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

 Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture by Jace Clayton (cover art)

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)