Someone who should definitely have a spot on that map is David Murphy, a recent transplant to Boulder known affectionately as Murph. He’s commonly found while out at Pearl Street nightspots, and easily recognized if you know he’s the bassist for one of Boulder’s favorite electronic bands, Sound Tribe Sector 9.
Though Santa Cruz, Calif., is the real headquarters for STS9 and their star-studded self-run label, 1320 Records, Murphy has spent the last year and a half resting his head at his south Boulder home. Resting,
of course, is a relative term. Murphy’s time in Boulder has overlapped with one of the band’s most successful periods in its 13-year history.
STS9 will perform two nights at Red Rocks this weekend in their sixth headlining appearance at the venue, celebrating the addition of Ad Explorata to their 10-album discography. A month ago, the band released Axe the Cables, a live recording of their first all-acoustic set per formed
at the University of Denver that defied the popular notion that Tribe is mortally dependent on laptops.
The band also met its goal of raising $150,000 last April to build a home in New Orleans with the Make It Right Foundation. Proceeds from ticket sales, special events and a remix album of 2008’s Peaceblaster (courtesy of around 30 collaborations) helped the band reach the lofty goal. STS9 had always embraced various social causes throughout the years, but funneling its effort into a single goal proved to be as successful as it was ambitious.
Since the Tribe formed in 1997, Boulder has welcomed the electronic pioneers with open arms. It’s only recently that Murphy truly validated this dynamic by claiming Boulder as his new home, a city that in the last decade has become a reliable litmus test for electronic acts of all kinds.
So what makes Boulder so special to Murphy?
Was it the college audience that elevated Tribe’s brand of “livetronica,” or was it the band’s touring preference for Colorado that gave Boulder its place on the map?
“It’s kind of been a second home for us,” Murphy told Boulder Weekly. “Anywhere we go around the country, people think we’re from Boulder. People say, ‘Oh, so you’re from Boulder originally?’ Yeah, just because we’ve shared such great success out here, they just assume that’s where we’re from.”
Murphy is actually the only member of the quintet that doesn’t live in Santa Cruz. However, living and working in Boulder, cranking out sound, and enjoying the company of local musicians has treated him well.
“I have, in the last year and a half, made some great friends,” he says. “Just the scene, the vibe, and the group of people that exist here, it’s just really neat.
“What it’s done for me is pulled me out of my shell,” he says of his own Colorado party experiences, “my bubble I was living in a little bit. Not like you lose sight of things, but the more you exist in a bubble without realizing that you do, you close yourself off. It’s kinda made me realize that our concerts, our shows — they’re parties. People are coming to have a good time. So what can I do to make that the best time for them? What can I do to make it the best party?” Since the band’s beginning in 1997, STS9 has done a lot to their sound. As with any group more than a few years old, there are plenty of long-time Tribe fans who complain about the band’s new artistic choices. The most offending change to the formula? The band’s switch to using pre-recorded loops instead of actual instruments (Murphy calls them “live PA shows”), a departure from the live instrumental jams that made the band famous.
Was it Boulder’s saturation of DJs and laptoppers that influenced this change? Murphy does often pair with DJ Rootz, a Boulder resident and ’Round Midnight regular, to perform DJ sets as Rootz vs. Murphy (the act recently sold out the Fox and will return on Sept. 24.)
Murphy points out that band scheduling conflicts, such as the recent birth of percussionist Jeffree Lerner’s daughter, sometimes make it necessary to find another musical outlet.
“We do it when we want to be out doing something, but the opportunity to do an STS9 show isn’t there,” Murphy says. “I think it wasn’t like, ‘Well, we could do an STS9 show, but let’s do a live PA show instead.’ … It takes a lot to get this whole machine up, to go and do a show that’s at the level of the expectations that the fans have right now. We don’t ever want to shortchange them and bring something that’s half-assed. We’re a band, and that’s what people want to see, and we know that. People want to see us with basses and guitars and our full shit, they don’t want to see us try to reinvent ourselves.”
It isn’t just the fans that were influenced by the group’s original power instrumentals, described with terms like hippie-rave, electro-noodle and experimental, instrumental, cerebral needle injection of sound and light. Whether they were the originators of the sound, there is a family of fellow artists who have benefited from STS9 paving the road.
The best thing STS9 ever did for the scene was to approach it with the knowledge that it functions better as a family rather than a popularity contest.
“I think the environment here is cohesive to a family vibe,” Murphy said. “Everybody wants to help everybody else, and you feel that here. I’m friends with Octopus Nebula and love the guys in that band, and I want them to succeed. I want Lotus to succeed; I want the Disco Biscuits to be as big as they can. I want them to be successful — Pretty Lights, Big Gigantic — the more success they have, the bigger we grow this scene and the more there is to support all of us.”
And there you have it. Boulder isn’t East Coast vs. West Coast. It’s where we all meet in the middle.
On the Bill:
STS9 plays the Boulder Theater on Thursday, Sept. 9, and plays Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Friday, Sept. 10, and Saturday, Sept. 11. Tickets to the Boulder Theater show are sold out.
for the Red Rocks shows are $42.50 plus service charges. For more
information, visit http://www.sts9store.com. Boulder Theater, 2032 14th
St., Boulder, 303-786-7030. Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 W. Alameda
Pkwy., Morrison, 720-865-2494.