Before James Murphy was an ultra-hip DJ, he was a punk. This weekend he’ll go back to those roots by sitting in on drums for NYC art-punks Dungbeetle at their reunion show. The reunion is taking place Saturday at the release party for the latest issue of Radio Silence at Le Poisson Rouge. Stephin Merritt, Tanya Donnelly, and Matthew Friedberger will also perform, and Greil Marcus and Rick Moody are among those giving readings. Brooklyn Vegan notes that Murphy used to run sound for Dungbeetle back in the ’80s. He told New York Magazine about his love for the band in a profile, which also featured commentary from Dungbeetle frontman Sam Lipsyte and John MacLean of the Juan MacLean:
Murphy stumbled across one band that had the same feelings about the scene he did—they called themselves Dungbeetle, and their ranks included [Rob] Reynolds (now a painter in Los Angeles), Nicholas Butterworth (who figured prominently in the dot-com boom), and a singer who wore capes onstage and answered to the name Sam Shit (he is now the celebrated novelist Sam Lipsyte). “Dungbeetle were like Andy Kaufman,” says Murphy. “When Andy Kaufman performed, he was not just trying to be funny. He was playing with the notion of what it means to try to be funny, of what it means to be an audience expecting somebody to be funny. He was doing a dance and playing a game. Watching Dungbeetle was like being involved in that game.”
Murphy signed on as a sound mixer for Dungbeetle’s “art-punk theatrical” stage shows, and built his first real recording studio with them on a desolate block in Dumbo. The neighborhood was then full of empty warehouses and characters like a Serbian truck driver who fought their studio noise with his own. “He would write pseudo-profound graffiti on the door when he got drunk or angry,” Lipsyte remembers. “Stuff like, NO ABILITY TO LOVE, NO CAPACITY TO FORGIVE—TAKE IT! There was always a danger when we were playing that this guy would burst through from the next room with a sledgehammer.”
Dungbeetle never amounted to much—they put out just one vinyl single — but it’s hard to imagine New York looking and sounding the way it does now without the ideas the group seeded in James Murphy. All involved in the game remember him as a meticulous sound engineer with much invested in the grand gestures the band aspired to. “James was the person turning up the volume on it all, literally and figuratively,” says Juan Maclean, a current disco-rock artist who ran in the same circles with a band called Six Finger Satellite. “He was the guy who was like, ‘Oh, you’re confused by this? This rubs you the wrong way? Well, here it is 100 times louder.'”
“We all had roughly the same worldview,” says Lipsyte. “But James was actually going to do something with it.”
Unless I’m mistaken this will be Murphy’s first live musical performance since the end of LCD Soundsystem in 2011. Tickets are available here.