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Shut Up and Play the Hits

LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy on selling out Madison Square Gardens and making dance music as a rock band

Hard rockin’, feel-good music to drunkenly bust some grooves to are rarely held up with the wit and dry, self-mocking cynicism of LCD Soundsystem - since 2002 they’ve been the perfect antidote for a Morrissey headache. On 2 April 2011 the band played a dramatic final gig at New York’s Madison Square Gardens as a farewell to fans before LCD Soundsystem came to an end. Footage shot at the concert - featuring Spike Jonze as guest camera operator - has been made into a movie titled 'Shut Up and Play the Hits'.

I think the secret ingredient of LCD Soundsystem compared, to other bands, is that we do dance music but we’re a fucking rock band. We could actually rock better than a lot of rock bands

Directed by UK based Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, the film cuts footage of the concert with more intimate clips of LCD founder James Murphy talking about the end of the band and going about his day leading up to the gig - including a snippet of him putting on his socks that morning. Charismatic and articulate (and cuddly) front man James Murphy spoke to Dazed Digital about becoming famous in his 30s, being elitist and rocking out.

Dazed Digital: Were you surprised by how you felt after the gig?
James Murphy: 
Because I’ve been involved in the film, it feels like it’s been continuing. After the Sound of Silver tour, I took a year off before working on a record again. Maybe in a couple of years I’ll miss it differently. I see people from the band the whole time, it’s not that we don’t want to do things anymore, we just don’t want to be a professional rock band anymore because it’s exhausting. I wanted to go back to being individual people. Now that’s done. We’re like an art project, it’s not my life, it’s part of my life that lasted form when I was 30 to when I was 40, which I loved, it was fun. 

DD: Were you been making music previous to LCD Soundsystem?
James Murphy:
 I was always in bands, I was in bands when I was 13, I was in a New Wave band when New Wave was new! It wasn’t a retro thing. I wanted to be what I admired in other people, I wanted other people to feel about me what I felt about The Smiths or Flock of Seagulls or whatever.

DD: Are you thankful in a way that you didn’t become successful when you were younger?
James Murphy: 
Incredibly thankful! I would have been an insane fucking idiot, I would have been a jerk. I was really childish and self-important. I feel like I’ve turned into a person through failure, a much more appreciative person, a better person to be around. And again, through success, through happiness in doing what I like, I’m calmer and happier. 

DD: At one point you said you refused a 300,000 dollar publishing deal. 
James Murphy:
 Yeah. If I was 22 I would have taken it and said it’s a big deal, but in reality I would have been taking it as a validation, “awesome, I’m worth this!” I knew that deal wasn’t going to change my life, it wasn’t enough money. I’ve been broke my whole life, I know how to live cheap, I’ve lived on inflatable mattresses, I couched surfed. That amount of money is just new shoes and a coke habit, it’s really not of any value to me. 

DD: How did your approach to music change as you got older? 
James Murphy:
 I wasted a lot of time trying to find a home in music and I didn’t make anything worthwhile until I gave up on that and trusted my taste and trusted myself and stopped trying to be something, started making music for myself. As a kid I thought I was special, different. And once I realised I was incredibly normal, and really typical in a lot of ways, then I realised I could just make music that I liked. I’m very normal, but I’m also incredibly dedicated to the music.

DD: You say in the movie that you wanted to leave a stain, do you feel you’ve achieved that?
James Murphy: 
Yes and no. I always wanted something to do with popular culture, I didn’t want to be elitist, but I think I am elitist in a way. I hate shitty music and hate when people say things like, when I was talking to this runner who said she disliked fast music, as in the speed. Of course I’m not egalitarian enough to think that’s a totally acceptable opinion, so I am elitist on some level. I think I found the edge of how populist I could be while being true to myself, being true to my tastes.

DD: Do you think you managed to traverse the awkward, age-old boundary between dance and rock?
James Murphy: 
I think the secret ingredient of LCD Soundsystem compared, to other bands, is that we do dance music but we’re a fucking rock band. We could actually rock better than a lot of rock bands; we actually could play quite heavy and would translate to people who wouldn’t like the kind of music they imagined us to be. 

DD: Was it important to play your last gig in New York?
James Murphy: 
I never really thought about it any other way. It all started when we booked Madison Sq Gardens, and they didn’t even think we could sell it in a dignified way, that it would be really sad and empty. So they were trying to get people to open for us like Big Boi from Outcast, which was absurd. I thought we could sell that out in a week and everyone laughed at me. But when it sold out, they’d already given the night after to The Strokes, so I couldn’t do anything about it. I was really pissed.

'Shut Up and Play the Hits' in cinemas from 4 September, DVD and exclusive items on preorder HERE