LCD Soundsystem - Biography
By David Downs
Composed of producer/DJ James Murphy and his partner, UNKLE alum Tim Goldsworthy, New York electronic dance and rock band LCD Soundsystem bridged the cliques of punk, funk, and dance, uniting them under one part banner. The iconic band received worldwide attention beginning with debut single "Losing My Edge" (2002-DFA) following remix projects for bands like Le Tigre and Fischerspooner. A string of hit singles built the buzz around the genre-breaking duo and their own New York label DFA delivered on the hype with their debut LP LCD Soundsystem (2005-DFA), which made it to number six on the Billboard chart of Top Electronic Albums, as well as earning the punk-funk populists two Grammy nominations, one for the album and one for single "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House". The duo behind DFA followed it up with Sound of Silver (2007-DFA), going to number 47 on the Billboard 200 and getting another Grammy nomination.
During this period, the DFA label also became highly influential in the dance rock world, releasing material from The Rapture, Black Dice and Hot Chip's The Warning (2006-DFA) as well as getting requests to mix the hugest names in music, culminating in requests from Janet Jackson and Britney Spears. Murphey has also converted LCD Soundsystem into a live show with the addition of Murphey's funk, punk and art-obsessed friends Pat Mahoney on drums, Nancy Whang on keyboards and vocals, Tyler Pope on bass, and Phil Mossman on guitar, percussion, keyboards and bass. The act continues to remix, record, produce and perform in 2008, and Murphey attributes his success to his simple artistic goals of showing audiences a great time while breaking down the calcified cliques created by music genres. His distaste for such cliques began in high school in New Jersey.
James Murphy was born in 1970 and raised in Princeton Junction, New Jersey -- a suburb near the Ivy League school. At an early age Murphy was attracted to music, realizing he could mimic almost any rock singer. By age twelve he was attempting to impress girls with his thrash metal band the Extremes. Of course, there was nothing to do in the tiny town, and Murphey spent his adolescence getting drunk in abandoned houses, discovering nitrous oxide through a friend who's father was a dentist. Murphey has said in the press that he has had a life-long tolerant stance on recreational drugs use, tempered by the fact that he gets bored with a particular drug and moves on.
Heading into middle school, the emergence of cliques like the jocks and preps and such disgusted Murphey, and foreshadowed his future production ethos. He states that he became aggressively anti-clique and more of a weird kid just as punk rock entered Murphy's life changing him for years. Murphey's crate-digging began at Princeton Record Exchange with The Birthday Party's "Nick The Stripper" twelve-inch, which Murphey bought mainly for the cover. He discovered Suicide there as well as crap bands like The Mission.
In 1987, Murphey became a bouncer at a local club, hired by his then kickboxing teacher. While not inherently a bellicose person, he was built and trained to fight and did have to drop a much larger patron. After high school, Murphey held down day jobs including stints in book and record stores. He knew that musical taste, like any cultural capital, could be used as weapon to exclude others, and he was a devout pacifist in that regard. Murphey left his hometown by 1989 at a time when his small town became much more wealthy, a fact that Murphey said gave him a staggering inferiority complex.
Ever one to be in a band, Murphey played in punk rock act Pony from 1992 to 1994, a fairly successful act that lacked band cohesion. Signed to Fire in The UK, Pony self-destructed before their UK tour and Murphey's next band Speedking was better, but the band's arch-punk ethos made Murphey feel dated and silly, all the while playing with far more talented acts like Six Finger Satellite.
Murphey says he soured on his punk rock phase when he found the same in-group/out-group games as high school. He began branching out into sound engineering and DJing, and starting in 1993, Murphy began DJing under the name Death from Above, an apparent nickname for his PA setup while he was the sound technician for SubPop act Six Finger Satellite. His turn toward production in the '90s would prove to be a fruitful one.
In 1999, Murphey met Tim Goldsworthy, while working with David Holmes. The two had arrived at similarly alienated point in their careers, but from a completely different angle.
Goldsworthy was a British record producer, DJ and recording artist, who had drummed for UNKLE. A co-founder of James Lavelle's enormously influential Mo' Wax label, Goldsworthy's first production credit appears on Japanese electronic act Mondo Grosso's Marble (1993-For Life) for the track "Vibe P.M. (Stranger Things Have Happened - Brazil On A Jimmy Hill Mix)" with James Lavelle. He then appears on Mo Wax vs. Major Force: Time Has Come (1994-Mo Wax), "The Time Has Come" EP (1994-Mo Wax) and shows up again on David Holmes' "Don't Die Just Yet" single (1997-Go! Beat) as well as a remix of The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (1997-Hut).
By 1999, Murphey was reading Last Night a DJ Saved My Life by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton and had become obsessed with disco and early, genre-less dance music. Disillusioned with the contemporary cliques of dance, he felt bored. Goldsworthy shared his desire to simply have fun destroying genres, so the pair two became partners, partying hard, discovering band the Rapture and hosting DJ parties that mixed the punk of the Stooges, with techno of Kraftwerk.
Murphey and Goldsworthy's first projects were remixes while DJing in New York. A formative experience with Carl Craig DJ at SXSW in Austin in 2000, pointed to an artistic ethos for Murphey that emphasized amazement and fun, as well as oddity and intimacy. Through such successful remixes and parties, Murphey said he carved out a niche, which was immediately seized upon by other DJs in the Manhattan. His depression over that reality led to his career breakthrough single.
The DFA, playing as artists LCD Soundsystem, debuted "Losing My Edge" in 2002 as a single. Written by Murphy with vocals by Nancy Whang, the song satirized aging hipsters and the cultural bling of being at certain shows. The central caveat - that Murphy attended every key moment in rock and dance history - made fun of him as much as other hipsters, and it was a hit.
LCD Soundsystem's style would go on to combine an emphasis on funky bass lines and noise, topped with an extremely wry sense of humor interwoven through everything from the lyrics to the arrangement to the song names and album art. Murphey states that he enjoys the ego-lessness of the bass guitar, admiring Richard McGuire from Liquid Liquid, Holger Czukay from Can, and Jah Wobble from Public Image Ltd. He takes his vocal style from The Fall's Mark E. Smith, because he says all vocalists ape who they like and he simply likes Mark Smith. His DJ mentors include Marcus Lambkin, Carl Craig, 2ManyDJs—because of their lack of arrogance, as well as their experimentalism, irreverence and overall competence.
LCD Soundsystem followed up with the "Yeah" single (2003-DFA) largely consisting of Murphey saying "yeah" over and over, to counteract audience expectations created by "Losing My Edge". Next up came "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" (2004-DFA) based on the happy thought of a kid who saves up enough money to fly Daft Punk over for a punk rock-style basement show. Murphey states that Daft Punk is a great example of dance music that’s not genre dance music, and he uses them as signifier in that regard. The band's next single "Movement" (2004-DFA, EMI), pilloried the vacuous, tedious concept of journalism-created 'movements' in music. Single "Disco Infiltrator" (2005-DFA, EMI) soon followed, setting the stage for their breakout LP.
LCD Soundsystem (2005-DFA) was a runaway pop success built on high octane, insular industry cred. Mixed by James Murphy and Andy Wallace, produced by the DFA, LCD Soundsystem is what Murphey considers a lab for experimental music. A distillation of Murphey's vintage punk upbringing and Goldsworthy's techno background, the album parties hard while defying genre and sarcastically smirking the entire time. The group was nominated for two Grammy awards in the Electronica category for the album as well as for "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House". Production and record release on their DFA label did not cease during this busy period, and LCD Soundsystem released remix EP Introns (2006-DFA) and 45:33 Nike+ Original Run (2006-Nike), a conceptual jogging soundtrack that satisfied Murphey's desire to make a record like E2-E4 (1984-InTeam) by Manuel Göttsching. He is not a runner and considers himself a shlub.
LCD Soundsystem's second album, Sound of Silver, (2007-DFA) came out on March 12, 2007 to major press acclaim. Single "North American Scum" helped the album climb to number 46 on the Billboard 200, making it the number one Top Electronic Album. In December 2007, the band received another nomination for the Grammy for Best Electronic/Dance Album and Sound of Silver was widely lauded during year-end critics' lists as well.
LCD Soundsystem's Murphey now currently sits atop the list of hot producers like Pharrell Williams, though he tries to shrug off his cachet, saying being considered "cool" depresses him and entails a backlash. He is essentially a lifelong failure, he has stated in interviews, going back to 1993 when he turned down the opportunity to write for nascent TV show Seinfeld. (He thought the hit show wouldn't be funny.) Such self-deprecation and attempted ego-lessness has long been a part of Murphey, going back to high school when he tried his best to ignore the boundaries of cool and uncool. His philosophy took him into punk rock, but eventually found the same inherent clique-ishness. It's poetic then that his rejection of the cool-uncool boundary took him far into electro, where his punk sensibility, combined with Tim Goldsworthy's techno background posited a third way that led to the heights of contemporary hipness. In 2010 the band released This Is Happening. In 2011 the band announced it's break up, and final show.