A revolution is taking place (always, somewhere), and DFA is one of those labels that is making its own aesthetic mark. For almost ten years the label has consequently altered and given us a feel of how they imagine the NY underground scene should sound. With danceable mixtures of punk, disco, and house at its core. Most of it done the organic way, i.e. no laptops, but actual synths and drums and a real bass and all that jazz. Watch LCD Soundsystem perform with their full band, or The Juan MacLean, or any of the other bands for that matter; it is all people playing instruments.
And DFA is not resting on their laurels either, their quest being in full throttle this year with a new LCD album, a DJ Kicks by John MacLean, and on the slate are new albums by The Rapture, Shit Robot, Hercules and Love Affair, and Holy Ghost!, a rap band turned disco duo consisting of Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel. Under the wings of James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy they have been working in their niche of the DFA fabric to finish their soon to be released EP Static on the Wire.
I went to a LCD gig not too long ago, and except for you guys I think I literally saw every DFA member who has ever lived. Is DFA a family or is it mostly music you guys share?
NICK: It is a family for sure. We are all friends first, label-mates, bandmates, artists, label managers second.
ALEX: Absolutely a family. Don’t make me get emotional.
I read an interview with John MacLean, who said that Alex once called him up while you two were DJing, John heard you guys playing ‘Happy House’ in the background, and Alex was “yelling at me about quantizing the hi-hats”. Does this anecdote accurately describe how you guys are when it comes to music?
NICK: Pretty much. He called me once when he was DJing to tell me that kick on our Cut Copy remix wasn’t “tough enough”. He was right.
ALEX: Hahaha, that’s amazing. Yes, that describes it. Also the words NERDY + PARTICULAR + OUTDATED.
Can we do a word association game? Which five words do you associate with:
Alex/Nick (aka, the other Holy Ghost! member)
NICK: “Oh, daddy. Why do you make cry….”
ALEX: That’s six Nick, read better.
Jacques Renault (DJ mate + friend)
ALEX: “I love you my bro”
James Murphy (Label owner plus LCD Soundsystem frontman)
ALEX: jigga! Marlow and sons. Good.
Nancy Whang (The Juan MacLean/LCD Soundsystem)
ALEX: Nando. Miss nancy whang. Hot.
Juan MacLean (The Juan MacLean)
NICK: King Cone.
ALEX: Baby gets what baby wants.
In three (or six) degrees of separation, what is the most unlikely person you could get to?
NICK: These are good questions! Hmmm, let me think. Abe Lincoln is a distant cousin of mine on my mother’s side. Fact!
ALEX: Michael McDonald. I refuse to give my mom his info though. Stalker status.
As probably already has become obvious from the John MacLean anecdote, everything is being looked at with an expert eye. Most guys at DFA know their gear, they dislike their software (or in any case want as little to do with a laptop in terms of music), and when you know, you also can find out what stuff can get out what sound the best. It seems like the DFA guys are that way concerning life as well, humanity before mechanization. Well…
You guys met Murphy and Goldsworthy ages ago, you all became friends, and years later you’ve got your EP released by them and you’re opening for LCD; do nice guys get further in life?
NICK: Apparently not. I’ve heard reports that we’re actually huge assholes.
ALEX: Nice guys finish first? Shit, better start a new band.
You heard reports, seriously? Already starting band feuds, or was that a typical internet thingy where people are just talking shit on message boards?
NICK: No, I haven’t seen anything on the blogs, but please forward me anything you’ve stumbled across. I’ve heard it from promoters and other DJs. Like, “man people say you guys are assholes but you’re actually really nice.”
Surfing Discogs for hours from your comfy chair and coming up with some rare goodies or browsing a musky cellar and come away with 10 LPs for 15 dollars? And why does the one appeal more?
NICK: Musky cellar, though I haven’t been record shopping in ages. I like touching records, holding them in my hands, reading credits, etc. I also don’t like computers much. That’s why we don’t DJ with them or use them on stage.
ALEX: Musky? Mmm, you’ve got me excited.
About the DJing, you guys do it “old-fashioned”, what do you guys think of people like Richie Hawtin, using Traktor and linking it to LastFM or Twitter and stuff? I can imagine him thinking that embracing technology opens many possibilities.
NICK: we have no beef with technology, but at the same time neither one of us particularly enjoys spending time at the computer. For me, the computer is a tool for work. I have no interest in scrolling through a bunch of tiny texts on an LCD screen when I’m DJing. I spend far too much of my time doing that as it is.
What is the latest bit of gear you bought and were over the moon about?
NICK: We are very, very close to buying a Yamaha CS80 which is something we’ve been looking at for years. It is truly the most beautiful sounding polyphonic synthesiser ever built. It truly makes everything else sound like a toy. I might actually cry if we get it, but that’s largely because of how much it’s going to cost.
ALEX: Tears of joy, tears of joy.
(One month later)
NICK: We lost the auction ;(.
I don’t assume you can drag that one across Europe though. What does your road set-up look like?
Nick: The live rig is kind of a stripped down version of our studio remade with as much modern, stable gear as possible played live by 4 dudes. No laptop anywhere near the stage.
According to you, what is the most underrated piece of equipment, and what is the appeal to you personally?
Nick: Most underrated: Orban 111B Spring Reverb, Ashly SC-44 parametric EQ and the Ashly SC series compressors. All very cheap. All very, very good. James gave me an Ashly SC66 when we started working on Holy Ghost! stuff and it was the only compressor I had for years. It’s the only compressor used on ‘Hold On’.
ALEX: A piano.
In your DJ sets a love for vintage disco comes shining through, is that just the music or also the Disco aesthetic, and what makes up that aesthetic for you personally?
NICK: A good disco record is hard to beat on many levels. It’s just an amalgam of so many great things – great songwriting, optimism, complete lack of irony, amazing production, amazing engineering, amazing musicianship and tough as shit drumming.
They have been playing together for some years now as they grew up living two blocks from each other. First they played in a now defunct rap band called Automato, and now they have formed Holy Ghost! and have been creating music under that moniker for some time now. In the past few years they have been releasing killer remixes, like the ones for Moby’s ‘I Love to Move in Here’, Curses!’ ‘The Deep End’, and more recently they did cuts for LCD Soundsystem, Friendly Fires, and Monarchy. Slowly singles have been coming out as well. Very slowly, that is, but the guys are not rushing. On the 23rd of August they will be releasing their first EP called Static on the Wire, and later this year or early 2011 their first full length will appear. To support the EP they’ve opened for LCD Soundsystem in the US, did a small European tour, and are now returning to the US for a lengthy road trip with Chromeo.
Could you tell us about the new EP you guys are releasing?
ALEX: It’s called Static on the Wire. It just came out in the US of A and will be out in Europe in August, it’s got four songs on it. It’s kind of a handshake to strangers, saying “hi, this is what we do, would you like to be friends and later enjoy moments of over emotional joy, sadness, and rage?” It’s an HG! starter kit. It was recorded over two years, during the same sessions as our album.
I’ve read that the album will be coming out late 2010/early 2011. If the EP is a handshake, what will the album be saying?
NICK: If the EP is a handshake then the album is the kiss at the end of the night. Or maybe it’s a slap in the face. That will have to be your call!
Can you tell me something about the art work for the EP? Are you guys hands on with that or do you let other people at DFA decide?
NICK: The basic concepts for the artwork are our own but we pass our crude ideas on to people like Drew Hefron and Michael Vadino with actual talent to do the actual hard work.
You guys will be heavily supporting the EP with the LCD, Chromeo, and a festival Europe tour. Is that a crowded agenda or are you guys relishing the prospect?
ALEX: Relishment and punishment are not far a part. We definitely are biting off more than we can chew, but hey, what you can’t chew you swallow, right? That sounds gross. No, I’m being stupid, we’re ridiculously thrilled to be able to support these bands. Honestly, I’m elated