Disco Still Not Disco

New York Rockers Remember How to Dance

James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, the production team known as the DFA (Death From Above), are more deliberate about their pastiches. The first batch of 12-inch singles on their own DFA Records sound like manifestos for difficult disco. Two out of four are by the Juan Maclean (formerly John Maclean of Six Finger Satellite). "By the Time I Get to Venus" is a trifling retro-electro instrumental with ridiculous Linn-drum fills, but the other one, "You Can't Have It Both Ways," is pretty inspired. It's a club record too weird to play most places where people go to dance: Nancy Whang chants consonant nonsense in a hypnotist's voice, the beat mutates by degrees, and burbling analog synths chase their tails until they're frothing and flailing. (It claims to be "live," meaning there's crowd noise dubbed over the whole thing and extending into the runout groove.) The Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" single, DFA's housified remake of a year-old song with a dub by techno producer Morgan Geist appended, is a gilt-edged application for Disco Not Disco 2002—it sounds like what would happen if Masters at Work preferred strangled screams to diva acrobatics and Arto Lindsay's guitar playing to George Benson's. Too bad "Silent Morning," on the other side, isn't a Noel cover.

DFA's masterpiece, though, is "Losing My Edge," by Murphy's solo project LCD Soundsystem. Over a clipped one-note sequencer chug, Murphy makes like the ultimate jaded hipster ("I was there at the first Can show in Cologne . . . I heard that you have a white label of every seminal Detroit techno hit—1985, '86, '87"), affecting the nearest possible American equivalent to a Mark E. Smith accent. Then, as the music morphs through guitar-bass-drums and back to sequencer-synthesizer, he expectorates a catalog of hipster hitmakers: "This Heat, Pere Ubu, Nation of Ulysses, Todd Terry, the Germs, Section 25 . . . GIL! SCOTT!-HERON!" Maybe it's a parody of Le Tigre's "Hot Topic." More likely, it's just that if you understand the joke, you're the butt of the joke. The song ends with Whang cooing, "We all know what you really want," again and again for a full minute, as the song's target audience squirms and giggles uneasily.

Liars, stuck on top of a monument
photo: Joe Dilworth
Liars, stuck on top of a monument

The only way to respond to an accusation like that is to ask, What do we really want? We want more stuff like this, or I do, anyway. Reissues of formerly uncool early-'80s groove bands like A Certain Ratio and Malaria suddenly have cachet, and young New Yorkers are following their example because it's about time the rock underground got something new to dance to again. But I can't help noticing that I like some of these bands less on their own merits than because they remind me of music I already liked. What I really want is for them to do something that New Yorkers 20 years from now are going to want to rip off.

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