After passing by the festival tent and strolling down a closed Spring Garden over the weekend, it was time for the first of many nights at the TD Canada Trust Atlantic Jazz Festival.
Every year the festival deals Haligonians a wild card. Two years ago, it was the Stereolab meets My Bloody Valentine sounds from electronic wizard Manitoba, now known as Caribou. It was one of the best shows of the summer. In 2005, the festival brought sultry, buzz-worthy pop-jazz singer Keren Ann in a standing room-only show at the Commons Room at the Holiday Inn Select.
This year, the Jazz Fest teamed up with the Halifax Pop Explosion festival to bring fast-rising Toronto DJ duo MSTRKRFT (pronounced Mastercraft) to the Attic. What a coup for both the Jazz Festival and Pop Explosion. MSTRKRFT (AKA Jesse Keeler and Al Puodziukas) were set to release its amazing new record "The Looks" the next day. The duo is also about to be Canada’s contemporary version of the Chemical Brothers. They’re that good. Add to the bill DFA records’ – home to LCD Soundsystem, former home of The Rapture – Juan Maclean and Lazaro Casanova, and you have not only one of the most interesting shows at the Jazz Festival, but one of the best electronic bills in Halifax this year.
The line for tickets at 10:30 p.m. made it apparent that others thought so too. Two things impressed me: 1) A few hundred people showed up for a dance show on a Monday evening (I had to remind myself it wasn’t a Saturday night about 20 times). 2) Parked outside the door sat a massive, rock ‘n roll style tour bus that would put any Trius Coach Tour, and most of my friends’ apartments, to shame. This was impressive for the sake that anyone who knows electronic music knows that you have to be pretty special to be a DJ that travels Spinal Tap style.
Rumours that MSTRKRFT’s label printed a million copies of "The Looks" for worldwide distribution set the bar pretty high for the DJs to reach. After energetic sets from Casanova and Maclean, the duo took to the stage at 12:30 a.m. to prove all the accolades they’ve earned the past year were deserved.
By this time, spectators packed the dance floor with all eyes on the two men who looked like extras from CLERKS II. Keeler, who also is one-half of the cult dance-metal band Death From Above 1979 sported an old school Blue Jays cap, a “Trust Me, I’m A Lawyer” t-shirt with a large shark on it, along with an overly-ironic handlebar moustache. Not coincidentally, there were more than a few similar moustaches in the crowd. Meanwhile, Puodziukas appeared like any other of the college kids in attendance. Not very glamourous for a couple of guys traveling on a big and shiny, fully accommodated bus.
Everything changed when the needle dropped, however. MSTRKRFT did not disappoint. Whether it was the two screens flashing Trojan advertisements or the packaged condoms – guys and girls versions – strewn around the bar, the Attic suddenly felt like it should be named The Sauna.
The DJs switched off throughout the set, playing versions of songs from their new record. They also dropped the odd track from other artists, with Montreal turntablist Tiga showing up twice. Although purists might complain this was nothing more than two guys playing tracks off a laptop, it was the way they played the tunes that kept the sound fresh and the fans dancing.
The most interesting element of the evening was the crowd itself and it went a long way in explaining the appeal of MSTRKRFT. Indie kids came because of Keeler’s ties to Death From Above 1979 and MSTRKRFT’s reputation as the remix DJs to credible indie bands such as Metric, Bloc Party and The Gossip. Dance kids came because the music is strictly electro-house groove. And drunk university students came because they took a wrong turn somewhere in the Dome. The dance floor was a veritable mosh pit of different tastes moving to rhythms learned in their respective cliques. More than once I stepped on feet and more than once my feet were stepped on.
Not that it mattered. MSTRKRFT came and did what they set out to do. They left everyone’s feet tired, their brains thoroughly stimulated and the Spinal Tap bus well spoken for. For a few hours that evening, a sweaty, enthusiastic crowd of music fans forgot it was a Monday night.
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