Get in the Ring

Someone should've kicked dance-punk DJ-producer-bandleader James Murphy's ass by now. No one can.

But Murphy's success as a DJ and producer allowed him to structure a band completely around his own ideas. Murphy isn't just the frontman of LCD Soundsystem—he's the sole core member. Hot Chip multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle and !!! guitarist Tyler Pope are among his more prominent collaborators, but everyone's there to help Murphy realize his ideas. "Being a frontman is just a concept I don't really think about," he says. "There are these bands, like old big bands, where there'd be a bandleader, and he'd play one of the instruments, and he'd also probably introduce everybody and sing the little one line when not playing trumpet. And that's what I feel like. In a weird way, James Brown makes more sense to me, even though he was also a dynamic performer. But that role of the guy who's trying to get the band to be a piano or trying to get a band to do this weird thing that has nothing to do with playing it right or wrong, that has everything to do with playing it in this really specific way: That's kind of what I like."

Murphy insists he isn't a dictatorial leader—things just run more smoothly his way. "I have really good people in the band, and they've been really generous to me to let me be kind of crazy. Like, 'No, you have to go a little ahead of the beat here, and it needs to feel neurotic. It needs to feel lighter, like a light robot, not like a heavy person.' I talk about all this esoteric shit, and they roll their eyes at me, but they've been really magnanimous and going with it."

The result is a touring band powerful enough that, after years of apparently cinematic failure, Murphy feels comfortable indulging in a bit of Ultimate Fighter bravado. " Nobody can play live like us," he insists disgustedly. "Nobody tries. And there are more talented people that should be better. That's what I take exception to. I think it's insulting. It's like coming into the ring out of shape. Don't fucking come into the ring out of shape; it's disrespectful. Don't come play a show with us and bring your B-game and phone it in and pose, pull a whole bunch of rock bullshit moves and emote and shit like that with us because I'll fucking punch you in the face. That's bullshit."

James Murphy
photo: Jake Walters
James Murphy

On LCD Soundsystem's early 12-inch singles, Murphy's excitability manifested itself as equal parts sardonic and ecstatic. In his sneery monotone, he took pointed but funny lyrical shots at his own audience and at himself (famously, for instance, ending "Losing My Edge" with a laundry list of hip musical influences) while canned, claustrophobic synths and drums piled up around him. Over the long running times of tracks like "Beat Connection" and "Yeah," though, those rigid percussive tics would open up and spread out, spilling gradually into euphoric dancefloor release. On the band's self-titled 2005 album (packaged with a bonus disc of those early singles), Murphy pushed those alternating tendencies further outward, sharpening his jittery thumps on some tracks and playing with warm, expansive, Eno-derived sonics on others.

Since LCD Soundsystem's release, Murphy has kept a frantic schedule. He's toured the world to promote the album in addition to maintaining a full slate of DJ and production work; DFA Records released two separate compilations of Murphy and Goldsworthy's remixes last year. But maybe Murphy's most ambitious project arose after Nike contacted him to create a long, continuous piece of workout music as part of their ongoing Original Run series. Murphy had already been toying with the idea of making a 45-minute track, but he was initially skeptical. "At first I was like, 'Well, I don't want to do it,' " he remembers. "And then I asked myself: Well, why don't I want to do it? And I realized that the reason my knee-jerk reaction was no was a pretty untenable position. It was that it's not cool. And I have a problem with cool as a means of measuring things."

The more Murphy considered the project, the more sense it made. "I wouldn't do it just for shits and giggles," he says. "I need a deadline, and this was a deadline. And [Nike] had rules—they had things they wanted, which really made me happy. I think other artists might get bummed out about doing a seven-minute warm-up and a seven-minute cool-down, but I'm not that precious. I love having boundaries and rules like that. It gives you something to push against and push into. So it just seemed like a good thing to do."

Released in October, the result was the iTunes-only track 45:33, a layered but propulsive multi-movement work that cycles slowly through its own peaks and valleys, exploring different facets of disco without ever losing its central pulse. "I didn't think [Nike would] put it out because it was too gay and campy and weird for them," Murphy admits. "Not that it's left-field music; it's just disco. But a company like that is pretty brand-heavy. I thought maybe it wouldn't fit in with them. But they totally put it out. And I'm very, very proud of it; it's one of my favorite things that I've ever made."

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