If Crystal Castles came out today, they would probably be thrown, sloppily, under the “EDM” label. For years now, the term EDM has become the commercially viable term for all sorts of diverse electronic music with wide appeal. This music has had decades and decades of history, but back in 2008, mainstream press, advertising agencies and the festival industrial complex had yet to sanction the term as the go-to descriptor. When the the first Crystal Castles album came out, we had to struggle to describe this dark, grinding onslaught.
“Gothic house” and “nu-rave” were popular to throw around, but somehow those labels didn’t seem to organize Crystal Castles accurately enough. It was hard to convey to new listeners the dissonant, punk-chip music in “xxzxcuzx Me” and the otherworldly spell of “Untrust Us.” Today, though, lots of things sound like that first Crystal Castles album. Electronic music is one of the drivers of festival commerce and even the most narrow-minded Rockist dudes find themselves enjoying some non-guitar music. Not that all of that is thanks to Crystal Castles, or that they were even lone pioneers on this front — but they were a gateway for a lot of us, and they were so adept at it that we don’t really need a gateway anymore.
Of course, Crystal Castles isn’t “done” per se — they’ll be continuing under Ethan Kath. But the departure of Alice Glass is a major blow to their identity. The only time I saw them was at Coachella in 2009. I don’t think of them as an outdoor, bright daylight band, but in the suffocating throng of thousands, it didn’t matter. Alice Glass was an explosive, agonizing stage presence. When “Alice Practice” came on, it was as if she was going to combust. Rose colored glasses or not, I haven’t seen a show like that since.
I’m excited to see what Kath and Glass will do as individuals. I’m hoping that as separate artists they’ll produce twice as much interesting, dynamic and vital music. Until we find out for sure, I’ll be listening to “Alice Practice,” trying to remember what it was like the first time I heard that noise.
Photo Credit: Dinosword.ca