Live Review:Crystal Castles

Digi-terrorists unleash their most perfect set ever. Sonar Festival, Barcelona, Saturday June 20

Crystal Castles
In the wet and heavy early morning Barcelona air, a humid mist of fresh sweat and skunk smog drifts across the assembled congregation of Euro crusties and bedraggled ravers. The venue’s an imposing roofless hangar that organisers are endearingly calling the Sónar Pub. The crowd that’s amassed in the cavernous gulf of grey at 2.30am are those prepared for the festival’s most rock’n’roll act, those hankering after something a little more riotous and visceral than the seas of baffling dubstep Hybrids and sexless IDM panelling the bill like the set from Tron. Shuffling, swaying, snorting, smoking; the pack waits and waits and waits, each belated minute stockpiling the nervous energy and allowing yet more wayward clubbers to spill from the adjacent dance-offs, over-ramming the 8,000-strong throng. Until the ominously prolonged wait is over.

Abruptly, the Balearic tech-house backing track cuts, as the silver-bullet stage is plunged into deathly darkness. Two searchlight beams blinker the backline, casting spindly shadows across the arena and following drummer Christopher Robin’s spring-box ascent to his riser, our two protagonists enter from opposing sides of the stage. Like cousins of the well-dwelling ghoul from The Ring, they stalk, heads bowed, towards their respective positions… and then it’s upon us.

The stage shatters with the force of a thousand strobes; Alice, seemingly taller, more skeletal and more possessed than ever before hoists the mic chord noose around her own gullet and Ethan lets loose, well… nothing. Not a single ravaged digi-stab is emanating from either of the monolithic stacks of cabs. But still, surreally, the black-uniformed trio lurch onward. Alice performs the kind of writhing self-exorcism that’s made her the realest indie pin-up known to man. Ethan grinds on with the kind of deck-humping curled-lip nonchalance of a man who thinks he’s bestowing a legion of unwitting club-kid fools with an epiphany-inducing deluge of 8-bit cyber spells. What’s happened? Why are they carrying on? Why hasn’t anyone told them? Until, as the closing moments of the mystery first track (‘Exoskeleton’, as we later discover) cease and they hurtle mutely into the next, a vague strain of anaemic clatter wafts towards us.

Hang on, that’s new ’un ‘Baptism’! Coming from somewhere... The monitors! And suddenly the bizarre charade becomes clearer; the band’s speakers are working fine, they’re completely unaware of the fact that no-one bar the very front row can hear a single note. Gradually, the perplexity turns to uproar as the first wave lose their cool. But the band, only hearing nondescript hysterical roars, seem vitalised by the enraged torrents. Finally, after the strangled demi-strains of ‘Courtship Dating’ have petered out completely, the lights cut as abruptly as they did at the start, and again the Balaeric backing track takes hold. Now the leavers are en masse. And the waiting game begins again.

This time, as the band take to the stage again, it’s to distilled ‘This is it!’ roars from the remaining stalwarts. They’re rewarded with – wait for it – sound! After the agonising wait, the acid-rain-downpours of ‘Crimewave’ and ‘Air War’ sound blissfully horrific – never before has Ethan’s circuitry sounded so vastly evil. But there’s one thing missing: Alice. Cutting in and out infuriatingly, her piercing shrieks are seldom and this time she knows it. Returning from the front railing after hair-drying the pit Alex Ferguson-style, foaming at the mouth, face turning blue, desperately trying to get her voice heard somehow, she crumples into a limp heap on the floor; exhausted, despairing, aghast. Then, suddenly, she’s standing again… no, running! Bounding across the stage – zoned out – she hurls herself onto the drum riser and demolishes the kit in one go, flailing limbs a-blur, as the debris flies towards the roadie who has followed behind her, attempting to calm her storm. Clunked on the head with a tom, Mr Techy pounces toward Alice, and – OWNOWHEDEE’NT!!! – rugby tackles her from behind. With panther-like reflexes Ethan springs from behind his racks onto the tussling twosome and, for a brief flash, it’s all fists and fire and untamed digital brutality right before your very eyes. Until, yes, you guessed it, the lights drop, and you wonder whether this was all a Sacha Baron Cohen-esque prank, or whether you just witnessed maybe the most obliquely perfect Crystal Castles show ever.

Jamie Hodgson

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