James Murphy: interview

With a second LCD Soundsystem album ready to captivate the capital, Time Out takes a timely look at the DFA philosophy

  • London indie clubbers have got a lot to thank James Murphy for, y’know. It was The Strokes that started it, reinvigorating a dreary musical landscape in which Starsailor were considered exciting, and reminding us of the thrill of the sharply dressed youth armed with ‘Lust For Life’ and a backstreet rock ’n’ roll attitude. For a time you could go see any garage band and be guaranteed your fix of the same four New York Dolls/Stooges records on rotation afterwards. But that was then, with the Anglophile appropriation of New York cool that followed ultimately having a shelf life of precisely two Libertines albums. Instead, half a decade on, a visit to, say, the Barfly on a Friday night – while still largely populated by skinny-tied Casablancas types – routinely consists of lots of (occasionally rubbish, often great) electro remixes of your more straightforward guitar combos, punctuated by sets from bands who obviously own more than one Neu! record. Or at least like to give that impression.

    Adventures Close To Home, Adventures In The Beetroot Field, And Did We Mention Our Disco?, Chalk… these are but the finest of a glut of nights born in the last three or four years, steeped in this new ideology. The ideology, essentially, of James Murphy and his label DFA. Without question, the pivotal moments were the cowbell clatter of The Rapture’s Murphy-produced ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ (not to mention the two weeks in the summer of 2003 when the band played about 50 stupendously tiny and trendy secret shows here), and LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Losing My Edge’.

    These were disco records you could pogo to, punk records made by people who were thinking past the tired ‘Wan-two-free-four!’ template to the dancefloor beyond. London’s coolest got very excited, and a new ethos was born, albeit slowly – the first LCD Soundsystem album did not see the light of day until 2005. In the interim, however, buoyed by the enthusiasm created by just a handful of tracks, DFA developed into an unofficial genre and a quite specific sound: one of electronic music being played organically, of machine music that is unmistakably the work of humans. Now DFA is, to all intents and purposes, a very distinct philosophy.

    ‘It’s funny, because that’s kind of everything we didn’t want to do,’ laughs Murphy in response to this.

    ‘I’ve always said that I don’t find an indie club night that’s just playing indie any better or worse than a house night. It’s simple. DFA just set out to make our parties better, and then maybe challenge others to make better parties that weren’t so… tedious.’

    Murphy downplays his own role in creating this new aesthetic, despite being top of every hipster’s MySpace wishlist. He’s right to, for in the classic tradition of taking music that has arrived from the other side of the Atlantic and tweaking-rather-than-reinventing it, London has embraced his philosophy so wholeheartedly, so enthusiastically, that it has now developed into a far more vibrant scene than that of New York City.

    ‘I definitely agree that it’s the stuff that came after our first releases that was really instrumental,’ says Murphy. ‘I mean, for a long time there were only two 12 inches to play!’ he continues. ‘But I suppose we did kind of make another genre. I didn’t mean to – that’s not really how I look at it – but it just means that there’s now this indie-club-rock-dance-mix-up-whatever genre that’s grown. Y’know, qualitative measures are qualitative measures and genre measures are genre measures. Basically, if it’s good, it’s good.’

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