When and how did DFA start?
(Jonathan Galkin / DFA Records): The original DFA started basically as a sound system that James Murphy designed and operated for Six Finger Satellite (Juan Maclean's band). He was their sound man and I am pretty sure their goal was to make people's ears bleed. At the same time he built a new studio called Plantain, first in Brooklyn (in DUMBO, not Williamsburg, for all you hipsters out there) and then moved it to the West Village. He began producing LP's for everyone from his own band Speedking to Trans Am (Futureworld) and Six Finger Satellite (Law of Ruins). Through a string of mutual friends, he got hooked up with David Holmes, who wanted to come to NYC to record his follow up to Lets Get Killed.
David Holmes was working with Tim Goldsworthy (co-founder of Mo Wax and UNKLE), who was acting as co-producer and programmer and brought him to New York with him and they got to work at the new Plantain in the West Village, with David, Tim, James and Holmes' band, which at that time consisted of Phil Mossman (now in lcd soundsystem) Darren Morris and Jagz Kooner (Primal Scream, 2 Lone Swordsmen).
I am just going to cut to the chase and say that about 5-6 months later, after consuming both the entire LP budget and all the drugs in most of the 5 boroughs, David went home with all the tracks and the band members. Except Tim. Tim stayed behind. He and James really hit it off, and Tim fell in love and got married to an American girl. Holmes took the tracks and re-did them in the UK and made a horrible record. He removed most of the Murphy / Goldsworthy credit from the LP. I have the original version here. It is pretty great. But that whole Primal Scream / Death In Vegas druggy rock-schtick does not really cut it over in this office, so fuck 'em all. I mean have you heard that new 2 Lone Swordsmen record? Jesus.
Tim and James first produced the Turing Machine record and also Zero Zero, but making forward thinking records for Jade Tree was not met with any sort of enthusiasm over there. The Zero Zero record, which is a pretty amazing, weird pop record, was met with dead silence. Then they worked with BS2000 (Adrock's solo gig) for the Simply Mortified CD. They began to build a great dynamic of James live engineering skills and Tim's drum programming started to create a very unique sound.
But it was not until they met the Rapture and convinced them to let them take a shot at "producing" them that things got rolling. They recorded an LP's worth of material at Plantain, which ended up being split between the Sub Pop EP and the Insound Tour Support EP. Those tracks were recorded the old fashioned way, pretty much live with few overdubs at all. But when Tim and James cracked "House of Jealous Lovers," reinvented as a dance floor numberÖ it freaked out the band, who had an indie fan base they were trying to protect, and Sub Pop, who did not get it at all.
This is about the time I met them. I knew them through mutual friends, and they said they wanted to try and start a record label. They played me "House of Jealous Lovers," as well as "Silent Morning." I was speechless. I honestly heard a revolution. I thought it was the best thing I had heard in years. They said the band refused to put it out, but if we could convince them, we could get DFA Records rolling, and I could run it... and convince we did! It took a while but the results paid off and once the initial reaction was so overwhelming and The Rapture saw that all the indie and dance shops would carry it, DFA got to work making the full length CD Echoes. But at the beginning, I had so much convincing to do. I went store to store in New York and played them the Rapture 12" and the first Juan Maclean 12" and just sold directly if they liked it. The older dance shops were puzzled at first, but now we have our own DFA bin in a lot of them, so that is very gratifying.
James had been working on "Beat Connection" for over a year but could not crack it and honestly did not intend to become the globe trotting superstar he is now with lcd soundsystem. Then he came up with "Losing My Edge," in what seemed like a week, and then that just took off like we never expected. It was the B Side to "Beat Connection" until literally the last minute before pressing.
Describe a typical day at the DFA office.
I get in around 10 AM. I drink a pot of coffee and listen to Baby Ford albums. I answer around 50 emails. My day to day is dealing with the artists, the distribution, the artwork, the promotion, marketing, PR, etc. Literally everything label-wise except producing music, which James and Tim do downstairs in the studio. Oh yeah, and a lot of legal work, it seems we are always in the midst of some deal and that takes up a lot of my time and attention. I have someone here named James Stair who helps me with some of this stuff, but I act as gatekeeper for almost everything.
Right now, I am in Black Dice world, as their record comes out June 22. It has been a never-ending series of near-misses and disasters. The pressings of the record sound bad, the first batch of jackets were printed wrong, the first batch of digipaks were printed on the wrong paper stock, we wanted to include an animated video on the CD, but the Quicktime mastering just was not good enough and we tried like 3 timesÖ all the while you just stay on target, you do NOT move the release date, you work the press and journalists the best you can. Get their tour ready, merchandise, posters, postcards, promotional ideas, etc. It takes a lot of plotting and pre-planning. Especially when you feel a record is as special as Creature Comforts, you want it to go perfectly. I owe that to the band. They have their career in my hands and I take that responsibility very seriously.
Whatís the best and worst aspect of your job?
The best is the fact that I can look around everyday and know that none of this amazing label we started could have launched without the work I put into it. Momentum and enthusiasm-wise it just would have been impossible. I mean, I can never do what James and Tim do music-wise, I am in total awe of them still to this day, and they can't do what I do, regarding PR, distribution, artist relations etc. And that is why this works so well. I am really proud of this label and the uncompromising vision we have arrived at. There have been many people trying to imitate what we do, artist, production and remix-wise and no one has come even close. We kind of live in a bubble.
The worst aspect is just not ever having enough hours in the day to everything I want to do. There are days when I never want to stop working, every day I feel I am almost there, almost on top of where every artist should be, release-wise, press-wise etc. But when you find yourself making a fresh pot of coffee at 10 PM, you know it is time to call it a day.
Does radio matter to DFA?
I have personally never listened to the radio once since I moved to NYC in 1990. When The Rapture signed to Universal, their whip-smart radio department went right in for commercial FM radio with "House of Jealous Lovers," which was met with almost zero response. The new lcd soundsystem record, which is done and just needs to be mastered, might actually be more right for radio than The Rapture, but if that is your first goal out of the gate, you are a total idiot.
We service college radio and take that seriously, because that has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up in Cleveland and Chicago, and both had amazing college radio to choose from. I learned a lot from those stations. The amount of money it costs to get on American commercial radio seems a little silly, but I suppose there are cases where the financial ends justify the means.
Does the internet matter to DFA?
It has been great for us buzz-wise. Chat rooms, fan sites, etc. have really been good. And websites like Fluxblog, Prefixmedia, Pitchfork, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Junkmedia hold as much weight or more with fans and consumers than a lot of magazines.
How do you know you want to work with an artist?
It happens very rarely. And usually the three of us just look at each other and smile. Or look totally puzzled, like "I have never heard anything like this before."
It happened with Black Dice. They played us their new LP Beaches and Canyons in 2001, at the very beginning of the label, and I just could not believe how fully realized and sophisticated it was. And live, they were just so totally compelling.
It happened when we met Delia and Gavin. We all have to agree on a lot of things with the artist, especially in regards to ambition. Being willfully indie does not really fly around here - we want bands to be as ambitious and fully realized as they can be. Not just fit neatly in with a genre, but invent a genre and run it. When the world hears the new lcd soundsystem record, as well as the Juan Maclean and Delia & Gavin full lengths, they will understand. There is almost nothing on these records people have heard before. It is definitely DFA operating at the next level. I don't want to be obscure, I want to be closer to Sire or Virgin Records in the Seventies. Bohemians with amazing musical sense and great ambition.
What are three records (other than your own releases) that fans of your label would love?
That is hard, just 3?
Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure
Model 500 Classics
Alice Coltrane Universal Consciousness
That is what is in my iPod right now.
But as far as new stuff, I love the Jaylib / MF Doom stuff a lot and the new Devendra Banhart is really special, the whole LP just has this amazing rhythm to it. The forthcoming Comets On Fire record Blue Cathedral is great, too.
What can we expect from you in the next year?
DFA Compilation #2 will be a 3xCD set with 2 full CD's of all the 12"s that have not been released on CD, including a bunch of new tracks that no one has heard yet. The 3rd CD will be a mix James and Tim are working on starting today. It will be a lot of the songs mixed together with new original music.
The new lcd soundsystem LP will be out in the fall, as well as 2 new 12" - one by Pixeltan (Hisham from Black Dice on drums) which is the subbiest, most death-disco kind of jam DFA has done in a while, it is a 10 minute stormerÖ and a new 12" by a band called JOY featuring Yoshimi from the Boredoms, remixed by the DFA Also, there is a new full on italo disco 12" coming from Delia and Gavin called Casual Friday. It is wild.
We are also now finishing the Juan Maclean LP and the Delia and Gavin LP. And there are few new bands we are going to begin working with, but are not discussing at this time.
June 9, 2004