MSTRKRFT

I MET Al P and Jesse F Keeler in their dressing room at the Bierkeller in Manchester, just before their date at Tramp! in May 2006.

I had this idea that I’d interview the people who guest DJed and played at the club, give Will and James a simple Q&A for them to stick on the club’s website and write up narrative interviews for fun and profit and publication elsewhere.

I was in a bit of a weird, angry place at the time and didn’t act in an entirely professional manner, it has to be said. I had a nice chat with the Shy Child guys but by the time I got to speak to the Klaxons the same night, I was so drunk all I could do was insult them and berate them for “getting kids into ecstacy”.

Not good – even if their music is a load of old shite.

I was able to keep it together a little more when I interviewed MSTRKRFT and actually managed to write it up, though it was ages after the fact, and I’m still not sure if Will and James managed to get it on the Tramp! website before they called it a day last year.

I might get around to transcribing the Shy Child and Klaxons interviews one day, but in the meantime, here’s MSTRKRFT talking about DJing, fucking for effect and the importance of being Canadian.

* * *

AL PUODZIOUKIAS and Jesse F Keeler met in Toronto, Ontario. Jesse first came to the world’s attention as one half of metal disco punk drum and bass duo Death From Above 1979 , while Al was in electro pop act Girlsareshort and produced DFA 1979’s debut album, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine.

They make dark, sexy house music together as MSTRKRFT, remixing artists as diverse as Wolfmother, Bloc Party, The Kills and Juliette and the Licks. They have just released their debut album, The Looks, on Last Gang Records.

What was the first record you ever bought?

Jesse: “The first record I ever got was You And I by Rick James. I got it in Buffalo, New York, and I was five. I remember because my parents made a big deal about it, because I really liked that song, but you couldn’t buy it anywhere. So, we went to Buffalo to buy records.”

Is that just over the US border?

J: “Yeah, it’s like an hour’s drive from Toronto. It’s very black in Buffalo, so you could buy like soul records and funk records that you couldn’t get easily in Toronto.”

Al: “The first record I ever owned, well, I had two records and a brown Fisher-Price record player – one of the records was a Disney Donald Duck singing, and then the other record was actually Thriller, and they were the only two records I ever listened to when I was a kid. Those two. And I thought the gatefold with Michael Jackson with the tiger was like the coolest thing. Oh man.

“The first record I ever bought, I believe, was Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction.”

J: “I had that on cassette.”

A: “I still have the records but I don’t think they’re the original copies that I had. Would I play them now? Um, Thriller is pretty timeless but I don’t think I’d play Appetite For Destruction. But I like the songs. It’s got Sweet Child O’Mine on it. It’s the really good one. And my favourite cut on that album is It’s So Easy.”

J: “Yeah.”

A: “I fucking love that song. Not to play to people though.”

J: “I think they should make remixes. We should do like bootleg mixes of Guns N’ Roses songs. That would be really popular in North America.”

A: “Oh yeah.”

nullSo how did you guys start DJing?

J: “One night a friend, who couldn’t do his club night, asked me if I could fill in. So I said okay and went in and I was DJing and I guess it was going well. I had a good dance floor and I felt accomplished. While I was playing, I didn’t know that some other promoters from a larger club were there and right as soon as I was done on my first gig they came up and asked me if I wanted to DJ at their party on like the Saturday, which was two days away. And I was like, alright. And that place held like a thousand people.”

And what kind of stuff were you playing then?

J: “All like old funk and soul and disco music, but I tried to keep a real dance floor thing going on. I remember that no one in Toronto at that time was playing ESG, and then I started playing stuff like that. This was in 1999, I guess.”

So you were a musician for a long time before you started DJing?

J: “Yeah, but the one helps the other a great deal.”

A: “I only started DJing in the past year …”

J: “You’d never know it.”

A: “That came out of playing in a lot of bands and stuff. I think the two skills complement each other in terms of having a sense of timing, hand-ear coordination, it really helps.

“At the moment, I’m really excited about DJing. I have no intention of being back in rock bands, performing, but I play instruments on our productions and for me that’s enough, in terms of being able to play and have fun. But right now, I really like the DJing thing. It’s pretty cool.”

J: “It’s a lot less restricted than playing in a band. DJing, you can play other people’s stuff, there’s a constant flow of new music, you’re only limited, really, by your creativity. There’s tons of shit you can do. There’s tons more we could be doing as DJs, and I like knowing that. I like that there’s still more we can do.”

A: “DJing is really great for producers, it’s like you’re able to conduct a band, but all kinds of different bands. You can play all kinds of different stuff, the instrumentation is always changing, and you can really tailor what you’re playing to the mood of the room or whatever. When you’re playing in a rock band, you’re basically playing with what you bring on stage with you.

“You go on with a predetermined idea of what the sound is going to be like and you can’t really change it because that’s the sound of your band.”

J: “Being in a band is more about people watching you – like, I’m doing this now and you watch what I’m doing. DJing, it’s more like the people in the audience and you are doing it together.”

A: “It’s definitely more of an interactive situation where things can evolve in any number of ways. It’s two totally different things. Both have their qualities, but right now we’re doing the DJ thing.”

Have you played live as MSTRKRFT?

J: “No, we just DJ, we couldn’t do what we do live. It’s impossible.”

A: “It would be too compromised to try to recreate our productions live.”

J: “We’d need like nine people, and it still wouldn’t be as good as us playing the record.”

How are enjoying this tour?

A: “Last time we were here we were still figuring out what we wanted to play and how to play it. Since the last time we’ve got a lot better, to put it bluntly, in like technique and selection.”

J: “And our own library of stuff has increased so much, we’ve produced like a shit-load of music since we were here last, and we have a lot more things to turn to. Last time we were here, we were figuring out where we fit in. In the club scene it’s hard sometimes to know … you like what you’re doing but it’s hard to pigeonhole yourself. I still think we avoid any easy distinctions.

“It’s more of a feel thing. The overall feeling of a song, kinda bashing shit out. A lot of dance music is like a boiling pot of rice. It’s just simmering away, not a lot of movement, not a lot of excitement. I can’t imagine us ever making progressive house. We just wouldn’t be able to get our heads to that place. It would be so boring, making that boiling pot of rice, just simmering away.”

When you’re DJing, what is your goal? What do you want to happen?

J: “We want people to dance, and I assume they will enjoy the movement of it as much as we do. We take our mixing very seriously and we try to combine things in like the best possible way. We try to create more than the sum of the parts. It’s not like, here’s a record, here’s another record, it’s more than lining a load of different records up, do you know what I mean? It’s do-able.

“It’s weird but it’s the same kind of process as when you’re song writing, that idea that something needs to happen here, or that’s too soon, or that’s happened too many times, or this feels like you’re still fucking after you’ve come, your penis is a little bit limp, but you’re pumping anyway.”

Nice analogy.

J: “Yeah, that’s a new one. It’s the same sensibility, that enables you to make those kind of decisions, that you can look at the dancefloor and say, this is the right thing to do now, the floor needs a break. Whatever we choose to play, there’s a direction.”

So where does all this leave Death From Above 1979?

J: “Well, the other guy is making a folk record and apparently travelling in Eastern Europe with his Polish girlfriend right now. And that’s cool. I’m too busy. There’s a lot of things on my plate. I’m enjoying what I’m doing and MSTRKRFT is a much older idea than Death From Above 1979, in both of our lives. I’ve been making house music, privately, for a long time, and Al does his stuff.”

How important is it to be Canadian?

A: “Sometimes I feel like a little bit burdened by it, because there’s a lot of embarrassing things that have happened in Canada, in music ..”

Are we talking Rush?

A: “No, I love Rush.”

J: “They’re one of the not-embarrassing things from Canada. We’re thinking more along the lines of Nickelback and Avril Lavigne and Sum 41.”

A: “I mean, I don’t mind it. I like living in Canada but sometimes I wish we lived in the States because I think there might be more things going on there, more community down there for us, but I don’t mind it.”

J: “We have this weird reputation in music right now, with bands like the Deers and Broken Social Scene, Feist and Stars, and stuff like that, that’s all sort of dreamy and ethereal but actually to me, it just sounds like older Brit-pop. I never understand who that music is connecting with, because I don’t relate to it in any way.

“It seems like Canada has this thing where all this suburban music really makes it in the city. Y’know like the Band, Bob Dylan’s band, they were from downtown Toronto, a fucking folkie, country rock band. I don’t understand where that influence came from.

“Under the same circumstances, my instinct would be to make music that’s a bit more like where you’re from rather than this music that seems like it’s longing for a different time and place. A lot of music that comes out of Canada is like that.”

And if the music that came out of Canada actually reflected the place, what would it be?

J: “It would be MSTRKRFT, and Sean Paul, Kaos, and DOA, that old punk band, that stuff seems way more like the country we’re from. And Death From Above 1979 too, to some extent. It feels more like Canada. I don’t know how it developed this weird rural image. Where we live is massive, it’s one of the largest cities in North America.”

A: “Even like [Ian] Blurton’s stuff, it’s pretty definitive in a way. He produced a lot of indie rock bands in Toronto. He has a project called C’Mon, right now, they’re pretty much just a high-energy rock’n’roll band.”

J: “His girlfriend was the bass player from Nashville Pussy, they’re like a tough rock band and a lot of that stuff is better than the stuff that ends up making it big. I’m not sure why that is, I’ve never understood that weird bent towards this like dreamy, mushy stuff. Whatever.”

A: “Canada’s not like that. The best ambassador for Toronto is Sean Paul, because that’s what it’s like when I walk around the city, it sounds like Get Busy.”

I always thought he was Jamaican.

J: “That’s the thing. When you come and live in Canada, you’re not necessarily a Canadian, you’re a Jamaican living in Canada, or a Trinidadian, or an Indian or a Chinese person. It’s not a country that demands that you assimilate. So people come and they continue to exist as they would somewhere else, but within Canada. That’s why Sean Paul is a good example, he came to Toronto and built his career out of Toronto, but he’s still a Jamaican.”

Have you got any special messages for the readers of the Tramp! website?

J: “I think you’ve had the best of us with that thing about fucking after you’ve come.”

“I use that because every guy knows exactly where we’re coming from. You can keep going and it’s still alright, it’s good enough to keep it in, and it’s better than masturbating but it’s still like, you’ve already passed that point, y’know. We try not to do that with the songs.

“Seriously, that’s why we use that analogy. You can’t come multiple times in a song. Maybe if we were girls we’d be thinking differently…”

[This interview may or may not have appeared on the Tramp! website at some point in 2006]

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