James Murphy grew up looking upon his favourite musicians as fantastical, mythological beings. To him, as to so many others, his heroes - the David Bowies and Nick Caves of this world - were swathed by a film of otherworldliness, something you could observe but never really understand or attain. Upon forming LCD Soundsystem, with this in mind, Murphy had a unique approach.
’I can’t be David Bowie - that’s crazy - but I can fuckin’ be that dude!’ Murphy joked in the 2012 documentary of LCD’s mammoth final show, ‘Shut Up and Play The Hits’. He talks of LCD Soundsystem as a band that wasn’t supposed to be exceptional or special, but one with one goal; to leave ‘a stain’ on the world. Of course, this ethos can only stand so much fame and critical acclaim without beginning to warp. With LCD Soundsystem’s abrupt end and celebrated back-catalogue thrusting them up into the heights of exceptionalism, it actually ended-up being these ideals that made LCD Soundsystem so very special.
All of this ended up manifesting itself in the form of endless collaboration. One glance at the list of credits and thanks on ‘Sound of Silver’ - arguably LCD Soundsystem’s most freely collaborative effort - is enough to give a good indication of the atmosphere and attitude surrounding its creation. Everything, from the instruments played to art direction and technical assistance, falls under an exhaustive, ever-shifting list of friends, artists and contributors; all of whom lent whatever skill they had to offer, at whatever level they found themselves within the LCD Soundsystem line up. It’s these people who took Murphy’s ideas and brought them to life; from the playful, chaotic percussion and broad instrumental scope of ‘Sound of Silver”s sound to the crisp, clear production and decisively crummy visuals behind it. It’s the life and energy coursing through this celebrated album’s veins. As we commit ‘Sound of Silver’ to our DIY Hall of Fame it seems only fair to take a closer look at the people behind its creation.
As with everything LCD Soundsystem related, many of the creatives involved have a foot in the door at James Murphy, Tim Goldsworthy and Jonathan Galkin’s charmingly lo-fi record label, DFA Records. DFA and its affiliates have always operated almost as one entity, regularly appearing either as guests or behind the scenes on each other’s projects. DFA seemingly run their label as if it’s a pub 5-a-side team, rounding up whoever’s about when they’re due for a release, and ensuring everyone who wants it gets a good run-out each time. While the likes of Hot Chip, The Juan Maclean, Soulwax and endless high profile names in electronic music and beyond come and go, DFA has managed to maintain a perfect balance between a seemingly open door policy, and an unwavering loyalty to those who have offered their services consistently over the years.
‘Sound of Silver’ is no exception. The album’s credits are littered with DFA associates. Such is the nature of LCD Soundsystem that to actually pin down who is in ‘the band’ is no easy feat. There are however a few names that crop up again and again.
Arguably the biggest part of the LCD Soundsystem live show, and most influential in the recording of ‘Sound of Silver’ (apart from Murphy himself who operated as a sort of bizarre cross between front-man and conductor) is Nancy Whang, best known for her work with The Juan Maclean and Soulwax. Whang’s deadpan vocals and euphoric keyboards underpin Murphy at every turn. Next up in the impossible to rank-rankings comes Patrick Mahoney, the man behind every clap, clang, whack and every other form of onomatopoeia that comes to mind. Outside of LCD Soundsystem, Mahoney fronts DFA electro-pop outfit Museum of Love, and within LCD he helped out with everything from drums to vocals. Where Pat Mahoney tackled anything you could hit and make a sound, former !!! (chk chk chk and so on) man Tyler Pope was responsible for guitar and bass, flitting between the two as if there’s no difference. If it’s got strings and a neck Pope’s got it covered. While Tyler Pope zooms around picking up loose ends and commanding the show when he sees fit, a more fixed position on guitar comes in the form of Justin Chearno, a founding member of art-punk four piece Pitchblende and long-time friend of James Murphy. Though he’s often around to lend a hand, he was most involved in ’Sound of Silver’, his punk rock tendencies adding the extra bite to the album’s funky licks.
Those mentioned above - plus a scattering of others - could be said to form the core of LCD Soundsystem at the time of ‘Sound of Silver’. It didn’t always take a long-standing friendship with Murphy or an affiliation with his label to be involved, though. ‘Sound of Silver’ is littered with names seemingly plucked out of thin air, or just starting out; tentatively peering round the DFA door with the hopes of becoming part of something massive. Budding sound engineer, Eric Broucek was involved at a low level as a technical assistant with occasional credits on the music side of things – providing extra claps and shouts where necessary. Broucek describes on his blog the way he “cut his teeth on a musical movement,” finding himself swept up in LCD’s wave of energy as he worked one of his first jobs as an assistant at DFA. Broucek credits DFA’s working environment as the driving force behind the opening of his own studio, and his future success producing for !!!, Little Boots and others.
Among Murphy’s rotating roster of musicians there were representatives of the ideals Murphy desired to embody with LCD Soundsystem. String players Amy Kimball and David Gold also collaborate with Talking Heads mastermind David Byrne, perhaps the only person in the world with a grander list of collaborating friends than Murphy - and a huge influence for him. With Talking Heads, Byrne attempted to use collaboration, deliberately plain visuals and big-bands as a method of breaking down the pigeonholing of genre. Through collaboration Murphy was able to form links to his idols, without losing touch with his original intentions of LCD Soundsystem’s accessibility.
So what of now? LCD Soundsystem and ‘Sound of Silver’ saw the coming together of minds, talents and personalities, while DFA showed that - under the ethos of collaboration, friendship - anyone can be a rock-star. That idea has lasted right from its humble beginnings to LCD Soundsystem’s gleaming end. Those who aided the creation of ‘Sound of Silver’ and the relationships made both prior to and during its time haven’t dissolved with LCD Soundsystem, and James Murphy himself remains active.
These days Justin Chearno runs wine tasting evenings with James Murphy, specialising in ‘the garage bands of wines’. James Murphy’s current project Despacio meanwhile - which in itself is an unholy collaboration between James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem engineer John Klett- shows Murphy isn’t a man who forgets about his friends. LCD may have ended, but its life-force lives on through the people involved.
Hell, just a few weeks ago Hot Chip’s Al Doyle, LCD’s Nancy Wang, DFA associate Sinkane and David Byrne all got together to cover ‘Sound of Silver”s ‘All My Friends’ as a part of Hot Chip’s US tour. As members of LCD Soundsystem and DFA travel around the world DJing on the world’s greatest sound-system, and DFA affiliates continue to hop from band to band offering their input it’s clear that although LCD Soundsystem may be over, the happy-go-lucky freedom of involvement that surrounded the creation of ‘Sound of Silver’ lives on.
There’s a scene in ‘Shut Up and Play The Hits’, just before LCD Soundsystem take to the stage, where James Murphy bounces around Madison Square Garden on arguably the biggest night of his life, merrily dishing out backstage and after-party wristbands to anyone he’s ever seen before in his life; from friends to musicians and staff. This mentality is something Murphy has carried with him throughout his career. It’s just as easy to picture him in the studio pre-‘Sound of Silver’ dashing about happily welcoming in musicians, friends and anyone who knows anything about making an album, or otherwise.
It’s this attitude that sets LCD Soundsystem apart from the great artists that Murphy looked upon with such awe. Ultimately, LCD Soundsystem leave behind a fantastical trace, but not because of unattainability. ‘Sound of Silver’ is an album that will go down in history, because, really, there was no LCD Soundsystem; just a virtually infinitely spanning group of talented and budding musicians, producers, visionaries, and most importantly, friends.
For DIY’s full Hall of Fame coverage on LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Sound of Silver’ head here.