INTERVIEW

“””There’s been a lot of lies written about us,”” says Crystal Castles synth wizard Ethin as we march out of an east London bar and hurry to a photoshoot at the new Rough Trade almost-megastore. The Toronto duo are playing an instore here tonight to launch their latest cacophony of Atari-manipulated computer sounds. ‘Crimewave’ (a […]

“””There’s been a lot of lies written about us,”” says Crystal Castles synth wizard Ethin as we march out of an east London bar and hurry to a photoshoot at the new Rough Trade almost-megastore. The Toronto duo are playing an instore here tonight to launch their latest cacophony of Atari-manipulated computer sounds. ‘Crimewave’ (a cover of a song by LA hardcore punks Health) is the band’s most down-tempo release to date; arguably their best work and most powerful weapon in a war against cynicism.

We’re hurried for a number of reasons but as Ethin and band shout-piece Alice begin to list the untruths that currently dominate their virtual world on the internet, ‘record’ has to be once again pushed on the Loud And Quiet tape recorder. Because this is important.

“”There’s this story that Alice was mad at me for releasing ‘Alice Practice’ because it was a mic check,”” explains Ethin. “”That’s not true at all. The quote is something like, ‘What the fuck were you thinking?’, but she doesn’t even talk like that. She didn’t care. She’d have said, ‘I don’t care, let’s have a smoke.'””

“”People have also said that we hate playing live shows,”” continues Alice, “”but we don’t. We love playing live. And we love Klaxons but we’ve never been on tour with them or even played together once.””

Ethin: “”And the band was not an accident. ‘Alice Practice’ was, but a journalist has made that into the band being an accident. We started with a purpose.””
Alice: “”It’s not like we fell on a keyboard and these songs just happened.””

Ah, yes, band myths. From Keith Richards swapping every drop of his smack-happy blood at a Scandinavian clinic in the 60s to Tony Wilson signing Joy Division’s record deal in his own claret, you’ve gotta love any Chinese-whisper that edges your favourite band further into an ether of mystery. But even with the above fibs having been swiftly put to rest here, Crystal Castles remain a band with a story as interesting as the skull-fucking metal-techno they make.

It all started for the band when, as Ethin puts it, he and Alice “”wanted to create a new sound”” so “”started fucking around with broken keyboards.”” Soon realising that a new sound could be achieved by wiring an old keyboard to an Atari computer soundboard – allowing lo-fi sounds to be warped, manipulated and layered – Crystal Castles’ totally unique and new sound was born. And as Alice rhetorically questions, “”What’s the point of starting a band if you’re not going to do something new?””, sounding unique was more important to this duo than anything else.

The pair then booked themselves into a studio with the intention of recording five songs and instead left with six tracks, and the very reason why you probably know they even exist today. The story of ‘Alice Practice’ – the band’s now signature tune in England at least – is one that the band do confirm as true.

“”[‘Alice Practice’] is a mic check of our first recording session, yeah,”” admits Ethin. “”We were recoding five songs and before we were just testing all the mics. Then after we’d recorded the five songs, the studio gave us a CD with six songs on, including us testing the mics. I then put a few of those tracks on the internet, including the mic check and Merok Records said they wanted to release the mic check song as an A-side to a single. So we were like, ‘Sure, do whatever you like.'””

The fact that Merok had given us Klaxons shortly before they presented Crystal Castles to the electro-hungry no doubt helped ‘the mic check song’ to be considered a hell of a lot more than the Sega Master System nervous meltdown it originally imitated. It was instantly ‘hip’ and not ‘miss’. But now, without the immediate attachment to such an all-seeing-all-knowing label as Merok, it’s clear just how other-worldly and exciting ‘Alice Practice’ really is.

Four days previous to our meeting with the band, I’d experienced my ‘gig of the year’ – Crystal Castles at the Camden Barfly. Expectedly hotter than dressing room access at a Prince show, it was a sweat-dripping surprise. Reports of the band’s live shows are usually ladened with words such as ‘shambolic’, but on August 10th in Camden at least, Crystal Castles were every bit the ultimate party throwers. A continual strobe flickered and blinded as the band’s mother-ship descended from Planet Black Metal. Basslines – like Ethin’s synth bleeps and bells – sounded filthier and more abrasive than ever, and the whole gloriously loud techno-shouty mess nailed hearts to spines as every teetotaller shot up on the freshest hits of thrash disco. Alice’s short yelps were totally inaudible but it didn’t matter – for 25 minutes she was the most convincing punk frontwoman of generation blah. Any lingering doubts regarding originality were extinguished as Crystal Castles proved that they sound like no one else. Nor like anything else. Not even “”8-bit terror””.

“”Someone reviewed us as that and now everyone refers to it,”” says a less than thrilled Ethin.

“”We’re a punk band,”” says Alice, offering a happier, more simple, alternative to those who feel they need to label Crystal Castles. “”The future,”” she adds, before Ethin settles on “”punk death glitch”” as his handy, pixelated summation.

In attempted layman’s terms, the band do sound like the computer-game nearly-cliches that are forever-bandied about with their name. ‘Music that sounds like dial-up modems making out’ [¬© The Fader], ‘Beats that drop like napalm Tetris pieces’ [¬© fastfude.org], ‘The Mario Brothers getting emergency lipo’ [¬© Priya Elan, NME] – take your pick of your favourite, but know that these magical sounds of a ZX Spectrum mugging a GameBoy and using a flex of electrified barbed-wire to do so [¬© Loud And Quiet], nearly never reached us.

After leaving their first recording session with six tracks instead of five, Crystal Castles found themselves in instant hiatus, only to work together again six months later.
“”We recorded those songs and we didn’t talk about it for six months,”” explains Ethin. “”I think the studio did a bad mix of the songs and we just didn’t talk about it. That was in April 2005. In September 2005 I put the CD back on and was like, ‘Y’know what? I think it sounds fine’, and that’s when we put it online.””

Tonight the hundred-strong crowd that is clogging up Drays Walk, Brick Lane, are total Crystal Castles heads. It’s the height of the summer but it’s raining, cold and miserable. The doors to Rough Trade are remaining tightly shut for now but to walk away means to risk missing out on a new 7″” slice of – let’s get this right – ‘punk death glitch’, and definitely missing out on a free gig that could be everyone else’s ‘gig of the year’.
Tonight it happens to be fans queuing but record labels are doing much of the same, waiting in line to release the next Crystal Castles single. Or perhaps even a full album. Surely offers of that size have arrived by now?
“”I think labels are kind of afraid of us,”” says Alice. “”I mean, how do you market something like this?””
“”No, there’s labels that want us and we’ll decide at the end of this tour,”” interrupts Ethin. “”The next single will be in November on Trouble Records and then our album will be February, but we haven’t decided on the label yet.””

If I was a label owner reading this right now, I’d have that sick feeling in my gut; that sick feeling of Christmas Eve, 1990, when I wanted a BMX to materialise the following day so badly I could have vomited a lung. Because, although considered by many whose paths they cross as two stubborn scene kids, taking the piss, Crystal Castles are the most exciting and original band in the world right now. And doubters, no, their tongues are not firmly in their cheeks. C’mon, you were all thinking it so I had to ask, didn’t I?

“”It’s not [tongue-in-cheek] at all but we don’t mind if people hate it,”” insists Ethin. “”The greatest bands in history have been like that. You either really hate it or love it and that makes a band memorable.””

“”We don’t want to make music for everybody,”” concludes Alice. “”Fuck everybody!”” “

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