“I’m losing my edge.
The kids are coming up from behind.
I’m losing my edge.”
James Murphy shouts out fifty-five musicians in LCD Soundsytem’s gut-wrenching first anthem, “Losing My Edge.” Most of them appear in a run at the song’s closing, as Murphy lists the loves of his record collection with equal parts reverence and snark. He cheers the symbolic rockers have been idolized by angsty teenagers for decades — Joy Division, Lou Reed, the Germs, “Gil! Scott! Heron!” — and ones that would take those same teens many more years of digging to find. There’s the sting of assertive arrogance in Murphy’s delivery; the way that he declares his triumphs over the simple dun-dun-da-da-dun of the bass that runs the course of the song, for example. But this is why we love “Losing My Edge.” Behind the tongue-in-cheek ego lies stripped-down, self-mined, plainly stated insecurity. Empathy even. And ten years after its release “Losing My Edge” remains as powerful as ever for one reason above all: This is the stuff we all can relate to.
“I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids.
I played it at CBGB’s.
Everybody thought I was crazy.”
“It is about being horrified about my own silliness,” Murphy once said about the song’s origin. While it’s a story that has likely been told a thousand times over, it’s also one that’s more relevant than ever to the current progression of mainstream dance culture. (More on that later.) As a rock DJ in the late-’90s in New York, Murphy was known for throwing experimental dance records like Liquid Liquid, ESG and, yes, Daft Punk, into his mixes. When he realized that other DJs were starting to use some of the same records, he panicked, afraid that he’d lost the crate-digging that set him apart from his rock-club DJing peers. “I had become kind of cool for a moment. And to be honest, I was afraid that this newfound coolness was going to go away,” he said. “And then it became a wider thing about people who grip onto other people’s creations like they are their own. There is a lot of pathos in that character though because it’s born out of inadequacy and love.”
“I’m losing my edge to the kids whose footsteps I hear when they get on the decks.
I’m losing my edge to the Internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978.”
I was sixteen when the song first came out in the July of 2002. In honesty, I didn’t even hear it until a year and a half later, when I started college and took advantage of a friend’s access to our college radio’s music library. Looking back it’s strange to think that that any of my peers found that they could personally relate to the song’s pointed lyrics. I certainly didn’t have any “edge” to lose yet. That is, unless the gloriously cheesy Bollywood mixes and discarded Velvet Underground tapes I had inherited from my parents count for anything. Then again, that was kind of the point. While those who were a few years wiser reveled in the irony and wary foreshadowing of “Losing My Edge,” the song became a different kind of keystone for a new, rising class of music-lovers. One they could warp their own definitions of “cool” around.
Notably, this was around the time a new and abstractly defined “hipster” generation had started to rise from and for the Internet. Then the cringe-inducing word seemed to revolve more around rock nerdery and know-it-all-ism than fashion aesthetic: Having access to newly budding music sites was the only thing you needed to celebrate being indie. That’s to say the early aughts brought the first group of overzealous, over-critical college kids — myself included — who read Pitchfork to make fun of the associated pretension and then immediately downloaded any recommended tracks. In a way, “Losing My Edge” became a song that both reflected this specific generation’s youngness and qualified their newfound hipness. These were the kids who were subjects of Murphy’s jokes alongside his begrudging admiration.
“I was there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan.
I was there in Jamaica during the great sound clashes.
I woke up naked on the beach in Ibiza in 1988.”
But the times have changed and the sentiment behind some of the song’s famous lines paint a picture of just how much, at least as far as his beloved dance records are concerned. The tween-friendly house, trance, and dubstep production craze only proves it. Murphy, however, reflects on a different, rawer era; one before entire festivals devoted to the fist-pumping, wobble-loving youth. In its day Paradise Garage was the New York dance underground’s own spectacle. Larry Levan held the reigns and invited DJ innovators like Frankie Knuckles (his warehouse parties gave “house” music its name) to spin to crowds mixed in sexuality and race. The sound clashes that Murphy speaks of were massive reggae music competitions in Jamaica that relied on bass and earth-shattering dub. The same dub progressions that are the earliest progenitors to dubstep. And the Ibiza once visited by the traveler represents an era of the experimental balearic music where Pan-African beats and rock melodies merged into beachside resort music.
On “Losing My Edge,” Murphy pronounces Ibiza the Catalan way, I-bee-tha, with a soft “th” instead of the hard American “z.” This may or may not be a joke at feigned authenticity and pretension surrounding the hip global island that has become synonymous with dance to mainstream audiences. (It’s this writer’s belief that the singer’s mispronunciation of Eric B and Rakim as “Eric B and Rakeem” was intentional as well.) No matter the motivation, Murphy makes it clear that the listener is in on the joke, whether it be with him or at his expense. To this day, Ibiza has remains a somewhat polarizing place for dance purists; one that teeters the line between freeing musical openness and the undiscerning tastes of celeb DJs that cater to tourists and vacationers. Take current-day Usher. In a recent interview about his new house-laden, Billboard-charting release Looking 4 Myself, wherein he searches for his own version of self-acceptance, the R&B crooner mentions his own visit to Ibiza as inspiration, pronouncing it with the same Catalan “th.” Usher, however, is not looking for a laugh.
“I’m losing my edge to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent.
And they’re actually really, really nice.”
The growing acceptance of once-alternative and underground dance cultures into the pop arena is an entire conversation unto itself. It should be noted, however, that this is no coincidence; as dance culture continues to gain mainstream momentum, pop has continued to cash in on it. Furthermore it’s likely that some of these icons have embraced newer production while in the midst of embracing their own fears of missing out or “losing an edge” to their peers.
A quick comparison: Four of today’s Billboard Top 10 pop chart are dance songs made by artists that might otherwise also rank at the top of the rap or R&B charts (Usher’s “Scream,” Nicki Minaj’s “Starships,” Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been,” Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake”). It’s a stark contrast to the July 2002 pop chart which was made up almost entirely of rappers and R&B singers but hosted zero songs that made the crossover to the dance charts. The rap includes Nelly’s “Hot In Herre,” Cam’ron’s “Oh Boy,” Eminem’s “Without Me,” and R&B songstress Ashanti made the list with “Foolish.” Interestingly, Usher charted that month too, playing back-up to Diddy on “I Need A Girl Pt 1.” He later ranked in the Top 10 for the whole year for the smooth, heartbroken groove of “U Got It Bad.”
There are plenty of other changes that share in the current influx of dance production. DJ and club culture has boomed in recent years, almost entirely thanks to equipment development like the vinyl emulation technology of Serato and dance-only mp3 sites like Beatport. And despite his caution on “Losing My Edge,” Murphy and his DFA label continue to benefit from this boom. Acts like Hot Chip, the Rapture, Holy Ghost!, and Juan Maclean all DJ as well as play a part in their respective bands. Murphy himself continues to DJ as part of Special Disco Version with LCD’s Pat Mahoney.
“The Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics.”
On April 2, 2011, LCD Soundsystem played their final show to a sold-out Madison Square Garden. The show’s announcement came as a shock to fans and confused many considering it came so soon after the band released their critically applauded third album This Is Happening. But, as always, James Murphy channeled brilliance alongside the devastation. In the soon-to-be released documentary about that last show, Murphy seemed to be unsure of his decision in the end. One thing he was sure of however was that LCD Soundsystem should go out at the peak of their popularity, they would go out on top. And as a result, they would be the type of band that another, future generation could someday consider singing about.