Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy
As testimonials go, this one provided by Vinyl Factory when discussing Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy takes some beating: “The biggest heroes of the underground typically wouldn’t describe themselves as such. Frankie Knuckles, Kelli Hand, Andrew Weatherall… all possessed a humility that made them even more honourable and endearing, and they went about their business with little regard for fame and a distaste for industry bullshit. Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy falls firmly into this category.”
But really, anyone who has followed Murphy’s endlessly fascinating life in music shouldn’t be surprised to see her lauded in such terms. She is – much like the electronic totems she’s compared to above – a lifer: someone that has dedicated every inch of her soul and being to the pursuit of music.
As such, she’s been guided by an array of motivations. Whether she’s DJing at her Love Dancin’ sound system at We Out Here, hosting the London Loft party, curating a Classic Album Sundays event at the Royal Albert Hall, presenting her weekly Balearic Breakfast radio show or remixing Róisín Murphy there’s always an abundance of impulses bubbling away. There’s the desire to entertain – to put a smile on people’s faces; a need to curate – to give the audience more than just a song; and an extension of this is education. Not in any dictatorial fashion, it’s more about turning people on to new sounds, new ways of thinking, maybe even new ways of living.
And while all these varying strands of her life (a word she uses advisedly – for Murphy this is not a career: “It’s a quest,” she says. “A vocation”) are complementary, they all feed in and out of each other. However, there’s one factor that underpins everything.: the longing to build a community and to encourage and support like-minded music lovers.
“Exactly,” she beams in her effervescent East Coast drawl. “It’s about sharing music and building community. A dancefloor is a communal experience. It’s about bringing people together.”
Bringing people together through the joy of music is something Colleen has been doing all her life. It was there in 1982 when she began working on her high school radio station just outside Boston in Massachusetts.
“I was obsessed with the radio,” she says. “The radio has always been the constant for me. It’s always been there and is the medium I first gravitated towards. It was through hosting radio shows that I started DJing.”
Aged 16, Colleen and her high school friend Mary Caruso hosted a radio show called Punk, Funk and Junk. A riotous collision of hip hop, electro, funk, new wave, punk and anything else that came to mind (the junk) it was an early foretaste of what would soon become Murphy’s instinctive eclecticism. It also provided Colleen with her Cosmo moniker – taken from Cozmo D, one of the members of early electro outfit Newcleus. The same year she began working in Strawberries Records and Tapes, Central Massachusetts’ principal record shop. She soaked up everything.
“The assistant manager was a jazz freak,” she recollects. “He turned me onto Charles Mingus, Chico Hamilton… then there was another guy who was really into the Paisley Pop sound, so he would turn me onto the newer bands, then the older bands like the Electric Prunes. Then there was the guy who was a DJ and worked in the 12-inch section. You were always getting turned onto stuff. My boss was a Bruce Springsteen fanatic and turned me onto the ‘cooler’ Boss albums like Nebraska. My musical tastes have always encompassed a wide frequency.”
Armed with this capacious thirst for new sounds her tastes were always expanding. In 1986, she relocated to New York to study sound and radio at the NYU Film School. Whilst there she became the first female program director at WNYU, one of the most significant college radio stations in the country at the time.
This musical plate spinning, and sonic diversity, continued to blossom in the 90s. After graduation, she continued to work in radio. Her syndicated show, Music View, went out to over 200 college radio stations across the country and saw her interview everyone from Ryuichi Sakamoto, Brian Eno and Aphex Twin to Oasis, Joey Ramone and My Bloody Valentine.
“That was musical curation and education,” she explains. ““When I do my radio shows I don’t just do a DJ mix, I talk about the artists and the songs. It’s the same with Classic Album Sundays and my Balearic Breakfast shows. I don’t just play records – I tell the stories behind the music.”
This curious and wide-ranging aesthetic was further enhanced following a trip to David Mancuso’s Loft party. When David returned to hosting parties in the early 90s after a sabbatical, Colleen went along on the opening night with her friend, the late DJ Adam Goldstone. She immediately made a connection.
“I recognised the eclecticism,” she says. “David would play The Orb next to Jimi Hendrix. I had been a something of a hippy and a Deadhead amongst my many other musical penchants although I have never identified with a singular music tribe. I feel there is only good music and bad music. Because of this, I would say Balearic Breakfast is one of the most musically satisfying radio shows I have ever hosted because it’s all over the board.”
Colleen and David’s friendship was cemented when she invited him to appear on one of her radio shows, Soul School. So much so that he was soon entrusting her to play records and musically host his feted party. There was clearly a mentor and protégé aspect to their relationship, but in reality, their friendship went deeper than that. Mancuso – a towering influence on the likes of Larry Levan, Knuckles, Francois Kevorkian – was something of a disco (and therefore this thing we call dance music) Godfather. In Murphy he recognised a kindred spirit – and equal. In 2000, speaking about Murphy he said: “She is very devoted and very pure about the music. She’s one of the only people I would trust, both with the music and with the equipment, to fill in for me.”
And although Murphy’s name is today inextricably linked with Mancuso’s – she co-produced The Loft compilations on Nuphonic that saw his reputation rise at the end of the 90s and continued hosting parties with him until his death in 2016 – her New York network also took in such luminaries as François Kevorkian and Joaquin Claussell. She DJed at Body & Soul and worked at Dance Tracks, one of the city’s most influential dance shops. She also presented one of New York’s most important house music radio shows, Club 89. It’s always been about discovery and turning people on – the wheel never stops turning.
“Club 89 was one of the few weekly house shows in New York City,” she says. “I had Lil Louis, Romanthony, Danny Krivit, David, François, Joe Claussell, Louie Vega and others up as special guests. I always tried to make it bigger than myself. It was about community.”
Community is still central to everything Colleen does today, Balearic Breakfast being the prime example. The show began on Worldwide FM during the first lockdown of 2020 when she filled in for Gilles Peterson on one of his morning slots. She already had two other shows on the station – one centred around Classic Album Sundays and the other, Cosmodelica (rated one of the station’s Top 10 shows by Time Out), a monthly shindig that stretched the notion of dance music into psychedelia, rock, jazz funk and beyond. On both of those shows she invited the audience to send in requests – more community building – and she replicated this on her new Tuesday morning show.
The show was such a success that Gilles asked Colleen to keep the spot. She changed the name to Balearic Breakfast and a new chapter in Murphy’s musical life began. The show was consistently in the top four most-listened-to shows on the station. Now hosted on her Mixcloud profile following the sad demise of Worldwide FM, a tribe of like-minded music lovers tune in every week.
“The community aspect is hugely significant. It is not a pre-recording of a DJ mix with a bit of announcing. Rather the show is hosted live on my Mixcloud Live and Twitch TV. The Balearic Breakfast family join me on the chat group, and they greet each other and talk to each other and form relationships on their own. I just pop in every now and then. It’s wonderful.”
Establishing this connection during the pandemic was a lifesaver she freely admits.
“I have had so many people… hundreds and hundreds of emails, people coming up to me at gigs crying saying the show got them through the pandemic. I tell them the show got me through the pandemic, too. It was the community. I’m proud and humbled by it. But it’s not all about me. It’s very similar to David. David knew that The Loft wasn’t just him. He owned it. He was the nexus. But it wouldn’t be there without everyone else’s contributions. It wouldn’t be Balearic Breakfast without ‘the Family’. It’s beyond me. It’s something bigger.” A second Balearic Breakfast compilation – following 2022’s sold-out first volume – was released to great acclaim in the summer of 2023.
Bringing people together is also the thread that underpins Classic Album Sundays, the event begun by Colleen in 2010 as a timely celebration of albums that demanded to be listened properly – on a high-end sound system, uninterrupted and in their entirety. The idea helped crystallise and legitimise the audiophile culture that has grown over the last decade and CAS is now the world’s biggest album listening event. Today it can be found popping up at one-off events at the V&A, the Royal Albert Hall and The British Library. Its legacy continues in a more regular iteration with Colleen’s monthly online Album Club for the Classic Album Sundays Patreon subscribers.
“Classic Album Sundays has brought together most of my passions,” she reflects. “Vinyl collecting, playing records, musical storytelling, deep listening, communal listening…”
Her unstinting work in this sphere has seen Murphy recognised by outlets such as The Guardian and the New York Times as both a pioneer of the vinyl revival and the resurgence of all things audiophile. Which in turn has propelled the ongoing proliferation of listening bars around the world. In many ways, this is Colleen carrying on the work of her great mentor. Many of her first lessons in sound – and its absolute importance – were provided by Mancuso (who himself was an avid fan of Paul Klipsch’s audio newsletters, Dope From Hope).
David’s faith in her was evident in an email he sent to her in 2011, when he told her: “You and I are the only two people I know in all the years that can cover as many bases [as] there are for the parties and who try faithfully and spiritually to get it right. You are a rare gem my friend.”
The audiophile qualities of Classic Album Sundays are also apparent in another of Colleen’s ongoing activities – the Love Dancin’ sound system. A collaboration with Trojan Sound System’s Daddy Ad, Love Dancin’ is a travelling, DJ-friendly take on the set-ups she employs at the London Loft parties. A permanent fixture at We Out Here, this gives Colleen the chance to really stretch her powers of curation, not only booking the likes of kindred spirits Mr Scruff, Charlie Dark, Gilles et al, but newer talent like Cosmo Sofi, Tina Edwards and Aletha.
“It’s our own DIY thing,” she says. “Again, more community building.”
Unsurprisingly, DJing is another core strand to Murphy’s storied life. She can be found playing back-to-back with her great friend François, playing for David Holmes (“I played at God Kitchen in Belfast recently and he told me my DJing was very emotional. I think that’s what it is – reinforcing emotions, creating emotions. Everything is threaded with that”), spinning disco at a listening bar in Canada or going on a vinyl-only seven-hour journey. No two nights are ever the same.
“I like that,” she states. “It keeps me intrigued and on my toes. I don’t present a planned and rehearsed performance via my USB stick. I still practice and I know when I practice, I’m better. I do my homework, as David used to say. I like to live on the edge of the moment in which anything can happen.”
Kervorkian is another to recognise a simpatico aesthetic in Murphy. When discussing his legendary 2000 Essential Mix compilation – a celebration of 25 years-worth of New York dance music – he admits that the roots of this joyous mix were planted when he guested on one of Murphy’s radio shows a few years previously.
“I squarely lay the blame for it all on Colleen Murphy for unleashing this passion for eclecticism which was first put on display during my spontaneous and improvised live mix for one of her WNYU radio shows back in 1995.”
As they say, game recognises game.
And then there’s her return to producing, most notably her astounding remix work. In the 00s, Colleen was a prolific producer. Backed by her Bitches Brew imprint, she released tracks under several guises: Wild Rumpus alongside former Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas; the Latin-flavoured Bambú and the psychedelic disco of DarkStarr with Ashley Beedle. As Cosmodelica she remixed everyone from Horace Andy, Candi Staton and The Rapture to The Phenomenal Handclap Band, Cantoma and Planningtorock. Following her stellar work on Fat Freddy’s Drop’s ‘Mother Mother’ in 2014, this took a backseat to Classic Album Sundays and producing a series of radio documentaries for 6 Music.
At the turn of this decade, however, the need to produce – primarily in the form of remixing – returned. When Colleen heard her namesake Róisín Murphy’s ‘Murphy’s Law’ she knew she could transform an already captivating track into something new. Since then, there’s been incredible reworks of Balearic Aussies Midlife, A Certain Ratio, Manchester’s Secret Night Gang and 2022’s stylish overhaul of Lady Blackbird’s cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘Lost and Looking’ in which Murphy tapped deep into her musical psyche and brought disco’s vibrancy, house music’s relentless hypnotism and the transcendental joy and strength of soul into one infectious whole. No wonder renowned music lover Sir Elton John named it his favourite new track on his Apple Music radio show declaring it to possess a “groove that blows my mind”.
Recent makeovers include David Holmes for Heavenly Recordings, The Shapeshifters for Defected, FSQ for Soul Clap, Jacob Gurevitsch for Music For Dreams, Izo Fitzroy for Jalapeño Records, and Hard Feelings (Joe Goddard and Amy Douglas) for Domino Recordings.
A true music obsessive, Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy’s standing in the global dance music community has arguably never been higher. Whether she’s presenting, remixing, hosting or DJing, her belief in music’s redemptive properties shines through. And rather than downplay her eclecticism she wears her versatility as a badge of honour, ensuring she is constantly fulfilled creatively.
“I’m a music lover, a music curator and a music educator,” she concludes. “It’s about trying to transcend everyday life through music. When people say Balearic Breakfast got them through the pandemic, I think that’s because music has a healing quality. When people are on the dancefloor, I want them to forget about their everyday life. And similarly with Classic Album Sundays, when people are fully immersed listening to an album, it brings them out somewhere else. Those experiences have been very important to me.
“The quest is never-ending and that is what motivates me. I never set out to intentionally do any of this – it just happened because of my passion. One thing led to another which fed into another which fed into another. I will never stop discovering music. You always have to be looking ahead, expanding your horizons.”
Written by Jim Butler, Editor ‘Disco Pogo’
Management: Adam at email@example.com
Bookings: Ali at firstname.lastname@example.org
Productions, Remixes & Compilations
Lady Blackbird 'Lost and Looking' (Cosmodelica Remix)
Foundation Music 2022
Jacob Gurevitsch 'Elevation in Minor' (Cosmodelica Remix)
Music for Dreams 2023
Izo Fitzroy 'God Gets a Little Busy Sometimes' (Cosmodelica Remix)
Mildlife 'Vapour' (Cosmodelica Remix)
Heavenly Recordings – HVN570 – Remix by Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy
Hard Feelings 'Love Scenes' (Cosmodelica Remix)
Domino Recordings 2022
Roisin Murphy 'Murphy's Law' (Cosmodelica Remix)
Skint – SKINT423LP – Remix by Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy
Secret Night Gang 'Captured' (Cosmodelica Remix)
Brownswood Recording 2021
Fat Freddy's Drop 'Mother Mother' (Cosmodelica Remix)
The Drop – DRP021 – Remix by Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy
A Certain Ratio 'Berlin' (Cosmodelica Remix)
Mute Records 2021
Balearic Breakfast Volume 2 Compilation
Heavenly Recordings June 2023
Balearic Breakfast Volume 1 Compilation
Heavenly Recordings 2022
David Mancuso Presents The Loft Volume One
Nuphonic – NUX136CD 1999 – Produced and Compiled by David Mancuso and Cosmo
David Mancuso Presents The Loft Volume Two
Nuphonic – NUX154CD 2000 – Produced and Compiled by David Mancuso and Cosmo
DarkStarr’s Psychedelic Disco-Tech: They Live by the Night
Music Response – 2010 – Compiled and Mixed by Cosmo and Ashley Beedle
The Disco-Tech of DJ Cosmo
Yellow – YPCD158 2003 – Compiled and mixed by Cosmo
Wild Rumpus 'Cloudhopping / Tikkety-Boo Reprise'
Bitches Brew BITCH022 Written by Colleen Cosmo Murphy / Gary Lucas, Produced by Cosmo
Wild Rumpus 'Purple Somersault'
Bitches Brew BITCH013 Written by Cosmo and Gary Lucas, Produced by Cosmo
Wild Rumpus 'Kazan'
Endless Flight / Bitches Brew – EFCD3 / EFLP3 Written by Colleen Cosmo Murphy / Gary Lucas, Produced by Cosmo
Wild Rumpus ft Culture 'Musical Blaze-Up'
Bitches Brew) BITCH012 Written by Cosmo and Gary Lucas, Produced by Cosmo
Wild Rumpus feat. Beardyman
Rock The Joint Bitches Brew – BITCH014 2008 Written by Colleen Cosmo Murphy and Gary Lucas, Produced by Cosmo
Bambú 'Elevate Your Mind'
(Bitches Brew) BITCH010 Produced by Cosmo, Ben Mitchell and Nicolas Matar
Wild Rumpus 'Musical Blaze Up' LP
Bitches Brew BITCH027 Written by Colleen Cosmo Murphy / Gary Lucas, Produced by Cosmo
(Disorient) SUSHI42 Produced and Written by Cosmo, Gav Smith and Ben Mitchell
Bambú 'The Real Thing'
Bitches Brew BITCH003 2002 Produced by Cosmo, Ben Mitchell and Nicolas Matar
Light Fantastic -'Lost in C Minor'
(Playhouse) Playhouse 29 Produced and Written by Cosmo and Danny Wang
New York Afterhours: A Later Shade of Deep
Nervous – NRV 20292 1998 – Compiled and Mixed by Cosmo
Cosmo presents Ch’i 'Mistaken'
(Bitches Brew) BITCH005 2003 Produced by Cosmo and Ben Mitchell; Written by Cosmo
Jinadu 'Natural Thing'
(Bitches Brew) BITCH001 2002 Produced by Cosmo, Jinadu and Nikki Lucas; Written by Jinadu
Wild Rumpus ft Beardyman 'Rock The Joint'
(Bitches Brew) BITCH014 Written by Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy and Gary Lucas, Produced by Cosmo
Tidal 'R U Comin’'
Disorient) SUSHI28 2001 Produced and Written by Cosmo, Gav Smith and Ben Mitchell
Cosmo presents Ch’i 'Loneliness' (Cosmo's Kick Back Jazz Mix)
(Suburban) SU47 1999 Written & Produced by Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy
Women In Music
“Given [Cosmo] Murphy’s history and achievements, she makes a perfect subject for the first edition of Full Circle, RA‘s new series of talks celebrating women in music. In conversation with Martha Pazienti Caidan, we hear about the process of becoming a great radio presenter, Mancuso’s philosophies on sound, the joy of DJing without headphones and much more besides.”
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