Why LCD Soundsystem mattered

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LCD Soundsystem just closed its doors on nearly a decade of music, going out with a bang in New York this past weekend. As another indie-heavyweight bites the dust, it got us thinking about what LCD Soundsystem did while it was around. It's easy to toss the project off as a "hipster" DJ gone dim, but what LCD did, what it represented, is far more important than most people realize.

Glancing at the dates of its first release, it might look like James Murphy gave us LCD Soundsystem a little late. The post-punk revival was already in the works with bands like the Rapture, Interpol and the Strokes finally giving bored, semi-educated white kids something to shake their tiny, jammed-into-skinny-jean booties to. But what you'll notice in interviews and retrospectives is that Murphy played a big role in formulating that sound in New York from the start.

Before there was LCD Soundsystem, there was Murphy the producer and with that, we got Les Savy Fav's excellent first album, 3/5, along with amazing records from The Rapture, Turing Machine and others. With Mo'Wax cofounder/UNKLE producer Tim Goldsworthy, Murphy started to DJ some of the above bands alongside the likes of CAN, ESG and the Talking Heads at a nightclub in New York, and eventually the two formed DFA Records.

Now think back to the early 2000s and try to remember what twenty-something suburban kids were dancing to. it was the same old shit we'd been hearing for the last twenty years, in some cases, literally. The most popular dance clubs were playing hits from the '80s and '90s. That was also the time when the first iPod appeared, and subsequently, a time period when anyone, anywhere could DJ a dance party with little effort or skill.

So when DFA released "Losing My Edge," in 2002, it kind of took everyone by surprise. It was new dance music, clearly founded on bands from the past, but forward thinking enough that it sounded new and original. It was also boiling over in hipness, namedropping bands, places, times. It was a track that foretold what would LCD Soundsystem would soon come to represent, whether it wanted to or not. Hip was a matter of where and when, of life and death, of name-dropping, of vinyl.

Of course, the majority of rock kids in 2002 were still scared of electronic music. For all its bells and whistles, the things it embodied, ecstasy, dancing, beats -- all of those things were dangerous. But that was what was so startling and ultimately rewarding about LCD Soundsystem. It wasn't dance music, not like Crystal Method or Moby or even Daft Punk was; it was electronic music made by a guy who liked '70s and '80s rock. It was also being made by a guy in his thirties, for kids in their twenties, and that meant the dream of never really growing up was truly a reality.

Now -- let's be clear here -- LCD Soundsystem did not single-handedly bring kids to the dance floor. There were plenty of other groups involved, not the least of which were on Murphy's label or from his town. What it did, however, was make it okay for bands to live inside their influences openly. LCD didn't release that big of a catalog; by the end it was something like 43 songs. But those songs were all different, and it was that eclectic sound that won the hearts of coke-addled brains and booze-binged hearts alike. This was dance music that was okay to like because it came packaged in with a rock-spectacle live show.

From 2002 onward, fans were rewarded with plenty of singles to keep their asses shaking, and three full-length records showed how diverse Murphy could be when he wanted. As its star rose, so did its scope and reach, as it became the soundtrack for a generation of under-achievers and late-bloomers. It survived the rest of the bands from the era by changing when they stayed stale, and now that its officially gone, the dance floors won't ever quite be the same.

By the end of it all, LCD Soundsystem was a number of things: It was a rallying cry for scenes, dance music with a little heart and soul, and, most importantly, it was a catalyst for the eclectic sound we take for granted today.


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3 comments
Merry Swankster
Merry Swankster

Not sure if LCD has a direct line to "mainstream clubbing" per se, as their legacy will be tied to being a vehicle for rockists, indie kids, what have you, to embrace chunky disco indulgences filtered through the prism of post-punk and dance-punk. In the gauzy afterglow of LCD's retirement, it's easy to overestimate their impact, so despite having limited knowledge of what goes on at clubs these days, I'd be shocked if LCD or other acceptably-hip acts are dominating their playlists...outside of Brooklyn or other hip(ster) clubs, no way this is happening. These clubs are likely still dominated by hip hop, techno, R&B and pop songs.

That all said, your basic premise is spot on - LCD broke down the thread-bare barriers separating rock kids from co-mingling (openly) with ravers and the underground dance set. Truth is there already was overlap, but LCD's arrival made everyone come out of the closet, so to speak. Your iPod observation is a good one, since iPods are credited as being the spark for the "shuffle generation" - one not confined to genre loyalties, it allowed bands like LCD to further this by being a literal embodiment to the cause.

As the song says: "I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars." It's all true! Now if we could just clean out the muck that exists with all these terrible bands with turntables and these terrible DJs with a random musicians...

Sean Porter
Sean Porter

"Now think back to the early 2000s and try to remember what twenty-something suburban kids were dancing to. it was the same old shit we'd been hearing for the last twenty years, in some cases, literally. The most popular dance clubs were playing hits from the '80s and '90s."

Ferrilz, Thorin? Let's not ignore that turn-of-the-century dj renaissance characterized by things like Sasha & Digweed, Oakey, and everything else on comps like Global Underground. The DJ as brand really hit its peak back then.

LCD is amazing (and ended it right at MSG, white balloons and all), and did do a lot to bridge the indie/dance gap, but they weren't moving the needle into a gapid void.

Thorin
Thorin

That might have been my fault for a lack of clarity there -- I meant bridging the gap between rock kids and dance kids -- from my experience, the Global Underground comps, Sasha and the like were great at providing a new sound to people who were already converted, but LCD helped to bridge the gab between rock and DJ. He kind of operated as a "Dummies Guide to Clubbing," for punk and rock kids.

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