Watch their performance of ‘New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’ on ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’, the documentary charting the final days of LCD Soundsystem, and you would be forgiven for thinking that that was really the end. The way in which the band string it out for more than twice the length of its album run-time, the tearful looks that are shared across the stage, the avalanche of balloons which accompanies the song’s crescendo – James Murphy wasn’t messing around.
To all who had seen it – that uproarious, gargantuan four hour show at Madison Square Garden on April 15th 2011 – that was unequivocally that. A grand statement about the nature of fame, achievement and artistic integrity in the twenty-first century, LCD were going out at the peak of their powers and simultaneously going down in music history.
“Surely, this was what every fan had been dreaming of.”
Except that wasn’t the end. Four months ago the music website Consequence of Sound started printing rumours about a possible LCD reunion that was in the works. They were instantly refuted, and in no uncertain terms, by the band’s then-manager Keith Woods.
Then, on Christmas Day, the first original LCD material for the best part of five years surfaced, a suitably sardonic, bittersweet festive single called ‘Christmas Will Break Your Heart’ (you won’t be hearing it piped through the sound systems at Cabot Circus next December).
It was then announced on New Years Eve that LCD Soundsystem would be reforming to play at Coachella this summer and finally, on January 5th, a statement written by James Murphy was uploaded to the band’s website saying that the band weren’t reuniting to play just one festival slot but a full tour, and not just to play existing material but to finish and release a new LCD album. Surely, this was what every fan of the band had been dreaming of.
LCD Soundsystem were my favourite band of modern times. When they last toured the UK, in the spring of 2011, I had listened to and appreciated their albums but didn’t like them enough to part with serious money to and see them live.
I did, however, travel up to London on the day of its UK premiere to see Shut Up and Play the Hits, released exactly a year after that momentous MSG show, and by that point I thought they made complete sense to me. The music was smart and sharp, nearly all the songs were too long to be singles and they didn’t seem to care, they were all old, and their influences were a treasure trove for a teenage boy who loved David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ but had never unearthed German bands like Neu!, Can, Cluster and Kraftwerk which had paved the way for that sound.
“They were pivotal in reminding me that, sometimes, dance music and good music could be the same thing.”
More importantly, to a teenage boy who leant on his cornerstone bands like Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen a little too much for their melancholy and depressive sensibilities, they were pivotal in reminding me that, sometimes, dance music and good music could be the same thing. ‘Yeah’, ‘Tribulations’ and ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ are all lyrically fixated on people’s predilection for posturing and the preservation of their carefully crafted image but are designed musically to make you lose your shit entirely.
And perhaps the coolest thing of all to my 16-year-old self was that, having reached a peak of commercial and critical success while retaining their principle of simply making music that they themselves would want to listen to, they stopped. Having banked three wonderful long-players in five years and carved out a fearsome live reputation as one of the tightest outfits on the planet, Murphy decided that to be more famous wasn’t going to make him happier or his band better. In today’s money-driven, consumeristic world, and especially in the world of the music industry, that meant they had a special place in my musical consciousness forever.
“…especially in the world of the music industry, they had a special place in my musical consciousness forever.”
The epigraph to Shut Up reads: ‘If it’s a funeral, let’s make it the best funeral ever’. The death of any bold endeavour carries with it that same sense of humility and joyous release, of acceptance and celebration, as long as whatever dies doesn’t then try to claw its way back out of the grave.
So when LCD did emerge from the grave to announce their Coachella date a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure whether that hadn’t ruined it all. Murphy had never actually said they would never play again, and had in fact dropped hints five years ago suggesting the opposite of that, but it still felt to me as though an inviolable and courageous code had been broken.
The mythos of the artist striving for integrity, truth and, in this case, killer ten-minute dance epics, had been tarnished. And then, in that James Murphy letter from January 5th, he wrote to me. Not to me precisely, but to all those fans who may have felt let down by the band’s sudden about-face:
‘If you cared a lot about our band, and you put a lot of yourself into that moment (or anything about us you chose), and you feel betrayed now, then i completely understand that. it’s your right to define what you love about a band, and it’s your right to decry their actions and words as you see fit, because it’s you, frankly, who have done much of the work to sustain that relationship, not the band…the only thing we can do now is get back into the studio and finish this record, and make it as fucking good as we can possibly make it. it needs to be better than anything we’ve done before, in my mind, because it won’t have the help of being the first time. And we have to play better than we’ve ever played, frankly. Every show has to be better than the best show we’ve played before for anyone to even say “well, that was good. i mean, not as good as they used to be. but, you know. it was good.” We know all that.’
In exactly the same way that the news of the deliberate curtailment of LCD made blinding sense to me, so did this. By creating this idea of a band that I loved as representing an ideal for living and a daring retaliatory attitude towards mainstream culture, I had lost track of why they were really cool to me. James Murphy isn’t on stage to make grand statements about culture or art but is instead on stage to make music that people will feel in their nerve endings.
It may be my right, as Murphy says, to define what I love about a band but to define LCD as an example of artistic uprightness and honesty, even in a time where we see or hear very little of those things on the TV or the radio, is to forget the surge of emotion I invariably feel as ‘All My Friends’ builds towards its heartbroken, defiant climax.
Somewhere in the middle of ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’ James Murphy’s voiceover says one of the most important things I’ve ever heard about music: “I’ve never been to see a band live and loved it without believing something about the people on stage.”
I used to believe that LCD Soundsystem stood, intentionally or otherwise, for defining itself against vapidity and banality and a general inability of the famous and successful to realise that enough is enough. But when I hopefully finally see LCD on their comeback tour, I’ll look at them believing that they’re up there purely because they still have great songs in them and want to share them with those who want to listen. I believe, in short, they’ll be up there for the right reasons.
Keep up to date with LCD Soundsystem on their website.