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Thursday, Dec 16 2004
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Photo by Tim Soter

LCD Soundsystem is indeed a real band — and a great dance-rock band at that. You can forgive this coming as a surprise to the crowd who showed up at the Echo in late October to see LCD make its Los Angeles debut, solely on the basis of the press scrutiny accrued by front man James Murphy’s work with DFA (Death From Above), a New York–based production team and record company.

Yet some hype is truth. Since 2001, Murphy and his British knob-twiddling partner, Tim Goldsworthy, have produced, remixed and helped release a string of rock-centric dance records (by the Rapture, Radio 4, Le Tigre and Metro Area, among numerous others) that have lit up clubs and imaginations with a playful balance of groove and power. Yet rather than embrace their "Neptunes of the Underground" tag and work with Britney and Janet (they’ve already walked away from such opportunities), DFA have set out on a road of higher expectations.

"We want to have an effect on popular culture," says Murphy confidently and unabashedly the day of the LCD show. "We’re a little more curatorial, interested in Warhol’s Factory and [Manchester’s post-punk art hothouse] Factory Records." He says DFA wants to work with "interesting people who make music," not with people who "waste their time making records." Notice the subtle difference?

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If that sounds like self-aggrandizement, check the evidence, some of it found on the recently released three-CD comp of the label’s singles titled, rather simply, DFA Compilation #2. This music gets equal play, and equal respect, from headz, fashionistas and modern-artisans alike. And now that DFA has entered a worldwide distribution deal with EMI — initiated with the space-rock boogie-oogie of LCD’s full-length debut in February — who says this smart, fierce offspring of punk, disco and experimental obsessions can’t also create its own commercial impact?

One reason Murphy and Goldsworthy are so focused on DFA’s overall intentions is that they’ve been around this block. Murphy spent the ’90s as an indie-rock drummer and budding engineer — "Steve Albini taught me how to record over the phone." And though Murphy no longer feels musical kinship with much of that scene ("too genre-y"), he’s unequivocal that "DFA’s ethics come from there." Meanwhile, Goldsworthy built up his premillennial tension as an in-house mastermind at the trip-hop label Mo’ Wax, where he collaborated with the likes of Money Mark and DJ Shadow. Murphy and Goldsworthy met while assisting David Holmes with one of his imaginary soundtracks in ’99, bonded over a variety of records ("We can be talking about vocals and use the drums on T. Rex as a reference point," says Murphy) and started throwing now-legendary dance parties at Murphy’s Manhattan recording studio, where techno, Krautrock, disco and punk mixed naturally. The vibe was more Paradise Garage than velvet rope; Murphy would deejay for eight hours at a time and then sweep up after everybody left.

Hence DFA’s naturally born art-school-meets-hardcore idealism — encompassing gallery noiseniks like Black Dice, underground rock stars like the Rapture, side projects from Japan’s psychedelic monsters the Boredoms and snooty social-milieu commentary from LCD Soundsystem — united under a progressive yet populist beat. It doesn’t matter that the outfit has been championed by what Murphy calls "electroclash hooligans" and the hipsterati — the DFA is not a pose.

"Look, in a certain way, we know we are the emperor’s new band, that in some circles you have to say you like us or you look like a fool." He’s speaking of LCD, though he might as well be broaching the entire DFA venture. "But I want us to actually be worth liking, so when you change as a person we’ll continue to meet your standards, that when people get over the hype, the clothes will actually remain real."

Those who stayed at the Echo through LCD Soundsystem’s final noise-drenched run through "Yeah!" (Crass Version) can attest. Here was a room full of cooler-than-thous in a late-night frenzy that resembled a spazzy samba line, pulled by a rhythm machine (two keyboards fronting three percussionists by that point) delivering a groove simultaneously feminized by the influence of great disco 12-inches and toughened by raw power. In other words, music worth caring about.

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