SOUNDSYSTEM AND VISION
By John Doran
“I'm losing my edge. To all the kids in Tokyo and Berlin. I'm losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.”
‘Losing My Edge’
James Murphy is distracted. He taps feverishly at a miniscule lap top in his dark but sumptuously decorated Leeds hotel room. The walls are stained crimson, reflecting the glow from the huge neon red Tetley’s Brewery sign outside. A young reporter from a student newspaper has just had a disaster with her Dictaphone and the ever resourceful Murphy recorded the interview via his laptop and is currently in the process of emailing her the sound file. Of course he isn’t distracted really, you just get the impression that he can’t sit still, metaphorically at least, for even a second. Nor can he, you would wager, concentrate on anything less than five things at any one time. He says on an average day he receives 150 emails that he has to answer but really you get the sneaking suspicion that if he didn’t have all of this work and technology and, most importantly, his music, to distract him, he would be crawling the walls within minutes. (He later admits that while he is on the road he is in constant contact with his musical partner Tim Goldsworthy, with whom he set up DFA records, so they can record new songs and complete remixing jobs.) A derailed freight train causes me to be two hours late for the interview but the LCD Soundsystem frontman, inventively decides to talk at three times the rate of a normal human being so I still have chance to ask him all the questions I intended.
Earlier in the year it was hard not to notice that the group’s excellent, self-titled debut album had taken an absolute aeon to arrive, considering that there were rumblings of it in 2003 and Murphy says by way of explanation: “I had a lot of responsibilities to DFA; responsibilities to my partner Tim to produce and to finish remixes. You know we work together pretty much exclusively so if I’m working on my album he’s kinda fucked. To take time out to do the album seemed kinda careerist which is not why I got involved in this in the first place. And I thought it was interesting just to put out 12”s for a while; it made me happy and I was also curious to see how far you could get just putting out 12”s. And it turned out to be pretty far really. You know we were playing big festivals and doing pretty well and hilariously it was all done on the back of vinyl releases.” He says this proudly in the manner of the voice over at the beginning of The A-Team that states the group’s crime fighting prowess has never led to any one getting killed.
He continues: “To me that was a more interesting story. To fail after doing something that I thought was interesting and that I believe in doesn’t bother me at all. I feel that I can fail if I want doing things the way that I want to do them because the way we do things are wrong and wonky but I’ll be able to say to my kids: ‘Look we did this and we did that.’ I’ll look them in the face and I’ll be totally proud and I’ll never have to feel bad about the way that I made my living and the part I played in the thing that I love which is music.”
“Everybody keeps on talking about it but nobody’s getting it done.”
Just in case you’ve just woken from a three year long coma; LCD Soundsystem paved the way for the disco punk funk mini explosion ripping through clubs at the moment. But it was a revolution that almost happened by accident. After a decade of languishing in US also ran punk bands such as The Speedkings and Pony; Murphy had ended up doing some production work on David Holmes’ ‘Bow Down To The Exit Sign’ in 1999 with former UNKLE member Goldsworthy. Holmes ran off back to the UK to mix the album himself and Tim stayed on in the Big Apple and introduced Murphy to the world of house music and ecstasy. (“I’d never had anything like it. If you’re a punk kid in America you just have trucker speed and mushrooms. I became really positive afterwards”, admits Murphy.) It was then they decided that New York didn’t have the sort of nightclubbing experience that they wanted and, in true punk DIY style they decided to start holding parties themselves. This led to the pair setting up DFA (Death From Above) Records which was a vehicle for releasing their own music or their remixes of other people. In 2002 their production on The Rapture’s ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ and LCD’s own ‘Losing My Edge’ changed the face of the alternative dance scene for good. The latter filched the rhythm of Killing Joke’s ‘Change’ and converted it into a delicious and jerky wash of sputtering electronics, handclaps and disco cow bells and used it to soundtrack an insanely catchy form of hipster paranoia.
Murphy explains: “When I was DJing, playing Can, Liquid Liquid, ESG, all that kind of stuff, I became kind of cool for a moment, which was a total anomaly. And when I heard other DJs playing similar music I was like: ‘Fuck! I’m out of a job! These are my records!’ But it was like someone had crept into my brain and said all these words that I hate. Did I make the records? Did I fuck! So, I started becoming horrified by my own attitude. I had this moment of glory though. People would use me to DJ just to get them cool. They’d be like ‘It’s the cool rock disco guy’ and this was really weird. And to be honest I was afraid that this new found coolness was going to go away and that’s where ‘Losing My Edge’ comes from. It is about being horrified by my own silliness. And then it became a wider thing about people who grip onto other people’s creations like they are their own. There is a lot of pathos in that character though because it’s born out of inadequacy and love.”
The song has been wildly over analysed by the very people it lampoons; music journalists, DJs, record collectors, CD store clerks . . . and this is a contradiction that he loves: “I like paranoia: it’s the unexplored emotion and I love that feeling were you are not sure if you are the butt of the joke or if someone else is. And sometimes you only get it if you are targeted. It is only going to make sense to a certain degree if you are in that realm of hyper knowledgability and preciousness.”
“I’ve waited seven years and fifteen days. Every kid for miles is in my house. My house. And the neighbours can’t call the police!”
‘Daft Punk Is Playing In My House’
People just expecting more scruffy house music made with a DIY punk attitude will be disappointed by the new album however, as it has just as much in common with Brian Eno, The Fall, The Happy Mondays, Gang of Four and, strangely enough, The Beatles as it does with Les Rhythms Digitales. A good example is the misleadingly titled, agitated new wave stomp of ‘Daft Punk Is Playing In My House’. Murphy explains: “Well, after the fact we tried to set up a video. I tried to get them to play a house party. I love house parties from when I was a punk rock kid and I had spent so long obsessing on what was missing from indie rock that was present in dance music that I forgot what was present in indie music that was missing from house music. I just had this idea that someone might have gone through the same epiphany with dance music that they had and then ended up saving up to have Daft Punk to play in their basement. I wanted to do a documentary were we would get a local band to play in a basement, then us and then Daft Punk but film it like a proper rock show with the crowd shots and everything. And being the nature of what house parties are, not that many people would even know who Daft Punk are, which would be extra funny. There would just be this basement, Daft Punk, some kids, a keg and a washing machine. It would be great.”
Given that this is the second time that he has mentioned the band in his songs, we can’t help but wonder if the French duo think that they are being stalked by him lyrically. Murphy laughs: “Oh yeah! Well, I do love Daft Punk but really I think they’re a great signifier because they manage to be genreless rather than something really specific you know like ‘Junior Sanchez is Playing In My House’. They are like a band and they are DJs; they do song style songs and techno songs; they do dark stuff and pop crossovers. It is like referring to David Bowie who has been everything from folk to glam rock.”
He strokes his three day stubble, starts shutting down his Star Trek strength lap top and prepares to start heading over to the venue for the gig before stopping and winking at me. “Besides”, he smiles “Daft Punk have got a funny name.”
“Everybody makes mistakes but I feel alright when I come undone. You are not making me wait but it seems alright as long as something's happening.”
After a jaw dropping set that ended on a cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ ‘Slowdive’, one thing is fairly certain: Leeds’ relatively small Cockpit venue won’t be able to rebook them for the foreseeable future. Later eating food in a nearby French restaurant, a much more relaxed Murphy shows himself to be a Anglophile in matters of TV as well as music, reeling off reams of Chris Morris quotes from The Day Today and Brass Eye much to the English crew’s amusement and much to his band’s bafflement. Conversation turns to the decision to get backing for DFA from EMI records and how this has affected his obvious desire to retain artistic control. He is slightly guarded, saying: “We have not signed DFA to EMI. We have a distribution deal for outside the US, which is very simple actually and means we are able to maintain the same artistic controls we'd have with any other distribution partner, major or not. There are a few things that are built in with EMI, however, such as worldwide company policies on copy protection that we're kind of stuck with, but that's not that different than having anyone else manufacture us anyway. I wish we had the opportunity to do this earlier to be honest so we could have retained The Rapture on DFA but we couldn’t accomplish it. It breaks my heart, really.”
What with all the press furore surrounding the band and the connection with EMI it is no wonder that many mainstream acts have been sniffing round hoping to gain some kudos in the process. Janet Jackson and Britney Spears are just two of the divas that James and Tim have, politely, turned down as potential clients. But it begs the question, how much were they offered causing him to reply: “A DFA remix costs between nothing and a small fucking fortune but mostly they don't exist, what with me being out on tour. The things we require are always firstly the time to do it. Then we see if we can do anything with the track; Tim and I talk about ideas and see where we are. You see, we don't think that everything is remixable, nor that everything should be remixed. Sometimes you just don't like the track, or, conversely, you like it too much. Then we get into what it's going to cost, which usually is based on a sliding scale.”
It’s the oldest journalistic trick in the book to save the slightly rude question until last but when I ask him how he feels about ending up on the cover of magazines that usually feature people nearly half his age, it is tempered by the fact that we’re both about the same age (i.e. in our mid thirties.) He laughs and says: “It’s very surprising. I think it’s hilarious. If I was younger I think a) it might go to my head, and b) I'd be a lot more grumpy about it but now, it's just so absurd that it's funny. It's like watching a surreal movie about yourself.”