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10 Things We Learnt From James Murphy

10 Things We Learnt From James Murphy

06 March 2014, 14:00

LCD Soundsystem and DFA man James Murphy took part in a live Red Bull Music Academy Q&A last week at by:Larm Festival in Oslo, Norway and as well as laughing a whole lot, we learnt some things too.

1. The live album is actually really happening

“It’s really coming out now. If Jon were here, my partner at the label, he would know – I don’t know, but there is an actual date set [Ed - a five-vinyl epic has since been announced for a Record Store Day release]. The artwork has been approved. I mean, 3 years, don’t rush it.” When asked why it took so long, he sighed and said “I feel like we’ve been dating for a long time and I haven’t asked you to marry me and you’re like “What’s going on?” Like I don’t know. Life goes by, I thought this was fine … I don’t want to ruin this.” In reality though, “the movie took a much longer time that I thought and when I was done with that I was like I don’t want the concert audio to be the record so I have to mix this again.”

2. AC/DC rule

“I would work with AC/DC. I wouldn’t think of it but if AC/DC were like “we’d like you to record our next record” I would just say “yes, that sounds awesome.” Those guys rule. I’m totally serious, those guys are the coolest people. Someone said , I think it was Malcolm Young, “What do you say to the critics who said you’ve made the same record 13 times?” He said “Fuck that, it’s 14.” Anybody who makes that joke about themselves, I’ll spend as much time in the studio with them as they want. Plus, they rule.”

3. The Ramones were the first band he saw live

The people that turned him onto dance music – “Marcus Lambkin who is Shit Robot on DFA and Tim Goldsworthy who produced the David Holmes record” – had a lot in common, “identical 80s” in fact, but it was Tim and James that bonded over the fact that The Ramones was the first gig they both went to.

4. You can measure your success in happiness

“Marcus was always just great. Even when I didn’t know anything about the tracks he was playing, I always noticed that when he started playing everyone was having a better time – that was also a real revelation to me, like “Holy shit, you can measure your success by actual happiness!” I’d been in indie rock for fifteen years and you can’t measure it then. Everyone is a failure at that – you can headline a fucking festival and you just failed at making anybody happy because it’s like, “it was totally excellent, he just didn’t give a shit the whole show, I watched him, he just didn’t care, it was greeaat.” Dancing, if you’re DJing and everyone kind of leaves, you just fucked it up. If everyone is like “EYYHR” and two people make out you’re like “I’m doing a good job” which after years of being like “I can’t tell if people like what I’m doing” was a real exciting thing, and I got pretty addicted to it.”

5. He wants you to stop staring and make-out

“I have a pretty simple goal when DJing. I want to have it sound really good and not hurt people’s ears. I want people to not feel disrespected. I want to make people feel welcome, and I want to make people feel surprised and have a really good time and I want them to be happy. Genuinely just have people just be happy, but that is the main thing. I’d like people to communicate with each other and not stare at me, which is another thing in DJing that I hate. And it’s not anyone in the audiences fault, ever, it’s just what’s happened suddenly that people stare at DJs.

We don’t do anything. I mean I really don’t do anything. I mean some dudes are like “yeaaahh” and they’ll give you an energy. I’m just a guy with a grey beard…” – “That’s it, it’s just that for two hours!” And people are taking videos of it, and I’m like “holy shit, this is going to be the worst video”. Imagine showing your friends like – “Check this out. Yeah he’s scratching his lower back. Wait wait wait, this is amazing, this is amazing, amazing … yep he refills his drink. Oh it overflows, he wipes it down a little bit. This guy is the shit.” And I feel bad because I don’t want to scald people but I’ll be like just make-out with somebody, hang out with your friends, that is the point of these fucking things”

6. He loves the New York subway

“I travel a lot and love my city and I love the New York subway system, I’m a real big fan of it. I think it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a city that is kind of cruel. It’s pretty safe and great but it’s also a little cold and mean and it’s expensive, but the subway is like 2 bucks from the ass end of one area to the ass end of another area and everybody rides it. But it’s really unpleasant sounding, it makes a bad sound when you swipe your card so there is this constant whining dissonance.”

Inspired by trips to Japan and Barcelona, he wants to replace that whining with a nice sound. You can read more about that project, which he has “failed since 1999 to make anything happen” on, here.

7. It costs 5 figures to just move his Despacio sound system

Yep, James Murphy would so love to be able to move his 50,000 watt system more than he has already but in the man’s own words:

“If you have a thing that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and 5 figures just to move, and you can only set it up in a room where everyone is like “No, we don’t want your PA in here, we have our own PA” and I’m like, “just move it we’re going to put these giant boxes in and lose like 40% of the floor space for occupation capacity which we can’t sell tickets for. It’s very difficult to find venues that work, in a lot of ways. One concern – is it a venue that has got the right space and size to sound good? It defeats the purpose to put it in a space that would sound bad. Number 2, can the floor loading handle it? That is actually something I hadn’t thought of before we ran into it. They’re really heavy. A lot of places the floors can’t handle it. Economically the best idea. We are making money hand over fist.”

8. Amateurism is a good thing

The key to surprising yourself as a producer, according to James Murphy, is “amateurism and misunderstanding.”

“I’m not being facetious,” he told the gathered audience, “I think to a certain degree remaining amateur . I grew up listening to records and just guessing how things got done and through that developing weird techniques of my own that I have to this day, that I taught myself in the early/mid 80s. And being sightly misinformed. Like, I don’t read a lot of magazines about recording techniques and I don’t Google stuff much. I just sort of listen to records and then just try to fuck around and things come out of that that I aren’t necessarily what I intend.”

9. He could have been a millionaire

A transcript of what could have been…

RBMA: “What’s the worst business decision you’ve ever made? It seems like your career is littered with things that probably seem bad on the face of it.”
JM: “Yeah, I’m waiting for the third one. I don’t really know what the third one is. I’ve probably already made the decision and I’m just going to learn what it is later.”

“The third one, so what would the first one be?”
“Well one of them is not writing for Seinfeld after the first season. Not that I necessarily would have succeeded at that but that would have been a decent career. The other one is I worked for a tech company doing their customer service and writing their manual. They offered me to not go back to college, like a small percentage of the company, like 5%. I was like I don’t want to do that, this is lame, so I went back to college…and dropped out. My 5% would have been worth – let me put this in perspective, they were the first like internet banking company, so when internet banking started there was one company who had a relationship with all those banks. When they went public my 5% would have been worth like… I would have just bought a country like, I mean think about the sound system I could have built! No, I would have been a terrible, miserable person or at least that’s what I tell myself. I would have been outmanoeuvred by somebody and somehow lost it all.”

10. DJing is not rocket science

When asked about who he looked up to stylistically when it comes to DJing he responded:

“There are a lot of people I like but I didn’t really think about it like, “How should I do this?” It seemed like such a simple technical exercise. I’ve been recording bands and building studios and playing instruments for years and I was like, this is fucking not going to be rocket science.And people, it’s not. I don’t know what people are telling everybody but it’s not complicated. You put a song on. You wait. Pick another one. When it’s almost done with first one, you just play the other one. Ask someone to get you a drink.

Usually being good at something is more a measure of empathy than genius. If you have empathy for your audience – you don’t look down on them and you’re not so paralyzed by fear and panic that you’re going to screw up – if you have empathy, it’s really alright. That’s all it really is for me … and a lot of records. You should have records. Or just music. If you show up and there’s no music, that’s like, you won’t do a good DJ gig.”

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