MSTRKRFT: Touched by the Fist of God

Photography by Geoff McLean
Text by Jorge Hernandez

MSTRKRFT’s Jesse F. Keeler’s voicemail goes something like this: “I can’t take this, because I’m doing something important, so text or email. And if you’re one of those people that hangs up before the tone, don’t bother calling back ‘cause I’ve already deleted you.” A piquant summation of both MSTRKRFT’s attitude and music.

The Toronto punk-techno duo is all about the big, bad gesture: “Throwing a million hatchets into the audience,” as JFK says. Their analog beats are hard, loud, crammed with epic riffs and massive hooks. That’s how they like it, and how they think you should like it. “It may sound arrogant,” they concede, “but from DJing we’ve developed ideas about what people should be listening to.” Critics and fans listened and liked what they heard in their 2006 breakout The Looks.

On the new release, Fist of God, some fans do more than listen—they contribute. John Legend, Ghostface Killah, E-40 and N.O.R.E. are just some of the guests in the mix—friends earned through years of production work and nights of bombastic turntable antics. “E-40’s son (producer Droop-E) is a fan of ours. With Ghostface, we bought him some bling and he did it,” JFK laughs.

If you scratch just a little deeper, the cross-genre collaborations feel almost inevitable. JFK was previously in Death From Above 1979, the thrash-funk band that had hipsters creaming in their skinny jeans. Explaining the transition, he says, “DJing is more punk than punk ever was; it’s the most DIY thing.” Just before DFA79 broke, JFK was making Latin-flavored House for Toronto pals, like Jo Jo Flores, and his early DJ crates were packed with Hip Hop. “I’m into all kinds of music,” he says. “My dad played with early Steppenwolf and Parliament. My cousin, who was a big raver, got me into Jungle/Drum n’ Bass. Lately DJ AM has been teaching me to scratch, which I think is more of a trip for him.”

The other half of MSTRKRFT, AL P (Alex Puodziukas), lives just a few blocks from JFK. He is equally expansive in his musical reach. As part of Girlsareshort, he diddled around with electropop—the blippy, chimey stuff that skitters and wafts through your earholes like warm butter-vapor. He also lived in NYC, recording Jay-Z and Wyclef Jean at major domo studios like Chung King. JFK snickers, “His cousin is in a DJ competition. It should be a trip, ‘cause it’s going to be mostly turntablists, but he plays House.” An empathic disco devotee outnumbered by scratch-happy technique fetishists? MSTRKRFT’s penchant for confrontation is clearly contagious.

Their “base” is a high-tech bunker choked with variegated gear—a Wurlitzer organ and MKS 80 synthesizer stand aside guitars and bass—yet, as explosive as their energy is in the studio, the best way to experience their particular brand of vibration is while they’re on stage or in the booth. From their genesis, MSTRKRFT has rocked muddy festivals and dingy basements alike: “Bonaroo was our favorite. We played between Metallica and Tiesto. People went crazy!” Wherever you catch them, be forewarned: come hard or go home.