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The Best Dance Records Made at DFA's West Village Studio

A look back at the great albums made at the iconic New York recording studio that's now up for sale.

by Michael Scott Barron
May 20 2016, 4:25pm

Photo courtesy of DFA

Perhaps no American label has captured the spirit of "dance bands" better than DFA Records, the independent music label founded in 2001 by Mo' Wax label founder Tim Goldsworthy, promoter Jonathan Galkin, and a then relatively unknown DJ and soundman named James Murphy. DFA's influence on dance music from the turn of the millennium up to now can be charted by the numerous seminal albums recorded at its West Village-based headquarters, an imposing townhouse that's now for sale.

According to the real estate site Curbed, the multi-storied bucolic building was originally home to numerous companies, with Murphy occupying the basement in 1999 to build what would become DFA's famed Plaintain Recording House, the label's in-house studio. In a New York Times profile, Murphy described how he sought (and was given) guidance on studio design from the legendary producer Steve Albini during the Plaintain's construction. Albini's advice and raw production methods would become a key ingredient to DFA's lo-fi dance sound. The label would eventually take over the entire building and claim it as their headquarters.

But now the label is looking for a new home, and is asking for $16m for its former residence. The real estate agency in charge of the sale, has posted photos of the gorgeous interior and lists some of the amenities as: "a kitted-out basement recording studio with three live rooms, a garage floor [with] parking for three cars and a live/work space overlooking a patio, [and] the top two floors give way to a proper living area with a full kitchen, additional production space (or a living room), and a bedroom."

In other words, the residence where LCD Soundsystem first formed, rehearsed, recorded all of its music, and later was the meeting point for their reformation, is being sold.

DFA Records has not confirmed a new home, nor whether Murphy will build another studio, but the label shows no signs of slowing down, with recent releases by Holy Ghost! and newcomers Essaie Pas adding to their celebrated catalog. And as a swan song to its former home at 225 West 13th Street, we've assembled some of the great electronic albums and tracks that were recorded there.

The Rapture, Echoes (2003)

There was a time when the Rapture were the talk of the town, and no doubt this was due to their 2003 album Echoes. The lead single "House of Jealous Lovers" holds the distinction of being DFA's first release, and its screechy-vocals and rusted cowbell beat definitely brings us back to the glory of dance music's golden lo-fi era, that it helped inaugurate.

The Juan Maclean, Less Than Human (2005)

The solo project of LCD Soundsystem member John Maclean, an old friend of Murphy's prior to the formation of DFA, was also one of the label's more celebrated acts. His debut album Less Than Human contained contributions by the late and great drummer Jerry Fuchs, Murphy, and LCD member Nancy Whang, with the latter two contributing vocals to the banger "Give Me Every Little Thing."

Black Dice, Broken Ear Record (2005)

Black Dice's first album for DFA came near the end of the dance-punk revival, and is arguably one of the label's artier records. The band's unapologetic electronic noise, bizarre samples, and fuzzed out low-end bass ran counter the label's previous four-to-the-floor aesthetic, and it's a wonder that a classic electro-noise punk album got made in the West Village without having the cops repeatedly called.

Hercules and Love Affair, S/T (2008)

Largely credited as among the record responsible for ushering in the post-disco era, Hercules and Love Affair's S/T still brings back memories of hipstamatic photos taken on now shuttered NYC club dancefloors such as Greenpoint's Studio B and the West Village's Westway. The album also featured a notable guest—ANOHNI before her transition, who co-wrote songs and lyrics for the band. Listen to her amazing voice, backed by some Herculean brass on the classic "Blind" below.

Holy Ghost!, Dynamics (2013)

By the time Holy Ghost! had put out its second album Dynamics, EDM had usurped post-disco as the de facto sound of contemporary dance music. Nonetheless, this album showed that even an indie-disco band was capable of knocking out some bangers that could compete with the best of stadium DJ sets. The title of their single "Dumb Disco Ideas" may be a jest to the dance movement as it ballooned into staggering hedonism, but it's also a fine example of why we all love dance music in the first place.

All of LCD Soundsytem's records (2002-2015)

That's right, every single from the band's first "Losing My Edge", to the most recent "Christmas Will Break Your Heart" was recorded at the DFA house studio, where all of its rare instruments and vintage synths (including an "elephant white" Moog) seemed to find their way on an LCD record. Studio and band were one here, as was undoubtedly the bucolic house itself, where Murphy would often hole up making music. And whether this was the house that Daft Punk performed at, only James Murphy and his friends may know, but here's the track below to help you consider the notion.