Crystal Castles

by Nick Gunn

10 January 2008

It has been terribly fashionable for the better part of the last decade to dismiss rave culture as an ecstasy-induced fluoro nightmare that died a sad and lonely death.

A giant black-and-white Madonna (the whore, not the virgin) adorned the back of the stage, her right eye dripping with either mascara or blood—it was impossible to tell. The Dardanelles, who have been making waves in Melbourne’s rock/club scene, were cranking out their panoramic/shoegaze/electro/rock (take your pick) sound. As I watched the fashionable youth going apeshit to this hybrid noise, I realized why the young ones have seized the phrase “new rave” and turned it into more than just a Klaxons/NME marketing ploy.

It has been terribly fashionable for the better part of the last decade to dismiss rave culture as an ecstasy-induced fluoro nightmare that died a sad and lonely death in the overly commercial superclubs of the late ‘90s. But while much of the music that has since stood as the record of that era often doesn’t hold its own without the support of copious amounts of mind-bending substances, there is something to be said for the scene itself. One thing that has been sadly missing from the all-too-reserved music of the new millennium is the sense of debauched anarchy that rave culture brought, the sense that anything might happen and probably has, just seconds ago while you were in the bathroom making out with that coked-up guy who kept describing, in detail, his favorite Transformer.

Crystal Castles

15 Dec 2007: Oxford Art Factory — Sydney, AUS

It was in that exact spirit that Crystal Castles took to the stage like a napalm grenade. All through their set, I felt a bit dirty (in a good way), like I should have been holding a crack pipe, like I should have been holding the crack pipe for a really hot girl who had just stepped on stage to screech some indistinguishable lyrics over a chaotic Atari-driven squall. Singer Alice Glass, of course, was that girl. She sounded appropriately fucked-up and angry, throwing herself into the crowd, the drum-kit, and whatever else was lying around.

Her counterpart, electronic whiz kid Ethan Fawn, hunched Quasimodo-style (so hunched that it’s actually possible he’s only a hoodie with spindly arms) over his bank of machines, twisting out warped sounds that ring hollow yet warm,  like the ghost of your wasted childhood. Too much has been made of it, but it is pointless to ignore what makes Crystal Castles so unique. They come across like such (drum roll, please):

Your angry meth-addict sister yelling at you for borrowing her favorite hyper-color t-shirt while you play your three favorite Commodore 64 games simultaneously.

Yeah, everybody else is doing it, so why can’t I? Crystal Castles have such a unique sound that everybody has had a bash trying to come up with some half-baked soundbyte that encapsulates it. When I was younger, I remember holding my cassette recorder up to the speaker on my Commodore 64 to tape the music from “Last Ninja”; I guess people like me have been waiting for years for someone to think of putting the sound chip from a shitty old computer together with some modern keyboard technology.

Thirty minutes after appearing, Crystal Castles disappeared just as quickly and noisily as they had arrived. No fanfare, no encore: the heavy black curtain simply fell down over the stage, and the hipster kids went back to perfecting their elegantly wasted poses. Although I was a tourist there, dropping in for a night on a scene I couldn’t possibly be a part of, the absolute freshness and dynamism of Crystal Castles had made me feel young again, if only for half an hour.

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