James Murphy: "With Dance Music, People Are Being Treated as If They're Really Dumb"
"This is the weirdest scenario."
That's how DFA Records founder and former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy half-laughingly reacted to Bardot Miami's (almost claustrophobic) living room-like setting for his Red Bull Music Academy Couch Session at the inaugural III Points Festival.
There were fans sprawled all over the low-lit hipster hangout. They were perched atop bar stools. They were comfortably slumped into sofas throughout the club. They were clustered on the floor, staring eagerly and wide-eyed, just a few feet from the guru, Mr. Murphy, as he sat cross-legged, clutching his mic.
"It's weird to sit on a stage, but this is actually, possibly weirder," Murphy deadpanned. "Oh, and," he wryly and randomly observed, "there are flowers."
The host, III Points co-organizer David Sinopoli, smirked. "They're real, though."
The crowd laughed. And Murphy cracked: "You read the rider. Fresh-cut flowers, next to the love seat in a room full of people ..."
For the next 95 minutes, the chit-chat proceeded with that same crackle, as the DFA head and LCD legend alternated dry, goofy jokes with earnest, thoughtful responses to queries from both the host and his fans.
Here are some excerpts.
Photo by Ian Witlen
James Murphy on the Enjoyment of Club Experiences
"It depends on your idea of fun. Champagne, music -- it could be a nightmare."
On How to Have Fun and Party
"For me, DJing's been about making people have fun, just trying to make people have a fun time, and playing music that I like.
"Over the years, it's been, like, 'Well, what is it that I think is fun?' And trying to define that ... So I've put a lot of effort in trying to change the room, trying to make the room more about people being together and a little less about people facing a DJ who's doing mostly nothing and going, 'Woo! Hey! Start another one!'
"I try to make [a party] what I like, which is people don't really pay attention to the DJ. And they have a chance to, maybe, hook up with somebody, which is not easy to do if you're taking phone photos ...
"Nobody's going to go home with you because, 'Oh, wow, you took a really good picture. I saw that! I was watching! I said, Ah, look at that sensitivity to, uh, framing.'"
On What Makes a Record Worth Playing
"I don't know. [The crowd snickers] No, honestly, I just like things. And then sometimes, I'm really dumb. Sometimes, I'll just listen to a record and be like, 'No.' And then Pat [Mahoney] from LCD will buy it and he'll play it and I'll be like, 'Oh my god, what is this?' And he'll be like, 'You handed to me. You didn't want it. And I bought it.' And I'm like, 'Oh yeah, I'm stupid.'
"So I don't know. It's usually just something that I feel is unusual and missing and fun and works. And it isn't just a loop, and doesn't have insulting drops and peaks."
James Murphy on Preparing for DJ Sets
"I don't prepare. [Laughs] ... Like, I was packing, and I had to go talk to this landlord because I'm trying to open this thing in New York, and I'm like, 'Oh, shit!'
[Murphy mimes packing his DJ bag.]
"Somebody gave me some records, so I put them in the pile to listen to at some point and I went through them, and I went, 'I don't want to play these' ... And I have big boxes of records on the floor that are the 'potential-play records' ... So I just grabbed big stacks and stuffed them in my bag, and I went away.
"Then I go to the club and I'm like, 'Mwehhh ... This is what's in there.' It's basically like having a refrigerator and being like, 'Shit, and you open it up: 'Uggghhh ... Hot dogs, orange juice, Sichuan peppers.'
"You just have to make it work. I think that is what's fun about it."
On Dumb Dance Music
"Being a little boring is important to me. [The fans giggle.]
"No, in the beginning [of a set], I think it's important. Because we're in a time now, with dance music especially, people are being treated as if they're really dumb and have incredibly gnat-like attention spans and need to just be tickled all the time.
"The music's just like, 'It's exciting! It's exciting! It's exciting! It's exciting! It's exciting! Oh, it stopped! It stopped! It stopped!What's going to happen?! What's going to happen?! What's going to happen?! Oh, it's really quiet! It's really quiet! It's really quiet! It's exciting! It's exciting! It's exciting again!
"They're jumping up and down. And I'm watching. And it looks like there's a lot of energy in the room. And then I'll see a guy be like, 'Yeeeaaahhh!' [Murphy does some half-hearted fistpumping] And then he'll go, 'I'm gonna get a beer. You wanna get a beer?'
"He's not invested in the slightest in the moment. [Laughs] Or he's just filming it and he's like, 'This is fucking great! Uh, would that other guy put his fucking phone down? It's in my shot!'
"I just realized that [it's good] to be boring for 15 minutes."
On How DJing is Like Making a Sandwich
"I don't feel like I want thousands of people looking at me while I'm doing the equivalent of making a sandwich. [The crowd laughs.] It's very similar. [Murphy chortles.] And really, it's like watching me, for three hours, make 200 sandwiches. But they're still looking at me and I'm like, 'It does nothin'. This is what it is. I might, like, scratch my neck. Or lose my balance temporarily. That's about it.'"
James Murphy on His Post-LCD Soundsystem Life
"There are a lot of things that have happened over the past year and they all seem to be coming to fruition at the same time, as a sort of accidental explanation for 'Hey, what is that guy doing now?'
"It was like, 'He just quit and it looked like he just hung out and he was in the weird movie with the Tim & Eric guys.'"
On Finally Collaborating With Arcade Fire
"We've been trying to do a record together since Neon Bible.
"I met them a long, long time ago after our respective first records. My band was playing a show in Montreal, and a bunch of them came down, and they were very nice. And we started talking about doing a record together, and we met again after Neon Bible, but it was exactly when I was making my second LCD record. So we were like, 'Ahh, crap! Next time!' Then the next time rolled around, and I took a year off, but so did they. Then Suburbs was the same time as my third record.
"So it kept being, like, impossible. But we've toured together. And we've become, over the years, good friends. Our band and their band were people who saw each other a lot. So this time, I was not in a band anymore. [Laughs] And they were like, 'Hey, we're gonna give you a whole lot of warning about when this is going to happen.'
"It's been really nice, because their manager did not call my manager who sent an email. It was literally just talking to them and wanting to do it. And we didn't know what we were going to do either. We kinda just both decided that we'd go up there [to Montreal] and hang out -- maybe I'll work on something and maybe I won't, we'll see if it fits.That was the gist. And it worked out. So I stayed."
On the Original DFA Studio and Building His New Studio
"Juan [Maclean] was in [the DFA Studio] two days ago. I was in there the day before that. And Museum of Love, which is Pat Mahoney's band, was in there this weekend. So we use it all the time.
"But I'm building another studio, because ... [Laughs] I can't get in there anymore. Because it was never public, it was only [open to] myself and the label. Then I realized that it was a job for somebody. If we made it public, people that I cared about could work there and make a living. So we made it public. And it was good for people.
"Then I was like, 'I totally have to do this remix.' And they were like, 'I can pencil you in in November.' And I was like, 'I need a new studio.' So [the DFA Studio] still exists and I still work there, but I'm making a small, little, less intense space."
On When His New Studio Will Open
"Somewhere between February and never. You know, New York City construction. So give or take a millenia. Umm, it depends."
On His Current Role With DFA
"I don't do anything except go in an annoy them. I've been gone so long. And I came back from tour and I'm like, 'I'm gonna spend all sorts of time with the label!' ... And they were not pleased. [Laughs] I was like, 'I've got all sorts of ideas!' And they were like, 'That's great. That's really cool that you who haven't been here for three years because you've been on tour have all sorts of ideas. Let's just go and write those down and put them over there and we'll get to them eventually. Meanwhile, I have a band on tour that I need to do press for.'
"It wasn't the homecoming that I'd expected. [Laughs] There's only two people who work there, just Jon and Kris, and they have it. I'm like a storm that blows through, and they know that if they just hold on, 'He's getting tired, he's said the same thing, he's going back downstairs ... Uh, OK, let's get back to work.'"
On the End of LCD Soundsystem
"I miss it. But I think that's the goal. The goal is to miss it. The goal isn't to be like, 'Yesss, I did that long enough to hate everyone who used to be my friends.'
"I miss it. And it's nice. And I feel it's good that I get to do a lot of stuff that would [otherwise] be impossible. The band was never supposed to be a big deal. Like, it really wasn't. Like, we made some singles and I was like, 'Heh, that would be funny, then I'll go back to doing my other stuff.' And then we did an album and went on tour and it just became a professional job. I literally asked my friends to be in a band for the weekend. And that's the truth. That's been the core of the band since 2002.
"So [ending LCD] was good for everybody. People could get back to their lives, and have the kids that they already had and look at them and go, 'Oh, now I recognize you.' And I'm happy [the other members] get to do that stuff, and I'm happy that I get to produce records.
"I would never have been able to work on the Arcade Fire record for more than a weekend, otherwise. I couldn't do remixes. And I'm doing music for a play, so I couldn't do that. I couldn't have made the film [The Comedy with Tim & Eric]. It just wouldn't have been possible.
"Now I also get to be retired. Like, 'Oh, what do you do?' And I can say, 'I'm retired.' Just slip into my golden years."
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