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Friday, March 14, 2008

James Murphy's 'magic plastic discs'

Special to The Japan Times

"Cod sperm sacs, I had that," muses James Murphy, multitalented record producer, DJ, founder of New York's DFA Records and mastermind behind dance-punk phenomenon LCD Soundsystem. Apparently, despite averaging two or three trips a year to Japan, the country — in particular its restaurants — still has the capacity to throw up surprises.

James Murphy
Self-condessed "rock nerd" James Murphy, the DJ behind LCD Soundsystem

"Sometimes they'll try to be really accommodating," he continues, "but sometimes you'll get a chef who's just totally, 'F**k you, you're getting cod sperm sacs,' " Murphy continues, although it takes more than that to faze him. "That attitude," he concludes, "actually appeals to me much more, being from New York."

To many, Murphy represents the sound of postmillennial New York punk and dance music, from his early days playing old Can and ESG records at private parties, through the birth of DFA Records and its subsequent success with The Rapture and their song "House of Jealous Lovers" to Murphy's own band LCD Soundsystem, whose critically acclaimed and Grammy Award-nominated second album "Sound Of Silver" was released last year.

2007 was a hectic year for Murphy, with the album's release and touring, including a solitary trip to Japan (for the Summer Sonic festival last August). He readily admits that tours can be a draining experience.

"I miss my wife, my label, my home, being able to produce people, DJing at parties, my dog. I miss my life."

"There are some musicians where touring's their life and they don't know what to do with themselves when they're not on tour, but I come home and I've got four weeks' work waiting for me to do."

As a result, he looks forward to taking things a bit easier when he DJs in Nagoya, Tokyo and Osaka next week from March 19.

"With DJing, I like the travel part better than with the band," he notes. "I get to spend more time looking around the city, and all I have to do is show up at the club and play magic plastic discs."

And for the self-confessed "38-year-old rock nerd," those "magic plastic discs" are one of the things that keeps drawing him back to Tokyo.

"I like record shopping in Tokyo probably more than anywhere," he enthuses, as the conversation turns to DFA Records' newly-formed Death From Abroad imprint, focusing entirely on music from outside the United States. "There were a bunch of 12-inches that I found in Tokyo last time and I want to release but I haven't had time because I was so busy touring."

Among the label's early releases was "Max Motion," seven minutes of trippy psychedelic disco-funk by Osaka-based DJ/musician Altz. Murphy is tight-lipped about future releases but cites legendary Osaka noiseniks Boredoms and Tokyo DJ/producer duo Force of Nature as acts he admires.

On LCD Soundsystem's continuing critical acclaim, Murphy considers it odd that the backlash from critics that he had at first braced himself for failed to materialize. "I feel I've missed some chunk out of my career," he says, "like I went from being this young upstart straight to being establishment, and I never actually got to have the meat of my career."

Part of this is probably down to Murphy's affable, easygoing persona, free of the defensiveness and arrogance that makes many musicians such easy targets. He adds that in terms of his age and trainspotter tendencies, "I probably have a lot in common with music journalists, so I think that lines up to make me avoid embarrassing things."

Murphy talks enthusiastically about his influences, picking out Violent Femmes, The B-52's and The Replacements as important bands for him in his earlier years. He wryly notes: "I'm always wishing I could be like David Bowie, although I'm too much of a quiet kind of guy. I'm much more of a Todd Rundgren type."

Murphy is sometimes criticised for displaying his affection for his musical heroes within his work at the expense of his own originality. "People say to me, you know, 'You're using the same sound there that Brian Eno used,' " he says, before continuing, with a hint of sarcasm, "Yeah, you know, I should stop because there are just too many records out there that sound like 'Before and After Science.' "

Murphy thinks the problem is simply when musicians fail to do anything different with their influences.

"On Beck's album 'Sea Change' there's this track 'Paper Tiger,' and it's Serge Gainsbourg's 'Melody Nelson' sound for sound, note for note, and he's just put a different tune over the top. That's just bunk."

On the stage and on the dance floor are where the action really happens, though. Murphy points out that the music scene can be "wildly different from city to city and even from club to club, especially for DJing," and this month will be an opportunity to reacquaint himself with Japanese clubbers.

However, his most enduring memory of playing in Tokyo comes from LCD Soundsystem's only Japanese club gig to date (in 2005 at Shibuya O-East, rather than the larger festival shows they usually play): "I'd got food poisoning, so I keep running off stage to throw up, then dump a bucket of water on my head. The crowd were amazing though, throwing beer at each other and just going crazy."

This time around, he might want to be careful what he eats.

James Murphy plays March 19, 10 p.m., at Mago, Nagoya, ¥3,000-¥3,500, (052) 243-1818; March 21, 10 p.m., at Yellow, Tokyo, ¥3,000-3,500, (03) 3479-0690; and March 22, 8 p.m., at Live&Bar 11, Osaka, ¥2,300-3,000, (06) 6243-0089.

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