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DFA - An Interview with James Murphy

With the recent release of the much anticipated Beachs & Canyons by Black Dice and 4 well-received singles, the buzz surrounding Brooklyn's DFA label is huge. Pitchfork recently claimed that DFA is "more important than almost anything else going on in music right now." Founded by the production duo of James Murphy (Plaintain Records) and Tim Goldsworthy (U.N.K.L.E.) DFA is undeniably THE indie label to watch now. This exclusive interview with James was conducted via email in late September.

Listen to the music

James (left), Tim (right)

1. I keep seeing DFA mentioned in the same sentence with Electroclash. When I think of Electroclash I think of bands like Fischerspooner, Ladytron, and even Peaches. Do you consider DFA to be part of the Electroclash movement?

No, but I wager that some of those other bands, like Fischerspooner, wouldn't consider themselves really electroclash either.

2. What the fuck is Electroclash anyway? Everybody seems to have a different definition.

I think it's a title made up and copyrighted by Larry Tee. It's a brand of some sort that leans towards the asymmetrical.

3. How did DFA become such a phenomenon so quickly? Your popularity is amazing considering you only have 4 singles thus far.

I don't know that we're a phenomenon, actually. I think we may seem more popular than we really are—that people who talk a lot and/or write for magazines tend to like some of the music we do. That stuff seems all very temporary, really, and could blow up in our faces at any moment (see:electroclash). I DO think the music that the artists we work with is of an exceptional quality.

4. I'm confused....is Plantain (founded by James) now a subsidiary of DFA?

Of course not. Plantain is the home-base. It's the building, the conduit. It was founded by myself and T.B. (our benefactor). It included Jonah Smith (of 1000 words pictures) and Marcus (of Plant) very early on. DFA is just one thing in the house. It's an association—sometimes tightly wound, sometimes loosely put together—depending on the project.

5. How do you guys find acts?

In all cases so far, it's friends, or friends of friends. Usually through Justin Chearno of Turing Machine (and Panthers). He is one of the most knowledgeable people I know in rock. Someone should just give him a big check for making music in New York better.

6. Do you guys ever hang out, or do you see too much of each other at work.

When Tim and I hang out, we tend to get extremely fucked up, so it's best for us to go our separate ways at the end of the work day, and save the going-to-the-same-place shit for events without a workday after them. I mean—we work 12-18 hours a day in a basement together, and that can lead to heavy usage.

7. Is the hype surrounding the label bringing in the booty?

Of course not. How much fucking money can you make selling small runs of really high-quality 12"'s to other DJ's?

8. Speaking of the hype, the media won't shut up about "The Rising New York Music Scene." Do you think any of these up-and-coming acts will have any longevity or be remembered 5 years from now?

I'm pretty sure the good ones who make good songs and continue to be innovative as things progress will last, and the other ones will be fetishized on bootleg compilations years from now when everybody's talking about how cool New York was at the turn of the century blah blah blah.

9. Seems like some of the DFA buzz began through Internet file sharing. Does it piss you off that people are getting the music for free on the Internet?

Not at all. Jesus. Isn't having to listen to an MP3 made from vinyl punishment enough? What could sound worse? Not to mention, the people who really like the music that they download usually go buy the record they have and evangelize to their friends about the music they love, so why not let them? It hasn't hurt Radiohead much now, has it? The downloadable shit just forces the record industry to be more creative about how to make a living, and part of that creativity could be channeled towards not asking kids to shell out $20 for some heap-of-shit CD filled with forgettable music, bunk low-quality artwork and crappy jewel-cases—a product that wound up costing 2 dollars to manufacture and somehow retails for a small fortune.

10. Where'd the name DFA come from?

I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. Legally I have to say I'm kidding. But I think we both know that we wouldn't want anything bad to happen.

11. Any pop vices like Elimidate or American Idol?

Halo on Xbox.

12. Some of the shit on DFA is perfect stoner music. Do you guys smoke up in the studio?


13. Black Dice have a new full length on DFA. It's strange, beautiful, noisy and a lot different than the more poppy and danceable acts on your label. Was it your intention to mix it up a little bit?

No. We really liked the Black Dice and figured it would be good for us to put it out, and maybe, in turn, be good for them to be on the label—so that they're not overly categorized in a way that would neglect other aspects of their music which happens to be really populist.

14. Anyone in the public eye you want to say "you suck" to?

Of course not.

15. Anyone in the public eye doing everything right?

Le Tigre.

16. Who are your influences musically? Are you into Manchester's late-'70s punk scene and Factory Records?

Tim and I like a lot of different music, really. (We) Tend to get our psychedelic on pretty hard. Grew up on Factory. Doesn't everybody like Factory?

17. Read anything cool lately?

Read a really sweet article on Plant Bar in The Face.

18. What do you think of all these hipsters wearing mullets?

What do I think about it now, or what did I think about it in 1999?

19. Do you ever hang out in Williamsburg? If so, where?

Tim and I basically hang out at all the hot spots. You really can't swing a dead cat in Williamsburg without knocking an ironic cocktail out of Tim's hand, or wrecking one of my alternative art events.

20. What should we expect in the upcoming months from DFA?

A Rapture album. A Juan Maclean 12 inch. An LCD Soundsystem 7 inch. A Black Dice 12 inch. A compilation of all the 12 inches.


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