Canadian Music Week 2005 at various venues, Thursday through Saturday (March 3-5). See club listings for complete showcase information. Individual shows free-$26.50, wristbands $30, available through Ticketmaster (416-870-8000, www.ticketmaster.ca). Note: some shows have limited wristband access. Check www.cmw.net for further conference event information, details and updates.
MSTRKRFT with TRICKY WOO , FROM FICTION , LOVELY FEATHERS and OCTOBER GUARD as part of CMW at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (March 4). $10 advance, limited wristband access. 416-532-1598, www.cmw.net.
It's amazing to think it's only been a year and a half since Al-P and Jesse F. Keeler first conceptualized their MSTRKRFT project. While even the bigger names in dance music can't stop complaining about waning record sales and a troubled industry, the local production duo have taken off at a dramatic pace.
Nobody's more surprised by their success than the MSTRKRFT members themselves.
"Our someday-in-the-distant-future plan turned into the eight-months-after-starting plan," laughs Keeler, whom many know from noise-rock duo Death from Above 1979, over pints as the pair recover from a series of U.S. DJ gigs.
"At first we were just going to build a studio and do remixes, with a longer-term goal of someday making our own songs."
As it turned out, impressed by MSTRKRFT's deft hand with a series of remixes for high-profile (and heavily hyped) acts, the Last Gang label offered the duo a record deal, and a full-length MSTRKRFT album is slated for release this spring.
Though the plethora of remixes they've done for rock bands might suggest that the upcoming disc will be in that dance rock style, if you've caught any of MSTRKRFT's recent DJ sets you'll realize they're much more interested in full-fledged dance music. Their sound is big and thick, aggressive but also musical, with electro elements, glimpses of big-room house and lots of disco references.
Keeler and Al-P may both have been outsiders to the house music community, but they share a genuine respect for the music as well as the art of DJing.
They're most excited when talking about the feelings a good night at a club can evoke: the sound of the bass outside a party, the flood of steam and music that hits you when you open the door.
"On my own, I've pretty much only made dance music," Keeler explains. "I fell in love with it in high school, and my parents were always really into funk and disco when I was a kid. My dad used to tell me that if I couldn't clap my hands in time he'd question whether or not I was his son."
A cousin introduced him to drum 'n' bass, which dominated his Walkman for a while; later, the same cousin turned him on to soulful house and garage. In fact, if his timing had been slightly different, we might actually know Jesse Keeler as a Latin house producer.
"I kept putting dance music on hold because I had certain rock music goals I wanted to achieve for personal reasons. Right when the first Death from Above record came out, I was making Latin house in my spare time, and Gotsoul Recordings out of Montreal was interested in releasing a 12-inch. I got so busy with the band that I never finished it."
Al-P, who discovered his affinity for club music only a few years ago, seems to have approached the genre as a technical exercise, motivated by an appreciation of the production techniques of dance music.
"I listened to what I could get but didn't try to infiltrate the community. When I made the decision to start making dance music, I worked on a record pretty seriously for six months - waking up, getting coffee and sitting at the computer making tracks all day, whether I felt like it or not. Nothing ever came of it, but I got a feel for working that way."
All of which makes MSTRKRFT's sudden success even more striking. Al-P explains that when he and Keeler first started the project, they realized they'd have to be prepared to record pretty much anything - indie acts, rap artists, commercial jingles - until they had a firm foundation.
"That's how we approached building the studio and the business," he says. "But within half a year we were getting paid enough for remixes that we didn't have to take on any work we didn't want. Eight months in, we'd signed our record deal as artists, which basically afforded us the luxury of not having to do anything else."
It's a dance music producer's wet dream, and generally unheard of. Granted, MSTRKRFT did have an edge over your average bedroom beatmakers, due to the notoriety of Death from Above 1979, whose critically acclaimed You're A Woman, I'm A Machine album was produced by Al-P.
But despite that hype-by-association, their first commissioned remix (of the Panthers' Thank Me With Your Hands) almost didn't come out.
"Vice [the Panthers' label] didn't want it and didn't want to pay for it at first," Keeler recalls. "But eventually, after a bunch of other people listened to it and mentioned they liked the track, Vice decided it was okay. They did a compilation for SXSW, and it was the first track. I ended up hearing it at every party I went to during the festival."
The success of that first track led to a flood of remix requests from acts like Annie, the Kills, Bloc Party, Metric, Juliette & the Licks, Die Mannequin and many more.
Their remixes ' popularity led to offers of DJ gigs, a new mode of performance for both of them. Al-P admits he's only been DJing for six months; Keeler had only played at home pre-MSTRKRFT.
You may have bad memories of paying good money to hear a producer DJ badly. Fortunately, MSTRKRFT have approached the craft of DJing with the same intensity and seriousness as they have production, and they spin a pretty tight set of big chunky dance music.
"If I couldn't mix I wouldn't feel comfortable calling myself a DJ," explains Al-P. "Being a selector is one thing, but mixing it together presents it so much better. I don't want to play live sets, because that's not how I picture the music being presented when we're making it. I see it being played by a DJ, in a club, for people who want to dance."