Matt McDermott looks back on the track that taught rock kids how to dance.
In the year 2000, success, sex and dancing were anathema to the American indie scene. Soon enough, one record would change everything. That year, The Rapture, a three-piece band signed to Sub Pop Records, booked a DIY tour, sold all their worldly possessions and moved to New York without a plan. They slept in their van for a few weeks after arriving. Two years later, they'd sign a major label contract for $1.8 million.
"It was like a perfect storm," Luke Jenner, The Rapture's frontman and guitarist told me over the phone from his home in Brooklyn. We are speaking about the first single the band released after moving to New York and the first release on DFA Records, House Of Jealous Lovers. "You can't really engineer any of that stuff. You couldn't even imagine all the things happening around that song that happened."
The cast of characters that would get indie kids to dance included the Mo' Wax cofounder and former UNKLE member Tim Goldsworthy. Then there was James Murphy, a disgruntled drummer, sound man and future rockstar, along with someone you probably haven't heard of, Tyler Brodie.
An NYU student of considerable means, Brodie convinced his father to buy a building on West 13th Street in New York's West Village to house a new company called Plantain, conceived as a recording studio, a movie production house and a record label. He hired Murphy to run the studio. Goldsworthy arrived in New York to produce a record with David Holmes at Plantain, staying in Brodie's brownstone around the corner from the studio. Murphy and Goldsworthy hit it off, laying the foundations for DFA.
Murphy originally coined the Death From Above name for the impossibly loud soundsystem he used with noise rock bands like Six Finger Satellite. When setting up Plaintain with Brodie, he rang up Steve Albini for advice. He had no time for dance music. A small group including Holmes, Goldsworthy, Marcus Lambkin (Shit Robot) and Dominique Keegan from Plant Bar slowly introduced Murphy to house music. Then, at a party with Holmes DJing, he took ecstasy for the first time.
"I peaked right when David played 'Tomorrow Never Knows,' which is my absolute favorite song from childhood," Murphy recalled in Meet Me In The Bathroom, a 2017 book detailing the rebirth of New York's rock scene. "And they were all around me chanting my name and pointing at me and I was losing my shit to my favorite song. It was great."
Goldsworthy, an Englishman with a rave background and dance music-honed programming skills now had a production partner, a rock veteran who knew how to play nearly every instrument. They just needed a band to work with.
The Rapture were veterans of post-hardcore DIY scenes on the West Coast. Their first LP, Mirror, came out on the legendary screamo and hardcore label Gravity. Jenner's deranged caterwaul helped them fit in with the tight jeans and Spock haircut crowd. Their music was abrasive and confrontational, even annoying by design. Jenner, drummer Vito Roccoforte and their teenage bassist, Mattie Safer (whose cousin Gabriel Andruzzi would eventually join the band) were playing alongside hardcore bands and sleeping on floors at DIY venues like Providence's Fort Thunder. "It was like, 'What are the three most annoying things I can do to my contemporaries? Well, I can get into dance music, I can have a saxophone and I can have a cowbell, and people would just be like super annoyed. And it worked!"
Murphy was invited to check out The Rapture by the New York musician Justin Chearno. "The Rapture came on and they had a klaxon going around for ten minutes while everyone's trying to plug in their stuff," Murphy said. "Matty [Safer] looked like he was nine years old and Luke came out with this scarf and the hair and out-of-tune-ly destroyed the place."
DFA had found their first band. The Rapture became fixtures at Plantain studios. Goldsworthy was giving Jenner pants and socks. Murphy got him a job as a bartender at scene watering hole Plant Bar, whose soundsystem he had built. "I was hanging at DFA every day," Jenner said in Meet Me In The Bathroom. "I didn't have a house."
James Murphy now owns a wine bar in Brooklyn, and The Rapture recently returned to the global festival circuit. But at that time, the scrappy band and production team were punk as fuck. James Murphy was living on an air mattress at Plantain. Tim Goldsworthy's DFA business card listed his title as "Misanthrope." "Their whole thing was 'fuck you' to everybody. We didn't like anybody else in our scene," Jenner said. "Now [Murphy's] produced stuff for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but at the time it was like, 'We're DFA, we're better than you, we don't go to Brooklyn, Brooklyn's stupid. We're into Liquid Liquid and the history of Manhattan.'"
DFA agreed to record The Rapture's Sub Pop debut on their (or Brodie)'s dime, in trade for the opportunity to release a couple of 12-inch singles from the planned record. The Rapture was already testing out their signature sound, heading out on tour to play songs like "Out Of The Races And Onto The Tracks" and an early version of "House Of Jealous Lovers" to small, expressionless crowds who watched them with arms folded. Back in New York, they spent a year working in the studio with Goldsworthy and Murphy, listening to records and recording.
"A lot of 'House Of Jealous Lovers' is Tim Goldsworthy," Jenner adds. "James learned a lot of his techniques. I never really worked with anyone who would just start chopping stuff up and came from sample culture. The intro to 'House Of Jealous Lovers' has backwards cymbals and all this stuff going on. Tim was like, 'OK, we have to make it sound good in a club.'"
Murphy, Goldsworthy and the band labored to make a convincing club record out of The Rapture's initial demo version. The result encapsulated the band's spiky background, Murphy's never-ending quest for loud, live sound and Goldsworthy's programming nous. When Murphy played Jonathan Galkin an initial mix, he immediately planned to quit his day job and help launch DFA.
After hearing what the group and the DFA production team was up to, Sub Pop released a few demos as the Out Of The Races And Onto The Tracks EP and dropped the band. "Sub Pop is like, 'Well, we can't put this record out. This is horrible dance music," Goldsworthy said in Meet Me In The Bathroom. DFA001 (or 2121, the actual catalogue number) was a go.
The label and band realized that dance music stores would be reluctant to take a chance on a 12-inch from a wacky band, so they signed up Metro Area's Morgan Geist for a remix, tacked on a B-side called "Silent Morning" and finally released the single in spring 2002. "It was immediately apparent that we did something right," Galkin said. House Of Jealous Lovers, released exclusively on vinyl at Goldsworthy's insistence, sold between 20,000 and 30,000 12-inches—DFA's bestselling release to date—and reached 27 on the UK singles charts.
Naturally, in a New York awash with post-Strokes hoopla and the last stockpiles of pre-download record industry money, the major labels came calling. As the song took over the US and the UK, indie kids set up DJ nights essentially to play the 12-inch, "selling their guitars and buying turntables," as Murphy would later sneer on "Losing My Edge." The band and the DFA enjoyed a fleeting moment of harmony, recording the band's stellar 2003 album, Echoes, which saw them reworking their older tracks for the dance floor ("Olio"), cribbing Bowie ("Open Up Your Heart") and producing new club burners ("Sister Savior"). The Rapture, meant to be the "vehicle for DFA's world domination," as Murphy put it, would then sign Echoes to Universal for seven figures. "So The Rapture went from living in a van to seeing the people getting signed for millions and realizing that they have probably a better LP than anybody around," Goldsworthy said in Meet Me In The Bathroom.
Murphy was livid The Rapture left. "James is a very aggressive person and he turned The Rapture betrayal into a kind of anger," Goldsworthy said. "He was going to fuck The Rapture over. He was going to be bigger than them and he was going to get a bigger advance and he was going to destroy them." His plan was to make his own record and form his own band, LCD Soundsystem, which would eventually surpass The Rapture.
There is also no lost love between Goldsworthy and Murphy/DFA. He'd leave DFA, taking some equipment and eventually being sued by the label. Goldsworthy also called Murphy a sociopath in Meet Me In The Bathroom.
Bitter ending aside, the small team launched an entire movement. At some point in our conversation, Jenner connects The Rapture to the rise of EDM, which might seem absurd until you remember that Steve Aoki was one of those indie kids who got into dance music, releasing bands that sounded not unlike The Rapture in the early days of Dim Mak. "It's kind of hard to grasp, but no one was really into what we were into in New York," Jenner said. That was the miraculous thing about 'House Of Jealous Lovers,' that was done in a complete vacuum. It wasn't a movement, it was like four people."
Jenner said that his only ambition was to open for Fugazi. "They were like, 'You need to have way bigger aspirations than that.'" Murphy had larger plans. "I wanted to be important. I didn't know what that meant, even. There's something sad about 'Oh, I'll just do my thing.' It's like, fuck you. It just seems safe. I don't want it to just be 'Are you humble? Okay, we like you.' Would we ever have Lou Reed or David Bowie if that was the rule?"
DFA, flush with money from their share of The Rapture deal and a new agreement with EMI, would go on to be one of the most unpredictable, important labels in dance and experimental electronic music. The Rapture? Well, they got fucking huge. They'd tour with Franz Ferdinand in Europe, get licensed by video games like NBA2K, score an oddball hit in Australia ("No Sex For Ben"), become embroiled in major label hell, get dropped, go on hiatus and return to DFA for a brilliant album in 2011, In The Grace Of Your Love.
"That song's bigger than all of us," Jenner said. "It really fucked up my life and made it awesome, everything at the same time. People are always going to be asking me about 'House Of Jealous Lovers.' I always joke that it's gonna be on my tombstone."