPCO Center. Tickets are $10.

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