For me, Crystal Castles is one of those bands that must be seen live to be appreciated. Whilst their albums tick all the boxes when it comes to punky electronica, a fifth dimension is added when those tracks are heard in the confines of a dark, sweaty festival tent or gig venue, because you experience their rib-shaking bass overlaid with ear-splitting chiptune synth in all of its glory.
I’d heard great things about Bo Ningen, their Japanese punk band support act, so I pitched up early, ready to see what was on offer. On entering the Academy the stage was already occupied by an old skool style DJ, complete with obligatory female in white hotpants who was raving and shaking her beer. The support time slot came and went, and the DJ continued. I took to Twitter to investigate, and all I could glean was that Crystal Castles had decided that they didn’t want a support act tonight. Slightly baffled, I carried on nodding my head to the DJ set until he disappeared. Then finally, quite a lot later than planned, Ethan Kath, Alice Glass and their live drummer took to the stage in a frenzy of lights and synths, kicking off their set with Plague from their new album, (III).
As Alice shrieked and cursed through the first few songs it was apparent that something wasn’t quite right. There were silences, and Alice seemed pre-occupied. It was at that point she knelt and lit some candles on the stage next to some flowers. She finally raged, “There’s no hell. There’s no heaven. There’s nothing.” She was visibly upset about something.
The band seemed to rally at this, and they powered through tracks from all three albums. In a haze of furious drums, ferocious bass, raging synths and snarled lyrics, Alice threw herself around the stage and into the crowd, and then climbed on top of the drum kit in a swirl of lights and spat out the lyrics to Crimewave. The sound was phenomenal, probably because the sound guy was banging and bouncing like a mad thing at the sound desk, and you could see that he was absolutely absorbed in the music and sound. It is not often you see the sound guy raving like a club DJ, and it magnified how easy it is to get caught up in the live Crystal Castles experience.
The biggest crowd pleasers of the night were Celestica and Not In Love, the latter of which finished their set, with the band disappearing, without a word, backstage. The crowd seemed a bit confused, but eventually started baying for the band to come back out for more. Finally they returned to top off the night with three further tracks, two of which were from the new album (Insulin and Sad Eyes). And then they disappeared, again without a word, although I should point out this is not particularly unusual for Crystal Castles. Again the crowd were slightly baffled, unsure as to whether the band would appear for a second encore, but it was not to be, and the crowd shuffled out.
It bothered me that there was something amiss, something lacking, that you normally see at a Crystal Castles gig. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but it felt a bit like the band were going through the motions, certainly in the first part of the set. Following further investigation I now know that the band tragically lost a friend the day before the gig to terminal cancer, hence the candles, flowers, the silences and Alice’s rant. How they performed at all I will never know, but given the circumstances, and on reflection, I think that they gave their all for the gig in very difficult circumstances.
Whilst it wasn’t the best Crystal Castles gig I’ve been to, it was still memorable. I hope Ethan and Alice take comfort in the fact that they did their friend, who was an avid Crystal Castles fan, proud.