By Stef Siepel
May 16, 2013
If you follow our Twitter feed, you will have seen this one pass: A short documentary by Red Bull Music Academy of twelve years of DFA. It’s a must see. Not because of its in-depth look into the music industry (it isn’t), nor for great reveals or juicy back stories (it hasn’t). But because – in all its lightness, fun, and short running time – you do get an idea of (and have to marvel at) how such a small operation went on to be so successful doing what they like
James Murphy, put down almost as a character in a Wes Anderson film, wondered why no one was making anything fun. So he put it upon himself (along with the rest of the crew and the artists) to just go out there and have people dancing and laughing. That kind of became the mantra, though naturally to achieve a goal like that probably means you’ve got to put in loads of hard work. Something which, in this doc, they kind of keep out of view, like the kid that doesn’t want anyone seeing him actually doing his homework.
The last band I’ve seen live happens to be a DFA band, namely !!!. It was at a free festival in town, which is always kind of tricky as I’ve seen bands fall hopelessly flat when they’re not in front of a crowd that has paid money to see specifically them. !!! couldn’t have cared less, and their (and DFA’s) vibe was epitomized perfectly when Nic Offer went off stage, sought out a couple of kids (as in, 9 and 12, probably), and started dancing with them. During the gig he said, “don’t be afraid of me, of the people here, just dance”. Poetic it might not have been, typically DFA it was.
Most of the people at DFA are also/have been/are closely affiliated to DJs. On the internet you can find a whole host of free mixes. Don’t expect just the latest, coolest, most obscure tracks ever, and be fully prepared to get some of the corniest stuff out there; Jackson 5 or whatever – it’s just what makes people smile. It’s not entirely weird that DFA guys often play house and disco, for these musical styles are (also) about just having fun and being yourself. In other words, just dance. It doesn’t matter how, it doesn’t matter if you are any good at it, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a banker or a hustler or did a voice on the Animaniacs. Maybe we can congratulate DFA with linking Caucasian “European Vinyl Nerds” and African-American homosexuals on the disco and house dancefloors.
Naturally, this all does simplify it a bit. If you’ve seenSinkane or Prinzhorn Dance School live you know they don’t sound anything like Still Going or The Juan Maclean. And if you’ve read the interviews I’ve done with the DFA bands YACHT and Holy Ghost! then you’d know it is all heart, head, and perspiration and definitely not some fleeting try-out to have a good time. They’re not all high school rap bands doing it for a lark (though maybe some started out as one, or apparently appeared on Nickelodeon shows).
If you’ve made it this far down the column, probably you have seen a fair few of these bands live. I certainly have (Hercules and Love Affair, Sinkane, Prinzhorn Dance School, Holy Ghost!, The Rapture, Shit Robot, YACHT, LCD Soundsystem, all just off the top of my head). One of my most vivid live memories was seeing The Juan Maclean at a festival. I had seen them before live, so I knew what was going to come when they played ‘Happy House’. They bring that song down TWICE, and the second time it does almost die down with only a singular beat still left throbbing. I was at the front, and when they gave that song the kiss of life for the second time I heard this amazing roar of excitement behind me while dancing. Suddenly, the world was only there, then, us.
The short doc will probably not go on to win any Academy Awards or provide some amazingly new insights, though there are definitely some tidbits you probably did not know yet (certainly I didn’t). It did, however, remind me – for the combination of social groups I belong to – that DFA coming up during my formative years gave me something to like, something to listen to, and a place during gigs that effortlessly felt like I belonged there. And of course, whilst there, do a little dance, have a bit of fun, and enjoy the heck out of some great music. Even if Galkin says it a bit hesitantly in the documentary, they definitely meant something to quite a few people along the road.