The Roots Of… Crystal Castles

Each week we take a band, pull apart the threads that make them who they are and build a Spotify playlist from those influences. This week, it’s Crystal Castles!

One of the popular music’s great skills is how, occasionally, it can launch people into a career when, quite honestly, they weren’t at all sure they even wanted one. At least, not this one. Ethan Kath and Alice Glass have spoken about how they met in Toronto while doing community service on a reading scheme for the blind. Both had history, Kath with a string of metal and punk bands and Glass with crust-punk screamers, Fetus Fatale, and both wanted to make a new sort of music.


In December 2003 the pair began working together on what would become Crystal Castles, but it would be two years before anyone took any notice. In late 2004 Kath uploaded one of a handful of demos – including one where his partner was checking her mic – to his MySpace page. Some six months later Merok Records (then home to Klaxons) released this odd piece of 8-Bit glitch pop as Alice Practice. The 7” immediately sold out and Ethan and Alice are now three albums and numerous lengthy tours into a career that, perhaps, they never really wanted. But what music got them to this point?

In The Beginning
As a ten year old, in the very early 1990s, Ethan Kath was a huge Prince fan. It fell to an uncle to introduce him to rock and roll, namely, Funhouse by The Stooges. By the end of that decade, Ethan – then calling himself Ethan Deth, excuse yourself for a LULZ break here if necessary – had stopped playing drums in his friend’s anarcho-punk band Jakarta and formed Kill Cheerleader (originally just, Cheerleader 666 and previously to that, ahem, Death Fuck). Alice ran away from a chaotic home in her early teens and wound up living in a drug-soaked commune. By the age of 15 she was fronting her own band, Fetus Fatale.


Metal On Metal
Influenced by his childhood love of The Stooges, the Sex Pistols, the first albums by Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue and Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo films, Ethan’s aim with Kill Cheerleader was to make, “dirty punk metal.” Eventually they were banned by pretty much every venue in Toronto and they concentrated on touring America’s west coast, particularly California, where they positioned themselves as, “an axe in the face of emo”. Lemmy considered them, “the greatest rock and roll band since Guns N’ Roses”, while Ethan considered the legend’s own band, Motorhead, to be, “faultless”. Gay porn director Bruce LaBruce directed the video for their song, Go Away. Asked in an interview in 2006 what bands people should be listening to, Ethan talked of a love of, “Swedish death metal” before naming Ontario’s Goat Horn, Toronto’s Skull Fist and someone called Crystal Castles…


Elephantine Castles
This new band shared their name with an Atari video game, but, from the very start – and in grand CC-style – insisted they never liked video games. Having successfully wound up the part of his personality that wanted to be in a sleazy rock and roll band, Ethan’s new aim, he said in February 2008, was to, “make the most annoying sounds ever [for Alice to] scream over and then we’ll try to open for Melt-Banana.” Instead they toured with LA’s Health with a sound that drew on Chiptune, electro, the super-bleak synth-punk of Suicide and the art-rock style of Pere Ubu. Somewhere in the middle of that lot lay something called Nu-Rave and the world of green-vinyl, split-7”s with bands like HeartsRevolution beckoned.


Famous Fatale
Very, very quickly indeed, this pair of, “so disorganized” people found themselves with a hundreds, then thousands, of people coming to shows and a long-term record deal with the people who brought you the Kaiser Chiefs and elbow. As the Castles’ stock rose, so did their chance to directly reference their own past and in 2010 they released a version of Canadian band Platinum Blonde’s 1983 mega-hit, Not In Love, as sung by The Cure’s Robert Smith. In 2011 the band won the John Peel Award for Innovation at the NME Awards. Their last single was sparklingly melodic rave-pop of Sad Eyes – also the title of a seven-year-old Kill Cheerleader EP. Another huge US tour begins later this month.

More in this series

The Roots Of… My Bloody Valentine
The Roots Of… The Libertines
The Roots Of… Nirvana
The Roots Of… The Smiths
The Roots Of… The Killers