This month’s feature interview is with singer, songwriter and Disco-Queen Róisin Murphy who’s about to drop what may be the album of the year – and music selector/curator Colleen Murphy who recently remixed Róisin’s ‘Murphy’s Law’. 

That Róisin Murphy’s next album ‘Róisin Machine’ (released September 25th) is a slow-burn joy from start to finish is perhaps unsurprising. Róisin has been a consistently high-quality presence in UK dance music for years now. Aside from fronting Moloko and turning out a stone-cold national treasure of a tune in the form of ‘Sing It Back’, as a solo artist she’s worked with Matthew Herbert, David Byrne, DJ Koze and Maurice Fulton. She’s also released a string of instant-classic vocal disco-house stormers in conjunction with long time collaborator DJ Parrot.

‘Róisin Machine’, created again with DJ Parrot, is an album programmed in the key of MDMA, a continual drawn-out rush, with its chugging disco and house tracks segued together, running into each other via pad washes and nifty edits. It hangs together as a complete piece of work as well as a collection of (mostly) dance floor targeted tracks. Parrot is as ever on faultless form, framing the vocals in a series of hard-hitting dub-disco tracks, his production effortlessly evoking a tingling come-up. And what vocals they are – at times dramatic and impassioned, at times vulnerable and yearning, taking on different roles, always glowing with life. The album also features Róisin’s single from earlier this year ‘Murphy’s Law’ which was later remixed to great effect by Colleen Murphy.

Colleen Murphy
Colleen Murphy

Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy is a selector and curator, radio host, DJ and founder of the album listening event Classic Album Sundays. Mentored by David Mancuso at The Loft, she worked with him on his Loft Audiophile Library of Music, co-produced ‘David Mancuso Presents The Loft’ compilations, has a long history of remixing and has DJed all over the world.

We got the pair together via Zoom, Róisin in Ibiza and Coleen at home in London; two of the industry’s most well-respected players, each with a career full of tales to tell.

Attack Magazine: So first off Róisin, tell us about the concept for this album.

Róisin Murphy: I guess when we started talking about working together all those years ago when I made ‘Simulation’ with DJ Parrot, we were listening to [Gwen Guthrie’s Larry Levan produced mini remix album] ‘Padlock’ and that sort of thing. I wanted for this album to be like a remix album, not so much mixing between tracks but to feel like a dub album. It’s full of singles and an album needs a point of difference from them, and so we were given an extra impetus to make it a new world in and of itself, so that people could feel that they were experiencing something new even if they had already experienced the singles.

Attack: Do you think the way people listen to albums has changed? 

Róisin: Yeah, because I’ve been going out and listening to DJs all my life, in a way that’s trained me in the opposite – to be all like “Ahhhh this tune!” 

To be honest, I get asked loads of questions about albums, what’s your favourite, what’s your top ten and I’m really nervous about it because I’ve not been listening to albums, I’ve been listening to tunes.

Buying albums just stopped when I started going to clubs and my mates all became DJs; and then it was like buying 12”s and then it was not buying anything physical at all. I’m getting back into albums a little more through streaming… I love the access of it. But to me, dance music always felt really specialised, singular and track-oriented. 

Coleen: I’m also obsessed with single songs as well and I love dubbed out albums like you were talking about, like Black Uhuru’s ‘The Dub Factor’, it’s one of my favourite albums of all time …

Róisin: Yeah, you put me onto that.

Colleen: Yeah, and Imagination’s ‘Night Dubbing’ is another great dubbed out album of previously released songs. And you mentioned Gwen Guthrie’s ‘Padlock EP’ too… When I was 12 I was making my own mixtapes and you shared them around and that’s how you discovered music and for me streaming – whether playlists or DJ mixes – is a way to discover music. So I think these two things complement each other nicely and sometimes intercept in the form of an album that is mixed and made for the dance floor – like ‘Padlock’, like ‘Dub Factor’ and like your album. 

Attack: So Coleen, how did you come to remix Róisin’s ‘Murphy’s Law’?

Colleen: I started producing music in 1998 when I was still living in New York and moved to the UK in ’99 and started a label, doing remixes… but when my friend David Mancuso passed way in 2016, my responsibility for The Loft became a lot more engaging and other things in life started to take over… I started to read this book ‘The Artist’s Way’…

Róisin: – Oh I’ve read that too Colleen, it changed my life! That’s how I wrote the ‘Overpowered’ album. I was totally panicking but that book… that’s how I wrote that album, that’s weird, I love that! 

I used to just go to Body and Soul and dance, with no one, not drink, just dance and watch, dance and watch…

Colleen: We have so much more in common than we realised! We gotta hang out! So I didn’t want to make new music, but I wanted to remix, and I thought ‘Murphy’s Law’ would be perfect. I’m such a fan of vocal music, the human voice is my favourite instrument, a well-crafted vocal to me can be so sublime, so transcendental. In ‘Murphy’s Law’ I could hear something else; I heard Prelude, post-disco, early 80s Gwen Gutherie, Unlimited Touch. And Róisin and I have a lot of the same friends even though we’ve not actually met in real life…

Róisin: We might have done you know, we could’ve done and not remembered!

Colleen: I would’ve remembered you…

Róisin: I don’t remember anything! 

Colleen: [After much laughter] So anyway my husband had a contact for Róisin and that’s how it happened really. 

Róisin: I knew she was going to do a great job, she’s steeped in everything that I’ve loved and everything that’s drawn me into house music and dance music. I was really into the acid house scene in Manchester as a young kid and then I kind of went off it just as I was starting Moloko. Mark [Brydon, the other half of Moloko] had had ‘House Arrest’ as a hit [with pioneering UK dance music act Krush in 1987], and both Mark and Parrot – who are best friends by the way – were at the forefront of the UK house music scene, being infected by what was coming out of the US and trying to do something with that style. 

But I thought house music had started to repeat itself. We [Moloko] thought it was going to die off really, when we were starting to think about making our very first album [Do You Like My Tight Sweater, 1995]. But after that, I went to New York with a friend and this was right about the time that Masters At Work were about to put out ‘Nuyorican Soul’ and were putting on these amazing parties with live musicians. I went every week to [legendary New York nightclub started by Francois K. and John Davis] Body & Soul and it’s the only club I’ve been to on my own. I used to just go and dance, with no one, not drink, just dance and watch, dance and watch… And that’s why I wrote ‘Sing It Back’, I came back to the UK and wanted to make house music…

Attack: ‘Sing It Back’ was originally way darker than the Boris Dlugosch mix that went on to be huge…

Róisin: Well we had a house beat to do it on but when we wrote it we kind of backed out and we ended up with a weird, classic difficult second album [I Am Not A Doctor 1998] – which I think may have had something to do with skunk weed coming into the country at that point as well! It’s a very paranoid album, and ‘Sing It Back’ is the only nice thing on that record, everything else is deeply paranoid and weird. 

Coleen: Talking of Body and Soul, I used to DJ there…

Róisin: This was in ’97.

Colleen: That’s the first year I played, 97!

Róisin: I think it was Francois K – he’d turn down a vocal record and the whole place would start singing along and it would be perfectly in time when he’d bring the record back because they knew the records so well… and I guess I got a picture of where house came from through that… that time in NY was an education as to where house music came from, its depth and its musicality.

I get asked loads of questions about albums and I’m really nervous about it because I’ve not been listening to albums, I’ve been listening to tunes.

Attack: So moving away from the joys of music, obviously at the moment our industry is under threat like never before – do you feel that the UK government values dance music and club culture? 

Róisin: No. They think we’re really independent. I often find people think “Oh she’s really independent, I don’t need to help her she’ll be fine”, and I think our industry is like that. They think we’re self-starters, DIY people with loads of passion for what we do and we’ve created this thing and it will just continue on and we’ll look after it. But it’s like being the child that’s not been taken care of.

Colleen: Yeah, I grew up in the early 80s and I feel that Britain’s greatest cultural export is music. It’s an absolute travesty that this government have not recognised this. I know all the bigger operations are going to get funding but it’s the smaller outfits and artists, the DJs and producers who aren’t receiving much royalties, there’s no money going to them. A lot of us have small limited companies because the nature of our income is different, it’s seasonal – and there’s absolutely no support whatsoever there. 

Róisin: And venues were closing anyway, and this has just sped up the whole process. Speaking to my live agent and the people who supply the lights, the sound, the production staff, all those little companies, they’re all going down too. It’s going to be a shit show and how to re-build it when it was not in a great state anyway… I mean, it will come back, it has to come back, there’s such a massive appetite for live music and for clubbing and for that youth and music culture – but it’s very much a worry.

Attack: What do you feel is the value of dance music and nightclub DJ culture? 

Collen: Togetherness and unity. Just as much as the music, it’s the social side as well. Experiencing music communally; having a shared experience. You can be from different walks of life and have nothing else in common except for this shared passion and this one particular song or album. It just brings people together, it’s a common language and something we really need in the world right now. 

Róisin: It’s like singing together, it’s a kind of harmony, a human harmony and it’s part of us: we have to have it.

Róisin Machine’ is available for pre-order.

Photos of Róisin by Eilon Paz, photos of Colleen by Adrian Samson.

Interview by Harold Heath.

28th August, 2020

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