Sample Wars: LCD Soundsystem vs. Beck

May 30, 2013 | Andy Cush

Each week in Sample Wars, we’ll pit two songs which sample the same source material head-to-head against each other, to determine which one rocked the sample better.

It seems fitting that James Murphy should face off against Beck. Both were musical omnivores, both serially repurposed bygone sounds toward their own ends, and each is entirely of the era from which he came. But the ways in which Beck and LCD Soundsystem used the source material in question–a snippet of Kraftwerk’s 1981 “Home Computer” –illustrate crucial differences between the two artists. For Beck, it’s just one piece in a hyperactive, multicolored collage; for Murphy, it’s a holy grail, something not to be fucked with, something around which to build an entire composition.

“Home Computer,” Kraftwerk, 1981, sample appears at 1:37: “Home Computer,” from 1981’s Computer World, finds Kraftwerk at the height of their powers, moving out of sleek, machine-driven visions of the future and into a present that, by the early ’80s, was saturated with the kind of technology about which the band had been rhapsodizing for over a decade. The bit which both Beck and LCD Soundsystem sample–a percolating, whole-tone scale synthesizer accompanied by a thumping, 808-style drum machine–presages all sorts of four-on-the-floor house and techno, and other parts of the song have been used in countless electro and hip-hop tracks.

“Get Real Paid,” Beck, 1999, sample appears at :26: “Get Real Paid,” from Beck’s sampledelic Prince homage Midnite Vultures, is very much inline with the musician’s output of that era–slinky, hyperactive, tongue-half-in-cheek dance music that would come off as cloying if it wasn’t so funky. The Kraftwerk sample only turns up occasionally, trading bars with Beck during the song’s verse. If you didn’t know it was there, it might slide by unnoticed, just another perfectly placed piece of the track’s dense patchwork of sounds.

“Disco Infiltrator,” LCD Soundsystem, 2005, sample appears at :00: First things first: this isn’t a actually a sample, in the true sense of the word. It’s an interpolation, meaning LCD Soundsystem didn’t actually rip it from a record, but re-played the music themselves. “Disco Infiltrator” is one of the most overt musical tips of the hat in a career that’s positively spilling over with them (topped only by this Velvet Underground lovefest, by my estimation), adding live drums, an indelible bass line, and of course, James Murphy’s frantic vocals to the Kraftwerk classic.

The Verdict: Though Beck does much more to recontextualize the sample, in doing so, he almost loses it to the funky ether, burying it in layers and layers of sound. LCD Soundsystem, on the other hand, keep things tight and minimal, giving the material room to breathe, paying tribute both to Kraftwerk and to the generations of dance music they inspired. Both approaches have their merits, but I’d take James Murphy’s focused, personal brand of homage over Beck’s maximalism any day.