James Murphy was exhausted, but you wouldn’t have known it to hear him speak on Monday afternoon at the Red Bull Music Academy headquarters. Following a whirlwind week that included the 12th anniversary party for his DFA Records label and severe lack of sleep, the LCD Soundsystem mastermind expounded on his career and influences through a series of his favorite songs in a Q&A in front of the 60 or so RBMA students at the academy on the West side of Manhattan.
With tracks as wide-ranging as “Heart of the Sunrise” by Yes and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack – with a little James Brown and the Violent Femmes tossed in – Murphy talked about how his across-the-board taste have fed into the amalgam that is his own music. “I like to not feel like you’re pulling a fast one on people,” he said. “If there was a direct influence on a song, I never hid it.”
He joked that two songs he loved growing up held the most weight for him: “Alone Again Naturally” by Gilbert O’Sullivan and David Bowie’s “Fame.” “I’ve said before, but my life has been an argument between these two songs ever since,” Murphy said, laughing. He expounded on his years diving into punk rock – “Punk rock to me was always outsiderness,” he said, “When I first saw large-group, scene punk rock, I was repelled by it, because there were way too many people who agreed with each other” – and about how the funk music of Brown informed his own seeming obsession with making people dance.
“I’m a primitive player of everything, but I’m obsessed with that kind of physicality, with everything snapping a certain way, which is counter to how a lot of rock is,” Murphy said, referencing the vitality of Brown and his band and how Murphy modeled his own early bands after their ability to lock in grooves. “The JBs are the best at that, that sense of top feel instead of behind feel . . . They’re like clockwork.”
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That physicality of music bleeds into his DJ sets, on which he has spent much, though not all, of his post-LCD time. “Making people dance has another function that has nothing to do with art, and I mean that in the most positive way possible,” he said later. “It’s like food – if you’re not eating it, you’re doing something wrong. If they’re not dancing, something is wrong.”
Toward the end, Murphy delved into the history of DFA, which began in a Brooklyn recording studio in 2001 and grew into one of the most influential and laid-back independent labels in the dance scene, though it didn’t always cater strictly to dance music. “When we liked something, we wanted to put it out, rather than find a niche market and exploit it,” he said, before hypothesizing on the label’s future. “There’s no plan; it’s barely guerilla warfare. The plan is to keep on putting out records until someone shows up and tells us to stop.”
Check out a stream of Murphy’s DJ set at a DFA’s 12-year anniversary party on Saturday below.