This article was published at The Guardian:
Crystal Fighters (No 572)
This east London five-piece bring traditional Basque folk music screaming and kicking into the 21st century by fusing it with heavy dance rhythms and synthesisers
Hometown: East London.
The lineup: Laure (vocals), Sebastian (lead vocals), Mimi (vocals), Graham (programming, txalaparta), Gilbert (synths, txalaparta).
The background: Have you ever wondered what would happen if you went back, say, 100 years and dropped a ton of modern recording equipment plus a copy of Mixmag into an obscure hamlet in the heart of the Basque region of Spain and left the villagers, steeped as you'd expect in folk music, to their own devices? No? Fair enough. To be honest, we hadn't given it much thought ourselves until we heard Crystal Fighters, the third great "Crystal" band of the century so far after Crystal Castles and Crystal Stilts. A five-piece comprising three gentlemen – two English and one American – and two Spanish girls, Crystal Fighters take the notion of melding folk and funk to another level. Hearing them bash their txalapartas (instruments made out of wood or stone) in time to programmed beats as bowel-loosening basslines burble underneath and voices shout in euphoric disharmony over the top, you do indeed feel as though you've wandered into a rave in a forest in early 20th-century rural Galdakao. And, oh look, there's a gimlet-eyed peasant, grinning as he leafs through a copy of that dance bible that we airdropped in earlier, wondering what the Spanish is for "subsonic boom-bap".
What Crystal Fighters do isn't a million miles away from Crystal Castles-meet-CSS. Their single Xtatic Truth has the ecstatic rush and mental electronic FX of the former and the excitable unison vocals of the latter, with the extra dimension you get from five members banging away on those txalapartas. "We make fast dance music with Basque instruments, synthesisers and our voices," they explain, adding that they fuse heavy dance rhythms with traditional folk melodies and chants gleaned from old Basque sheet music. "We're interested in using this music from a small community that's been handed down through generations. There are lots of Basque dances that are 200-300 years old and we use their eerie melodies, and play around with them until we find the bit that resonates most with us, which might be a two-bar or two-note phrase."
It all sounds simple enough, and it is, until you get to the part where they attempt to explain where they get the ideas for their songs from. Apparently, singer Laure was going through her late grandfather's possessions somewhere deep in Basque country when she came across an unfinished opera he'd been writing called Crystal Fighters. "The faded manuscript and the prophetic prose contained within quickly became an obsession," she said. Now her band are trying to bring some of the quality of his wild, dishevelled poetry to bear on London's trendy indie-dance scene. So far, so good: they recorded a live session for Radio 1, their live shows are becoming the stuff of legend and their online hit I Love London was voted one of the top 100 records of 2008 by Mixmag – the only unreleased entry in the list, ahead of the likes of Toddla T and Bloc Party.
The buzz: "Instead of sucking at the teat of dance music's rinsed-out tech boobies, they play a carnivalesque amalgam of all the best bits of ghetto house, punk, Latin electro, South American and Basque folk traditions."
The truth: It's positively Basquetronic.
Most likely to: Advertise txalapartas on Basque TV.
Least likely to: Go on a package tour with Crystal Castles and Crystal Stilts.
What to buy: Xtatic Truth is released by Kitsuné on 6 July, followed by I Love London later this year.
File next to: Buraka Som Sistema, CSS, Django Django.
Tomorrow's new band: Mickey Gang.
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