Times Colonist

Rough cuts key to Crystal Castles

Band’s first song recorded by accident, now has 1.4 million plays on MySpace


What: Crystal Castles with BNGZ ’N KRLZ and DD/MM/YYYY When: Tonight, 9 p.m. Where: Element Nightclub, 919 Douglas St. Tickets: $17 advance, Strathcona Hotel, Ditch Records and Lyle’s Place (19+)

Toronto’s Crystal Castles rarely give interviews and it’s hard to find a photo where singer Alice Glass, 20, and songwriter Ethan Kath, 29, show their faces.

Of course, they don’t have to — they’ve toured to packed houses for two years on the success of limited-release records and online-only tracks. Their sound is more punk than new wave, more dance than metal, an aggressive collection of bleeps and bloops with distorted vocals that could be described as danceable videogame music.

Kath, interviewe­d over the phone, sounds shy and focused, and gets upset when a truck grinds by his window midway through the interview. He says the band wasn’t an accident, but their instant success was.

The point of Crystal Castles was to do something different, he says. He and Glass were sick of being on the bill with bands doing the same type of music they were.

In 2004, as Kath’s metal band, Kill Cheerleade­r, were nearing a record deal, he left to work full-time on Crystal Castles. People thought he was either crazy or dead. To prove he wasn’t, Kath edited a vocal practice track recorded by accident, and put it online. That song, Alice Practice, now has more than 1.4 million plays on the group’s MySpace account.

“We were just putting songs together. We thought maybe we would eventually come up with 10 tracks and release something, in the far away future, but the first microphone test caught on,” Kath says. “Everything was released in its demo stage — things were unmixed, unmastered. And we learned that maybe all that stuff is just music myths, you know?”

The song was heard by Merok Records, which released 500 copies. They sold out in three days. The band is now on Last Gang, the same label as Canadian darlings Metric and MSTRKRFT.

Before finding the band’s current sound, Kath says he experiment­ed with guitar noise tracks and music made up of samples.

“I was cutting up Madonna, Joy Division, Stooges and all these chip-bands, mixing it up,” says Kath. “I realized that we weren’t going to go far with either of those sets of songs. The guitar noise tracks were too similar to noise bands that were out there already, and the sample songs, obviously, you can’t release songs that are 100 per cent based on samples.”

In 2005, Kath abandoned samples and got into circuitben­ding — taking apart old gear and manipulati­ng it to make new sounds out of old circuit boards and parts.

“It was a two-day experiment where I was breaking keyboards open, messing around with sound chips and recording it all, so that I would never have to do it again,” says Kath. “So I have like hours and hours of .wav files of me doing this, and whenever I want to have a song, I dip into that, and sample my circuit-bending experiment.”

A few of those early sampled tracks leaked on the Internet in early May, and there are loads of accusation­s and retraction­s about Crystal Castles and sample-stealing online. Kath says it’s all anti-hype. “Basically, anyone who can think looks at this and says, ‘Oh, these are unreleased songs from years ago. This has nothing to do with the band’s current success,’ ” Kath says. “People have written articles about it then later delete the articles because they realize that this isn’t as big a deal as some people are making of it.”

Kath insists the tracks are from 2004, and that the band never made a penny on them. Still, he says, it’s flattering that people are listening to “the worst songs” Crystal Castles ever made.

That’s not the only setback in the last few months. Singer Glass broke two ribs in a car accident in March, which forced the group to postpone some tour dates. She’s now fully recovered, although she kept injuring herself with her crowd-surfing and on-stage antics when they got back on the road, Kath says.

Even with the group’s dance-trance sound, Kath isn’t worried about being pigeonhole­d as a synth or video-game rocker.

“If you listen to us you can hear that things are always evolving. The last song on our album is an acoustic song. A lot of people are saying it’s the best song on the album,” Kath says.

“We’re really shocked that anyone at all is listening. We weren’t expecting any of this; we really thought no one was listening to us.”

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