Why Bowie, Arcade Fire And Everyone Else Loves James Murphy

This morning, James Murphy’s remix of David Bowie’s ‘Love Is Lost’ made its radio debut and it’s predictably awesome – a slow-burning 10-minutes that builds hypnotically from the sound of applause (take that, Gaga).

Similarly, when Arcade Fire made their long-awaited return with the stunning ‘Reflektor’ recently (with Bowie himself on backing vocals), Murphy was behind the mixing desk and the result was – surprise! – great. Not bad for a 43-year-old who’s called himself “retired” ever since he literally packed LCD Soundsystem into boxes following a series of farewell concerts in 2011 (an emotional moment recorded for posterity in the band’s documentary postscript ‘Shut Up And Play The Hits’). But then, Murphy never did follow a conventional path. Here’s why he remains one of the planet’s very best humans:

He rules

When Murphy put together a band to tour his LCD Soundsystem records, he didn’t want to fall into any rock cliches. So he laid down some rules. It’s a masterclass in cutting out the bullshit:

“Nobody onstage can hear anything the audience doesn’t hear. No click tracks, no guides, nothing can be heard onstage that isn’t going to the front of the house. If it’s a synthesizer, you have to make that sound onstage happen with a synth. If it’s an organic sound, it absolutely cannot be put on a sampler. No ‘feeling it’. No sunglasses. No rocking out. No improvising. No noodling. No psyching up the crowd. No pretending you’re cool. I understand that if someone’s going to make me his idea of cool I can’t control that. But no wearing the rock-and-roll hat.”

A Beastie Boy helped him realise what he wanted

Murphy was 35 by the time the first LCD Soundsystem single was released, having spent years as an engineer, so he wasn’t a kid in a band when he started making music: he was a man with something to say. It was a Beastie Boy who acted as the catalyst though. As he recalls:

“We produced a record for Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys called BS 2000 and as a gift to me he bought me a boombox with a cassette deck and a keyboard in it from a yard sale. That’s like a movie. Ad Rock from the Beastie Boys gave me a present, it’s a boombox with a keyboard and a beatbox in it. You can’t make that up. It had a beat already in it so I had an idea. I’m going to walk out, put that on a barstool, put a mike to it and just make shit up to it. That’s what “Losing My Edge” was.”

‘Losing My Edge’

And here’s what he made with that Beastie beat and a head full of truth. Murphy’s calling card is about as honest and funny as music gets:

He’s a great writer

One of the thing that makes LCD Soundsystem’s music so powerful is Murphy’s keenly observed and perfectly phrased lyrics. No surprises then, that he studied writing and in recent years has talked about working on a novel – oh, and years before he even started making music as LCD Soundsystem he got offered a job writing for some guy called Larry David on this TV show called ‘Seinfeld’. Apparently it got pretty big.

He knows how to play the system

In 2006 he was offered a lump of cash by Nike to designed music to accompany jogging workouts which would “reward and push at good intervals of a run.” Murphy took the money and told them he’d work on it on the treadmill. After ’45:33′ was released, he admitted the whole thing was a lie: he’d never been on a treadmill and he just wanted the shoe pedlars to fund his longform music ambitions. It’s not even 45:33 minutes long.


‘Someone Great’
Part of that instrumental piece later reappeared as ‘Someone Great’ on 2007’s masterful ‘Sound Of Silver’. For my money it’s up there as one of the most moving, erudite and powerful songs of the last decade. It’s no surprise that so many people nominate this as the song they’d want played at their funeral:


‘All My Friends’

Oh, and just for good measure he followed ‘Someone Great’ with the equally flooring ‘All My Friends’. I just had to stop listening to this in the office because it makes me more emotional than I can handle being at 3:41 on a Thursday:

Working with Bowie brings him full circle

Murphy’s essay about working with Bowie in this week’s issue of NME is a joy, partly because of the palpable sense of excitement that comes across. That’s no surprise, Murphy has been listening to his music since he was a child, and his influence is perhaps never more apparent than when he pays homage to his hero (or should I say ‘Heroes’) on ‘This Is Happening’s ‘All I Want’:

Read James Murphy, Black Francis, Irvine Welsh and more on David Bowie in this week’s NME:

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