James Murphy finally has his own very own (LCD) sound system. The DFA Records co-founder has teamed up with home entertainment company McIntosh Laboratory for Despacio, a custom-built sound system that he debuted at the U.K.’s Manchester International Festival July 18. The 11-foot stacks of speakers and 50,000-foot rig was designed by Murphy in partnership with David and Stephen Dewaele, a.k.a. Soulwax and 2manyDJs, and audiotech engineer John Klett.
Murphy has been using McIntosh equipment to produce records and power his DJ gigs in the past, a relationship he describes as a “long-time listener/first-time caller kinda thing.” Speaking from Manchester last Wednesday, where he’d just seen the Despacio products in-person for the first time, Murphy hoped to play many gigs with his new sound system in the future. “The goal is that we can put it in some places and do some events – we put a lot of work into this and burned a lot of cash so hopefully it’ll work out,” he said. “I don’t know where it will eventually land, though. None of us have houses big enough to take it with us!”
Billboard.biz caught up with Murphy on the making of the new products, DFA’s recent 12th anniversary milestone and his next project, the new album by Arcade Fire album
Billboard.biz: How did this partnership with McIntosh come about?
James Murphy: It’s been a theoretical thing I’ve wanted do for years and years and years. Both the Dewaeles and myself are old McIntosh heads — we have them in our home studios and stuff like that. We were talking about this system as an evolution of an old sound system. So when we started looking at amplifiers, my friend John Clark who does all my studios and stuff said “what do you want?” And I said ideally I would just want something like the old sound system that would be big enough to power The Loft. But I didn’t know they made big enough ones now, so I just kind of mentioned it on a lark. But sure enough their rep Jordan in the U.K. reached out and shockingly said they would help us build this.
Was there anything in particular that inspired you as you were putting the design together?
Yeah John Klett and I were talking about this for years. When I want to DJ what I think to be the best-sounding place in the world I go to this place in Sapporo, Japan called Precious Hall which has kind of a custom sound system with a much lower ceiling and a smaller room. I enjoyed it so much that I was like, “this is the closest to what I wanted” but it’s still smaller and it really inspired me.
These box designs are basically what John and I have been talking about for years. I’m a big fan of very simple box design, I don’t like to go super crazy. If you build boxes at a good volume, I like to dampen it with gears and then see if the material’s right and adjust. To me, that makes a difference than trying to obsessively squeeze every millimeter into it.
Arcade Fire just announced the release date of their new album, which you produced. What did you make of the way they choose to reveal the news, by replying to a fan on Twitter?
I didn’t even know that’s what they did. When you work on a record you don’t know any of the things around it. So when it comes out I’ll just be like, “The Arcade Fire record’s out — oh, right!” It’s been the food I eat and the air I breathe for a long time now. That happens with my own records. I am officially done with it, we’ve just been passing things back and forth making choices on mixes.
What was the dynamic with Win and the rest of the band – were there a lot of different expectations to manage with so many people in the band?
Producing is always really hard, and you can never tell who’s going to be easy to get along with and who’s going to be difficult. So I wasn’t sure what was going to be the case, since there’s a lot of them. I figured, they’re all super talented, do they need another dude there with his opinions? It turned out it was really nice, and everyone was amazingly respectful of one another….I’m not sure if it’s a concept record like the last one. I dealt with the holistic record in a non-verbal way. We don’t talk about where the songs come from unless somebody says, “What I’m going for is more this…” That’s all I got into. I’m not trying to conduct an opera, or a rock opera — a “ropera” in this case.
You recently celebrated the 12th anniversary of DFA Records at Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy. What was that event and reaching that milestone like for you?
It was super fucking fun. It made me aware I need to get my New York party-throwing chops back together. John and I and Chris at DFA were talking about how never in a million years would we have done this and thought that many people would come. It was sort of like, “how the fuck can we do this? Well I’ll find a place that holds 25 people. It’s always our brain and it was exciting to have someone else basically throw it for us. We were curating, which is a word I should not use very often, but I’ll use it at the moment. We were putting it together but not “throwing” a party in the technical sense. People were super happy at it, which is the thing I walked away with the most. I didn’t go on til after 1 a.m…. I like to have people have a couple drinks in them, so if I fuck up they won’t remember [laughs] So I appreciated their extra lack of inhibitions.
So where would you like to see DFA head in the next 12 years?
Not bankrupt? I don’t know. We’re just taking it one day at a time, like a bunch of alcoholics. This is an industry that makes zero sense. It made zero sense 10 years ago and somehow we’re still chugging along, doing the weird thing that we do. As long as we just hang out and don’t do terrible things that seem gross I’m happy. To be honest we’re so far away from there being enough money to justify compromises, so we’re safe until then.