LCD Soundsystem… the “early” years.

by Tim Soter

As LCD Soundsystem plays a series of controversial final shows this week, I’m taking this time to post some early photos and gain some real cred.  (As Murphy croons in “Losing My Edge,” ‘I was theeeeeeeeeere… ‘)  These pictures where taken back in 2003, I think, at a show at Bowery Ballroom.  It was during that time that I shot the first publicity photos for DFA records, hanging around the studio/offices for a few days.

James Murphy remains an enigma to me, I never seemed to find what he stood for.  He released a piece for Nike, endorsing it as good accompaniment for a run on the treadmill.  Later he claimed that was a lie, that he just wanted to release a piece at that epic length.  (Why not independently release that work?  Or simply embrace or not even recognize the endorsement – who would care in this day and age?  See Moby below.)

He has operated a Kermit the Frog puppet to lament the loss of “old” New York with the lyrics…

“New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down…
And oh.. Take me off your mailing list
For kids that think it still exists
Yes, for those who think it still exists…
New York, you’re safer
And you’re wasting my time…
In the neighborhood bars
I’d once dreamt I would drink”


But his audience is mostly ten or fifteen years his junior, people who don’t remember that New York because they weren’t there – they arrived at the time of mailing lists and post-gentrified neighborhoods.  He (LCD Soundsystem) and his audience are not from that era, they are a part of Now.  It’s his responsibility to represent the city as it is today.

In his best work, “Losing My Edge,” he accurately and honestly observed the divide between pre- and post-internet New York.  It’s written from the view of the old world record collector whose identity is being undermined by the kids, able to download entire catalogs of esoteric music effortlessly, without hunting and for “free.”  I took the song to be a very naked, well timed self-portrait.  I was hoping he’d follow up with more of that kind of edge and insight.

The conclusion that I’ve come to is that James Murphy wants it both ways: he wants to position himself as an “outsider” while enjoying the benefits of being an insider, a part of the mainstream culture.  It’s an age old dilemma.  It’s been surmised that now the dilemma is generational.  Maybe in “retirement” he’ll be able to consolidate his duality and  enjoy making coffee with his free time.

The again, maybe it’s me.  Maybe I shared his fear in “Losing My Edge.”  Perhaps he learned to overcome it (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?) and move on while I’m still gripping my cane, white-knuckled, rapping it on the table.  This does come at a time right before a move where I have to decide to either digitize or physically move a wall of CDs which caused a recent guest to exclaim, “You’re so 90s!”

The 1990’s; for most of it, electronic music dominated the culture of New York City.  Frat guys, Wall Street upstarts, the downtown crowd… they were all taking ecstacy, they all had a copy of Kruder & Dorfmeister’s The K&D Sessions and Moby’s Play and they were all paying $25 a head to get into Twilo and other massive nightclubs with gigantic soundsystems.  Flyers littered the streets announcing which international DJ was arriving every week.  But it’s almost as if that time didn’t exist, as if dance music was regenerated from the end of the Studio 54 era, after a decades long hiatus.  I can enjoy the music of DFA records, but I have shelves full of tracks and songs by a multitude of artists who were putting out comparable or more progressive work throughout the decade before DFA started.  There was an entire culture around it.  The diversity was amazing.  When I think of all of the different International record labels and niches of sound, (techstep, ragga-jungle, happy hardcore, acid house, New Beat… ) it places LCD Soundsystem as the —————– of dance music, a place where everyone can go, enjoy the product, and know what to expect.  It’s the fervor for the music of LCD Soundsystem that I find a little confounding.  I don’t hear them creating something new and I feel like that’s his responsibility.  I hear Brian Eno, The Fall, Carl Craig, Moby, Steve Reich and others in there… I hear a lot of things but I don’t hear something forged that is new.  It’s not that it’s not potentially enjoyable, it’s just not new.

Either way enjoy the shows, the bombast looks great and they seem to be putting an incredible amount of effort in to a party that seems worth the price of admission.  As long as you didn’t pay $3,000.

LCD Soundsystem w/ Simon LeBon, Bowery Ballroom green room, 2003