Photo Chris Zwaagdyk/ Libel Music
I never went to a rave in the 90’s. For the majority of the 90’s, I was more concerned with eating playdough than clubbing if I’m being completely honest.
However, last nights gig by Canadian electro-punk duo, Crystal Castles, a band famed for their raucous live sets and glitchy, aggressive take on electronic music, took me there. At least in terms of what I imagined it to be.
I left Auckland’s Powerstation last night slightly dazed; an after-effect of being constantly bombarded by the flickering strobe lights that accompanied Crystal Castles performance.
There were so many flashing lights – I cannot stress that enough. It was an intense visual barrage, befitting a band that matched it with equally outrageous and sense-shocking showmanship.
I hadn’t seen Crystal Castles perform since they burst onto the club scene in 2008. Since then they released a number of well received records, changed their vocalist, and took a lengthy hiatus.
I wondered whether new vocalist Edith Frances would be able to match the energy and charisma of the absent Alice Glass and whether the duo would be able to deliver on their reputation as being one of the most compelling and energetic live acts in music. I was wrong to ever doubt them.
The whole gig was a trance. The set raucous and exhilarating. The music and lighting intoxicating, encouraging and intensifying the frenzied crowd.
Edith glimmers and disappears repeatedly within the strobe lights, uncontrollably inundating herself with water as she moved around the stage with animalistic energy, her coloured hair dripping with sweat and water as she jumps around the stage encouraging the audience to move.
Her vocal range is exquisite, surprisingly outmatching that of previous lead singer Alice Glass. Her handling of the frenetic ‘Baptism’, a classic electro-pop classic from their second album is probably the best reflection of this. She hit the nerve-crunching decibels present in the thunderous chorus of ‘Baptism’ with ease, while also respecting the inflated glitches and often hardly coherent wails in the song – one of the vocal features that the band is most known for since releasing their debut album.
Edith also did well to match the onstage energy of Glass, dousing herself and the crowd in a bottled water baptism throughout the song (I stopped counting at around four bottles – there were probably more).
Watching people dance to songs, old and new, served as a reminder to me that the music of Crystal Castles is bigger than the line-up, and that the lure of Alice Glass wasn’t essential for the band.
Accompanying the jarring and hyper-presence of Edith Frances is Ethan Kath, a genius musician and calm mannered performer, who infuses Crystal Castles with their signature off-kilter beats.
Kath silently blurs on stage, occasionally joined by Frances, remaining fixed to his decks throughout the concert; transfixed to his own creations of disjointed ligaments, ambiguous loops, and destructive inflections that have defined the band’s sound for the last nine years.
Kath must be praised for rising a band back from the ashes that many thought was dead in the water.
Other highlights from the night include the pulverising and ghastly fizz of ‘Fleece’, a song whose arrival was greeted by an energetic whirl of concertgoers colliding against each other in the tightly-packed Powerstation dancefloor, while the heavy bass of ‘Enth’ crashed through the venue, thumping through the crowd.
The sombre ‘Char’ – a standout from their latest outing, the politically-charged Amnesty (I), provided a nice counter-point to these tracks, as does the dark and gloomy ‘Keronse’; and ‘Kept’, a song which saw everyone dancing rhythmically rather than jumping – that is until everything descended into anarchy again.
The band’s chart hit cover ‘Not in Love’, the song that saw their fame soar was predictably saved for the encore. The crowd dutifully danced and sung along to the track before heading off into the crisp cool night.
Joining the others out on the street I reflected on the last time that I saw Crystal Castles. They were as unpredictable and chaotic as they had ever been, all without abandoning the melodies that earned them their position as frontrunners of electronic noise.
However, the band appears to be more creative and relevant as ever – in a climate of huge political unrest, angry protest bands such as Crystal Castles are becoming evermore popular, though what makes the duo different is that they have not abandoned melody in the process