MSTRKRFT Interview

Dance duo discuss their critics...
MSTRKRFT
MSTRKRFT are moving up in the world. Graduating from the confines of basement dance floors to the mirrored corridors of super-clubs and exclusive media hangouts (conveniently where this interview was carried out) they, along with the likes of Justice, Digitalism and Simian Mobile Disco, have made the transition between indie-night purism and warehouse projects sound effortless. Re-rubbers of everyone from Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Juliette and the Licks, and back, via Goose, Wolfmother and Chromeo, MSTRKRFT - aka Jesse F. Keeler and Al-P - certainly can’t be accused of not paying their guitar-based dues.

As one half of the long-defunct Death From Above 1979, Keeler was the moustachioed, electronic purveyor of the duo, and, as the band imploded after one LP, MSTRKRFT emerged in all its slick, Vocoder’d glory. With the gargantuan remix of Metric’s ‘Monster Hospital’ and 2007’s debut album ‘The Looks’ helping carve the electro-house landscape, the rabid urban flava of follow-up album ‘Fist of God’ has proved particularly divisive, garnering indifferent reactions both at home and across the pond.

“We’re just doing what we enjoy, so people’ll either love it or hate it,” explains Jesse, “but it’s funny how all these kids now dance to ‘Killing In The Name’ by Rage Against The Machine, and I think Rage Against The Machine is fucking embarrassing, but now it’s cool because someone decided to play it out one night. It’s ironic.” He pauses, takes a second: “I don’t know… I’m rambling. I haven’t eaten.”

It’s a reaction that Jesse seems wary of, but unsurprised by. Following the duo’s debut success and continually well-received production and remix work, you can’t help but sense that he, especially, feels as though MSTRKFRT are being punished for daring to push the envelope. It’s no secret that ‘Fist of God’ is collaboration heavy – and some have worked out better than others – and while he’s not overly agitated, Jesse is also keen to point out he expected some negativity.

“I expect a lot of people to not like the record, but I expect a lot more people to like the record now that we’ve reached a way bigger audience making it. It might sound like a calculated business move, but it was mainly a musical thing. We kinda knew what the reaction’d be, and we even told a lot of the kids on the message boards: ‘Well, a lot of you are gonna hate it’.

“It’s difficult, too, you know, because a lot of people have just discovered us, and they’re going to go on this record initially; but we didn’t want to make a record that was too ‘now’. We could have got a lot of the rappers - like The Cool Kids, Spank Rock and Kid Sister - but we tried to choose things and people that were more timeless. And, anyway, I love bad reviews, they’re my favourite things.”

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MSTRKRFT - 'Work It Out', from 'The Looks'


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Regardless of the critical reaction, putting ‘Fist of God’ together broke new ground for MSTRKRFT in terms of roping in some stellar cameos. Having established themselves in indie and electro circles, their desire to incorporate hip hop and R’n’B into the album’s makeup meant having to hard sell the MSTRKRFT dynamic successfully - easier said than done for some more than others.

Jesse: “Other than John Legend, no one was receptive to the idea of working with us at all… I mean, no one knew who we were. This music is completely unknown to that world – they have no idea we’re playing festivals, that the kids like us; they don’t know anything about us. They’re like: ‘This is that weird Euro shit, right?’ And we’re like: ‘Yeah, yeah it is. Expand your audience into Europe with us Canadians.’

“Our manager had a big job trying to talk them into it, and the relevance of doing it,” Jesse continues. “John Legend was into it right away because he gets it, but a few of them took persuading. But, when they hear the tracks, they’re all like: ‘Oh, this is tight’. If we were to make another record like this, it’ll be easier, because we wouldn’t have to sell everything. It’d just cost a lot more.”

Whereas their contemporaries have yet to return with second albums, another particular bone of contention for the duo is that not only have they been the first to poke their heads above the parapet, but the criticisms levelled at them are likely to be symptomatic for all those that will inevitably follow. “The guys who have crossover appeal are the ones making the good tracks and the ones who don’t have it are making the tracks that no one plays,” Al suggests, before Jesse takes up the baton:

“The difference is that this is our second album and everyone else is still on their first. And I know Justice isn’t going to do the same thing and I know Digitalism isn’t going to do the same thing. Everyone’s trying to do something different right now, and we were just ahead chronologically. I know Justice are producing rock records right now, real earnestly, and I don’t find that surprising or weird. It’s different when you’ve been around for as long as all of us because we’re excited by doing different things and the reviews are never always going to be awesome.

“The funniest example I can think of is when ‘Led Zeppelin III’ came out – everyone hated it because it wasn’t this heavy rock record, everyone was like: ‘They’ve gone folk!’ Like they’d betrayed some sort of agreement they made with the fans to make the same stuff forever. The there’s the poor Strokes, who made a great second record that was just good as the first but they got criticised for making an album that sounded the same. I think you always kinda know that with the second record you’re not going to win.”

Not that it’s going to deter Jesse and MSTRKRFT’s outlook. Having played two of London’s premier club spots - Fabric and Matter - and with an itinerary to make any top-flight DJ salivate, they’ve remained aggressively single-minded throughout ‘Fist of God’’s short but eventful life thus far. Released in the US a few months prior to its general UK release, they’ve fallen foul, like so many before them, of the perils of unofficial leaks and the viral, vulture-like nature of the blogging world. Not that they’re about to pull a Lars, though.

Jesse: “The record got leaked, somewhat maliciously, but a lot of blogs hit us up and told us they didn’t think it was right and didn’t put it up. But, you know, some kids were ‘Oh my god!’ and leaked it right away. My attitude to blogs is I don’t really read ‘em, I’m not interested in anyone else’s opinion about music, just my own, so for me it’s not like an exciting thing.”

While you’d understand MSTRKRFT coming down on the corporate side of the ever raging artist vs. bloggers debate, Jesse falls somewhere between the critical and blasé, citing the unnecessary pressure blogs create and the clear lack of quality control.

“In terms of the DJing world, it’s really detrimental because everything gets played out right away,” he says. “If everything’s so accessible, it puts demand on the culture to always be creating and releasing really exciting things; which on one hand is cool, but on the other you’re also burning everyone out. It’s like a bunch of people are just throwing darts blindly hoping to hit a target, you know? You just got to pick through a mountain of shit. I used to visit some blogs a few years ago, but there’s a pressure on the blogs to have something exciting to write about, and sometimes there’s nothing to talk about. Sometimes it’s the best way to say nothing, leave it alone.”

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MSTRKRFT - 'Bounce' (live), original version on 'Fist Of God'


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For all the tribulations of the last few months, it’s still clearly apparent through talking to Jesse and Al that their party spirit remains undiminished, and for all their production success they’re at their happiest, most reckless and destructive when they’re on the decks and in the middle of a set.

“I love it when kids are writing and begging to find out what that song was,” Jesse enthuses, “because when I go see a DJ, I don’t want to know one goddamn song being played, I want to be like: ‘What the fuck is this?!’ the whole time and be excited about it. I go to hear new music and I still have unanswered questions.”

So, rest assured, whether it’s sticky snakebite floors, backlit Grey Goose bars or cover charges and smart casual, MSTRKRFT will take to every party with the same, singular, ‘let’s fuck shit up’ attitude, regardless of whether they’re playing out Vocoders or verse.

“Good DJ’s will always stand up,” concludes Jess, “because you can still tell the difference between a Digitalism or The Proxy or MSTRKRFT record, as you can hear the character coming through. It’s like everyone’s carrying around the same guns, but not everyone knows how to shoot ‘em. Some people are bad shots. You see, that’s the ‘90s rap in me, I have to speak in an analogy.”

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Read our review of ‘Fist Of God’ HERE; find MSTRKRFT on MySpace HERE.

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