I'm sure fighting fans are just itching to get their hands on a copy of Mortal Kombat on April 19, but Jesse F. Keeler (also known as JFK from the Canadian electronic duo MSTRKRFT) has not only been playing the demo, but he also had a chance to play an early version of the game to get some inspiration for the album. A compilation of character themes for 12 of your favorite Mortal Kombat characters, the album was put together by JFK who handpicked a group of DJs and producers to contribute, known as The Warriors. While the album is not the official soundtrack of the game, you may have heard the tunes in the many trailers that have been released to promote the game (see below). I recently had a chat with JFK over the phone to see how he got involved and what he thought of the series.
GameSpot: Hey, to start things off, could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with the album?
Jesse Keller: My name is Jesse Keller. I run a record label called Teenage Riot, and I produce music under my initials JFK. I live in Toronto, sometimes LA; I go back and forth.
Sometime last year--I don't remember when, but it was raining--somebody had approached us…approached Jamal [the general manager] wondering if we had any interest working on the music in the video game. So we said, yeah, and some higher-ups agreed, and we ended up going into the studio to try a demo of the game. They asked us what we would do if we were entrusted to work on Mortal Kombat music, and so our idea was pretty immediate. It turned out how we had imagined…in that we would just get different producers to do every character in the game, or at least every character the studio wanted us to do make a track for, and try to really match people up stylewise and also leave it up to the producers to give a chance to be fans as well.
So after we got the OK to do it that way, we approached all the people we liked or knew who would be into it and asked them what Mortal Kombat character they would do a song for and what it would be. And everyone seemed to know right away who they wanted to do. So that became really easy. And it was just a matter of putting it together. There was one person that was supposed to be on it, but there was some paperwork issue. But other than that, it was really straightforward, but everyone seemed to jump at what they wanted to do right away. And I think in pretty much all the cases, the songs sound like the characters.
GS: So when they approached you, was it initially for the music in the game? The album is for songs that are inspired by it instead.
JFK: No, that was something we weren't really sure about. And the status of the music and how it was going to be used was unclear for a while. But we knew for sure that it would have its own release and be on iTunes and that kind of thing. So we sort of started working not knowing how it was going to work out; we knew the songs would be used in commercials and in the Web advertisements, but we didn't know for sure if the stuff would end up in the game or not. As far as I know, it's not. But if you've played the game, you'd see that it would [be] sort of weird to have music in the midst of it. But I think it's cool. I think today the soundtrack is the number five electronic album on iTunes.
GS: Are you a big fan of the series? Do you play games?
JFK: I played Mortal Kombat a lot. I am from the generation where when Street Fighter II came out, we all played it. And then Mortal Kombat came along, and it was gorier with a completely different set of controls and things to learn. And [it was] so much more about tapping and distance, and it was gory and there were fatalities…that was fun.
GS: Did you watch the movies?
JFK: I don't know how many there are; I know I've seen at least one of them.
GS: There were two. The second one wasn't really worth watching. The first one was good; I actually liked the music in that.
JFK: What's funny is that the music could have been anything, but they chose this like…this euro-sounding techno. At least, initially.
GS: So, what was your contribution to the album?
JFK: Well, curating and deciding who to put together, and how to do it, and whether or not the songs were appropriate that people made. Sometimes, we had to ask people to do it again, but it didn't happen very often. I had to call Scorpion for myself because he was my favorite character to play with. And from that point on, I was assembling and making sure it all felt right. "Executive producing"…so I never got to assemble other people's work before, so it was really fun.
GS: So it was a first time for you?
JFK: Yeah, I've never gotten to oversee something like this before.
GS: I had a chance to listen to Scorpion's theme earlier. How do you go about creating the right sound for this guy?
JFK: Well, Scorpion is sort of complicated in that he's sort of the Ryu of Mortal Kombat, so there's a lot of story for him…certainly for this game. And so, rather than making a straight-up club track, I wanted it to be partially very soundtrack-ish, and I wanted it to be, maybe, more techno. It's a funny thing, but it's hard to [make]music that sounds dark or scary because there are very few things that are scary. Trying to make a horror movie that's not funny is really hard. It was an interesting challenge working through it. I'm happy with what I did in the end; I think it is cool. Although I didn't know it was going to be track one. Then, I felt like "Oh my god, pressure."
GS: Going through the other tracks, do you have any other characters that you like?
JFK: I mean for me playing…my favorites are Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Reptile. Maybe because they're ninjas; maybe because I dressed as a ninja for Halloween in like 1986. I also really liked Raiden, and I think I played with Kano for a while. No, I played with Liu Kang for a long time when I had it on my Sega Genesis. I think Congorock's theme for Liu Kang is perfect. I think it sounds like Liu Kang. It's fun watching the Web commercials and seeing the music with the game footage behind it; it comes together so well. Reptile's theme is great. I think a lot of them are good.
GS: What was your experience like playing the game? What did you think?
JFK: I've been playing the demo on the PlayStation 3, which is really enjoyable. The funny thing is when we were playing the early version of the game--at the company offices--they had put in like a super simplified version of all the fatalities, so every fatality was just like, get up close. Hit X twice and you'll do something awesome. You could play with every character. The character's individual moves were still the same, but in terms of special moves…maybe they had hold down R1 and R2, and you were good. We went through a lot of different characters and tried everything. Messed around like that…it was really fun. We were howling in the office when we saw the fatality…when they throw their hat to the ground and drag the person over it like it becomes like a circular saw…holding up two severed halves of the body. We were just cracking up; we couldn't believe it. And they were like, yeah, we couldn't believe how they got away with it either. So much has changed 20-plus years since the first game came out. They are able to get away with stuff. The graphics are so good; you can see things that were implied in the original. So gory. It was fun though. The special x-ray moves where you get to see people's bones breaking and the impact on the internal organs and what not. It's funny playing the game because you know that if it was real, you'd be dead in the first 10 seconds in any round. It's fun to watch anyway.
GS: Anything else you want to add about the music?
JFK: Go buy it, please. It's cheap, and it's awesome, and it goes well with the video game.
GS: Thank you for your time!
Note: To purchase the album, you can find it at the iTunes store right here.
Sound Byte is GameSpot's game music blog, which covers every aspect of music in games, including interviews with top game music composers and discussions of new or classic game soundtracks. Have a question or suggestion? Leave us a comment below or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a list of previous Sound Byte features, click here. Follow us on Twitter! @gs_soundbyte