Above and beyond
DFA's Tim Goldsworthy talks about the duo's new remix collection
Fearlessly shaking loose dance music for all its spare change, the production team of Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy—better known as DFA—is coming off one huge year straight into another one. The New York mixologists scored with 2005’s debut album from LCD Soundsystem, and DFA’s clashy, hybrid style is credited with inspiring the rise of dance-punk.
Goldsworthy, an affable Brit who hails from Polly Jean Harvey’s hometown of Yeovil, is indifferent to the surface noise. He sat down recently at DFA headquarters in Manhattan’s West Village to chat with us about their achievements—summarized quite pulsingly on The DFA Remixes – Chapter One (DFA/Astralwerks)—and suggested that the “punk” label is a misnomer.
Time Out Chicago: What’s it like to have Britney’s people dialing you up for a remix?
Tim Goldsworthy: It just seemed silly and a bit ridiculous. We were being called the Neptunes of underground dance music. It’s just really, really stupid. They’re working with Britney and Gwen Stefani and selling millions and millions of records, and we’re working with Radio 4, and selling maybe a couple of thousand. It also showed us the ridiculous side of the major-label A&R scene. We’d been in a few magazines, and people are going, “They must be great,” without ever listening to our music at all. You’ve heard the remixes. I don’t think there is one under ten minutes. People call us “funk-punky,” but it’s pretty proggy. I don’t know how that would have transferred to someone like Janet Jackson.
TOC: How would you pervert the sound of the bands you remixed?
TG: You listen through the track and try to find that one little spark: “Oh, that’s interesting!” Sometimes it’s like working on those influences that the band themselves might be a bit too tasteful about. It might be a little cheesy, so they don’t fully go for it. Me and James, we have absolutely no shame in doing outrageously cheesy disco or out-there spacey, proggy Pink Floyd The Wall–era disco.
TOC: That’s the joy of it.
TG: A lot of bands do play it safe. James and I came from the worst areas for that. James came from more of a math-rocky American indie-rock thing, and I came from trip-hop. Both are very up there in their deep seriousness. We’re helping these people out. We freed ourselves, and we’re helping them along the way.
TOC: How did you free yourselves?
TG: The first breakthrough is the first remix we did on the record, which was the Le Tigre (“Deceptacon”). At that point, people were doing remixes that were very experimental or else very banging club mixes. We went out for pretty classic early ’80s New York gay disco—arty gay disco—and some of those records are really bad. But they didn’t have that superseriousness about them. And that kick-started the whole thing. The Gorillaz (“Dare”), I guess, and the Chemical Brothers (“The Boxer”) almost, at some point, get a little [King] Crimson. So, gay disco and prog.
TOC: Like chocolate and peanut butter.
TG: Yeah, yeah. And Radio 4 (“Dance to the Underground”) has a saxophone in it. I don’t think that’s been a safe instrument for the last 30 years.
TOC: The early ’80s New York dance scene was so much fun. You had the gay disco on one hand, but you also had these scrappy CBGB punk bands and these street funk acts, and they all overlapped.
TG: There weren’t any cliquey rules about it then. The idea of doing something experimental and new, people were actually doing it. And now, when people are experimental, you know what it will sound like. It will have some [Makes clicking noises] kind of bits and it will be atonal, and won’t have any structure to it. I’ve forgotten about it already. Back then, it was a bit different. It was about weird sound machines and marimbas.
TOC: Despite the notoriety, you’re not doing duets with Snoop Dogg.
TG: James and I have been through it before. We’re aware of how machines can take things away from you. We’re lucky enough that this is our second or third chance at this, which doesn’t happen very often. At the time, when we were on magazine covers and were being talked about as huge and fantastic and beautiful, we could have got people in to be like, “Oh, let’s launch a range of cutlery.”
The DFA Remixes - Chapter One is out on Astralwerks/Capitol Tuesday 4.