James Murphy’s Law

It starts with the crowd showing their appreciation. Slowly, a rhythm settles in. Then, a gut-churning bass line and a central instrumental motif guaranteed to make bodies writhe. It’s The Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers”—the first DFA single, with James Murphy behind the boards.

And it’s pretty much David Bowie’s “Love Is Lost”, too, albeit spun out over a ten-minute remix masterminded by, yes, James Murphy.

But this time, as opposed to the raucous screaming of a punk club, we hear the incessant applause of a concert hall, in direct homage to Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music”, which then loops in on itself to underpin a disco beat. Bowie’s original arrangement is nowhere to be heard; his voice, reduced to forlorn echoes, as ghostly as the faint interpolation of the riff from “Ashes To Ashes” a little later.

Working on such a grand, leisurely scale allows Murphy the chance to let this remix unfurl. Stray tinkling of piano-keys punctuate hesitant pulses of analogue synthesizer, which sound as if they have been telegraphed from the Cold War. Halfway through, there is a suddenly interruption of gospel-like rapture. It ushers in a more deliberately dancier passage, which feels entirely earned after the performance-art which precedes it. At this point, there are flashbacks to the high-points of Bowie’s back catalogue—the insistent disco stomp of “Station To Station”; the spontaneous, sighing ambience of Low’s latter half; and yes, the aching apotheosis of “Ashes To Ashes”. There’s also a nod or two to previous DFA remixes, specifically those of Justin Timberlake’s “My Love” (in the technicolor stabs of keyboard) and Gorillaz’s “DARE” (in the effortless rise and fall of intensity). This is a summation of two great careers, not a footnote.

All of which brings us, ineluctably, to “Reflektor”.

Arcade Fire, a band unfairly judged for their grandiose, ready-to-topple arrangements (an assessment which conveniently ignores the breathiness of “Haiti” or “Neon Bible”) has been transformed into a sleek, creepy, slinking beast of the discotheque. An occasional tumble of congas and bongos does little to undermine the tautness of the funk. A third of the way in, there is the screech and squelch of an acid-house filter; this is far from familiar territory for the troupe that used to make music in an abandoned church. The frazzled blasts of brass in the choruses are seemingly scissored out of a TV On The Radio song, and the vocals of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne are frequently warped and twisted and screwed around with in a funhouse mirror.

Why do I draw so much attention to the minutiæ of the song’s production? To bring to prominence Murphy’s growing toolbox. No longer just a byword for the cowbell, the cardboard-box drums, the chicken-scratch guitar of dance-punk in NYC circa 2004, his grubby fingers are poised to conquer greater prizes. The man whose production moniker derived from a soundsystem known for its punishing loudness could now become synonymous with a chart-topping collective whose lyrics owe more to childhood tales of courtship and tragedy than to the pitfalls of being famous in New York. What phenomenal news.

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