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'LCD Soundsystem' At 15: How James Murphy Created His Singular Vision

James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem performs at Sonar Festival 2018

Photo: Xavi Torrent/WireImage

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'LCD Soundsystem' At 15: How James Murphy Created His Singular Vision

Released in January 2005, the producer's GRAMMY-nominated debut album as LCD Soundsystem introduced the two definitions of the act: a singular vision and a must-see live unit that defined an era

GRAMMYs/May 4, 2020 - 12:34 am

To understand James Murphy's headspace during LCD Soundsystem's breakthrough year, track down a copy of DFA Records: Radio Mixes 2005. (Beyond the occasional copy that surfaces on eBay, it won't be easy.) 

The three-CD set, marked "for promotional use only," features two CDs mixed by "James Murphy aka LCD Soundsystem" and one by labelmate The Juan MacLean. 

Murphy's discs are a preserved-in-amber snapshot of peak-era DFA Records, his hipster-cool label, complete with in-house edits of Hot Chip, Soulwax and Gavin & Delia. However, the mixes also illustrate something that's as true of Murphy today as it was in 2005. In short, he stays restless.

CD One luxuriates in the past, swerving from Francine McGee's obscure disco to The Bee Gees and on to the spiky distortion of Six Finger Satellite, the band for which Murphy once served as live sound engineer. CD Two is ostensibly clubbier, despite bearing little resemblance to the fluid mix CDs celebrated in the mid-2000s. In Murphy's world, a club set means mixing '70s prog rock band Atomic Rooster into French techno don Laurent Garnier. The dissonance is the point. 

LCD Soundsystem's self-titled debut album, which dropped on DFA in January 2005, wasn't exactly an introduction to a bright-eyed newcomer. 

Then-34-year-old James Murphy was already a reluctant indie hero. He had the trendy record label, founded with U.K. transplant Tim Goldsworthy after the two met working on David Holmes' 2000 electronica album, Bow Down To The Exit Sign. Unlike most DJs, Murphy was a reliable source for smart, curmudgeonly quotes. Best of all, he'd already made a handful of tunes, notably "Losing My Edge" (2002) and "Yeah" (2004), that pitched LCD Soundsystem as the dance band rock kids could like. 

The Y2K era was instrumental in Murphy's dance music conversion. In the days before DFA, he knocked around New York City, seeing bands in the East Village and Lower East Side. "I drank bourbon and I ate garbage," he told the Taste podcast in 2019. (These days, Murphy sticks to natural wines, which star at his Williamsburg wine bar/restaurant, The Four Horsemen.) 

Murphy's first night out on ecstasy, with David Holmes DJing, was life-changing. "I was dancing and I was happy and I had a revelation: this is actually me," he recalls in Lizzy Goodman's book, Meet Me In The Bathroom. House music now made sense to him, but not just anything with a kick drum would do. A punk kid at heart, he wanted analog and imperfect over synthetic and streamlined. "After that moment, I danced to what I cared about," Murphy told Goodman. 

He learned to DJ from Marcus Lambkin, aka Shit Robot, an Irish expat in New York. Lambkin introduced Murphy to Plant Bar in the East Village, where DFA established a renegade residency throughout then-Mayor Bloomberg's club crackdown. (At the first sight of cops, the door person would flick on a light in the DJ booth, signaling them to stop the music.) Murphy often mixed his newfound passions for DJing and altered states. "I used to take two ecstasy pills, break them into quarters, and put them on the corners of the two turntables, and work my way through them as a DJ set went on," he told New York Magazine in 2007. 

But for every high, there's a comedown. By the early 2000s, Murphy was bristling at other DJs aping his anything-goes style. He went from mad at New York's would-be hipsters to "horrified at my own silliness," as he put it to journalist John Doran. Out of that malaise came "Losing My Edge," a prickly, self-lacerating and still-funny rant with a danceable beat. In both its theme and scuffed lo-fi sound, it set a template for future LCD Soundsystem. Among the song's many quotable lines about "the kids," one gets to the cold heart of it: "I can hear their footsteps every night on the decks." 

In tandem with losing his edge, Murphy began work on Echoes, the breakout debut album from fellow NYC dance-punk outfit, The Rapture. Throughout 2003, Murphy and Goldsworthy, who together formed the production team The DFA, named after their label, joined the band at Plantain Recording House, the producers' own West Village studio. Released that September, Echoes hit big. At the height of the site's tastemaking power, Pitchfork rated it 9.0, officially coronating The Rapture as the new faces of the post-punk revival of the early 2000s.

However, the band had left DFA for a lucrative contract with Universal. Murphy was furious at the betrayal. In 2004, The Rapture played the Outdoor Theatre stage on day one of Coachella. Further down the poster, two font sizes smaller, was LCD Soundsystem.

Murphy worked on his own debut album around the Echoes sessions. When everyone went out, he'd stay back and tinker late into the night. "For about two and a half years, I didn't have a home, so I lived in the studio," he told XLR8R in 2005. Despite his punk rock pose, Murphy obsessed over the fine details. He finally had a set of songs worthy of showing up The Rapture. 

Read: James Murphy On Advice From David Bowie, Being "Done" With Producing

LCD Soundsystem properly introduced the two definitions of LCD Soundsystem. First, the name belonged to one guy alone in the studio, channeling his influences, and his spite, into a singular vision.

Second, it was the name of a band with serious live clout. Murphy's bandmates, including Nancy Whang, Pat Mahoney, Tyler Pope and the late Jerry Fuchs, were all prodigious musicians. The power of their combined sound cemented LCD Soundsystem as one of the most exciting live acts on the circuit—in any genre. In 2005, Murphy and co. played Glastonbury for the first time and joined M.I.A. on her Arular Tour. Members came and went, but LCD Soundsystem stayed a band you need to see live. 

LCD Soundsystem perform live in 2017 | Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Even 15 years on, LCD Soundsystem oscillates between the solo visionary and the pumped-up live unit. The image of Murphy up late with his machines is still vivid on quieter cuts like "Never As Tired As When I'm Waking Up" and "Great Release." Murphy finessed the former after-hours during the Echoes sessions, playing piano in the building's elevator shaft to get the right sound. By contrast, the rowdier LCD standards "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" and "Tribulations" have come to feel inseparable from their live incarnations. However the songs were first conceived, they now belong to LCD Soundsystem, the band. 

The in-between songs on LCD Soundsystem reward revisits. There's the louche "Too Much Love," peppered by cowbell and Murphy's ambling vocals, and the nasally sneer of "On Repeat," which struts and stumbles past eight minutes. Meanwhile, "Thrills" channels Timbaland's beats on Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On," while "Movement" is one of the punkiest curios in the LCD canon. 

LCD's debut included a bonus disc with previously released songs like "Losing My Edge," "Yr City's A Sucker" and the "Pretentious" and "Crass" versions of "Yeah." All the hits were there, but the deep cuts made it an undeniable album.

Elsewhere, 2005 was big for bands making dance music with guitars. From the synthy stomp of Franz Ferdinand's You Could Have It So Much Better to Bloc Party's exhilarating debut Silent Alarm, LCD Soundsystem fit the zeitgeist. M.I.A.'s Arular and Kanye West's Late Registration also shared James Murphy's maverick spirit. It was a good time for talented control freaks.

LCD Soundsystem brought Murphy his critical validation, in addition to two GRAMMY nominations in 2006, including Best Electronic/Dance Album and Best Dance Recording for album single "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House." But its creator didn't settle. He continued to DJ and give opinionated interviews, directing the sharpest barbs at himself. Then, as the era's "blog house" DJs rinsed their favorite LCD remixes, Murphy went to work on a new album. 

Released in 2007, LCD Soundsystem's Sound Of Silver was an instant classic. (Not for nothing, it one-upped The Rapture with a 9.2 rating from Pitchfork.) Songs like "All My Friends" and "North American Scum" made good on the scrappy promise of LCD's debut.

"Great Release," the final song on LCD Soundsystem, fades out to a gentle fuzz. We hear a creak, then a sound like a door closing after a studio all-nighter. The early days ended there, but LCD Soundsystem had only just begun.

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards