James Murphy's Cerebral Cortex Cannot Handle a DFA Musical
James Murphy at Red Bull Music Academy
As part of the ongoing series of events Red Bull Music Academy has been hosting across New York City for the past month or so, former LCD Soundsystem frontman and founder of DFA Records James Murphy held a conversation with the Music Academy's Editor-In-Chief, Todd L. Burns. The interview took place at NYU's Skirball Center and broadly covered DFA's beginnings, Murphy's activities now that LCD Soundsystem is never, ever getting back together (unless, he said last night, one of the members gets injured without health insurance and they have to tour to make money), and his thoughts on esoteric subjects like a performer's relationship with his audience. Despite Burns' underprepared, meandering questions and a seemingly endless Q&A session, Murphy's stamina and onstage charisma throughout the two-plus-hours managed to salvage the lecture.
The evening started out with a 15-minute documentary, 12 Years of DFA: Too Old To Be New, Too New To Be Classic. Released by Red Bull Music Academy and narrated by comedian Marc Maron, the short film follows DFA (which stands for "Death From Above," a reference to Murphy's ribcage-crushing live sound engineering) Records' rise from Plant Bar, the tiny East Village drinking establishment where Murphy DJ'd and the DFA family coalesced in 2001, through LCD Soundsystem's existence to the present day. It features interviews with people like label affiliates YACHT, the Juan Maclean, Holy Ghost!, and Jonathan Galkin, DFA's co-founder, current director of operations, and otherwise known as Jake Decker on Hey Dude! Colorful, precisely edited, and hilarious, 12 Years of DFA is a good primer for anyone unfamiliar with the "Department of Funny Americans" or "Dumb Fucking Assholes," depending on which featured band interprets the acronym onscreen. The movie is also worth it for Murphy's sound bites, which come from his interview on a cruise ship in Jamaica as he nurses a plate of cookies.
Following that, Burns introduced Murphy, who immediately lay down on the therapist's couch in the middle of the stage's elaborate living-room setup. It was nicely arranged if a bit contrived: a potted plant, equipment carrying cases in the background, and two cans of Red Bull where any other interview would have a pitcher of water. Burns lobbed mostly softballs, asking Murphy what he thought of the film (he liked it) and about Plant Bar, which was owned by DFA signee Shit Robot's Marcus Lambkin. "It was illegal to dance, because that's how we kept the people of New York safe," Murphy said, referring to the fact that the club didn't adhere to the city's cabaret laws. "It was doomed, because it was so small that everyone there was a friend of the owner. And the friends of the owner just got pint-sized free drinks. They'd close the doors because the owners would be wasted."