October 21, 2014

Our Post-Moogfest Talk with James Murphy (Pt. 1)

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Moogers: Murphy (right) & Mahoney

Moogers: Murphy (right) & Mahoney

Asheville, N.C.—So, after the completion of Moogfest this past weekend, we ran into James Murphy at the Asheville Regional Airport. Turns out, we were both checking into the same flight back to NYC.

The night before, I’d seen Murphy and former LCD Soundsystem bandmate Pat Mahoney—billed as Special Disco Version—spin a vinyl-only DJ set of tasty obscurities and underground floorfillers at the Asheville Convention Center. For a festival-closing set on a Sunday night in a relatively cavernous arena, it came off way better than one might expect. In fact, the kids loved it.

I’d interviewed the LCD Soundsystem frontman/DFA collective principal back in 2005 for a DJ Times cover story—I’m pretty sure it was one of his first—and I recalled that he was a really engaging interview. It felt like we were in a bar, just talking music, the way any music geeks would.
Since then, Murphy had gone onto bigger and better things, namely becoming a critical fave/hipster idol with three terrific LCD Soundsystem albums (that included killer singles like “Losing My Edge,” “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” and “All My Friends”). The band toured the world and Murphy DJed all over. In Murphy’s last act with LCD Soundsystem this past April, the band played nearly four hours to a sold-out Madison Square Garden. Helluva sendoff, right? Anyway, here’s our airport conversation:
DJ Times: Were you psyched at all with the notion of doing an event with the Moog name attached?
Murphy:Yeah, but you never know how much of it is just the name, because we hadn’t been here—but it was cool. The first thing we noticed was that the crowd was really fun and really good. Usually, DJing festivals just isn’t that fun and usually you’re stuck doing these big dumb moves—and we play only vinyl, the stages are always hollow, and we have to bring all this gear to make sure your vinyl doesn’t feedback. The crowd was actually fun.
DJ Times: Not bad for a Sunday night?
Murphy: Yeah, it was great. Afterwards, we just hung out with the Moog people and we went to the factory today and it was great. The people were really nice. I had no idea that [the festival] would be so integrated to the company, but being that it was… the experience was really great.
DJ Times: Let’s talk about the content of your set. You mixed up some obscure disco with newer Art Department-type house. Going into the gig, what did you have in mind for this audience?
Murphy:Nothing. We have two bags of records—my bag and Pat’s bag. Beforehand, we might discuss what to play first, like I said to Pat, “Oh, can I play that orange record.” The first record was an Instruments of Rapture edit that’s pretty slow, about 114 [BPM]. It’s like, “Can I play slow at first?” That’s the discussion. That’s the plan. Play the first record and see what happens. We’ve played together so many times that we never have an idea or a concept beforehand. The bag of records is the idea.
DJ Times: As a rare vinyl jock, you have a finite amount of music to play. What kind of challenge does that offer you?
Murphy:Yes, well, I never feel like I don’t have enough music. I might think, “Oh, I wish I had this record,” but it’s never a big deal. The real challenge is technological. The fact that there’s like five DJs playing records anymore…
DJ Times: And some of the turntablists.
Murphy:And a lot of turntablists use Serato. There are people who play records, but as far as DJs who travel and play festivals, there’s like Juan McLean and just a handful. So the setup isn’t made for records anymore.
DJ Times: A lotta clubs don’t have turntables at all.
Murphy:Yeah, or they don’t work or they’re just garbage. Technically, it’s very frustrating. It’s gotten to the point that Pat and I keep threatening to go to CDs just for festivals. Computers are too far away. Using CDJs is close enough to playing records for me. As for computers, I’m an old dog who doesn’t want to learn the software/DJ thing. It just doesn’t interest me. Not that I think there’s anything necessarily inherently wrong with it, though, I just think if people play with those, they need to do something different. It needs to be better. If you have all those options, and just play a regular DJ set, it’s a little bit like, “Really?”
DJ Times: Do you think the platform matters?
Murphy: I don’t think it matters. A lot of my favorite DJs use computers, like the Optimo guys [from Scotland]. But they do something different. From their first show ever, they’d play this certain song. But rather than just play it every time, they’d do an edit the night before and they’d work it into the set somehow, and I thought that was a really creative way to use a new tool. I find that, if you’re just playing records, I mean, who cares, if it’s not a good DJ set? People shouldn’t necessarily notice.
DJ Times: So, no genuine aversion to digital?
Murphy: If it’s a good party and it’s some fashion designer with an iPod and people are dancing, it works. I don’t care. The idea of being “a real DJ” is a personal thing. I mean, I prefer to play vinyl. The reason I wouldn’t want to do anything else is that I’m lazy. Most DJs are like, “Oh, records are heavy.” Heavy? Go join a band. They’re not heavy.

– Jim Tremayne

[Check back Monday for Part 2 of our conversation, which will include more DJ talk and discussion of the future of DFA.]