James Murphy Isn't Feeling Your EDM Extravaganzas

DFA honcho and Soulwax bros geek out in Despacio soundsystem doc

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Dan Reilly WRITTEN BY
Dan Reilly

Unless you're a highly trained audiophile or an electronics geek, much of this video of James Murphy and Soulwax/2ManyDJs discussing their Despacio soundsystem may sail over your head like a well-tossed glow-stick. The DFA head and Belgian brothers David and Stephen Dewaele collaborated on the new speaker setup designed to relay excellent sound-from-vinyl, as opposed to today's reliance on equivalents Murphy calls "tinny, sad, hyper-aggressive."

Despacio, which is Spanish for "little by little," made its debut at England's Manchester International Festival, where the trio spun records in a much different atmosphere than the typical light-crazy, big-top tent DJ environs of the EDM era. In fact, as a behind-the-scenes video shows, the self-described "three middle-aged guys with records" aren't really fans of that, and don't think the listeners are properly feeling the music that way.

"We're at the back of the living room facing the experience," Murphy says of their setup. "It's only when it started merging and DJs were put on stages at festivals that did it start becoming like 'Here's the DJ and the sound is coming from them at you with a bunch of lights.'"

"It's like being a chef," he adds, clearly happy to be barely seen but loudly heard when he spins. "The chef isn't in the front of the restaurant throwing food at you. The chef's in the back, making food and it's not that exciting to watch all the time."

He also thinks that EDM's in-built drop-anticipation and all of the extraneous pyrotechnics are taking away from people's enjoyment, as if they are being prodded into dancing. "They're waiting for the next thing. 'When's the next breakdown? When's the next thing I can get excited and jump up and down about?' But you always see a little bit of a disengagement, because it's like watching TV. You're only engaged to the extent that you're a receiver."

Of course, Murphy and the Deweales acknowledge that they've contributed to the problem, but it seems like the Despacio setup — speakers arranged  in a circle to surround the partygoers with sound while the DJs work off to the side — might be their way of making amends. After all, as Murphy described one of his sets to an interviewer recently, "It was literally a bunch of fucking songs, dude."

For more on EDM's obsession with the Experience, read Andrea Domanick's "Waiting for the Drop: Las Vegas' EDM Gamble."

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