Tag Archives: dfa

Waves of Brazil

I’ve written previously about Noah Lennox’s way with clockwork rhythms that sit behind assorted musical mischief. On his latest album as Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, the rhythms are more indebted to psych rock, but here and there (as on the nonsensical anthem “Boys Latin”) the older, dubbier affectations slip in – and on these songs, the chaos unfurling above is all the more effective for it. Continue reading Waves of Brazil

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Luxury problems

Another season, another chance to dust off the well-thumbed treatise on the future of DFA. Sinkane’s late-summer grooves recall the humid soul of Marvin Gaye but without the social commentary. Meanwhile The Juan MacLean, now the trading name of John MacLean and Nancy Whang, go stratospheric on In A Dream. Continue reading Luxury problems

The definitive* ranking of DFA remixes

*Not actually definitive at all.

This started with my recognition that BuzzFeed has decided to carve up every phenomenon in the world into ‘definitive rankings‘ and ‘which x are you?‘. Not to be outdone, here, then, is my contribution to this growing corpus. I hope Mr. Matthew Perpetua is paying attention. Continue reading The definitive* ranking of DFA remixes

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. Continue reading James Murphy’s Law

Life From Above: DFA at 12

When you turn twelve, that’s the last time you’ll be excused from something on the grounds of youth. Adolescence, moody and laden with growing pains, beckons. Having fun isn’t just an end within itself anymore. You at least think you have to stand for something more.

It’s startling how one record label has come to define and inform so much of my record collection. DFA. New Yorkers at the turn of the twenty-first century: whisper those three letters in hushed tones of awe. Teenagers across the Atlantic, breaking free of the moribund: if you can’t party like your idols, at least make your bedroom hi-fi sound like you can. For me, it wasn’t “House of Jealous Lovers”, the first time. It couldn’t have been—I would have been a couple of years too young. It was “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”, raucous and clattering and just startlingly good fun. From there on in, it was about every single and album the label released.

If there was a peak, it was 2007: the year Sound Of Silver broke a thousand people’s hearts and then reassembled them with the science of dance; the year those first house throwbacks from Still Going and Hercules And Love Affair made us take note of an alternate history that isn’t taught in school. That year, James Murphy and his label were prolific and untouchable. The Fabriclive.36 mix, jointly helmed by Murphy and LCD Soundsystem’s sweaty, machine-like drummer Pat Mahoney (who professed a love of “gay-ass disco”) was spun out through a vintage Bozak mixer.

If there was a peak, there was a trough. At LCD Soundsystem’s farewell concert in 2011, Murphy is said to have anointed Janine Rostron as the successor to the throne of DFA. Rostron, who performs under the nom de plume of Planningtorock, is an artist to admire more than one to truly love. Her music is androgynous, dark and scary, from the world of art where people still decamp to Berlin to experience isolation. In my books, that makes her the antithesis of what DFA is about. Artists on the label’s roster have challenged listeners in the past (the various outfits Gavin Russom performs in, for example), but at its heart, I’ve always thought Liv Spencer of Still Going summed up DFA’s idée fixe best: “It’s about people going to clubs, forgetting their shitty week—or their great week—and just kind of like, dancing until the sun comes up.”

Rewind to 2008 and there were two pretty apposite acts on the label poised to offer just such fun. That was the year Hercules And Love Affair released their eponymous debut: a giddy survey of forty-odd years of disco, tinged with regret and higher thoughts, but located firmly on the dancefloor. That was also the year Maurice Fulton hid behind a fictitious Finnish trio called Syclops to release a full-length called I’ve Got My Eye On You. Uninhibited by definitions of genre, the album pitted jazzy live drumming against obnoxious synths and fretless basses, managing to sound fairly timeless and geographically nonspecific, and also like a lot of fun. Reading reviews of the album from the time, you’d think DFA were serving up the hipster’s answer to Jamiroquai. For Brandon Bussolini of Prefix, “Syclops’ main points of reference center less on the dance floor than the heavier end of the jazz-fusion spectrum […] churning, cosmic disco-funk that make up this album—a high point for dance music in 2008 and yet another feather in DFA’s cap”.

Here were two exciting visions of the DFA code, backed by a label with seemingly limitless reserves of cool, and handily positioned in the penumbra of the band, LCD Soundsystem, that was helping everything make sense. (For one publication’s take on just what an important family the label had become, see this.) At one point, Murphy’s vision, to break down the barrier between dance and punk, looked poised to crossover into the mainstream: the label was courted by representatives of Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, and was invited to remix Justin Timberlake’s “My Love”. The first two avenues led nowhere; the third resulted in a subtle reinvention of a stone-cold modern classic that ought to now be seen as a pure statement of the DFA sound. Cowbells, handclaps, Simmons pads and acoustically-dead live drums (Murphy’s trick was to dampen the sound of the drums by affixing neoprene mouse pads to them) provide a thudding, dancefloor-ready rhythm. Filtered Rhodes and fluttering, pulsing synths are the vertebrae to which Timberlake’s vocal theatrics are pinned. The final few minutes ride a gloriously soulful, lightly-distorted bass guitar line. These were much the same components that made LCD Soundsystem songs snap, crackle and pop.

But then LCD Soundsystem closed shop. Suddenly, because DFA had been mes que una compañía discográfica, we had to start looking for a new totem. DFA couldn’t be just a label—it needed a new icon for other artists to rally around. The Rapture had been, gone, and come back in an altered form. Hot Chip had achieved universal acclaim for their universal pop music. Murphy’s heiress, Planningtorock, didn’t really cut the mustard.

DFA has lately been responsible for a splurge of releases. The quality is more variable than in those golden years, when a monthly trip to the label’s MySpace page seemed to yield some new, strange fruit. But there are nuggets of excitement. Factory Floor are a London trio on the label who make pretty industrial (look at their name—is it really a surprise?) long-format bangers. They don’t have an album out yet—though it’s in the works—but what they’ve released to date is brutal, exciting stuff.

Listening to something like “Fall Back” (see above), they’re not a million miles away from the frantic, relentlessly locked-in Nisennenmondai. Could this be where the DFA vision is headed—or is there no longer such a thing? In their 2008 feature on the label, The Fader interviewed Jonathan Galkin, the ‘ears’ and also the ‘Jewish mother’ of DFA. “At the same time, I feel like we’re at the top of our game. It’s kind of bittersweet,” said Galkin.

Watching Red Bull’s recent documentary about DFA, “Too Old To Be New, Too New To Be Classic” (one of several mantras the label has), my heart was pierced by the inescapable feeling that the trifecta at the core of the label has drifted apart. Murphy, having disbanded the outfit that accidentally took over his life for eight years, is busy doing the things he missed out on—marathon DJ sets; production-work for friends of his like Arcade Fire; considering branching out into coffee. Tim Goldsworthy, the Brit production whizz-kid who co-founded the label, disappeared in the middle of the night and wound up mixing albums for Archie Bronson Outfit, The Maccabees and Little Boots; the label is currently suing him for close to $100,000. Which leaves Galkin, stuck in that West Village office, choosing which 12” singles to put out, packing vinyl and merchandise for dispatching to the forever faithful (myself included), and generally handling the day-to-day commercial realities of a record label. In the film, at one point he turns to look at the neighbouring swivel-chair Murphy used to sit on, now vacant much of the time. It’s hard not to feel a little pang of remorse akin to Murphy’s, in “Shut Up And Play The Hits”, upon inspecting a room full of his band’s gear, waiting to be sold or boxed away.

While the mousepads are still firmly on the drums and the analogue synths are still being lovingly restored, I’ll continue to believe there can be life from above. But while there’s still a DFA family, it’s getting harder to see where it’s heading. And soon they won’t have pre-teen youthfulness on their side.

The most perfect four-minute pop song, distended to include an anticipatory intro which leaves you begging for that minor-to-major chord change.

When I saw Prinzhorn Dance School (officially designated the band least likely to be signed to a major record label) at a 10th anniversary party for DFA Records (whoosh, thump, namedrop) I was surprised by how much more, in the flesh, they reminded me of Gang of Four. There is of course a shared caustic sense of humour to both bands’ work, but seen on stage the music itself melds with my memories of the original post-punk poster-boys.

On their forthcoming second album, Clay Class, I think there’s to be a subtle shift from the brittleness of their debut, towards a more flowing style that’s occasionally interrupted by the shouty bits of old. If you will, it sounds a bit more informed by Gang of Four. No bad thing, if you found their old stuff a bit too primal.

The second song to be teased out from Clay Class is “Happy in Bits“, which lopes along quite a melodic little riff. The bass-line is as primitive as ever, which is how I like it, but it’s lower in the mix; lower than Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn’s angry/coital vocals, at least.

DFA at 10

Newsflash: I write too much about DFA Records. Geeky fact: my iPod is engraved with “The DFA” on its back. All context aside, however, it’s really great that the label set up by Messrs. Murphy and Goldsworthy in 2001 has hit such a milestone, and I helped ring in the years on Tuesday night when I attended a little party-cum-gig at the cosy 100 Club on London’s Oxford Street.

Given that the last gig I went to was Flying Lotus at the Roundhouse two weeks prior, this was a radically stripped-down affair. Three tight bands; no fluff, no guff; adoring fans standing not farther than five metres from the stage. First up were the comically stark Prinzhorn Dance School, back after something of an extended spell making their second album. Deadpan to the extreme, the lyrics about small-town gruesomeness were set against abrasive, Gang Of Four-style post punk. Martial drums from a ponytailed extra left plenty of air in the mix for Tobin Prinz’s caustic fretwork and Suzi Horn’s bottomless bass-lines. The new songs sounded slightly more heartfelt, rather like the closing track on their debut album, “Spaceman In Your Garden”, but there was something so primal in the yelping of older cuts like “Up! Up! Up!” and “Crackerjack Docker”.

Next came Y△CHT (ultra-stylized, as ever), with the core duo of Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans still expanded to take in the backing band who are, I think, still called The Straight Gaze. Evans was striking in a space-age ecru dress, writhing and gesticulating all across the stage and floor. Behind her, the feel-good white boy funk proved mildly intoxicating, recalling the Tom Tom Club. Plinky-plonk keys and socially awkward beats were very much the order of the day; moderately amusing PowerPoint graphics projected onto a rickety screen provided further entertainment. The band were good enough to stop for a Q&A halfway through (unrequited) but more of the crowd took them up on their offer after their set.

Lead billing was given to The Rapture, whose breakthrough album Echoes was literally the coolest thing I’d ever heard when I finally got round to buying it in 2007. Back when they were a foursome, they did for dance-friendly music what The Strokes did for rock ‘n’ roll. Now reduced to a trio, they’re still a raucous live act. Luke Jenner and Vito Roccoforte look a bit more padded round the edges nowadays, but they still whip up a sonic storm between the drumkit and the ubiquitous red Telecaster; meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Andruzzi looks like he hasn’t aged a day since 2003, and flits between keys, saxophone and cowbell. Opening with a salvo of newer songs, the band still felt relevant and history-making, but the real fun began when a pummelling 808 beat kicked in, marking the unmistakeable “Olio”, the Echoes opener which incredibly crossed the divide between punk and acid house. The crowd went nuts, and rightly so. From there, the set took a darkier, clubbier vibe, with standout new track “Come Back To Me” emerging from a foggy accordion sample into a wildly filtered beat, and the anthemic “House Of Jealous Lovers” transforming the floor into a joyous riot.

There was a short encore, embraced by the nostalgic crowd in spite of its lack of retrospection. Their comeback single, “How Deep Is Your Love” was given a triumphant airing, with its house piano chords tapping into the soul of the venue, before the band closed shop with “Sail Away”, another victory march.

What a brilliantly low-key way of celebrating the tenth anniversary of a record label who truly changed the way we think about music to dance to.

You can find some photographs which do justice to the sheer emotion of welcoming back The Rapture over at This Is Fake DIY.

I was late to the DFA party, by dint of having been twelve years old at the time of “Losing My Edge“‘s release. But I made amends, as you may have noticed. When I went to HMV to buy Sound of Silver (a week after its release date—I wasn’t late to that party!), I also bought The Rapture‘s breakthrough album, Echoes, which, I quickly discovered, kickstarted the dance-punk revolution.

Like Battles, The Rapture have also been reduced to a trio; they have lost bassist Matt Safer. Cleverly, they engineered mass global hysteria about a so-called rapture, as a clever marketing ploy to announce their return to music (the new album, In The Grace of Your Love, follows in September). In even better news, they’ve re-signed to the DFA family, meaning an end to the sad-face which usually accompanied any mention of The Rapture in James Murphy interviews. Most importantly of all, the teaser track for their fourth album, “How Deep Is Your Love” (not a Bee Gees cover) is uncommonly good fun.

Dropping the punk half of the tag, the song is blessed with an ear-catching chorus, a restless rhythm, and seven-odd minutes of Italo house piano. Halfway through the song, everything but the piano cuts out, and singer Luke Jenner (I use this term loosely) tunelessly wails the title phrase. You think it can’t get more unhinged—and then there’s a skronking sax solo, which proceeds to go crazy for the rest of the song, peeking out from the mix at all the right moments.

Dance music hasn’t sounded this in-your-face live since Hercules And Love Affair‘s “Blind“. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to pick a cowbell and join in the fun.

[Photo: flickr user moralis]