We first got to know the festive, globe-trekking outfit, Crystal Fighters a few years back, when the band visited us at an absurd prop house in Williamsburg Brooklyn for a colorful session of songs from their last album, Cave Rave. It was an absolutely joyous experience and an inspiring set of songs from a band we were absolutely thrilled to have the chance to work with.
Sadly, tragedy would strike the band in 2014 when their brilliant and charismatic drummer, Andrea Marongiu, would pass away unexpectedly due to heart failure. A lot of bands would have crumbled then and there, choosing not to go on, and in fact, Sebastian, Gilbert, and Graham discussed calling it quits. But they decided to honor Marongiu's memory instead, sticking together and releasing a brilliant new album, Everything Is My Family last year.
In town for a round of shows in Brooklyn, the trio (plus a percussionist and additional vocalist) came by the Baeble space, giving our crew three cuts from the new album to chew on in the process. Stripped of some of the production flourishes that power their typical live show, this acoustic session, though lighter than their live experience, still retains all of the positive and easygoing vibes Crystal Fighters are rightly known for.
The band also told us about the delicate balance they strike to make. Combining sonic elements from a variety of different cultures, the band know they open themselves up to critique of appropriation. But they're also hyper aware of where their influences come from...they have lived with and visited (and recorded) many of the indigenous people that have inspired them. "I think it's so important to make people aware of these traditions and these sounds and these styles," Sebastian told us. "We give as much respect as we can and try not to offend anyone as we do."
Indeed they do. Spin the globe yourself in our newest NEXT session from Crystal Fighters.
If you'd spent the last few years of your life wrapped up in an album like Star Of Love, you'd go looking for a little respite, too. Crystal Fighters' debut was the product of minds made manic by a deluge of fresh experience, both in the studio and on the road. It was inspired by an opera written by a man whose sanity disintegrated before he could finish it. It seemed to be influenced just as much by traditional Basque music from the 18th century as it was modern-day clubland, and contained residual traces of every genre, scene, style or party that had existed in-between.
But if album one was the sound of haywire electronic loops frantically kept spinning like plates on sticks, then album two is the story of Crystal Fighters mastering control of those rave repetitions, withdrawing from the chaos of the club to carve their music into the shape of songs.
To write the album, Crystal Fighters retreated to the Basque hills that they consider to be their spiritual home. Their music has always born traces of the local sound traditional instruments like txalapartas and txistus vying in the mix with razor's edge guitars and percolating techno synths but the purpose of this mission was different. Immersed in their creative cradle, they wanted to tap into something beyond their immediate experience, to uproot themselves from temporal bounds in order to write timeless songs.
These methods proved to be spectacularly successful Crystal Fighters wrote Cave Rave in its entirety during this two-month spell. There followed a quick detour to Los Angeles to produce the tracks, but after this it was still the songs written in the Basque country that remained most audible only now the melodies found there had been sharpened into hooks, songs exploded into towering anthems. This revelatory process also exposed the band to a new way of thinking: a realisation that even the cultures they considered traditional are comparatively new. The album draws deeper into universal, history-permeating themes of love, death, insanity and hope; using Basque culture as a stepping stone backward to the spiritual and primal.
The musical influences have widened too. Star Of Love was a manic, genre picking rush yet Cave Rave expands the sound palette even further. The beating hearts of Hispanic and African dance and Mexican electronic music 3bal now sit alongside folk and psychedelia, each artfully interpreted and united by the band's unconfined vision.
If Crystal Fighters have surrendered to the power of the song, they haven't run up the white flag in terms of energy. What's here is still an adrenal rush, and there is an awful lot here: the grandstanding of American road rock, the sweat of disco, the fervent initiative of punk, the house of Iberian twilights that anticipates everything coming very soon, all at once. What's changed is Crystal Fighters' ability to control those surges and as such Cave Rave feels a considerably more thoughtful and contemplative album than its predecessor.
Nevertheless, it has at its heart the same tension that provides all great records their emotional traction. Sebastian Pringle, Gilbert Vierich, and Graham Dickson are the three core members of Crystal Fighters, around whom a larger cadre of vocalists and instrumentalists revolve. They're the kind of people whose brains seem to be bubbling pots, all intensely preoccupied with anthropology, time travel, spirituality and their place in the universe, even as they're attempting to create the kind of cohesive sonic pieces that really connect and move people. They seem passionate about creating music that can make people dance, but that is equally adept at finding its way beneath a listener's skin.
With Cave Rave, Pringle, Vierich and Dickson have managed just that. The melodies, hooks and refrains of the album are so compelling it's almost as if Crystal Fighters had to devise them simply to navigate a way across the landscapes of their own avid genrelessness, to remain as masters of music that itself seems to be a disputed territory. Here you have a band hell-bent on locating their own musical heaven, a place beyond petty genre parameters, where all that remains, finally, is song, rhythm and sentiment, bursting in vivid colour from the dark of the silent Basque night.