In the midst of grunge music and a New York struggling its musical identity, a group of friends started throwing parties. Starting a bar and DJ’ing, the group eventually built a studio. Then, in 2001, James Murphy (later to start LCD Soundsystem), Tim Goldsworthy (of 90’s British trip hop group UNKLE) and Johnathan Galkin founded DFA Records. With new bands beginning to pop up and find success, a new music scene grew out of the turmoil and upheaval of New York City in the early aughts, and DFA Records was at the forefront of this revival. Putting out a number of excellent remixes of everyone from M.I.A. to David Bowie, as well as numerous genre defining tracks and albums, DFA has become one of the most most influential indie labels, creating a brand that has blended punk, disco, dance, and house music into a properly impressive discography. Since the label’s beginning, Goldsworthy has acrimoniously left, and much of Murphy’s time is taken up by LCD Soundsystem, but DFA still manages to consistently produce solid albums under the leadership of Galkin and a small group of employees. Follow along below, as we take a look at some of DFA Records’ best releases, past and present.
The Rapture – Echoes
The first track released by DFA “House of Jealous Lovers,” in 2002, is perhaps its most well-known release, and one of the most notable songs to come out of the early 2000’s New York post-punk revival scene. Blending punk and dance music, the track put both the Rapture and DFA on the map. The Rapture had previously released one album, Mirrors, as well as an EP on Sub Pop (another prominent indie label), before signing with DFA. Coinciding with “House of Jealous Lovers,” Murphy and Goldsworthy produced Echoes, which drew attention from various major record labels. The Rapture eventually left DFA, signing with Universal and taking the completed Echoes with them, but the DFA production on that record as well as “House of Jealous Lovers” thrust The Rapture into the limelight, resulting in the group’s best album by far and a song that defined both a scene and a moment in time in a booming New York music scene.
Black Dice—Beaches & Canyons
After the success of “House of Jealous Lovers” along with a number of other dance-floor ready remixes and singles, DFA produced and released its first full-length LP, Beaches & Canyons, in 2002. Like much that happens at DFA (such as the hastily drawn lightning bolt that became the permanent logo of the label), the release of Beaches & Canyons as the DFA’s first LP was something of an inside joke. Establishing a reputation as dance floor taste-makers after a number of successful 12-inch releases, DFA came out of nowhere with the Black Dice LP, a highly experimental noise album more akin to an early Animal Collective record than anything you’d hear on the dance floor. From the beginning, DFA has been about promoting good music that they like, not falling into a niche, and Black Dice is a prime example of this. Eric Copland, a member of Black Dice, also released an excellent album, Goofballs, last year on the DFA label.
LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem
After playing in multiple failed bands in the 90’s, James Murphy didn’t see a future for himself as the front-man of another band, let alone one that would become one of this century’s most successful. But after The Rapture’s departure from DFA, Murphy was driven to strike out on his own, releasing the single “Losing My Edge:” the ultimate exercise in hipster one-upsmanship and an exploration of aging and self-definition that would define the band’s mission statement. The band’s self-titled debut soon followed, with Murphy writing and playing every instrument. While the band’s following albums, Sound of Silver and This Is Happening, are more critically acclaimed and cohesive than LCD’s debut, this album is the one that lay down the marker for the dance-punk band that launched both Murphy and DFA into the national spotlight as genre defining masters.
Hot Chip – The Warning
After releasing their debut LP, Coming on Strong, in 2004, Hot Chip signed to DFA Records. The collaboration with DFA resulted in the release of their first major success, 2006’s The Warning. On The Warning, Alexis Taylor and co. find a more focused, pop-oriented sound, combining slow burners like “Boy From School” and “Colors” with the standout, maximalist dance track “Over and Over” and a sharper side on “Tchaparian.” Hot Chip’s sophomore album cemented them in the world of electronic music dominating the indie scene in the mid 2000’s, and garnered significant critical acclaim. After the release of the group’s third album, Made in the Dark, Hot Chip left DFA, but member Joe Goddard has also released solo material since then and guitarist Al Doyle also is a member of LCD Soundsystem.
Hercules & Love Affair – Hercules & Love Affair
Released in 2008, the self-titled debut of Hercules & Love Affair, led by DJ Andrew Butler, is one with strong roots in disco and early house music. Co-produced by Butler and Tim Goldsworthy, this album draws from 70’s and 80’s dance music and culture, putting a modern twist on it and creating one of the defining albums of DFA and 2000’s dance music. Hercules & Love Affair is also the home of “Blind,” the band’s biggest hit and one of the most critically acclaimed songs of the decade.
Shit Robot – From the Cradle to the Rave
Shit Robot is Irish DJ and producer Marcus Lambkin, who befriended James Murphy prior to the start of DFA and now lives in a medieval castle in the German Countryside. Like many things at DFA, Shit Robot’s name comes from an inside joke between Murphy, and in this case, Lambkin. Lambkin, coaxed along into making music in large part by Murphy, put out a number of singles on DFA before his debut LP, From the Cradle to the Rave, released in 2010. The album brings the U.K. acid house scene, familiar to Lambkin, with it to DFA, and also features vocals from Murphy, Nancy Whang (LCD Soundsystem and The Juan MacLean), Juan MacLean, and Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip).
The Juan MacLean – In A Dream
The Juan MacLean, comprised of John MacLean and Nancy Whang, is one of DFA’s flagship groups. Formed when MacLean started making music again after playing guitar in the 90’s post-hardcore group Six Finger Satellite and then taking several years off, the group represents a major musical shift for MacLean—from the punk and noise of Six Finger Satellite to Kraftwerk influenced house and techno that fits right into the DFA mold. The group released its debut, Less than Human, in 2005 on DFA. In A Dream, released in 2014, was one of the first major releases on DFA after the break-up (hiatus, now?) of LCD Soundsystem and cemented the group’s place at the front of DFA’s roster. In A Dream also feature’s Nancy Whang’s largest role in the group’s discography, contributing more vocals and establishing her place as a creative force for the group.
Sinkane – Mean Love
Sinkane is the project of Sudanese multi-instrumentalist Ahmed Gallab. Born in London before moving to the United States and settling in Brooklyn, Gallab’s influences are far reaching. Blending elements of krautrock, funk, jazz, and Sudanese pop into a colorful and unrivaled sound, Sinkane’s first two albums, Mars, and Mean Love, released on DFA, present a talented creative force able to bring together such a wide variety of genres into one compelling package. Gallab is also the music director and leader of the Atomic Bomb! Band, which tours playing the music of legendary Nigerian funk musician, William Onyeabor. Atomic Bomb! also features past and present record-mates Pat Mahoney (LCD Soundsystem and Museum of Love), and Luke Jenner (The Rapture), and Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), as well as David Byrne, Money Mark, David Albarn, and Pharaoh Sanders. Sinkane moved to City Slang Records before releasing their most recent album, 2017’s Life and Livin’ It, but this album is certainly worth checking out as well; it’s by far the greatest realization of Sinkane’s potential, and the group will certainly be one to watch, regardless of which label is putting out their records.
Guerilla Toss – GT Ultra
One of the best modern punk bands active right now, the music of Guerilla Toss draws deeply from New York’s rich history of art rock, punk, and no wave. Originally from Boston, the group relocated to NYC after being signed by DFA in 2015. At just 29 minutes long, last year’s GT Ultra (which ranked 79 on Natural Music’s Top 100 Albums of 2017) is a fast and frantic ride from start to finish, and Guerilla Toss feels right at home at DFA. GT Ultra, while a wholly unique album unlike much else out there, is a call back to the dance punk roots that made DFA Records.
Perel – Hermetica
Hermetica, released last month (and included in our Best of April list), is the debut LP from German born Perel (Annegret Fiedler), who is already acclaimed in Berlin as a prominent DJ and producer. Hermetica is much like Perel’s genre bending DJ sets, blending a wide variety of influences, from techno and house to dark wave and synth pop. Hermetica is a complex mix of sounds: lush, at times atmospheric, then ready for the dance floor, then evocative of 80’s synth-poppers Eurythmic and lead singer Annie Lennox’s trademark style of vocals. Whatever vignette Perel decides on for a given song, the result is excellent. Hermetica is a triumph, a promising start for a musician who revels in her strength in mixing things up as a DJ and producing a stunning result.
To hear some of our favorite DFA tracks, check out our playlist on Spotify below.
For more on DFA Records, check out the short documentary directed by Max Joseph, Too Old to be New, Too New to be Classic, or read Lizzie Goodman’s oral history of the New York music scene from 2001-2011, Meet Me in the Bathroom.