Q&A: James Murphy on DFA and Why He'd Make a Mixtape of Yes Beats

Dance-rocker's projects include designing a sound system

James Murphy
Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic
May 31, 2013 12:03 PM ET

It's been more than two years since LCD Soundsystem called it quits, but that doesn't mean life has slowed down for James Murphy. Last year's concert film Shut Up and Play the Hits was only one part of a larger project: a live record from the band's final show is still caught up in label limbo. Murphy has been in and out of the studio with Arcade Fire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Klaxons and more, while DJ'ing around the world, scoring films and writing music for a play or two – a schedule that sometimes leaves the 43-year-old dance music luminary in situations where he's awake for more than 24 hours at a time.

His label DFA Records celebrated their 12th anniversary with a blowout party at Brooklyn's Grand Prospect Hall last Saturday night, where he found himself in a familiar state of sleep deprivation mixed with constant responsibility. Following an intimate discussion on Monday afternoon with students at the Red Bull Music Academy, Murphy sat down with Rolling Stone to talk about the current state of dance music, his favorite memories from the past 12 years of DFA, building his own soundsytem and more.

James Murphy: 'If They're Not Dancing, Something Is Wrong'

What are some of your favorite songs to play in a DJ set?
It really, really depends on what I've got in my bag, what's going on. I don't really have a pre-set thing; I just go and see what I feel like, and see what wants to happen. Sometimes you'll look at a crowd and I'll be aggressive, or I'll be quite sweet – it just depends on what it feels like the moment needs, for lack of a less pretentious way to say that.

How do you feel about dance music nowadays?
I'm not that engaged in new dance music. I'm not that crazy about most of what I hear. But I'm sure there's stuff going on. I'm not supposed to know about everything. I feel like it'd be a little sad if I knew everything that was going on – there's supposed to be some people I don't know in some small place that's doing great things, that maybe I'll know about later. It's gotten a lot more popular, and I'm pretty agnostic about it. I'm not upset about it – but it seems quite separate from me. It doesn't seem very relevant to me. But it's just a moment in time, and we'll see. I'm curious to see what happens in the next five years.

What are some of your favorite moments in building DFA over the last 12 years?
My favorite moments . . . there are two kind of things: my favorite things about the label, and my favorite moments. My favorite moments were all very early, when it seemed impossible to do this thing, and then it kind of worked out. Those were amazing – the early times just being a part of a group of friends who threw events and just hung out, rather than it being professional. I'm quite happy that we've been able to support people that make the music they want to make for a very long time. That makes me happy; that's my favorite thing. My favorite moments were just, like, early dumb parties. I'm not that introspective when it comes to that stuff. My favorite moments were going out and causing a ruckus, maybe going out to see Carl Craig at SXSW at a bar where nobody was there to see him in like, 2000. That might be one of my favorite moments.

James Murphy Opens Up About Working With Arcade Fire

You were talking in the Q&A about making a Yes beat tape.
I love Yes. There are so many good breaks and beats that I just think it would be funny to dig into those. They're kind of unmined territory, so I would just like to make a full mixtape of just Yes beats, and maybe a couple of King Crimson beats, but I'd like to keep it pretty Yes-y. I do think there's a couple of Police beats that are incredible. They'd be expensive though. It's not my thing to do, but I'd love to experiment with it, especially after listening to the Donuts box set, the J Dilla stuff. It made me really happy that he was listening to a lot of the same stuff I was listening to.

What other projects in the future do you have going on?
I want to make some more music of my own. I'm building a soundsystem. I designed a soundsystem that's going to go to a festival in Manchester toward the end of the summer – well, mid-July – so I guess that's the meat of the summer. I'm scoring some stuff: a couple films, a play. It's tough to say. There's a lot that I'm trying to do. And there's this NYC Subway project that I'm working on, music for the subways. I'm ready to do it, I just need to find a way in. It's not that easy.

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