House of Zealous Rockers

James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy of local label DFA reconstruct post-punk for a whole new dancefloor

DFA's signature sound mixes Goldsworthy's computer wizardry with Murphy's background of engineering and playing in rock bands (DFA's remixes typically feature his drumming, bass, and sometimes guitar). Two different kinds of knowledge mesh perfectly: Murphy's expertise at getting great drum sounds and capturing live "feel," Goldsworthy's digital editing skills and vast sample-hound knowledge of recorded music (acquired during his trip-hop days as co-founder of Mo Wax and member of that label's supergroup UNKLE). Both guys look their respective parts. Slender, soft-spoken, and diffidently English in a way that often, he says, gets him mistaken for gay, Goldsworthy seems like someone at home with delicate, intricate work—a century ago, you might have assumed from his intent, bespectacled gaze and fastidious manner that he was an engraver or watchmaker. Wearing a Taos ski resort T-shirt and brown cords, the slightly pudgy and much more boisterous Murphy looks like your archetypal Amerindie studio rat.

After a low-key spell—a steady flow of fine but not exactly throat-grabbing releases, from the Juan Maclean, Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom, and Black Dice—DFA has come back strong this fall with two of its most exciting singles yet. Pixeltan's "Get Up/Say What" is classic DFA disco-punk, simultaneously raw and slick, while "Sunplus" by J.O.Y.—a Japanese outfit helmed by K.U.D.O, Goldsworthy's former partner in UNKLE, and featuring guest vocals from Yoshimi P-We of the Boredoms—beautifully updates the thorny, fractured funk of LiLiPUT and the Slits. Like most DFA releases, these tracks came out as vinyl 12-inches. But don't fret if you've got no turntable—you can also find them on Compilation #2. The box set pulls together everything that wasn't on the first, not wholly satisfactory anthology, throws in a bonus mix CD, and altogether showcases a formidable body of work. One previously unavailable highlight is Liquid Liquid's "Bellhead," a brand-new recording of an old song by one of DFA's '80s post-punk heroes.

Goldsworthy and Murphy, at the office
Goldsworthy and Murphy, at the office

Many labels never survive the initial hype storm of being hip. Murphy recalls a peculiar, uncomfortable phase when "we kept seeing magazines with profiles of DFA, but we weren't really releasing anything at the time." Now, though, he's thankful that "we're not ascendant anymore. At this point we're kind of cruising along. And it's nice. It doesn't feel like it's out of our control anymore."

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