Skip to content

DFA’s 12th Anniversary Party: On the Scene at James Murphy’s Family Affair

Photo by Drew Anthony Smith

For both initiates and longtime revelers, many with agog looks on their faces, stepping into Brooklyn’s gaudy Grand Prospect Hall for “12 Years of DFA Records” (put together by Red Bull Music Academy) was like entering a dream world. If you live in New York City and stayed up past the Saturday Night Live end credits, you may have come across the commercial for South Brooklyn’s “distinctly elegant yet affordable” Grand Prospect Hall, a no-budget wonder voiced by owners Michael and Alice Halkias that makes you question whether you’re actually awake. It’s a tacky, ludicrous, disco fantasia illuminated by chandeliers, indiscriminate renderings of Catherine the Great and Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, and painted marble columns worthy of Mike’s Marbleopolis, but dreamy nevertheless.

One could even spot “Mike” among the hundreds of partygoers, as the multi-tiered wedding hall soon swelled with boys in tinfoil jackets and girls in silver sequins, for this celebration of the New York record label. Sixteen acts from the label’s roster — from founding fathers like the Juan MacLean and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy to newcomers like Marcus Marr and Dan Bodan — comprised this mini-festival. In the Grand Ballroom, where a two-story DFA lightning bolt hung unlit (due to a wiring issue) amid three spaceship-sized chandeliers, the Crystal Ark commenced ceremonies. The sextet, helmed by Viva Ruiz and Gavin Russom, took the stage with the women draped like Sun Ra’s Solid Gold Dancers while the men looked like cokehead pilots from Afrika Bambaataa’s Air Force. The Ark’s set began as a conga-spiced tribal house set, but as it progressed, Russom’s synth wizardry grew louder, moving towards trance.

Planningtorock’s set was much like her facepaint: subtle but effective touches of black drop shadow applied to her visage made her non-stop cabaret synthpop set seem all the more grotesque and twisted. Four flights up, in the Grand View room at the very top of the hall, Larry Gus (another newcomer for the label) was as spastic in his MPC manipulations as Black Dice were, yet he hewed more towards the winsome and percolating side of the dance music spectrum. Black Dice haven’t called DFA home since 2005, yet their set — which drew heavily from last year’s crunchy yet strangely catchy Mr. Impossible — found something funky amid their white noise blurts, flanged riffs, live wire sparks, and “Iron Man” farts. While releasing albums like Beaches & Canyons and Creature Comforts helped DFA escape the “dancepunk” tag, this night showed how in a parallel universe, Black Dice might have been the next Rapture.

Crowds and clusters began to gum up movement between the Hall’s four floors (not to mention ladies’ bathroom lines that exceeded the half-hour mark), making plans to negotiate the action in all three rooms all but impossible. Catching Juan MacLean, Pat Mahoney and Nancy Whang, or Beats in Space’s Tim Sweeney down in the disco-heavy Chopin Room on the ground floor meant missing sets from Prinzhorn Dance School or Factory Floor elsewhere. And while Marcus Lambkin’s set as Shit Robot (replete with glowing green robot mask) made one think he was a surefire hit on the US EDM circuit (glowing mask! trance-y rave elevating set!) amid all the acts was the sense that there may no longer be a flagship act for the venerated New York label. In the days before “All My Friends” transitioned to all of your friends, the cornerstone for the label was the DFA itself, the heady production team of James Murphy with Tim Goldsworthy, their mid-aughts output the gold standard for that era. But with Murphy and Goldsworthy in litigation, Goldsworthy’s contribution reduced to footnote status (only on the RBMA subway ad might one find his face), and Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem having called it a day, where might the imprint go next?

On this night, no questions need be answered. MacLean’s set was punctuated by the label’s finest moment, his own “Happy House,” and Murphy’s headlining set featured another undisputed classic, Carl Craig’s epic remix of Delia & Gavin’s “Relevee.” For as often as Murphy makes himself the center of attention, from the MSG finale to the self-involved Shut Up and Play the Hits feature film, when it came time for his night-closing DJ set, the stage in the Grand Ballroom was cleared away, his voice booming through the room. “Shit Robot taught the DFA how to DJ,” Murphy informed the crowd. “The Rapture made the DFA. And Juan MacLean made the DFA home.” And the man himself could just barely be glimpsed, tucked in a far corner on the balcony, as anonymous as any good disco DJ.

Murphy’s set embodied the festivities of the night and turned it ecstatic: Bill Withers, Swami Satchidananda chanting about love, A Certain Ratio doing the du, Robert Palmer, Chaz Jankel, Prelude deep cuts, and Todd Terje’s heavenly expansion of “You Should Be Dancing.” Murphy didn’t need to stump trainspotters, only make the crowd dance. And as 4 a.m. neared, it felt like 2007 once more, that halcyon time when you could see all your friends tonight.