A Shadow History of LCD Soundsystem in Five DJ Sets


James Murphy: Beats in Space radio show #111, part two (WNYU-FM, New York; May 9, 2002)

Before James Murphy was an impresario, he was a drummer — a notoriously hard hitter — and his fascination with bare rhythm is one of the constancies of the music he both makes and plays as a DJ. What’s changed most over time with the latter are the rhythms and the amount of echo Murphy applies to the vocals. His sets have moved from tense to nearly pacific, from heavy on clipped guitars to reliant on the most spun-sugar disco, but always, he likes to establish his tone with just drums. It’s a way to build suspense; he learned that from all those 12-inches. (Remember this term: tops and tails — the way dance tracks begin and end with only the beat.) He also learned it from classic motorik: Krautrock bands like Can and Neu! could conjure vistas by letting their audaciously metronomic timekeepers lay in the cut.

I downloaded the file of this show years ago from the Beats in Space site (it’s no longer there; the stream is from my Mixcloud page). It had a curious and telling credit for the DJ: James DFA. In 2002, DFA — the label Murphy co-founded with partner Tim Goldsworthy — had kicked off with a pair of instant masterworks, the Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers” and LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge”; the DFA remix of Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” was equally omnipresent in New York clubs. Tim Sweeney, Beats in Space’s host, was DFA’s first intern.

None of those tracks are on the May 9, 2002, BIS set. “I don’t normally play my own music,” Murphy would later tell the Guardian. You only had to hear “Edge” to figure out whose music he did play: Can (“Vitamin C”), Larry Levan (Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face”), and Sixties garage rockers the Sonics, whose “Shot Down” is sandwiched between — get this — a track from German electro label Disko B and vintage Manu Dibango. That’s actually the best stretch in a mix where nothing lags, even if the mixing is occasionally rough.


The DFA: Colette No. 5, disc two (Colette, France; rel. 2003)

Part of a compilation series issued by the French clothing boutique of the same name, the double CD Colette No. 5 went for about $30 at Other Music at the time — and the reason you wanted it was for the second disc, credited jointly to the DFA, Murphy and Goldsworthy. It’s less of a through line than Murphy’s usual, but that fits too — when electro came back, it brought with it license to break the groove up more, and the right-angled transitions work nicely. It’s also the most ardently current of any set here, with many tracks from 2002 or ’03, including a pair of DFA gems, the Rapture’s “I Need Your Love” and Juan MacLean’s “Give Me Every Little Thing”; the rest are early-Eighties postpunk. Aside from the Tim Sweeney–mixed Dance to the Underground, the cover-mount mix CD from the April 2003 issue of the late British dance mag Muzik, this is a definitive aural snapshot of the period, give or take one’s tolerance for Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.

Get the tracklist here


James Murphy & Pat Mahoney: FabricLive 36 (rel. October 2007)

Post-disco dance music has been constantly “rediscovering disco” since, oh, 1983. The mid-2000s New York version was steeped in “edits” that cut and extended the juiciest bits from old disco tracks — which, as Chicago DJ and producer Chrissy pointed out in a recent interview, is more or less exactly what Chicago and French house producers were doing routinely in the mid-Nineties, only those “were considered tracks in their own right back then. But if they came out today, they would be considered disco re-edits — possibly because today’s target audience is more knowledgeable about disco than they were in the Nineties, and so are more likely to spot the sample source. For instance, if [Daft Punk’s] ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ came out in 2017 from an unknown producer, the record store would probably file it in the re-edits section!”

A couple of things differentiate mid-Aughts disco cut-ups from those of the Nineties. One is upgraded equipment: Many releases on iconic Chicago labels like Relief and Dance Mania were made with older equipment that could only sample a few seconds, say, rather than the endless cut-and-paste that digital editing allows. Another is the ultra-ripe feel many of the best post-millennial re-editors achieved. While Murphy had always spun disco, it was now occupying the center of his sets — which he was now beginning to play alongside fellow drummer Pat Mahoney, who’d played with the excellent cockeyed Brooklyn postpunks Les Savy Fav before joining LCD Soundsystem.

“Pat and I started playing disco as a way to make people more uncomfortable,” Murphy told Resident Advisor. “Because it’s more fun. Then people come out of their shells in different ways.… I’d play festivals with 2manyDJs and start sneak [sic] the Bee Gees in, sneaking disco in, and it was really fun. It was fun to earn and fun to know you were taking people out of their comfort zone and they were going for it, because you did a good enough job of playing things that made them trust you and feel comfortable and then they trusted you enough that they just came with you into a zone that if you were to just present it to them flatly, it would have been really boring.”

Released seven months after LCD’s Sound of Silver, Murphy and Mahoney’s FabricLive 36 is a testament to their catholic sense of what “disco” is and can be. Many of the tracks are original versions — an early showstopper is Chic’s “I Feel Your Love Comin’ On” — but several are edits: Theo Parrish’s version of GQ’s “Lies,” Danny Krivit’s edit of Lenny Williams’s “You Got Me Running,” and most dramatic of all, Murphy and Mahoney’s touch-up of Donald Byrd’s “Love Has Come Around,” which in this context is like walking into sunlight after a long ride on the subway.

Get the tracklist here


James Murphy: Beats in Space radio show #586 (August 16, 2011)

“I’ve been DJing a lot since the demise of my rock ensemble,” Murphy told Tim Sweeney four months after LCD Soundsystem’s Madison Square Garden finale. “I didn’t want to come here and do a radio version of what I’ve been playing out.” Instead, this full-show, two-and-a-half-hour set would contain “the stuff that I’ve been thinking about a lot more so than playing.… I’m excited. It’s not going to be the smoothest mixing, and the tempos are going to be all over the place. But it’s stuff that I love.”

Think of this show, then, as a workshop. Many of these tracks are things Murphy was playing out for the first time ever (and many have reappeared in his later sets, particularly Sylvester’s “I Need Somebody to Love Tonight” and Steve “Silk” Hurley’s “Jack Your Body”). Murphy creates a distended, suspended, slo-mo feel, particularly in the first half, which is almost irradiated at times. The second half is sharper-lined, climaxing with an unexpected (and inspired) Prince choice, “The Future,” from the Batman soundtrack. It’s also a place for him to air out more than just musical ideas, as when he tells Sweeney, “I want to get into doing luggage.”


James Murphy: Live @ 12 Years of DFA Records (May 25, 2013)

Opening with a monster edit of Bill Withers’s “Harlem,” this is Murphy the disco man at his most fluid. Some of the tracks are the type that he was playing ten years earlier — A Certain Ratio’s “Do the Du,” Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Computer Games” — but here they seem transfigured by the company of Sylvester (twice!), the Bee Gees”, and Diana Ross, like they’re all covered in the same gloss. Or speaking the same language — something else Murphy was saying ten years ago as well.