When LCD Soundsystem released their debut single Losing My Edge in 2002, bandleader James Murphy captured in his signature pathos one perfect 8 minute insight into popular culture, the internet age, pre-hipster hipsterishness, ageing, and a changing New York City, all the while tracing, retelling, and re-imagining the lineage of some of the greatest music ever created. It was a watershed moment for alternative music in the 2000s; a piece of creative genius from a dance punk drummer come trendy DJ who would go on to helm one of the greatest bands of the modern era.
Murphy, a New Yorker to the core, was 32 years old. He had spent the last decade or so playing drums in various bands - from a forgotten gothic rock group named Falling Man to the legendarily raucous underground ’90s dance punkers Speedking - as well as working as a sound engineer for Six Finger Satellite, and turning down writing gigs with Seinfeld, before in 2001 co-founding the record label Death From Above, using his Apocalypse Now-referencing DJ alias as the name for the label. Murphy had been DJing since ’93, gaining an enviable reputation as one of the hippest alternative DJs in New York due to his unique and remarkably varied taste in music, eventually getting big enough to be spinning records alongside Tim Goldsworthy of UNKLE fame.
At the same time he founded DFA Records, Murphy had also been writing and recording new songs, searching for a sound that was his own; searching for a stylistic break from his former bands and a new medium for getting some things off his chest. LCD Soundsystem as we know it now came later; a result of Murphy not being able to play every instrument in the band (as he did while he was recording) in concert. In the beginning, in the Losing My Edge days, Murphy was simply messing around in the studio and seeing what came up.
In an interview, Murphy summed up the genesis of Losing My Edge:
"When I was DJing, playing Can, Liquid Liquid, ESG, all that kind of stuff, I became kind of cool for a moment, which was a total anomaly. And when I heard other DJs playing similar music I was like: ‘Fuck! I’m out of a job! These are my records!’ But it was like someone had crept into my brain and said all these words that I hate. Did I make the records? Did I fuck! So, I started becoming horrified by my own attitude. I had this moment of glory though. People would use me to DJ just to get them cool. They’d be like: ‘It’s the cool rock disco guy’, and this was really weird. And to be honest I was afraid that this new found coolness was going to go away and that’s where Losing My Edge comes from."
So as the dust from the towers settled, Murphy holed up in his studio, and - taking the relentlessly aggressive bass line of a classic Killing Joke song - he began to craft his first ever song as a singer: Murphy had something to say now.
“I’m losing my edge/ The kids are coming up from behind,” he sings, “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.”
The vocal comes across almost conversationally, as though Murphy is simply speaking to us; a bit phased by the feeling that his moment has passed, but also resigned, weary, and a little playful as he cynically observes this new breed of Google-enhanced experts who he senses are stealing his obscure musical style.
The instrumental of Losing My Edge is remarkably minimalistic: a chaotic drumbeat bubbling with a nervous energy that constantly seems on the verge of explosion, set alongside the warm beeps of an analogue synthesiser, and that unmistakably insistent bass line. That’s all Murphy ever needed as a foundation for his best songs, anyway.
In fractured verses dripping with irony, Murphy begins to play around with false claims that place him at the epicentre of significant musical events: “I was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City/ I was working on the organ sounds with much patience,” goes one. “I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids/ I played it at CBGBs/ Everybody thought it was crazy,” goes another.
It’s as though Murphy has the good grace to admit his real, short “moment of glory” has passed, and now he finds his ultimate comfort in recounting that, after all, he wasn’t a part of all these other monumental moments in music, either. In the end, he knows we will always feel that we missed out on the really special stuff; that our moment wasn’t long enough or close enough to someone else’s.
“I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables/ I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars,” he states with deadpan observation later in the track; two lines which cut hilariously to the genre-straddling heart of the sorts of young, cool music Murphy had spent the ’90s surrounded by, and which DFA would go on to release in the form of records by bands such as The Rapture and Hot Chip.
The point of view Murphy adopts throughout Losing My Edge is so perfect because it simultaneously embodies two opposing mind sets; that of the outgoing generation, and that of the incoming one.
Firstly, Murphy obviously speaks as a member of his own group, who were collectively watching as the rug was pulled out from under their feet at the end of the ’90s when the internet gave birth to a new generation of kids who didn’t need to be everywhere to experience everything, because the web already granted access to it. They could digitally access in some small way the experiences Murphy could only feign participation in; the experiences he could only dream of; the knowledge he worked so hard to obtain through all those days of scouring dusty record store vinyl crates.
Secondly, Murphy also effortlessly sums up, parodies, and ultimately excuses the ravenous appetites of the young internet culture vultures themselves; the kids who “have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody/ Every great song by the Beach Boys/ All the underground hits,” are after all the inevitable result of changing times. He even describes the new breed as “better-looking people with better ideas and more talent/And they’re actually really, really nice.” He sympathises with them because he knows he might have been one of them if he had arrived on the scene a few years later, and because he knows he’d be a fool to stop anyone else from accessing the music he loves.
It is unquestionably the ending of Losing My Edge for which the song is best known. Five and a half minutes in, everything changes: “I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know,” goes Murphy’s final observation before the track finally does explode, roaring into a glorious single finger salute as Murphy wryly asks “But have you seen my records?”
Then he’s off, ecstatically shouting the names of the bands he was listening to first, cherishing first; listing the music which no one can take away from him; declaring the rich, bizarre, wonderful soundtrack to his “moment of glory”:
"This Heat, Pere Ubu, Outsiders, Nation of Ulysses, Mars, the Trojans, the Black Dice, Todd Terry, the Germs, Section 25, Althea & Donna, Sexual Harassment, A-ha, Pere Ubu, Dorothy Ashby, PIL, the Fania All-Stars, the Bar-Kays, the Human League, the Normal, Lou Reed, Scott Walker, Monks, Niagara, Joy Division, Laurent Garnier, the Creation, Sun Ra, Scientists, Royal Trux, 10cc, Rammelzee, Eric B. and Rakim, Index, Basic Channel, Soulsonic Force ("just hit me!"), Juan Atkins, Manuel Göttsching, David Axelrod, Electric Prunes, Gil Scott-Heron!, the Slits, Faust, Mantronix, Pharaoh Sanders, the Fire Engines, the Swans, the Soft Cell, the Sonics."
It is one of the most joyous moments ever put on wax: a torrent of emotive passion released as Murphy revels in the joy these artists have given him; a sublime meditation on what it means to love music, to be young, and to be relevant; a wild celebration of the music we all seek and share.
LCD Soundystem would go on to make grander, more lush and technically accomplished songs, but their message was clear right at the beginning of their journey. Murphy’s creative voice is singular, cutting, and incisive, and Losing My Edge is an unforgettable track; it is a song which is inseparably of a particular place and time, yet still manages to be relevant today. It speaks of and for a generation, even generations; it is a cultural treasure, and the millennial anthem.
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