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 Murphys work with DFA (Death From Above), a New Yorkbased 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 (theyve 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. "Were a little more curatorial, interested in Warhols Factory and [Manchesters 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?
If that sounds like self-aggrandizement, check the evidence, some of it found on the recently released three-CD comp of the labels 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 LCDs full-length debut in February who says this smart, fierce offspring of punk, disco and experimental obsessions cant also create its own commercial impact?
One reason Murphy and Goldsworthy are so focused on DFAs overall intentions is that theyve 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"), hes unequivocal that "DFAs 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 Murphys 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 DFAs naturally born art-school-meets-hardcore idealism encompassing gallery noiseniks like Black Dice, underground rock stars like the Rapture, side projects from Japans psychedelic monsters the Boredoms and snooty social-milieu commentary from LCD Soundsystem united under a progressive yet populist beat. It doesnt 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 emperors new band, that in some circles you have to say you like us or you look like a fool." Hes 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 well 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 Soundsystems 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.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.