I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Robot Hand Jobs, DFA Records, and YOU


by Anthony Galli
May 23, 2013

What if nobody was having any fun, but then you just had to dance?

Enter The Rapture. (The band, not the religious experience.)

The turn of the century (wow!—remember that?) gave us some pretty good art party garage guitar weirdness (The Strokes, The Von Bondies, Franz Ferdinand, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol…whatever). But, there was also The Chemical Brothers and The Crystal Method, Massive Attack, Fatboy Slim, trip hop beats and the continuation of rave…dancing until you just couldn’t stop. But, what if you needed a good laugh?

Enter The Rapture. (The band.)

With little more than five words, driving cowbell, and a strong dose of irony, “House of Jealous Lovers” owned the dance floor. Some strange disco punk rock hybrid like Pylon meets The Slits, screaming at you in all earnest urgency…and cowbell. Is the cowbell making you dance?

“House of Jealous Lovers” was the first release on DFA Records, sort of setting the template for the explosion of sound still to come. Young, loud, and snotty.

DFA’s second release, “By The Time I Get To Venus” by The Juan Maclean, is a little more traditional dance track, somehow managing to sound like one of those vintage 1980’s video arcade games that had come to life and gone horribly awry.

Maybe this is the sound of the future, where the past comes back to short circuit your memory into believing it was all that ever existed, and you are remembering it wrong.

Anyway, the video for the song features visitors from outer space, robots who look suspiciously like unwanted leftovers from a 1952 science fiction B-movie that never got made because the premise was too ridiculous and the robots looked too cheap. Well, they’re here, and they’re malevolent, and they give hand jobs.

The future is scary.

“Losing My Edge” came next, followed by “Give it Up.” These were the first releases by LCD Soundsystem, a loose configuration of friends and other DFA musicians, but mostly just James Murphy on vocals, drums, handclaps, guitar, keyboards, programming, glockenspiel, vocoder, kalimba, and omnichord. And cowbell.

Don’t forget the cowbell.

There was something about the artists on DFA Records that set them apart from their contemporaries. They didn’t necessarily look cool. They seemed a little older than the kids at the parties they were throwing, and a little balder, and, in James Murphy’s case, a little…mmm…less likely to fit into a pair of skinny jeans?

Except for Nancy with LCD. She’s cute. And Claire with YACHT. She’s kinda cute, too.

Mostly, DFA represented an unholy alliance of rave culture and punk rock sensibilities that were decidedly, and effortlessly, artsier than you.

“I heard you have a compilation…of every great song…done by everybody,” James recites in “Losing My Edge.”

Making LCD’s first single a lamentation on the perils of growing older and fading into obsolescence while a fresh, young wave of hipsters looms behind you is a daring decision. Will the hipsters understand you are mocking their trivial pursuits? Will the dance floor embrace this willfully defeatist attitude?

Should we really be offering social commentary on the dance floor? Shouldn’t we just be high?

“I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody I know,” James sings. Social commentary, or one of the funniest stand-up comedy routines within a disco song ever?

DFA Records was an alternative to the alternative. Part of the DFA attraction is that they really seem like a bunch of normal people doing normal things. They seem to be asking themselves, “How much can we do with what little we have?”

There is something vintage and analogue about their sound that automatically connects one to some 1970s/1980s disco/funk/soul/house nexus. They create a present that only exists through faint remembrances of primordial artifacts from the past reaching out to the future.

Perhaps 1980s Athens, Georgia punk/funk Pylon is the secret ingredient of DFA Records’ success.

No, really.

Listen.

Pylon was an influential band around Athens in that Post Punk scene which flourished after the first great wave of Punk Rock had self-immolated in the late 70s. Pylon seemed like a mixture of The Raincoats and Gang of Four being performed by Public Image Ltd. However, since all of these bands were operating at the same time, and independently of each other, it would have been impossible for this mash-up to happen, making Pylon quite a unique entity.

DFA bought part of Pylon’s back catalogue and released it on CD, for the very first time ever, in 2007 and 2009. Just a quick listen to Pylon will demonstrate the influence the group may have had on DFA’s aesthetic. Take, for example, Pylon’s dance classic “Stop It.” Basically 4 words, “Don’t rock and roll,” repeated for about four minutes, with building intensity. Sort of like repeating “House of Jealous Lovers” for four minutes, but different, and 20 years earlier. Coincidence?

LCM Soundsystem have sort of overshadowed a lot of the other great music that DFA records have given us over the years, unlikely heroes such as Shit Robot, Gavin Russom, Holy Ghost!, The Crystal Ark, Sinkane, and Planningtorock. Plus, DFA has also collaborated on remixes with other great artists like Le Tigre, Hot Chip, Radio 4, and Goldfrapp, plus numerous others.

When James decided to call it quits on LCD Soundsystem in 2011, he threw a giant party at New York’s biggest dance club, Madison Square Garden, and released it as the film “Shut Up and Play The Hits.” It was strange to see so many people gathered together to stand and watch, essentially, a DJ and his band perform in this cavernous arena. But then, about 4½ minutes or so into the first song, all 18,000 assembled begin to dance. Loud. It’s a glorious vision.

Before their final song of the night, “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” LCD performs the 1971 Harry Nilsson classic “Jump into the Fire.” Aside from Nilsson’s version being one of the scariest AM radio pop singles ever recorded, and perhaps the only pop radio classic where the bass player (Herbie Flowers) detunes his bass in the middle of his solo in the middle of the song, “Jump into the Fire” features a very prominent and very demented…cowbell.

And is anything better than the first 2 seconds of “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”?

I think not.

Anthony Galli currently lives in Athens, Georgia. He shares a birthday with his black cat, Magic, and they both claim Wings of Desire as their favorite film. Anthony has published two books of poetry, Amnesia for Insomniacs and Invisible Idiot.