Put on MSTRKRFT's The Looks (Last Gang)—the debut album by the Toronto producers Al-P and Jesse F. Keeler—and you'll soon deduce these Canadians set out to do two things: chew gum and shake ass. And they're all out of gum.
It's no surprise the stash got chewed through quickly considering the studio hours logged by the pair—one-half of scorched indie-rock stompers Death From Above 1979 (that's JFK) plus DFA 1979's producer (Al-P). Sequestered in their self-built studio, MSTRKRFT (pronounced "master craft") has released work commissioned by Panthers, Annie, Metric, the Kills, Bloc Party, Wolfmother, Test Icicles, Polysics, and Juliette and the Licks, among others. For these groups, MSTRKRFT hammered galvanized pins into the rhythmic backbone, unrelentingly rode the snare like a drunk party pickup, and grafted plenty of cybertronics to sweat-beaded skin. But—left with only Pennsylvanian ephedrine, Thug Passion (Alizé and Hennessy to all non-ballas), and Mexican brass knuckles—MSTRKRFT also completed The Looks, eight tracks of pneumatic mojo rising.
"I think in terms of sexual motions, dance music is way more porno," says Keeler by phone while on a European DJ tour. "In comparison, rock is teenagers fumbling to have intercourse. Dance music just sounds bigger, while rock is limited by instrumentation."
The Looks is indeed imbued with plenty of pornstache 'tude. The disc is an accordion file of pleated and percolating synths—filter disco to make Les Rhythmes Digitales cream and the DFA pop 'n' lock. Songs are inspired by booty claps to gangsta raps. The Looks plays like make-out music for androids cruising chromatic alleys and necking in brushed-metal elevators.
"Didn't every kid who saw Star Wars have a fascination with robot kinda shit?" wonders Keeler. "Battlestar Galactica, Star Blazers, Dr. Who... I remember those.
"And of course we have been fans of the French robots [AKA Daft Punk]," continues Keeler. "The first Daft Punk album is an amazing acid record. The second is really good, too, but it's more French and sample based. We try not to use samples and make acid records."
Like the concept of robots emotionally driven to bump well-lubed hydraulics, MSTRKRFT is conflicted. While Keeler may profess his undying digital love and several cuts play out like Daft Punk fan fiction, The Looks proves you can take the man out of the band but not the band out of the man. What Keeler calls MSTRKRFT's "struggle" is carried out much like a band, with compositions that unfurl slowly as crunchy, stuttering jams with robo-funk fills, not just loops stuck on eternal repeat. And yet Keeler considers MSTRKRFT unrestricted by the band format: They play parties, not shows and they produce tracks, not songs. Pitched at several speeds, the tracks on The Looks allow for different feels, different shuffles.
"Every song is conceptually for a different DJ we know," reveals Keeler. "One from Miami, Toronto, Chicago, England, New York. So [The Looks] turned out more like a collection of 12-inches than a long player in the traditional sense, but it makes it a real party record, as after a half hour it might not sound like the same record. It may be tech house that needs to be played slower, or a breaks record to be played faster. We do a lot of edits, cutting vocals or staggering what would loop."
Keeler loves dance-music production because of what he considers its infinite possibilities. However, he adamantly tries to avoid injecting a false sense of importance into the music.
"My girlfriend and I were watching American Idol, and judge Randy critiqued this one girl as having 'the looks' but not the talent," says Keeler. "So we laughed at this intangible thing 'the looks' that can be good or bad, and later it became [our] album title. Because if you think about it, it doesn't mean anything, especially in terms of our album.
"[Al-P and I are] dudes that drink a lot of beer and get thrown out of bars," continues Keeler. "So we do lots of things that mean nothing, are just for fun. Why intellectualize things done when intoxicated? It's not honest. This music isn't about what we look like or a deep statement on how the music industry looks or anything; it's about what we can make the dance floor look like, which is full."firstname.lastname@example.org