By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
One of the first production projects to team Alex Puodziukas and Jesse F. Keeler, who partner in the dance-music duo MSTRKRFT, was rejected long before anyone could hear it.
The pair had known each other from the Toronto punk scene for several years when Keeler, then in a group called Death From Above, asked Puodziukas to remix a cut called "Sexy Results." Puodziukas subsequently created "a killer club track," albeit one that utilized what he refers to as "micro-samples" — snippets chopped so fine that figuring out their original source is virtually impossible. But size didn't matter to the lawyers at DFA's label. Puodziukas "slipped up" and revealed the song's ingredients, and "no matter how small the sample is, if they know it's there, they're afraid to touch it." So he had to start from scratch, and do it quickly. "It was like, 'Fuck, just get 'er done. Get it done and get paid!'" he says after admitting that the results weren't as sexy the second time around as they'd been in the beginning.
Fortunately, this originality requirement paid dividends down the line. Puodziukas and Keeler developed an accessible yet edgy club sound that quickly made them one of the most in-demand production crews in the music business; their enormously eclectic collection of credits includes Usher, Wolfmother, Chromeo and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, whose new single, "Zero," is the most recent number to get the MSTRKRFT treatment. They won a plum assignment to remix Britney Spears's "Radar," too, but they never completed the job, partly because of their busy schedule — although Keeler concedes there was another factor as well. "When we got pretty much done with her remix, we were like, 'Ah, shit, we didn't really use any of her music or anything,'" he notes, laughing. "That was the real problem."
The two also make their own albums, and their latest, Fist of God, is a scorcher whose beats are supplemented by cameos courtesy of Ghostface Killah ("Word Up"), E-40 ("Click Click") and John Legend ("Heartbreaker"), among others. As for N.O.R.E., his rap-anthem background didn't quite prepare him for the intricacies that characterize "Bounce," one of Fist's punchiest moments. "He found the synthesizers confusing, so we turned them all off," Keeler recalls. "He tracked with just the drums, and when he heard the final product, he said, 'Oh shit!' — especially when we were in a club and he saw everyone going crazy."
Granted, Puodziukas still wishes they could use samples. "Who knows what we could come up with?" he asks. But better to write their own stuff than to have to spend a lot of time with lawyers.