The walkout song is a time-honored tradition in MMA. It's also a delicate balancing act. The perfect song has to pump a fighter up while settling his/her nerves, appeal to the crowd without appearing to pander. "My Walkout Song" is where we ask MMA fans who also happen to be famous musicians what makes for great pre-fight music and what song they would choose to accompany their walk to the cage.
There may be no one more responsible for kicking off the great New York dance-punk wave of the early aughts than the Rapture, but it was James Murphy who led the ship. Back in 2001, the New Jersey native/New York transplant released the Rapture's iconic "House of Jealous Lovers" on his homegrown label, Death From Above (which was later shortened to DFA). Soon after, he picked up his own project, LCD Soundsystem, which would go on to define the electronic dance-punk scene for the next decade. In between releasing three albums, numerous critically acclaimed singles, and selling out Madison Square Garden, Murphy found the time to score the film soundtrack to Noah Baumbach's 2010 mumblecore crossover hit Greenberg.
Not many people know that before Murphy was the prime mover of arty Brooklyn dance-punk, he was a kickboxer and a lover of all things MMA. He recently spoke to us about his history with the sport, his deceptive flexibility, and his aesthetic philosophy as it relates to the art of the walkout song.
Fightland: How did you get into MMA?
James Murphy: I trained kickboxing and tang soo do in the late 80s (shit, that's a long time ago) and saw the first UFC and hated it. I really hated it. It was upsetting as shit. And then it went underground. I guess I really got into it when I was on tour. About two or three years before that [The Ultimate Fighter] started. I was a big fan of BJ Penn, and others, but seriously BJ Penn.
What attracted you to the sport?
I liked how disparate and unpredictable the sport was--how important speed was, psychology, skill. I always really liked fighting (the trained kind, not street fighting) and the thinking behind it, which always reminded me of baseball--pitching... the sense of who had the upper hand, momentum, overthinking, naturalness. It was how i fought, really. There was a lot of pretty insane head-games involved.
Have you ever fought?
I trained standup, like i said, and competed a little. I was good for where I was, which was that I had cut weight like crazy down to 170, and I was 6'1" and super flexible. I kicked a few dudes in the head after pretending to be inflexible, which was hilariously effective. But after the last fight, my trainer was like, "You know everyone will know you can do that now, right? That things are going to be a lot harder now, right?" And that made sense. I moved into New York then and went to school and that was the end of that because my $30 rural New Jersey gym didn't exist in NYC, and I didn't have $100 a month or whatever. I've trained BJJ off and on since 2006, but more off than on, with the band and all. My plan is to get back into it again when things calm down, starting with striking again, but i no longer want to fight. There was a frightening moment for my management in 2007 when I was considering not making music anymore to train full time and try to compete. But then I got old.
So, if you did compete again, what song would you walk out to?
"Totally Wired" by the Fall
Why that song?
Because i think it's hilarious and un-scary in the boring check-out-how-heavy-my-walkout-music-is way. It's so scrawny and crazy, and I like that. It's not, like, "IIIIIII WIIIIILLLL CRRRUUUUSSSHHHH YYOOOUUUU!!!!" chug-chug-chug; It's like, "I drank a jar of coffee, and then i took some of these, and now i'm totally wired!"
What makes a good walkout song? What does it need to do?
I think it needs to not be a shitty song, first. or not be too serious. I kind of hate serious songs.
Are there any fighters whose walkout music you think is great? Terrible?
I love that Stephan Bonnar uses "Eminence Front" because it's a great song and weird to hear in that context. I liked it when Jason Miller came out to Daft Punk, but that's another thing all together. Georges St-Pierre's walkout music is an abomination.
What are you up to these days?
Producing and DJing, really, and designing stuff, like a massive disco PA system which I hope to reveal later this year. It's the shit.
Check out these earlier installments of our "My Walkout Song" series:
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Manny Pacquiao: The Man Who Reinvented Boxing
Jack Slack talks Manny Pacquiao.
The House of Rickson: An Afternoon in Rio with Jiu-Jitsu's Royal Family
Father Gracie's children Kron, Kauline, and Kauan do what they do best.
Team Lakay Has Turned Baguio into a Breeding Ground for Filipino MMA
A look at the top Filipino fighters.