Features | Articles

We Didn't Care: A Decade of Not Giving a Shit About LCD Soundsystem

By Conrad Amenta | 4 April 2011

I think I can summarize just why I don’t give a shit about James Murphy’s retirement or hiatus or whatever in one acerbic nugget: if being a hipster is about how an affinity for the sub- or counter-cultural is reduced to the superficial act of buying the right clothes—even if you’re buying them from the wrong people—then being a fan of LCD Soundsystem is about how an affinity for listening to historically important music is reduced to the superficial act of listening to LCD Soundsystem—even if you’re buying it from the same people who made “Drunk Girls” and “North American Scum.” Instead of listening to a range of music, to the contradictions and complexity of music as it was produced over time (which, when you think about it, is sort of the point of informed music listening), all you need to do is listen to LCD Soundsystem and be assured that James Murphy has listened to the right bands for you, done the hard work of selection, and that he will, with apparent authenticity, replicate them.

In this way, Murphy is no more of a douchebag than Starbucks is for attempting to distill the essence of appreciating good coffee. And I’m sure he’s as passionate about good music as my barista is about a true espresso. But there are two reasons that Creepy Uncle New York’s current victory lap is so particularly obnoxious. First, his distillation of credibility takes place in the credibility-obsessed communities of indie music and New York City, and so the simplistic, retrospective equation of Murphy’s precise importance is like listening to a conversation about Lou Reed through a series of megaphones. And second, Murphy doesn’t get his distillation quite right. His music ends up a cynical, sarcastic, empty shell of the music he emulates. He might rip off New Order and David Bowie and Velvet Underground and This Heat and even the fucking Beatles (“Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up”), but you know that none of those artists ever sounded this snarky, never held their audience in such contempt, never had so little to say. The guy once wrote a song called “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” which was about exactly that, and which might still be his biggest hit.

As far as I can understand, they jumped from a funny intersection of pop and dance to a credible intersection of pop and dance at precisely the moment they stopped explicitly referencing how people ape credible music and started aping it themselves. So, “Losing My Edge” may have made fun of the game of credibility, which allowed yet another layer of elitism—I am aware of this, and so outside and above it—but “All My Friends” and “All I Want” were supposedly genuine, even though they did little more than live up to the cartoon character depicted in “Losing My Edge” by aping New Order and Bowie. Somehow the self-referential notion of credibility from the former period extends to the latter period, though all Murphy did was become the subject of his own ridicule.

We only have ourselves to blame. Most of us just wanted to listen to silly pop that we can dance to, and what LCD Soundsystem affords is the opportunity to do so without feeling guilty about it. Dance yourself clean, I guess. Except that the entire discussion about credibility, which is what produces this guilt to begin with, is supported by and subscribed to and explicated to death by the band itself. They are the self-perpetuating credibility machine, supporting a system of cultural capital so that they can make fun of it, and so play beneath its standards without being held to them, and so are, by their very own definition, culturally irrelevant. Murphy might have earned accolades for being self-aware enough to point at the party he’s attending and make fun of its diminishing returns, but a retrospect only reveals that he’s the least self-aware person in attendance. One wonders what he’ll do with himself once the lights are out, everyone has gone home, and he’s still making fun of, while taking notes on, the host’s record collection.