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Credit: Matt Biddulph

How Alan Vega and Suicide changed James Murphy’s life

New York simply has a certain kind of sound. You can leaf through the reams of its documented artistic history or hire a slew of white-coated scientists to look into it, but there just seems to be something inherently ‘NYC’ about certain bands. In the “I’m walking here” city, a renegade attitude is a need must and nobody embodies that quite like Alan Vega.

For starters, it’s very telling about the way Alan Vega lived his life that up until the release of a 2008 deluxe reissue of his work, everyone believed he was ten years younger than he actually was. There can be no more perfect epitome of how he remained a red-tape-dodging maverick from the demimonde than that.

Vega’s first introduction to the idea of the art world was via the radical NYC collective known as the Art Workers’ Coalition. The goal of the group was mainly to pressure the city’s museums into reform. Essentially their goal on this front was to make the art world more open and inclusive and in order to achieve this, they barricaded the Museum of Modern Art

With this sort of artistic upbringing in the backburner it is no surprise that when Vega met up with his friend Martin ‘Rev’ Reverby and formed Suicide, he declared: “I always said I was never gonna be an entertainer. Suicide was never supposed to be about entertainment.”

With that ethos driving the band’s creative output they secured their place as one of the most seminal bands of the era. With their debut album, they provided the world with ‘Frankie Teardrop’. The ten-minute hellscape is the song Lou Reed said he wish he wrote, Bruce Springsteen said it was instrumental to his Nebraska album and the author Nick Hornby said you would listen “only once.”

However, it was their even more experimental follow-up that changed LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy’s world. “The second Suicide album is produced by Ric Ocasek from The Cars,” Murphy wrote for Vinyl Writers’ records that changed my life feature, “He was a big fan. I think he made them a little more layered.”

And it was this production that would later have a huge bearing on the sound of LCD Soundsystem. “There’s this amazing use of professional synthesisers, but it still remains a lot of weirdness and toughness.” Now, by no means do I mean that the Promethean force LCD Soundsystem stole that sound, it is noteworthy how that exact sentence could perfectly define their sonic output. 

Murphy goes on to add, “It’s not the record that everyone thinks of when you think of Suicide but it’s a really remarkable record and it kinda sets up what’s so great about their solo careers afterwards.”

The influence of Alan Vega and Suicide continues to this, as their sound is not only echoed in LCD Soundsystem and the likes, but their novel view of creativity in general and the importance of atmosphere as well as content, has had reverberations in all forms of art. In fact, Murphy even makes the ironic gag that he was in the studio with Suicide in the track ‘Losing My Edge’ because it was that seminal.

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