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MSTRKRFT - Mstrs Of The Universe

Author: Cyclone
Monday, 28 July 2008

3D’s Cyclone talks with electro punk godfathers MSTRKRFT, returning to Australia within the year to play Splendour In The Grass.

Canada’s MSTRKRFT rose from the ashes of the thrash metal Death From Above 1979 to lead the electro punk charge. And Australians, world-famous electro freaks, have claimed them as their own. Now, with a new album on the way, MSTRKRFT are returning for the third time. (They last DJed at 2007’s Parklife.)

Jesse F Keeler, who’s married to an Australian, was concerned that fans may have forgotten them.

“I guess we’ve done a bunch of stuff since but, really, we’ve just been working on our record and, other than that, we’ve still been on tour since you saw us last,” he drawls. Keeler shouldn’t have worried. MSTRKRFT’s tour looks like a sell-out (as of press time, tickets remain for Brisbane’s show only).

Aside from plotting a second LP, Keeler and his cohort Al-P (aka Alex Puodziukas) have busied themselves with successive remixes for Kylie Minogue (Wow), Usher (Love In This Club) and teen idol Jesse McCartney (Leavin’). They recently tweaked the soulster John Legend’s Green Light, the first taste from his Evolver.

Needless to say, arranging this interview has proven tricky. MSTRKRFT are supposed to be in Spain but 3D locates them in the UK, where Keeler is staying in a dismal hotel to rival Fawlty Towers. Mid-conversation a shrill alarm can be heard.

“What the hell was that-” Jesse hollers anxiously down the muffled line. “It made my hair stand up! I really don’t want the fire alarm to go off. Fuck! I’m unplugging everything in my room now. I hate that shit. Are they trying to get me out of the room ’cause it’s noon-”

He calls reception on another line to arrange a late check-out. The hotel conducts a fire alarm test every Monday. Jesse is chided for not being up. Ah, the rock n roll life...

Keeler was already immersed in MSTRKRFT while still officially a member of DFA1979. MSTRKRFT, conceived as a remix vehicle, released the single Easy Love on the downlow. Jesse stressed that he was no newcomer to electronica. He had DJed in Toronto – and produced house – prior to DFA1979. However, DFA1979 held off announcing their split at the behest of their label, then marketing a remix compilation.

DFA1979 were perceived as a funkier White Stripes (OK, minus the girl), with 2004’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine a cult album. Nevertheless, Keeler found himself at odds with drummer (and vocalist) Sebastien Grainger, his onetime tenant. He’s not maintained contact.

“He’s doing his own thing,” Jesse says. “I think he’s gonna have something that’ll come out in a larger way soon. We were really into different music. I’d be listening to angry dancehall, he’d be listening to Antony and The Johnsons – pretty much the antithesis of each other. Maybe that made the band interesting ’cause it was two very different people.

“We’re not friends. I’m friendly with him – if I see him, I’ll shake his hand – but I don’t care to talk to him or know what he’s doing or whatever. We decided that we’re not friends and we don’t wanna do music together. He decided first.”

Al-P, a studio engineer, was DFA1979’s “third member”. (He was also previously involved with Girls Are Short.) Al-P and Jesse were pals. Keeler’s commitment to MSTRKRFT was such that the former DFA1979 bassist rejected an offer to play on a Queens of the Stone Age LP.

MSTRKRFT issued The Looks via Modular in 2006. The duo had remixed Wolfmother’s Woman for the Aussie imprint. The Looks was (inevitably) compared to Daft Punk – in their techno incarnation. MSTRKRFT indicated that their follow-up would be darker and yet more ‘dancey’. Two years on and they’re struggling to complete it.

“Everything is written, it’s just a matter of putting it all together,” Keeler says. “We’ve been working on remixes in the midst of it. It probably would have been done a while ago if we didn’t have to keep doing remixes. We’re just on tour all the time... It’s fun, I’m not complaining at all, but it means that, when we do work, it has to be really productive – and sometimes stressful – so we don’t have room for things to be difficult.”

Jesse is vague in describing the album’s direction, simply revealing that it balances MSTRKRFT’s love of punk rock and contemporary US urban music. They’ve so far aired the track Bounce, which features streetwise rapper NORE (of Capone-n-Noreaga). If MSTRKRFT are reaching back into their punk pasts, then they’re primarily connecting to that movement as a philosophy – or sensibility – rather than musically. Indeed, Jesse doesn’t envisage them utilising traditional instruments again. In 2008 he’s all about the computer, even if that riles DFA1979 supporters – and was arguably the cause of his conflict with Grainger. Keeler is a nowist.

“Music changes with instrumentation,” he asserts. “No kid nowadays thinks, I really wanna make music, I gotta get a harp – ’cause nobody uses a harp anymore. We’re just going to see the gradual phasing out of the common rock instrument in favour of the computer.

“The reason this music that we’re making right now has become so big is that, when a kid hears something, it’s not just, ‘I like it’. It’s, ‘I wanna make that, I have to figure it out, I have to learn how to do that.’ That’s happening in a massive way. The angst and emotion that’s normally been in punk rock is now coming out in electro, because of it being so much easier to make. There’s no way that traditional instrumentation could compete with that.”

MSTRKRFT have been responsible for those high-profile (read: pop) remixes, the most surprising the Jesse McCartney. Keeler reckons that presumably many a cool DJ dropping the mix doesn’t know who the US singer is (although their buddy DJ Am does).

Why did they remix a Disney brat-

“I didn’t know who he was ’cause I don’t watch television,” Jesse confesses. “I was like, ‘Whatever. What record label is it for-’ And then it was like, ‘It’s on Disney’s record label [Hollywood Records]- OK, well, I’ll take Disney money. C’mon, let’s do it!’ So that was basically the impetus for me to do it [laughs]. I was buying a new car...”

Old punk or not, Jesse isn’t bashful in admitting to a pop fix. “I have a real issue lately with people not liking pop music,” he declares. “I don’t like it when people aren’t mature enough to just say, ‘Listen, that first Justin Timberlake solo record – it’s amazing.’ I listen to Ne-Yo sometimes. We listen to R Kelly all the time. We love pop music.

“I don’t like when people are afraid of liking something, not because of what it is, but because of what they think it represents – which isn’t about music, it’s about someone creating a sense of identity through what they associate themselves with.”

Carl Craig has dubbed Britney Spears’ Blackout as ‘techno’, horrifying purists. Jesse laughs. “Purism is really just like a brain shackle keeping you from being able to actually appreciate things.”

Image copyright: Timothy Nelson

WHAT: Play Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay / Play Killer at The Metro
WHEN: Saturday 2 August / Saturday 9 August