Dance Rock's Cranky King

Meet LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy: Superstar DJ, jujitsu master

March 8, 2007 12:00 AM ET

Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 1021 from March 8, 2007 . This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story . Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus .

James Murphy, the Creative force behind LCD Soundsystem, sits cross-legged in a black ergonomic desk chair. He's in his office — a converted loft next door to a yoga studio — in New York's West Village. Murphy does not look like the sort of guy who should be saving dance music. "I always hated dance music," he says, then adds, "except for Deee-Lite." He is thirty-seven, paunchy — oversize, really — with graying stubble that is less Brooklyn hipster than aging bookstore clerk. (Murphy lives in Brooklyn but hates that, too, comparing his neighborhood, Williamsburg, to a Midwestern college town.)

Saving dance music may be an exaggeration, but the genre hasn't produced an act as beloved by people who don't normally listen to dance music since the heydays of Moby and Fatboy Slim. LCD Soundsystem's second proper album, Sound of Silver, due out March 20th, is one of the year's most eagerly anticipated by club DJs and indie-rock fans alike. The first single, "North American Scum" — like earlier LCD singles "Losing My Edge" and "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" — combines hooks that are pointless to resist, with Murphy's funny, jaded lyrics, delivered in the weary-scenester deadpan of Lou Reed or the Fall's Mark E. Smith. Elsewhere, influences as diverse as Steve Reich, the Human League and even Warren Zevon (or at least his "Werewolves of London" howls, repurposed to great effect on "Watch the Tapes") become grist for what sound like the greatest disco records never made.

Murphy's office (the headquarters of his label, DFA Records) seems surprisingly tidy, with four cubicle-farm desks, a cappuccino machine and a No Smoking sign — surprising, that is, until you realize what a perfectionist Murphy can be. At the Japanese restaurant across the street, the waitress compliments his flawless pronunciation of misonikomi udon. "Domo arigato," Murphy says.

Growing up in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, Murphy had a serious inferiority complex. "You're living in the shitty town where they put the train station because they didn't want to ruin the rolling hills of Princeton," he says. "My dad was an accountant at a pharmaceutical company. He'd been picked to play football for the Packers in the Fifties, but he turned it down. I love that professional sports back then were so low-paid my dad was like, 'Nah, I've got this accounting job....' But I grew up feeling like a gross, classless guy. My idea of culture was the Walden-books at the mall."

Murphy started his first band when he was twelve, covering "I Ran" by A Flock of Seagulls and playing originals like "Scarlet Letter" (a hardcore song about The Scarlet Letter). His later bands played gigs at Princeton eating clubs, which Murphy describes as "frats with nice jackets and the date rapes don't get reported."

He moved to New York in 1989 to attend NYU, with plans to become an English professor. (After mentioning that he's rereading all of Thomas Pynchon in order, Murphy self-consciously adds, "There's nothing more rock & roll than talking about post-war American fiction.") But his senior year, Murphy dropped out of school to tour with his band, Pony. "It was boring Nineties indie rock," he says. "Another unnecessary band. Indie is a genre. You're playing within this rigid set of expectations. It might as well be goth. In fact, goth is more dignified. At least people are dressing up and admitting, 'I am goth!"'

By the late Nineties, Murphy had given up on indie rock and started working as a sound engineer. At a 1999 studio gig, he met Tim Goldsworthy, a U.K. producer best known for his collaboration with DJ Shadow in the group U.N.K.L.E. "We didn't get along," Murphy recalls. "He was a real quiet English guy, withheld, a little snotty. But we ended up talking about the recent stuff we'd just escaped — indie rock for me, trip-hop for him."

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