The term “rock star DJ” is tossed around quite often in the electronic music world, but let’s face it: How many of these deck-helming figures are actually rock stars? Consisting of Jesse F. Keeler and Al-P, Canadian dance-punk/electro duo MSTRKRFT falls under that umbrella. When Keeler’s not performing or making contributions to dirty electro bangers such as “Fist of God,” he’s making ears ring as the bassist and keyboard player of noise punk band Death From Above 1979. MSTRKRFT dropped its first album in seven years, Operator, in July, and it marks a departure from the typical DJ set and puts emphasis on the live setting.
Operator is MSTRKRFT’s third album, but its first in seven years. What took so long?
Keeler: Life decided it would come in and make releasing records complicated; Life decided it would eat up calendar time. There was a bunch of other shit we had to do, but we were working on it for a while. We toured on the last album [2009’s Fist of God] until 2011, then my other band [Death From Above 1979] got back together that year. We toured the world, made a record and finished up in 2013. At the end of that year, MSTRKRFT started working on this album. Previously, I didn’t have any other commitments, so it was easier for me to work on one thing full-time. But my time’s been divided the past two years and we just wrote when we were able to.
Al-P: Yeah, we started in 2013, so for us, really, that gap of time wasn’t as great as it is from people on the outside.
The album favors a live band approach rather than just a DJ set. What prompted this shift?
Keeler: We needed to be personally entertained and challenged. I’ve been DJIng for more than 20 years. It’s been very fun, and I love doing it, but it satisfies a different part of your brain. We got into music through being musicians playing in bands, and we missed that level of creativity when performing. The way this record was made—the concept we wanted to flesh out before we made any more music—was that we wanted to perform these songs with the same gear used to make the record. It’s normal for a band, and it’s not unusual for whatever the fuck it is we’re doing, but we wanted to make sure we could play everything live. Lots of times the electronic guys who play “live” just have a laptop.
Al-P: And some buttons.
Keeler: Right. We want to be able to improvise, and make it a new experience. We’ve been touring with the setup, so we’ve got to experience songs live through and through. It’s absolutely been the most interesting, rewarding and fucked-up experience playing these in front of people. Time just flies onstage, but it’s been fun.
How do you pull it off live?
Al-P: We’ve got a main drum machine, the TR-909, and two supplementary ones: the TR-707 and TR-808. Then we’ve got two modular setups with a mixer, one reverb and one delay. That’s it. That’s the exact gear we used to record the record, and that’s what we’re using live. As Jesse mentioned, we went into the album placing importance on wanting to play these songs live.
How do you feel about the so-called “Bloghaus resurgence?”
Keeler: That word is funny. When we first started, that term didn’t exist. It was just us, Justice, Boys Noize, Simian Mobile Disco and Digitalism. We all had to be friends because we had nobody else to be friends with. Nobody asked us to play clubs, let alone festivals, and some bands wouldn’t even want to get near us. We weren’t invited to anything. Gradually, our kind of sound got popular, and at the same time we branched out; we played several bills with artists where it would seem inappropriate. Then lots of music along those lines got made and—boom—Bloghaus. It would’ve been helpful if that world existed when we started; it wouldn’t have been such a struggle to get people to give a shit. I remember in the beginning, we toured with people such as John Digweed. There was no other fucking way.
Oddly enough, when that Bloghaus world blew up, we had kind of moved to a spot where we weren’t involved with that anyway. We were playing massive spaces and huge festivals. We’d bring people such as Congorock, the Bloody Beetroots and Felix Cartal to America and force them to play in front of people. We still do.
You’ve been to Las Vegas numerous times before. What’s your most memorable moment?
Al-P: In August 2008, we were already on a bizarre tour, and things just got weirder. We played at Jet Nightclub, and our friend, the guy who ran the house that night, came up to us after our set and asked, “Do you guys want to play again? We don’t have any more money to give you, but if you can, it would be a raging party.” That set ended up being fucking amazing.
Keeler: Yeah, I remember girls were jumping off the bar crowd surfing, and there were so many bottles of Champagne being tossed around.
Al-P: Where are we playing this time?
You’re playing September 2 at the Bunkhouse Saloon Downtown.
Keeler: Oh, man, Old Vegas. We have to have drinks at the Glitter Gulch. Last time we were there, they tried giving us a bullshit rule about a two-drink minimum, and we thought that was totally fine. Little did we know, the drinks were 99 percent whiskey.
Al-P: It was more like three shots in a Big Gulp cup.
Keeler: Yeah. Last time it was “give them as much whiskey as you can and hope they pull it off.” Anyway, as fun as it is to walk through Disneyland. Sometimes [Vegas’] dirt is better
With Woolymammoth, Midnight Affair, DJ Wizdumb, Personal Touch and Astrogold.
$15-$20, 8 p.m., Sept. 2, Bunkhouse Saloon, BunkhouseDowntown.com.