LCD Soundsystem rising from the underground


May 13, 2005


With his protruding beer gut, three days' growth of stubble and auto-mechanic demeanor, 35-year-old James Murphy is one of the least likely frontmen in rock today. Based on appearance alone, you'd be even less inclined to peg him as one of the most innovative forces in the underground dance world.

Appearances can be deceiving. As co-founder of Brooklyn's DFA (Death From Above) Records and half of a vaunted production team with Tim Goldsworthy, Murphy has crafted hits for red-hot dance acts Juan MacLean, the Rapture, UNKLE, Le Tigre and Radio 4, among others, and those efforts in turn prompted calls from the likes of Britney Spears (though that track has never been released) and Janet Jackson.

"That stuff doesn't happen anymore; we just didn't call back," Murphy says, laughing. "Some of that heat has dissipated, which makes me very happy -- things have gotten calmer. I'm working very hard to get to this position that Tim and I talk about, which artists now don't really get to attain: I want to be like John Cale or Brian Eno, where people are interested in what I do, but I can basically do whatever I want because I have a couple of big hits under my belt, so now there's no pressure."

"No pressure" is relative, of course -- Murphy is calling from France in the midst of a much-hyped tour that brings him to Metro next week -- but he is free at the moment to concentrate on his own labor-of-love side project, LCD Soundsystem, which finds him singing and claiming a place as one of the most unusual but wildly entertaining bandleaders since David Thomas of Pere Ubu.



  • 9 p.m. Thursday
  • Metro, 3730 N. Clark
  • Tickets, $21 (18+over show)
  • (773) 549-0203

  • A native of Princeton Junction, N.J. -- "The sh---y town whose name is defined by the fact that it has the train station for the pretty town" -- Murphy played piano as a kid, consumed music voraciously at one of the world's greatest record stores, the Princeton Record Exchange, and first made his mark on the music world in the humblest of ways with the indie rock bands Pony and Speedking.

    Murphy mercilessly lampoons the hipper-than-thou indie scene in LCD's single "Losing My Edge," ruthlessly parodying the Village Voice/Spin magazine crowd with lines such as, "I was there in 1968/I was there at the first Can show in Cologne ... I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band/I told him, 'Don't do it that way. You'll never make a dime.'"

    The producer taught himself to record on a bedroom four-track, apprenticed under Chicago recording engineers Bob Weston and Steve Albini, and opened his first studio in Brooklyn in 1993. The hits started coming a few years later when Murphy found himself at the center of a revitalized New York music scene that brought the influence of post-punk bands such as Wire, the Fall and the Gang of Four into the techno underground.

    "I love that stuff, but I'm really interested in how things were a little before punk," Murphy says. "I really love abstract modern painting and the middle chunk of the 20th century, but it was the death throes of art in a certain way, because there are not many places to go after that. What rules do you play with when there are no rules? After punk it kind of got a little weird, because in America, you get this massive chasm between underground and overground. The underground was amazing and it saved my life as a kid, but it got so set in its ways."

    With LCD Soundsystem, Murphy deftly straddles those two worlds. Released through Capitol Records earlier this year, his self-titled double album rounds up the numerous 12-inch singles he's released since starting the project, tracks such as "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," "Movement" and "Disco Infiltrator" that overflow with gorgeous, throbbing bass lines, cowbell- and handclap-heavy grooves, and anthemic melodies.

    "Some of the greatest music I know was made by 22-year-olds, but the good music now is not being made by 22-year-olds," Murphy says. "It's so complicated now that you need all this apparatus to negotiate the bull----, and that apparatus is really deadening. It will take you three years just to figure the rules out.

    "I'm watching it now as an artist. I've never been an artist on a major label, and I'm working with the nicest people and I'm insulated because I own my own label that licenses the music, but still I'm like, 'Holy crap, I don't want to make another record because I don't want to be in this machine again!'"

    Later, Murphy grants that his pessimism is in part the tour fatigue. Onstage, he leads an incredibly tight group of friends on bass, drums, guitar and keyboards, hurling himself about like a madman in an effort to get the party started. While it's draining, he's having the time of his life, and it isn't long before he shifts gears and starts talking about the next LCD album.

    "I'm going a little crazy because I really want to make another record," Murphy says. "I'm not used to having money; I've never had money in my entire life. I've been a barnacle on the bottom of a crappy boat called indie rock since '91. I would love to slip into that Cale or Eno position as quickly as possible, where you're not making tons of money, but you're not spending tons -- you're just hanging out and making music -- and I'd like to do it now while I'm still able to be fervent and excited about things."

    More power to ya, James. And I'd say you're already more than halfway there.



    Evanston-based Horizontal Action fanzine ran into some trouble recently when Chicago's coolest independent record store refused to stock the snotty, grungy, sophomoric-in-the-best-way garage-rock rag because of its allegedly "demeaning" -- I'd use the word "leering" -- attitude toward women. It's the sort of tempest in a teapot that can only help the mag in the end: Its editors have been trying hard for several years and 12 issues now to tick off just about everybody, the politically correct types as well as the conservative bluenoses, and they wouldn't be succeeding if they weren't making somebody angry.

    Every spring, Horizontal Action -- its tagline: "Electric Sex Rock 'n' Roll" -- sponsors a rip-roaring three-day shindig called the Blackout at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western. The fun starts on Thursday with the Fevers, Kajun SS, Human Eye, Shop Fronts and Busy Signals. It continues on May 20 with Reigning Sound, Gris Gris, Final Solutions, Blank-Its and local heroes M.O.T.O., and wraps up on May 21 with the Pagans, Bad Times, the Fatals, River City Tanlines and VEE DEE. (Showtime each night is 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available through

    That's a whole lot of chaotic garage-rock noise in one 72-hour period -- hearty indeed is the soul who can weather it all -- but Friday's lineup is the must-see if you want to pick one night. And if your sensibilities aren't easily offended, Horizontal Action remains an endearingly juvenile guilty-pleasure read, firmly connecting with the 13-year-old miscreant at the heart of every true punk-rock fan, man or woman. Check 'em out on the Web at