Music

James Murphy Ousted DFA Records Co-Founder Jonathan Galkin Last Year. What Happened?

James Murphy Ousted DFA Records Co-Founder Jonathan Galkin Last Year. What Happened?

Murphy responds to Galkin’s recent claim that he was literally locked out of the label he helped run for nearly 20 years, offering his account of last year’s behind-the-scenes shakeup

DFA Records James Murphy

James Murphy, photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images and graphic by Maddy Price

DFA Records—the New York label co-founded by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy—underwent a significant behind-the-scenes shake-up last summer when Murphy dismissed label head and founding partner Jonathan Galkin after almost 20 years. The news was revealed in a new conversation published this month between Galkin and the writer Shawn Reynaldo (who has contributed to Pitchfork) in which Galkin discussed his relationship with Murphy, DFA’s history and the beginning of his new label, FourFour Records. The label’s inaugural release is the imminent new album from Black Dice, a former DFA artist.

“One day I came to work and the [DFA building’s] locks were changed,” Galkin told Reynaldo. “It was a really sad day, and the only information I got was that the partnership—of which I was part as a minority owner—had made the decision to cut off the label. And then it got ugly, with lawyers involved.” Galkin claimed that after he was ousted from the label, he was “barred from communicating with anyone”: “It felt like a wrestling move, where you get into the ring and are immediately stunned by your opponent,” he said. “There was no conversation, literally nothing.”

Murphy, speaking to Pitchfork over the phone from DFA’s Brooklyn headquarters, gave his account of Galkin’s dismissal from the label, confirming that locks were changed while clarifying his own timeline of events. Across an hour-long conversation, Murphy did not cite a specific incident or behavior that led to Galkin’s ouster, but repeatedly alluded to financial and artist relationship issues at the label during his longtime partner’s tenure as label head.

“Jon was my friend,” he said. “I went to his wedding. The way Jon says we met totally is exactly as I remember it. Jon was this incredibly hungry, excited Anglophile music head. His older brother Andy is a DJ and a record collector and super into music. It seemed like the exact right energy to have someone run the operations of the label.”

He specifically challenged Galkin’s claim that the label was “self-sustaining”: “It had an insane burn rate and regularly needed injections of cash that were supposed to be temporary loans that never were loans,” Murphy said. “Which was all fine—I knew what we signed up for to a certain degree.” Murphy also expressed concern that the label “was going to collapse,” and that DFA was “not fulfilling what [he] believe[s] are its ethical duties to its artists.”

Murphy called Galkin in July 2020 to tell him he was “out.” “I remember the feeling that I was doing it, and it’s awful,” Murphy said. “But after some time to reflect, he could listen back to what I had said to him. ‘Well, how are you going to retire? How is this going to work out? What’s the future gonna look like?’” He continued:

I had to do that and he knows why, and if he doesn’t know why, it’s because he just didn’t listen. But I explained really clearly why he had to go…. After the initial shock—which you’d have to be bloodless not to be shocked, because it was pretty much out of nowhere—I just called him up and I was like, “This can’t go on.” And I told him, “Don’t go to the office, we’re going to figure out your exit.” And he said, “OK.” And I had changed the locks because I felt that he would go to the office. So an hour later he called me and said, “You changed the locks?” And I was like, “Yeah, I’m glad I changed the locks.”

It sucked, it felt like I was stabbing my friend in the back, but I knew he’d go in and I didn’t want him to go in. And I’m not going to say why. Why he had to go is between me and him, and why I changed the locks is between me and him, unless he wants to share it. But I have no interest in shitting on Jon.

Galkin, in written statements to Pitchfork, agreed that “there is a case to be made the label would collapse in time,” but argued, too, “There is also a strong case to be made that with actual teamwork from the partners, all in the same room, going over the artists and accounting and release schedules and catalog, etc., the label would have been fine.”

Galkin added that he’s “unsure what [Murphy] is alluding to,” regarding why he changed the locks. “I literally went in to get my laptop charger,” he wrote.


One fact Galkin and Murphy appear to agree on is that Murphy wasn’t as involved in the label over the past decade. In recent years, Murphy said Galkin ran the label “whole hog.” “We shared an office and were in the same building, but we never saw him,” Galkin said. Murphy said he felt like a “frustrating” presence for Galkin. “I mean you’re sitting there running something and then in comes this big dummy from tour with big ideas and wants to change things around,” Murphy said. “That’s fuckin’ annoying.”

Murphy also referenced what he felt were significant differences in opinion and approach as part of the reason he became less involved with the label. “You have to understand that DFA Records is not DFA,” Murphy said. “If you were making a sad, epic tragedy about this, that’s the longstanding disagreement or misunderstanding between us. To me and to [co-founder] Tim [Goldsworthy], DFA was a collective of people that was independent of a label and predated the label. It was parties.” He added:

We were sort of a crew. And when Jon became more the manager of the label, I feel like he felt that DFA was this label. The label was an element of DFA, but it wasn’t the only thing. And I think that was just a hard thing for us to reconcile. We never really fought about it at all. It was just kind of a difference of understanding of what DFA was. And over the years, as he managed the label and ran the label the way he wanted, and I did the LCD thing to keep the lights on and be on tour, we were less and less attuned to one another, and I was less and less involved.

In one of his written statements, Galkin retorted, “Still thinking DFA is about ‘parties’ is like thinking your high school band is getting back together, given the right gig. Otherwise, where were the parties these past 20 years? I can count them out pretty easily. Most or all of them I helped organize and was involved in directly. They were lots of fun. But in no way shape or form was DFA about ‘parties.’” (This morning, DFA Records shared the event listing for a fundraiser party at Brooklyn’s Good Room, featuring DJ sets from Murphy and his LCD Soundsystem bandmate Pat Mahoney.)

One significant sore point raised by Murphy: the departure of Holy Ghost! from DFA Records prior to 2019’s Work. “[Holy Ghost! member] Nick Millhiser is one of the biggest DFA fans of all time—just straight up, he loves DFA. And then Holy Ghost! left and demanded their masters back,” Murphy said. “If you lose somebody that’s as much in love with the label as Nick is, then that kind of put me in a corner. That’s the sea change.”

“I agree it was a wake up call for me, too. It was a sad moment. He is friends with Nick, as am I” Galkin wrote of Holy Ghost!’s departure. “They were also offered an arrangement to help revive West End Records and make it their own home. Why would a disco-history-loving artist like Holy Ghost! pass that up?” Holy Ghost! did not respond to multiple requests for comment through their former representative.

Galkin told Reynaldo that his dismissal was followed by his “immediate concern [for] all of the artists who were stuck in the middle.” He said he wanted to “get them out of the burning building, so I took a bunch of the unfinished albums and began setting up my own label.”

Murphy told Pitchfork that he gave his blessing for Galkin to take and release any records on FourFour (including “records that DFA paid all the recording costs on”). Murphy also claimed that he offered to give Galkin money to start the label.

Galkin dismissed Murphy’s claims, telling Pitchfork, “There was no blessing…. I took no money from them, only the albums. And they were in various stages of completion. No, they did not ask me to reimburse the label for any expenses related to those albums. But in no way were they completed and paid for before I acquired them. Some were almost done and some were not done whatsoever.”

According to Galkin’s interview with Reynaldo, his minority ownership of DFA was also eliminated at the time of his dismissal. When asked about lawyers getting involved, Galkin replied: “Basically boiled down to, ‘You’re gone, we’re not, thank you for your time.’”

Court documents, viewed by Pitchfork, confirm that Galkin sued Murphy, label partner Tyler Brodie, and DFA LLC for breach of contract, fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and more in August 2020. That legal filing was voluntarily discontinued by Galkin’s attorneys one month later.

Asked about the legal summons, Murphy said he was unable to comment on that action or any hypothetical settlement. “All I know is that it was very important to his side, whether it be him or his representatives, that there was a non-disparagement, nondisclosure agreement,” he said. He also claimed that DFA hadn’t “barred” Galkin from speaking to anybody at the label.

Galkin wrote to Pitchfork, “The only settlement achieved is what I state above,” referring to his obtainment of the unfinished DFA albums. He also said he and his attorneys have “no recollection of insisting” on “a non-disparagement, nondisclosure agreement.”

Murphy, as well as current DFA Records general manager Sam Duke, confirmed that two other employees were laid off at the label last summer in addition to Galkin. While noting that he didn’t have “great insight” into what employees were doing at DFA under Galkin’s leadership, Murphy also noted financial reasons for cutting back.

Galkin also claimed that he and the label were left in the dark regarding LCD Soundsystem’s reunion in 2016. “DFA was never told any information regarding LCD Soundsystem reforming, playing Coachella, signing a new deal with Sony, or releasing a new album—not a word.” Murphy concurred here, as well, noting that he owed Galkin and the label team an apology. “They did not know,” he said. “I felt like a dick. There’s no defense for forgetting your friend and hanging them out to dry.” (In October 2015, Galkin gave a statement to Pitchfork claiming that LCD Soundsystem were not reuniting. LCD Soundsystem subsequently returned in December of that year with a Christmas song and the announcement that they would be headlining Coachella 2016.)


With the dust settled following Galkin’s departure, Murphy emphasized that DFA Records is coming back and new releases are being planned. “The big job was untangling the finances,” he said. He’s also rethinking the label’s approach. “I wanted to get back to a little bit of classic DFA, where we released a lot less music. We didn’t send weekly emails with mugs and shirts. I wanted to go quiet and rebuild and recenter on the community that DFA was.”

Galkin said that he’s not spoken with Murphy following his dismissal and has no desire to get in touch. Murphy, for his part, repeatedly wished Galkin success with FourFour. “People say this shit all the time, but some of the artists on the label are friends of mine, so I really do,” he said. “Even if I wanted to throw a pie at Jonathan, I want him to be successful.”

Two of those FourFour musicians shared statements with Pitchfork through Galkin. “DFA actually passed on releasing their new record,” wrote Eric Copeland of Black Dice. “Plus, Galkin had been working with us on the record for almost a year at that point, so it was appropriate to continue the relationship with him.” Bjorn Copeland, Eric’s brother and Black Dice bandmate, wrote, “Jon has been one our biggest supporters since releasing our first album almost 20 years ago, and was always the main person we dealt with at DFA. Making this album was a long and oftentimes cursed-feeling process, so having the support of someone who really understood our band, and was enthusiastic was important to us.”

Murphy is not confident that his words will change how Galkin feels, and, sure enough, Galkin dismissed Murphy’s comments, telling Pitchfork his former partner is “never sincere.”

“If you publish that I wish Jon well and that I hope he does well? With the mindset that he seems to be in, I think he’ll think it’s bullshit,” Murphy said. “But even if I can’t stand him, he’s got artists that I care about on his label. For him to read that later, he’s just going to be like, ‘Fuck James. That is such bullshit. He’s just trying to look nice.’ So I’m trapped.”

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