I ran into Jesse F. Keeler of MSTRKRFT last Friday at Camp Bisco. He had just driven from Toronto and was slated to play a 90 minute set during the Biscuits set break. That got cut to 75 minutes, the food sucked, and there were no good mixers for booze. Jesse found the bright side of everything and hung out for an awesome 30 minute interview and answered my starry-eyed questions. Enjoy!

Fuzzy Duck: What are you going to play tonight?

JFK: All reggaeton. Actually, pretty much what Al and I played in Europe. As it is me alone today, I don’t want to take any chances. Whereas if Al were here, I would take a lot of chances.

FD: Why’s that?

JFK: Well, for example, I got this awesome song from ’99 today and I ended up getting someone to send me a WAV. I’m like, “I’m gonna play it.” Then I started editing it, and getting scared, and I’m like, “I can’t do it.” Just in case it fucks up, I’d have to fix it by myself and I’m only playing with two hands – I’m used to playing with four.

FD: Why is DJ’ing moving towards more people on the same setup?

JFK: Well, you can do a lot more the more hands you have, basically. But then you can go watch an old Jeff Mills set from years ago where he plays on four turntables and no headphones. How do you keep track of that shit? In his mind, it’s all perfect. Total genius. All those black Christian guys are amazing at DJ’ing – they’re not confused by partying at all and they’re genuinely just there for music.

FD: What about Detroit techno has influenced you?

JFK: It’s much more familiar, as it was the first techno I was ever exposed to. Detroit is only a quick two-hour drive from Toronto. Everyone who came through was either from Detroit or Chicago. I’ve seen DJ Sneak play in rooms this small. Everyone would always come through to play in a small, intimate setting. That’s how I heard the music first and it still has a huge emotional effect on me… because it makes me feel like a teenager.

FD: Is that your definition of good music?

JFK: That it has an emotional effect? Yeah – whether it makes you so angry you want to smash your own face and everyone else’s face, or take your fucking clothes off. Whatever the end result is, negative or positive, it doesn’t matter to me.

FD: So, from DFA to MSTRKRFT, punk to dance, how has that affected your music over the years?

JFK: Well, I started making dance music in about ’95 when I decided I had to figure out how to do this. I had ideas, but I was a traditional instrumentalist. When you try to apply that to dance music, you’re very restricted and faced with a massive learning curve initially. But as for making emotionally-charged music, I don’t think that’s ever changed. When I first got a job DJ’ing, many many years ago, the goal was to make everyone go crazy. How do you make a party? That’s the most rewarding thing, and it’s sort of intangible. How do you go to a room half-full of people to a packed party where everyone’s going crazy? You’re not essentially doing anything different from the person before you – you’re organizing and playing records. It’s hard to say, but I just applied the same sort of ideas that I would to writing a song to DJ’ing.

FD: So how do you do it? How do you go up and kill this party right here?

JFK: This is gonna sound really lame, but, “How do painters choose what colors to use?” That’s really all it is. You have a big palate to use, and you either know what to use or you don’t. It’s all qualitative judgments. My goal is always to make things better and change the intensity level. If I want to play something in three tracks, I need to bring it to a place where I’ll achieve the impact that I want. Whereas if I played that song I want to get to right now, it wouldn’t be the same. Like doing graffiti, you have to be conscious of what contrasting lighter and darker colors you put on top of each other. It’s just like how you paint.

FD: You’ve put you two singles from your upcoming LP and they’ve already been huge.

JFK: Yeah – I only want to make huge tracks. I try very hard and work tirelessly to try and avoid making anything but huge tracks. My parents always give me shit about it – they ask, “Why don’t you make album tracks? Why don’t you save something for the next record? Don’t play it all at once,” is what my Mom says to me. “You just made a bunch of singles and put them on an album.”

I was reading this really great article about the first Led Zepplin record. The author explained how everyone bought the album for a particular song and that it was too much of a hassle to take the needle off, so you end up listening to the rest of the album. You kill one side for a long time and discover another song on the other side and kill that side. Nobody does that anymore because we don’t have LP’s. Fast-forwarding and rewinding is as convenient as it could ever possibly be. I have no patience anymore. Someone sends me a track and I can immediately hear whether or not I like it.

FD: How many tracks do you get each day and what do you do to filter through them?

JFK: I probably get about 40. At this point, I judge the tracks by who sends them to me and the adjectives used to describe them.

FD: What are some good buzzwords?

JFK: To be honest, I don’t know how many tracks we’ve received in promo that we’ve actually played. Most of the songs we play are made by our friends. So I heard Daniel from LA Riots play his “NASA Music” remix and I’m like, “Wow, that’s fuckin’ awesome. I’m gonna play that all the time. Hey, can I have that? Yes, here it is. Perfect.” Or Lazaro Casanova remixed by Felix Cartal. “Holy shit, you really pulled one out of the bag, Felix. I’m gonna play that every fuckin’ day.” But it extends much further than that. A lot of UK and European artists that we’ve become friends with, who don’t come over to North America more than maybe once a year, we support their music so that people over here hear it. We really just play music by our friends now. So if I see my friend’s name involved in a promo that comes along, I’ll take it just so I can hear it – whether or not I play it is questionable. All of us who make good music are on a world tour every day all the time. Because it’s night-time at a nightclub somewhere in the world and tracks within that fraternity of DJ’s is better than any promo list.

Let’s say a marketing guy gives you a song and says it’s awesome, you’ll probably wait and give it a minute. The only judgment you should make is whether or not you yourself think it’s awesome. But if one of your friends that you respect & like a lot of the same music gives you a song they think is awesome, you’ll listen to it right away. Even still, you listen to it with different ears. It’s like, once you start having sex with a really pretty girl in school, all the other pretty girls are like, “That guy can have sex with pretty girls. I’m pretty and I should have sex with him too.”

FD: What are two songs of the summer that you want to hear played out everywhere?

JFK: The rap thing would be to just say two MSTRKRFT songs. But DJ’ing has hit a weird time right now. I’m talking to Daniel from LA Riots right now: how many new songs have you heard that you’ve started to play?

Daniel: Maybe two. Songs are shitty nowadays.

JFK: Because everyone is trying to reinvent themselves. Some people are doing it successfully, and some horribly. Actually, one song I want to hear all summer is “Afrojacker” by Sinden and Herve. They call themselves Machines Don’t Care for that project. There’s something else that I really liked, but I can’t remember right now.

FD: So what about yours? What are you working on right now?

JFK: We’re working on a whole album of awesome. The album is actually called “A Whole Album of Awesome.”

Daniel: You hear that new Laidback Luke and A-Trak tune? “Shake It Down?”

JFK: Yeah, it’s really good, but I’m so shocked that everyone is going prog.

FD: What’s your favorite part about touring?

JFK: Eating in different places. Al and I have a favorite restaurant in every major city in the world.

Daniel: What’s you’re favorite Albany restaurant?

JFK: I said every major city. But many years ago with Black Cat #13, we were coming through Albany and stopped to eat at an Indian restaurant and it was actually quite good.

FD: What about New York City?

JFK: What’s the name of that steakhouse? DelFrisco’s. It’s in a hotel or some really cheesy spot, but it’s amazing. But we never end up properly eating in New York. We’ll eat proper dinners, but nothing before that. Someone will take us to Nobu or somewhere very expensive, “someone taking us” being the operative phrase.

FD: What would be your advice to a DJ that wants to make music and be heard?

JFK: You have to make really good music. Everything falls after making really good music. This is the best time for music; because when you make good music, someone will find it and champion it for you. That’s it.

There’s this kid from England named Foamo. He had a friend who he showed his tracks to, who happens to be a DJ in Sheffield whom I’ve been communicating with for years. His track made its way to us that way and we thought it was awesome. We got asked by a magazine in the UK to give a top 10 and we put his track at the #1 spot. That kid is doing remixes now – DJ’ing for a living – just because he made really good music. I asked him if he DJ’s – not really. Same with Felix Cartal. The first dance record he ever had was “The Looks.”

FD: How’d you learn that?

JFK: I sought him out. His songs were really good and I wanted to meet him. So I started talking to him, realized he was a child from Vancouver, and that he’s really talented. He made good music, and that’s all he had to do. He got asked to DJ, never having DJ’ed before, and asked me what to do. I said, “Buy Ableton. Get a controller. This is how you use it.” And now I go see him and I’m so impressed. But you have to make good music. It’s no different from rock music – The Doors were the house band at a bar, the Whisky A Go-Go. If you keep making good music, people will notice. And you don’t want to DJ forever without making tracks, because then you’re just a DJ. But when you’re a DJ and a producer, it makes for a more evolving story for your booking agent to sell to the nightclub. In this day and age, you don’t have to wait for a record label to pay attention. The A&R is a dead idea. You can exist on nothing but fan response.

Many thanks to Jesse, Daniel, Laz, Mike, and Adrian for giving me the time for this interview.



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