The duo. COURTESY OF MSTRKRFT

MSTRKRFT is an electronic duo consisting of Toronto locals Jesse F. Keeler and Alex Puodziukas, better known by their monikers JFK and Al-P. Their iconic use of modular synthesisers and the Roland 909 drum machine has allowed them to produce several mainstay hits, such as “Heartbreaker,” released in 2009.

Since then, the pair have capitalized on the electro house genre stemming from the late 2000s. They have maintained their cult presence within the music industry and will release their forthcoming album Operator on July 22.

Few independent artists have the financial means to produce a record without the financial support of labels. The recording industry is a ludicrous business, and creative expression is reliant on budgets. For this reason, JFK and Al-P of MSTRKRFT funded the entirety of Operator through means of their own. 

“We were more concerned with making a record that we felt strongly about, that we wanted to listen to ourselves. I mean, between me and Jesse, we’re aware of what’s going on around us, and I guess maybe the stylistic direction that Operator took was just filling a gap of what we wanted to hear, but we weren’t hearing. Ultimately, the record was something we wanted to make for our own enjoyment.”

According to Al-P, “this record specifically, it had a self-imposed production schedule, and we financed it ourselves. While we were making it, we didn’t have to answer to anybody. That’s part of the reason why it took as long as it did, but I don’t regret it. We made the record before we had a record deal. We weren’t sure where it was going to end up. It allowed us to focus on the record itself, and not worry about responding to emails, wondering where the record was.”

The pair used a naturalized recording process throughout the production of the record. Traditionally, recording is done by tracking each instrument independently according to the predetermined arrangement of the composition. This leaves the majority of a track’s construction to digital production techniques, by way of editing and mixing. While it does allow for more experimentation and modification in the name of perfection, this mode is far less organic than live performances.

Each synthesiser in the duo’s arrangements fed audio into a mixer, which together created what listeners will hear on the record. “We needed to do that — that’s part of what kept us from making any records in the last couple of years. We were trying to figure out the best way to work. The thing we missed so much was playing instruments, and wanting to figure out how all these tools to make this music could really be instruments to play… This was the perfect way for us to work. Ever since we got into this mode, our output is just ridiculous. We just keep working.”

Working with a record label does not necessarily impose as many limitations as independent artists often imply. According to Al-P of MSTRKRFT, “it’s dramatic how much they can accomplish for you.” Record labels provide more than just the means to produce an album. Often, administrative tools that are lent to emerging talent can facilitate international recognition.

At the end of the day, Jesse reminds young artists that when it comes to the label system, “You don’t need it, really — ultimately those people will come find you anyway. We started a long time ago, and just ended up in the label system early on. Once you get in it, it’s hard to work away from it.”

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