MSTRKRFT: Dirty Looks
- Words: Bryan Borzykowski
In the video for MSTRKRFT's first single, "Easy Love," four well-endowed women in tight business attire sit patiently in a room. After suggestively drinking four strawberry milkshakes, they individually lie down on a dentist's chair and have gallons of a pink, creamy substance dripped in their mouths in what some might call a pornographic fashion.
Jesse F. Keeler, half of the Toronto DJ/production duo (pronounced "master craft"), begs to differ. "[The girls are] drinking milkshakes, and then the milkshakes get fed to them. That's the whole fucking video," he says indignantly, as he chows down on an omelette at a Toronto restaurant. "It's only sexual if you've got that background of information for your brain to reference. A six-year-old kid is going to think it's funny, like being slimed on Nickelodeon."
It's difficult to believe that Keeler and his partner Al-P didn't intend to arouse some viewers-provocation is what they do best. Just look at the two of them: Their over-it attitude and great hair make them perfect hipster pin-ups. But their music-complete with thick basslines, aggressive drums, and thumping beats-is what's really driving their growing fanbase wild. Watching them perform conjures up some fuzzy feelings too; you get the sense that there's no dingy rock 'n' roll club that they can't turn into a sweaty, over-sexed rave.
Making hearts (and other body parts) flutter wasn't always what MSTRKRFT was about. The duo is best known for fashioning a plethora of rock remixes, tackling everything from Metric and Bloc Party to Juliette and The Licks. The twosome first garnered attention at last year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. That's when Vice released MSTRKRFT's remix of Panthers' "Thank Me With Your Hands," a track that outlined the group's remixing blueprint: no guitars or grunginess, just heavy bass and infectious house beats. It's a style some of their clients dislike.
"I don't think we've ever used anything other than vocals from any song we've been given," says Al-P. "And some people take offense to that," adds Keeler. "Vice was going to do a video for the [Panthers remix] that was basically just the singer singing and the band packing up their equipment and leaving. I think they nipped it in the bud because the band probably put up a real fight, like, 'Please don't make that video. It's our biggest song and we're not even it in it.'"
It's not uncommon for a MSTRKRFT version to fare better than the source track. Their remix of Bloc Party's "Two More Years" received more radio play than the original, and their take on Metric's "Monster Hospital" is getting tossed around the net like a helpless crowd surfer.
Keeler and Al-P's penchant for rock 'n' roll remixes is directly related to their status as reformed rockers. Al gave it up years ago (he was in Girls Are Short), but Keeler's having more trouble shedding his past. As one half of aggressive drum-and-bass-only rock duo Death From Above 1979, he's been on a bass-wielding bender for the last couple years. Although he plans to release another DFA 1979 album in the future, he's not totally happy with where the outfit is going. "[We] became an 'alternative rock' band, which I can't stand," he says of the group, which toured with NIN and Queens of the Stone Age last year. "I hate that stuff. I don't listen to it. I don't buy it. In no point in my musical progression did I like Nirvana."
No matter. Keeler thinks MSTRKRFT has the potential to be way bigger than DFA1979. "There's a way broader audience for it," he explains. "With MSTRKRFT we've already gone to places that DFA1979 never went to-like going down to Miami to play for days on end."
Their debut disc, The Looks (Last Gang), should further cement their reputation as rock-dance's new wild boys. The album is mostly house music shot with rock attitude, but it also features electro, disco, and synthesized vocals à la Daft Punk. Keeler, who grew up on soul and funk, says the record marks his return to the dancefloor. "[After Led Zeppelin]' was into punk and then gradually I got into disco," he says. "Now I'm playing techno in a club in Chicago, headbanging like a raver."
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