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Unwinding the Mysteries and Misconceptions of MSTRKRFT

Canada’s electro pioneers are coming back from a hiatus and are ready to change the game—again.
May 13, 2014, 11:40pm

We had a very cozy and lighthearted Skype call with none other than Jesse F. Keeler and Al Puodziukas, the men behind the Canadian electro duo MSTRKRFT. Topics ranged from where they've been, why they left, what's the plan now that they're coming back, and their take on the current state of electronic music.

THUMP: What's up guys, how's it going? Nice picture.
Jessie: What is it?

It's just you with a ski mask and I think an M16 and bunch of guns.
J: [Laughs], yeah that's a few years old now.

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Amazing. So you guys haven't really put out any music in over three years, and prior to that, you guys hadn't put out a full-length album in almost five. Where have you been?
J: Okay, so first with corrections. The last time we put out a record was in 2009, that's how old Heartbreaker is. That's five years.

Yeah.
J: Wow. That's five years. Wait… wow yeah, five years.

So what have you guys been doing over the past couple years?
J: After we released our last record, Fist of God, we did a bunch of things we wanted to do. We played live on David Letterman, we headlined the Sahara tent at Coachella and we were on tour for a long time, but that record wasn't what wanted to make.

We had a lot of influence and pressure on us to make something that would be more poppy, shit with vocals and stuff like that—which is fine, but it was sort of foreign to us. I got to know Al as an engineer from recording punk bands and our tastes and the record that we made were very different. I guess we got stuck in a loop that we didn't really want to be in. Then the scene of dance music that we were put in was becoming more and more commercial and it wasn't what we wanted to do. Rather than complain we just sort of stopped; when we would get asked to play shows we would just say no.

I don't want to sound like, Well we weren't having fun at your parties so we left the scene because that's not what it's about. People have different tastes. I like jungle, but I didn't go to jungle raves.

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We just stopped taking offers. We told people that we were not available to play and then really just took advantage of the time to figure out what we want to do. In a way, you have to die before you can be reborn. In order to get the creative license that we wanted to have with our music we needed to get rid of everybody that we worked with. We asked most of the record labels if they could please release us from our contracts. We didn't want to get stuck in that same cycle again.

Then we spent the time to figure out how to do the stuff that we actually wanted to do. Now we have a new management that is happy with us doing things our way. They're supportive and understand our creative choices. So here we are again.

With that being said, you guys are scheduled to drop a new album this year, so, what can we expect other than jungle?
Al: We were scheduled?

Well, there have been rumors that a new album was going to drop.
A: Well, yeah, we are working on a new record.

J: When it comes out, we'll be somewhat at the mercy of the record labels, but we'll be done this year—well I hope [laughs]. I hope they'll put it out this year but I don't know.

What are the kinds of projects are you guys working on right now?
A: I think part of the reason we took that break was because when we first started making this kind of music it was because we felt like in a way we could do it better. And we could do it the way we wanted to, which is with a real punk rock aesthetic.

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J: We thought we had something to add, you know? Like to the palette of things that were there. And then, in time [laughs].

A: In time, the palette of things just became bad. We're really trying to recapture that time where we were just doing what we wanted to do instead of being reactive to what was happening around us. We want to make the record that we're interested in making instead of trying to fit in anywhere. A lot of that has to do with how we're making this record, which is much more—well pretty much exclusively machine based.

J: We figured out how to make a record without really using a computer and it's been way more fun. The reason why we were hesitant to talk about it is because if we were ready, we wouldn't be DJing, we would be showing up with machines. It's just funny timing because we were hoping to be done by now, but somebody tried to steal all of our gear, and we had to fight, and make a deal with them. I wish I was making all of this up but we wasted a month getting our gear back.

That being said; we're just working with machines now and it's way more fun. We're musicians, I'm still in a band, Al and I met in bands and we can play. We can play our drum machines and our synthesizers and everything else, and make music that way.

I find that when we're working in a computer, it makes a lot of things easier for you to do, but then you kind of end up going back and having to add variation where there wasn't, where the computer doesn't create it for you. You know what I mean?

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I think the problem now is that we might actually have too much variation. But I guess the record will prove whether or not that statement's true.

It's funny that you guys were speaking about the pressures within the industry because dance music has changed a lot since 2009 and when MSTRKRFT was playing at Coachella. What's your take on, and excuse me for using the word, but "EDM?"
J: I think everyone involved understands what's going on. There's suddenly a fucking ton of money to make off of everything, and people are trying to find a way to bring it all together, so it wouldn't just be a bunch of insular scenes because that's how it was before. The way people play it now, the sounds and everything involved are all over the place. So in that sense I think EDM was a positive thing for everyone, especially the kids who are just getting into it now. They sort of see the full palette of sounds and ideas all at once. They're not just like "Oh that's house music" or "Oh that's techno" or "I can't make that type of sound in this song cause it doesn't make sense." Everything makes sense, which is cool.

But on the flip side, whenever you have the possibility of making easy money by copying what is already happening, you'll have a lot of people doing that. I feel like EDM is a genre now and not so much a concept.

If you look at the difference between the more commercial side of EDM compared to what MSTRKRFT used to do, it's definitely two very different sounds.
J: I had a particularly weird moment years ago, when we had finished Fist of God. I met David Guetta, and he said that he really liked our record and I was thinking to myself Fuck. I guess we accidentally went down a road we didn't intend on going down.

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Is that what you guys are trying to avoid with this new project, with the new MSTRKRFT?
J: You know what the nice thing is? We don't have to try at all to avoid it. When we just make the stuff that gets us excited, that we think is cool, that we enjoy making—it doesn't sound anything like that. The new feel is awesome and I think what we're doing now is the best music we've ever made by far.

So, you guys are getting back on the road for
J: A little bit.

A: Not really

For a mini-road tour, let's say.
A: The two dates we're coming for are kind of exceptions in the sense that the gig in Montreal is an anniversary party.

J: They're both anniversary parties [laughs].

A: Yeah, that's what I'm saying, they're both anniversary parties. I Love Neon found out we were playing our ex-record label's anniversary party [laughs]. It's like going to your ex-girlfriend's wedding or something. Neon asked us since we're already playing around that time if we wanted to come play Montreal for their anniversary and we liked the idea of that.

J: We said to them, "Is it going to be okay when we just play a lot of techno?" And they said, "That would be awesome."

A: So for us there is no tour, there is no back on the road. These are two isolated parties that we're doing. It's just in the mix of working on this album.

Can you guys tell us a bit about the label you're releasing on? Is this new project coming out on Dim Mak?
J: No, Dim Mak are the people we got away from.

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A: At this point we're fully independent and financing the production ourselves. We're just trying to first make the record before we decide on the label, this way we can make it to our own satisfaction. We will see whoever's interested at that point and judge if they can come on board then.

J: If it helps any young kids out there who are just getting their start in this business they should know to finish their record before they start working with a record label. That way the label gets to decide whether or not they like what you make, rather than trying to influence what you make as you go. We got a lot of bizarre influences when we were getting started.

Do you guys think that the way SoundCloud has popped up, and the way artists have been able to come out independently as compared to before, allows for a bit more diversity? Are you happy to see the ability for younger guys to put out independent records and kind of pop off?
J: Well, fuck yes. It's amazing. SoundCloud reminds me of when we had MySpace but it didn't sound nearly as good. It only worked three out of the four times and you could only have four songs or whatever. The ability to put your music up like that was huge. That was like the moment that everything changed and SoundCloud is the logical place where that idea went. Now it's like we don't need any of that other shit, here's the music, you put it up and everyone's tracks look the same, so it's just about the sound. Although sometimes I wish you could put up a dummy waveform so they can't look at it and be like, Oh there's a break.

A: Can't just click to the spot.

J: Oh I want to go to the part where the song comes in. Have it be like super confusing or just like a picture of I don't know, a fish swimming or something. Just something where you can respond and say, No, no, no, you're going to have to listen to it to find out what happens. You can't see it. No looking!

Are you guys excited to come back to play in Montreal?
J: We can't wait to play in Montreal. Toronto will see this and be disappointed, but I'm happy that we get to play in Montreal first. I feel like Montreal has always been more understanding of our nerdiness [laughs]. We've always gotten a lot weirder up there than we have down here.

You can catch MSTRKRFT in Montreal on May 18th at Societe Des Arts Technologieques.