DFA Studios Opens Its Doors To Outsiders

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DFA Studios, the house that LCD Soundsystem built, is now open to the public.

This month, DFA Studios opens its doors to the outsiders for the first time. It’s a big change for the space, which is located near the upper limits of New York City’s West Village.

For years, it had been a private production suite for LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and his label cohorts at DFA Records. But now that their flagship band has called it quits, longtime engineer Matt Thornley has gotten the label’s blessing to use the studio for any project of his choosing.

DFA's Oram console with master section by Purple Audio

When we sat down with Thornley, producer/engineer Chris Coady [Beach House, Gang Gang Dance, Blonde Redhead] was in the studio on tracking sessions for an outside project of his own.

“I learned a lot from James,” Thornley told us as we stopped in at a lounge in the nearby SoHo House, where he DJs occasionally. “He’s pretty incredible, really.”

When Thornley got his start at the DFA studio 7 years ago, it was as an intern under the extremely self-sufficient Murphy, who had been a capable audio tech in his own right long before starting LCD Soundsystem.

Thornley had just moved to New York City from Manchester, England, where he was a blue-collar welder, who moonlighted in bands and as a soundman at small venues. He quickly absorbed chops and confidence while assisting Murphy. He remembers that the bandleader and label-head was always mixing as he went along, often making bold choices like using a single vintage Altec salt-shaker microphone to capture an entire drum sound.

“What was always really interesting to me were the remix projects,” Thornley said. “You really learn a lot that way – to hear these great tracks by the Gorillaz, Goldfrapp, Nine Inch Nails or Justin Timberlake in their raw and basic elements. And then of course, the way James and Tim [Goldsworthy] worked, they’d scrap practically everything but the vocal and then really rebuild the track from the ground up. It’s just a great way to hear so many different approaches.”

From there, Thornley rapidly picked up new responsibilities at the label, touring with acts like LCD and Crystal Ark, assisting and then engineering on label projects, and generally “wearing 3 different hats at once.”

DFA's EMS Synthi AKS, a portable modular analog synthesizer

The studio itself is outfitted with an Oram console that has a master section custom-designed by Murphy and Andrew Roberts of Purple Audio. The racks are stuffed with gear from UA and Purple, and it even has a room filled with quirky and memorable spring reverbs like the AKG BX-10 and the MicMix Master Room.

The biggest attraction though, may be the instruments. The label has collected a serious cache of keyboards over the years. Farfisas, Rhodes, Roland and EMS vintage synths sit alongside hard-to-find classics like the Yamaha CS-60 and Electone, the latter of which Thornley describes as “a huge spaceship-looking thing, like you’d see in a rich person’s flat in some early-80s movie.”

The room books at an affordable rate that would work well for any serious indie project, even with Thornley on board as engineer. It could easily be a decent choice for bands in search a space for basic tracking sessions, overdubs or mixing – But for synth-heads and fans of the DFA label, it’s a no-brainer.

To book a session at DFA, reach out via http://www.dfastudio.net.

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn recording engineer and studio journalist. He is a regular contributor to SonicScoop and edits the music blog Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.

DFA's Yamaha CS-60