Words: Steven Ward
Boasting an original story worthy of its own television miniseries, folktronica band Crystal Fighters owes its very name and early inspirations to the unfinished opera penned by vocalist Laure Stockley’s grandfather in the last years of his life. Recovered by Stockley when cleaning out her grandfather’s reclusive home in the Basque countryside, she took his writings and showed them to the band–which led to their fascination and subsequent expansion of his work into their first album, Star of Love.
“The book that was passed down to us by Laure’s grandfather inspired us to dig into Basque culture and learn more about ancient music, but we also love dance music, reggae, bossa nova, hip-hop, and spending time within the beauty of nature,” said Graham Dickson, who handles guitar/txalaparta duties in the band. “Sebastian [Pringle] now lives in a jungle in Costa Rica, and I like to spend as much time as possible in secret mountainous retreats, while Gilbert [Vierich] continues to manifest Crystal Fighters’ sounds in the heart of our hometown. We try to act like plants and soak up as much inspiration as possible through osmosis, no matter the experience.”
In the seven years since Star of Love, Crystal Fighters have released two more albums, trekking the entirety of Europe and North America in the process. While the band itself might’ve formed in London, their encounter with Stockley’s grandfather’s work inspired them to consume and immerse themselves into traditional Basque culture and music, which imprinted itself sublimely onto their electronic tendencies.
If you take anything away from listening to Crystal Fighters, let it be the halting ways their lush menagerie of sounds gets laid over one another in the most intricately of bizarre melodies. Combining traditional instruments like the txalaparta (a wooden, xylophone-like percussion instrument played by two people), danbolin, and txistu, with that of more modern inventions like electric guitars and synthesizers, the result is a collision of progressive dance and experimental electronica that manages to stay true to itself by trying not be a bunch of different genres all at once, and instead an honest melding of them. As a band, they seek to celebrate their differences in taste because that’s what they believe keeps them alive; recognizing that they all come from different places, they always give each other a chance to experiment in the studio and during live shows, so that everyone has an opportunity for creative expression.
At Crystal Fighters’ live shows, Dickson promises as much a musical as spiritual experiences, and not in the half-baked, commercialized sense that is more focused on aesthetic affectations than meaningful interactions. But even kinetically and sonically, very few bands can match up to the unbridled energy that Crystal Fighters embodies onstage–or their aptitude for bringing a vision of it to life. Their early shows took on a musical opera format, and have since retained the breadth of an opera visually, but their new goal is to give people a new lens through which to experience dance music. Describing their concerts as “all the elements of the universe combining into one moment, creating infinite space for us all to unite, in love and freedom,” the goal of a Crystal Fighters show is shed light on the love, positivity, and unity that is left in the wake of it–and that these things can live on outside the walls of the venue and do not disappear after the music stops. How this translates with the polarizing and divisive nature of the world today is as straightforward as it is easily applicable.
“Our music is meant to bring people together, generating love and acceptance, so we feel lucky to be able to provide this where it’s needed right now,” said Dickson, speaking not so subtly about the tensions of their upcoming tour destination. “The current state of the U.S. is a symptom of a clearly broken system, and we hope our music can help people realign their intentions to help break away from the chaos.”
Their aptly titled third album Everything Is My Family draws not only on this sentiment of infinite experience but also shifts the wrestlings with death and madness that appeared Star of Love into a brazen commemoration of life. Unfortunately, this was also inspired by the loss of Andrea Marongiu in late 2014 after the release of the band’s second album Cave Rave. No longer looking back, Crystal Fighters third studio album is a carnival of colorful excitements and elevating introspection that texturizes the idea that there are different paths to happiness, but every one of them is valid.
“Everything Is My Family is a celebration of life. We lost our drummer and brother, Andrea, after the release of Cave Rave, and are now less interested in trying to figure out our purpose here, and more interested in having fun while it lasts,” Dickson said. “You can dance and ‘yolo’ to ‘Yellow Sun’ or ‘All Night,’ or close your eyes and melt into ‘Fly East’ or ‘The Moondog,’ but whichever path is chosen, we hope our music exercises the imagination and inspires a higher state of being.”
Making their return to Los Angeles this week with a stop at the El Rey, Graham recalled a satisfyingly haunting experience he had one night after Crystal Fighters had finished a gig at the Troubadour in which he thought he saw the ghost of Jim Morrison. The venue was being locked up and there Morrison was, “elbows up at the bar, classic Troubadour Monday night vibes.” The real question is what was he drinking?
Crystal Fighters will be making a stop at the Santa Ana Observatory on March 30 and the El Rey on March 31. Tickets to both shows are still available here. Visit their website and Facebook for more information and details on their tour.