Danse macabre

Crystal Castles toughen up synth-pop
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  August 15, 2010

PUNK’S NOT DEAD, IT’S JUST HIDING IN ELECTRO “We’ve always believed in being selfish and doing whatever we want to do,” says Ethan Kath.

"With our songs, with our band, we're always really selfish." I'm talking to Ethan Kath of Toronto synth-stab duo Crystal Castles, who at the moment is sharing a crucial piece of honesty regarding how he and co-conspirator/screamer Alice Glass managed to turn their home-demo project of a few years back into a lit fuse beneath the electronic and punk subcultures. "We've always believed in being selfish and doing whatever we want to do," Kath admits. "Because if you try to please anyone else, you just can't be proud of those moments. It shouldn't matter what anyone thinks as long as you know that you did it for yourself."

What Kath and Glass — who come to the House of Blues on Tuesday to headline the dance-tastic HARD Festival with UK-based producer Sinden and Mad Decent dubstepper Rusko — have done is transform glitchy glowstick electronica into visceral punk and soaring shoegazy songcraft, first with their video-game-sampling debut two years ago, and now with their homonymous sophomore outing, which sees them toning down the skronk of tunes like "Xxzxcuzx Me" in favor of the occasional stab at haunting atmospheric beauty, like new-album highlights "Celestica" and "Baptism."

Well, maybe "toning down" isn't quite accurate, since the new album is still packed with moments of bracing distortion and stutter-step beat meltdowns. "Some people want to say that this album is a maturation," Kath acknowledges, "but that wasn't something we were going for. It was just us being true to ourselves and not caring about anything going on around us, or any expectations that there might be."

Crystal Castles was a pretty immediate phenomenon, a long-gestating studio solo project of Kath's that quickly ignited once he found his perfect counterpart in Glass's punk-chanteuse persona. "I remember when I first saw her, she was 15, singing for this Toronto punk band. I walked into the club, and she was on stage. All the old punks were telling her to fuck off, and she was spitting beer in their faces and calling them pussies. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, she was so powerful, even though she was this tiny teenager sticking up for herself and not giving a shit about the consequences. She was just this insane 15-year-old poet on stage, and I knew then that I needed to get an audio file of her voice on my tracks."

Kath posted a rough track of Glass doing a mic check with his backing music on his MySpace page in 2005. "Alice Practice," as it came to be known, became the band's first single, selling out reprint after reprint of its initial seven-inch run. Most singers might bristle at a mic-level check's being released as a single, but Alice Glass is not most singers, and Crystal Castles are unusual in terms of their songwriting method. In the band's infant stages, Kath would hand Glass a CD of some instrumentals he had worked on and she'd return with a CD of the songs with vocals on top.

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