The electro-punk noise marauders and their new friends bring the (white) noise to the capital. Electric Ballroom (September 18)
To truly understand the steely grip in which Crystal Castles hold the hearts and minds of UK youth, you need to be up front tonight, shoved against the wall, beaten out the way by writhing teenage girls who mirror their every twitch, jerk and spasm to the movements of Alice Glass. Never mind that virtually everything that leaves her mouth tonight is all but lost in a maelstrom of screeching microchips and beats so heavy they leave craters; when Glass lifts the microphone to her lips, illuminated by the queasy tick of strobes, girls claw at their hair, froth at the mouth and spasm in epileptic ecstasy. What’s happening here is little short of idol worship.
Maybe it’s indicative of Crystal Castles’ more-hipster-than-thou reputation, or maybe it’s just that competing with such a barrage seems futile, but everything else here tonight plays it cool rather than going straight for the jugular. Sure, Lele [Speaks] might just have threatened to “slam your face in my quarter-pounder”, but early reports that have her pegged as the rap Lily Allen prove close to the mark, as she toys with her gold chain and reels off satirical, chewing-gum raps about MySpace and chav culture, snipes about bitchy school friends, and offers up some birth control advice to Broken Britain: “girls, close your legs!”
Next up, The Big Pink – aka former Alec Empire guitarist Robbie Furze and Merok label boss Milo Cordell – cook up a druggy, malodorous drone, with twin keyboards swamping stoned lullabies such as ‘Too Young To Love’ in Spacemen 3 scuzz. They’ve got some friends along for the ride: a vampiric model type leisurely slaps a tambourine up front, while at the back, Akiko from noise-punks Comanechi smashes away gamely on the drums. Furze, though, would do well to remember that even rock’s greatest slack-jawed wasters had to show they were capable of putting on a bit of a show first.
Putting on a show, mind, is something that Metronomy seem to have cracked. They might not be natural crowd-pleasers (“Is everyone having a good time in Camden?” asks Joseph Mount, “Because I don’t usually have a very good time in Camden…”), but a summer of hawking second album ‘Nights Out’ has seen Metronomy hone their party-starting credentials to a futuristic sheen. The band are blessed with enough nonchalant cool to pull off synchronised dance moves while not really looking like they’re trying too hard. And the likes of ‘My Heart Rate Rapid’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ are equal parts New Order, Prince, and ‘My Sharona’, coming on like mating songs from a future where highly evolved beings breed by rubbing together their chest LEDs.
They’re not the only band who have grown to fit the stage. If pre-debut album Crystal Castles occasionally felt like a band too fucking cool to give the audience what they wanted, a stint on the Topman NME New Noise Tour 2008 and a busy festival season has seen the birth of Crystal Castles 2.0: bigger, faster, stronger, louder. An imperious Ethan Kath shrinks deeper into his hoodie, a four-to-the floor house beat slams like a DIY trepanation, and Alice Glass – wearing a severe bob and Bart Simpson T-shirt flies across the stage like a marionette tossed at the whim of some particularly cruel puppet-master. Come ‘Crimewave’, she’s stood up front on the barrier, then tumbles into the crowd where she’s lost for two tantalising minutes, her microphone feeding back cries that issue only faintly over the relentless 8-bit bombardment. There is still no inter-band chemistry, no warmth of camaraderie; if anything, the savage bawl of ‘Alice Practice’ sounds more alien in this incarnation, like the pained shriek of a cyborg being disassembled chip by chip. By the close, Glass has acquiesced to the crowd, her limp body passed over their heads like a mannequin, dead eyes glinting, and Ethan Kath stands impassively as the circuitry screams its shrill crescendo. You wonder, not for the first time, who is in control here. Maybe the thrill is in not knowing.