Drinking With LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang

The it-girl DJ lets PUNCH in on dealing with stage anxiety, why being into wine is just like collecting records, LCD's Pimm's Cup recipe and the time she killed a microphone.

Nancy Whang doesn’t drink much when she performs. Not anymore anyway. Compared to her whiskey and Champagne-fueled days as one part of former dance-band LCD Soundsystem, this sense of temperance is a pronounced shift. Whang now roams the world DJing gay disco parties in Dublin and film festivals in Russia. She eats out solo in Barcelona, Modena, Mexico City and Moscow and drinks in hotel bars in her down time. It sounds romantic, but it’s difficult being on the circuit as a perpetual creature of nightlife.

“If I get too drunk when I’m DJing, it’s a train wreck,” she laughs. “I can’t process what I’m hearing.” She follows this with a particularly delightful anecdote about playing a festival with LCD after one too many Pimm’s Cups. It ends with her destroying the microphone with a drumstick.

Before LCD dispersed, the band had begun to eat and drink in serious pursuit, seeking out top restaurants while waiting for shows to start. Whang explains the band’s interest in all three—music, drinking and eating—by acknowledging that they each inspire a disregard for balance, which is generally replaced with serious zeal.

“Food and music attract a certain personality type that isn’t fit for normal, everyday life. It’s extreme behavior—really intense and all-consuming.” Like drinking abundantly. And up until recently, drinking was always a part of Whang’s stage life. “I have terrible stage anxiety, so James [Murphy] would make me this drink before we went on. It’s any combination of Champagne and Jameson. It sounds terrible, but it’s not that bad,” she says, smiling. “It’s called the Irish Cunt.”

These days, when off the road and back in New York, Whang leads a very full, omnivorous life (just with a little less Jameson).

While sitting with a couple of friends one evening at Lower East Side wine bar Ten Bells, she embraces the burly bartender across the bar. They recount a recent evening spent together in Barcelona; both of them happened to be passing through around the same time, and she was happy to have an international drinking companion for once. “Touring isn’t all bad, but I start to feel like a traveling salesman sitting in hotel bars alone,” she says. 

“I have terrible stage anxiety, so James [Murphy] would make me this drink before we went on. It’s any combination of Champagne and Jameson. It sounds terrible, but it’s not that bad,” she says, smiling. “It’s called the Irish Cunt.”

Whang requests a light red wine, and he pours a lean, cherry-tinged Touraine pinot noir from Thierry Puzelat. She orders chorizo and a tortilla and the bartender throws in the pulpo a la fiera. “I find the more a wine tastes like dirt, the more I like it,” she says of her affection for natural wines.

There is an unexpected affinity amongst New York musicians for natural wine, and many have taken it up as a sort of companion hobby. Jon Fine of post-hardcore band Bitch Magnet discovered a preoccupation with the subject comparing the genre to indie rock in a James Beard Award-winning piece for Food & Wine magazine. Similarly, Justin Chearno, guitarist of Turing Machine, became a champion for natural wine while working at Brooklyn wine shop UVA, and passed his interest on to a set of friends and musicians, including Whang.

She describes falling into natural wine as feeling similar to first discovering alternative music when she was younger. “I don’t think I pursue wine very seriously, but I realize it’s something that resonates with me,” she says.

It seems like an intuitive fit with her philosophy of music acquisition. She muses over an essay Chearno once wrote comparing collecting records and exploring wine. If the band is the wine, and the label is the winemaker, Whang explains, “You find a label you really like. And you start to get to know what its particular sound is, you start to understand how other labels are related to each other.” In the same way, she can understand how one winemaker and style is related to another and take it from there. But Whang doesn’t talk about music with precious revelry, and similarly, she doesn’t attempt to intellectualize her fondness for wine: “I like to know what’s out there, but I’m not making a career out of it,” she says. “But then again that’s what I thought all along about music.”