Jesse F. Keeler, of Death From Above 1979 and MSTRKRFT, is really into video games. Really, really into video games. So when the makers of the new game in the ultra-bloody, awesomely violent Mortal Kombat series asked him to compile a soundtrack, featuring songs for each character, Keeler first asked to play it. The game is a reboot, hearkening back to the original Mortal Kombat, which first came out in 1992 with a soundtrack by Belgian techno artists the Immortals. Satisfied, Keeler produced Mortal Kombat: Songs Inspired By The Warriors, containing original tracks by electronic artists such as Skrillex, Them Jeans, Congorock and Harvard Bass. Keeler himself wrote “Deathstalker,” the theme for the character Scorpion. CMJ talked with Keeler about his history with Mortal Kombat, his involvement in the soundtrack and the new fatalities on the game, about which he seemed quite excited.
How much did you play Mortal Kombat growing up?
When Mortal Kombat 1 first came out, I played it a lot. At the time, the only other game like that was Street Fighter, but I think we all played Street Fighter to death. Also, Mortal Kombat was bloodier. I played as Subzero and as Scorpion a lot. And Raiden.
What was your favorite fatality?
I think I liked Raiden’s. They’re all gory.
What do you remember about the game’s music?
Well it was pump-up music. I think for some people, it was the first time they’d heard anything like that—maybe in North America, anyway. I remember the music. Whether it had that much of an effect on me when I was that young, hard to say.
What made you decide to work on this project?
Well, it’s funny. The offer came initially just to see if we were interested. We responded yes right away, just because we’re fans of the game. We wanted to make sure we got to play it a little bit—we needed to make sure the game was good. We got to play a very early demo of the game, and it was, to say the least, really crazy. We were pretty amazed at how gory it all was. I really like how it’s gone back to being a single plane, rather than 3D like how Killer Instincts started. I was never a super big fan of that. Probably just because I’m old.
How much involvement did you have on each track?
We decided we’d get each producer to do a different character in the game, so that the music would sound as different from character to character as the characters are from each other. So from that point on, the most important thing was pairing people up. First it was like, “Who do I want on the soundtrack?,” but then everyone seemed to know right away who they wanted to do a song for. That made it a lot easier.
What did you have in mind for your track (“Deathstalker, or Scorpion’s Theme”)?
My goal was to make it a little bit creepy and techno-y because it’s Mortal Kombat, but then have it change into something that was more me—try to make it ramp up in craziness. To get a feel for it, I watched the game trailers for a while. We all needed to do something dark, but I didn’t want it to be like a distorted mess. I wanted it to be sort of scary-sounding. And I don’t get to make techno very often, so I took advantage of it.
Will the soundtrack be on the game?
If you buy any of the special versions of the game, you get the soundtrack as well, but I think in terms of gameplay, I don’t believe the songs are in it. But to be honest, I’m not 100% sure about how that’s going to work.
Each character has themes from the original soundtrack. How do you see your soundtrack interacting with the original?
Well, I think it goes along with it as much as the original went along with the original game. This is going to sound like a cop-out answer, but it’s honest. I’ve been gauging how the soundtrack is going to work by what people have been saying on the internet and their responses to it. I’m curious to see what people think of it and how they put the two things together themselves. This version of Mortal Kombat was made with fan input to the game company, wanting a redo of the old-school version of the game. And to some extent, I feel the soundtrack is the same thing. I’m curious to see what everybody thinks of it. I think that it will take on a life of its own, but to see exactly what that life will be, I guess I’ll have to sit back and watch.
Have you heard any feedback so far?
It’s interesting—people are excited about it just as music. Some kids who DJ from our message board wanted to play the tracks out. They played Skrillex’s Reptile track out a couple of times, and it went over awesome. I’m curious to see what the Mortal Kombat game reviews are, because I think the soundtrack’s out but I don’t think the game is. I’m curious to see what people who buy both think.
Do you see this game becoming iconic for this generation, just like the original was for you?
If it’s successful, it will be. Although there are a million more video games available now than there were, what is it, 20 years ago? Oh God. Although, if the songs aren’t in the game, depending on whether people went the extra mile and bought the special version of the game, time will tell whether or not that connection will be made. In terms of it being iconic, I’m 34, and it’s hard for things to get in that place as you get older. I remember the original songs because that’s what I was playing in high school. It has all those other associations, like playing a video game at lunch time at the 7-Eleven down the street from our high school and then class starting, but you’re in the middle of the game, so you keep playing. There’s all these other things that go along with it. For me the old games stay—I still remember the music for every arcade game I played. But now, how many arcades are even in business? So we’ll see. Have you got to see the fatalities in the game?
I saw the trailer. It’s crazy.
Did you see the one where the dude throws his hat onto the ground, and it becomes a circular saw, and he drags the other dude through it by the feet? When we actually did that when we played the demo, we were actually howling, “This is so fucking extreme, it’s awesome.” I don’t know if you got to see the X-ray stuff—you do certain moves and you get to see what’s happening on the inside of the person’s body. You see ribs snapping and stuff like that. I think they’re surprised they actually got to leave all that stuff in the game. When they made the original, they could never get away with this sort of stuff, but the content of the games was so different back then. So they had to ramp it up. It’s quite fun.