- 28 Sep 20
The legendary dance musician discusses her long career and wild nights at Berghain.
Róisín Murphy is showing me her home studio set-up over Zoom. In a white turtleneck, with her partner Sebastiano – affectionately known as Sebby – sitting in the background, the 47-year-old singer, songwriter, DJ and producer is in the room where not too long ago, she put the finishing touches on her forthcoming album, Róisín Machine. Right now, we’re reminiscing about pre-pandemic club days.
“The first rave I was ever at was pretty much like a classic movie about raves,” she says enthusiastically. “The sun was coming through these massive windows in a warehouse at 9am. My best club moments have been in smaller venues in a local scene, and with people that I used to hear DJ twice or three times a week in lofts, in cellars under restaurants.
“Those DJs would have been Winston Hazel, Pipes, and even DJ Parrot." DJ Parrot, more recently known as Crooked Man, was instrumental in helping Murphy craft Róisín Machine. "But I only heard Parrot play a few times in the beginning,” she recalls. “He stopped DJing because somebody stole all his 7 inches, he got really upset for years.”
Watching the pioneer of dance music talk about the scene is mesmerising, and although we have a fleeting 30 minutes to discuss her latest record, I can't help but be swept away by the origin stories.
“The whole trip to New York after my first album with Moloko, I went to stay with a friend who worked at Groove Records," she says. "I stayed for two months and she took me everywhere. Nuyorican Soul were doing loads of parties with amazing people, musicians and singers, and I really got to understand where house music had come from.
“When it exploded when I was a little kid in Manchester, nobody really understood its lineage,” she continues. “Like it was from space. Learning about Chicago House was a big eye-opener, especially at Body and Soul, which was Francois K’s party. They just had this scene that was full of the leftovers from The Loft and Paradise Garage. It was amazing music, incredible dancing – almost balletic, mixed with jazz, salsa, and voguing.
“I always really like to see the dance styles in different clubs," she laughs. "I've had some transcendent experiences.”
With those experiences on hold due to the pandemic, Murphy is more than happy to reminisce.
“I like a night out that's educational,” Murphy says frankly, rolling a cigarette. “I know that doesn’t sound fun. People think it's very serious, but I like enrichment when I go out. I don't want to just feel like I did aerobics all night.”
I’m a relatively new dance music convert, but even for someone whose first trip to Berlin was in 2019, it’s impossible to ignore the monumental importance of Murphy’s work, both with Moloko and as a solo artist.
And it’s true, Murphy has been around the block when it comes to dance music. “I played at Berghain a few months ago," she says nonchalantly. "That was like going back in time. It was like the 90s, but better. I stayed in the club for 12 or 15 hours.”
That seems to be a common occurrence at Berghain.
“After the gig, I went down onto the main dance floor and got lost for hours, and was surrounded by a load of strong-and-stable lesbians who took great care of me. Security was looking for me and yelling at my boyfriend, saying 'how could you lose her’, but I was absolutely fine.
"The sound in that club is the best," she adds. "It's just unbelievable. Probably the first time I danced for hours on deep minimal techno.
“We were able to go into all the dark rooms, and they brought us to the KitKatClub. It's a real sex club. We were able to go in and have a look at it because it wasn't open yet. You walk in – and oh my god,” she says with a cackle, sheepishly delighted. “There are massive, industrial-sized tubs of lubrication everywhere! I hope they stick some hand sanitizer in those when they reopen.”
Anyone familiar with Murphy’s career will know that she sort of fell into music, initially wanting to be a visual artist.
“I was in love with this fella – who was a producer – and we got signed and got a six album deal," she recalls with a shrug. "It was just too exciting not to do, to be with him all the time and experiment in that way.
“So I've used the music to be as visual as I can be,” she adds. “And when Moloko came to the end, I did wonder whether or not I made the right decision – if I was going to lose this career. I hadn't pursued my visual art career, and I did go through a period of wondering whether I was even meant to make music.”
But it all worked out in the end, says Murphy, whose forthcoming album is a celebration of the consistent upward trajectory of her career.
“The original spark for this was the proto-house era, the era of Larry Levan and Parrot. We listened to Padlock – it's eminently listenable at home. In fact, that's where I would listen to it the most. It works on the dance floor, but also works really well if you're doing the dishes. That's the type of music we were trying to emulate.”
And indeed, Róisín Machine is seamlessly edited, designed to be heard in one complete sitting – though you might want to push the coffee table aside to create a makeshift dance floor.
Murphy – who was born in Arklow and moved to Manchester at the age of twelve – left home to live alone at sixteen, not wanting to return to Ireland with her mother. For Murphy, that experience was formative, and taught her how to make her own way in the music industry.
“Kids your age, and my kids' age, can’t afford to do something like that,” she says. “The greatest privilege of my life was what the British government did for me until I was 19. I got a flat the day I was 16, that I had found myself. It was in the area where all my friends lived, I had a huge bedroom, and a back room with a big semi-circle orange sofa in it. It was just everything for me. I am forged by the decision to say to my mother, 'I'm not going back to Ireland.' It was the most important decision of my life, and I proved something to myself without even knowing I was proving it – that I was very strong.”
- Róisin Machine is out now.