Interview: Crystal Fighters Talk Cave Rave, Dubstepping, Ghostface And GZA

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By: / July 18, 2013
Photo left to right: Graham Dickson, Sebastian Pringle, Gilbert Vierich

Following the drop of their second studio album Cave Rave on May 28, synthpop group Crystal Fighters make preparations for one of their biggest ventures to date: an actual cave rave held in Spain’s Basque countryside (more details here). All six members of the group – Sebastian Pringle, Gilbert Vierich, Graham Dickson, Andrea Marongiu, Eleanor Fletcher, and Nila Raja – will find themselves outside Pamplona on August 29 raging with fans and locals in an effort to spread their message of music, love and unity with one of their highly spectacle performances. Half the crew (Sebastian, Gilbert, and Graham) was able to sit down with VIBE for a quick detailed chat on what fans can expect from Cave Rave, both the album and the performance, as well as a few surprising facts about the band including joke breakups and dream hip-hop collaborations.

VIBE: You guys took your name from an unfinished opera penned by a former member’s grandfather. Does the Opera styling ever have any influence on your songs as a band?
Gilbert: Big time. On the one hand, we use the actual instruments from the Basque country, plus the vibe that we see and feel from the culture we get as well.
Graham: The performance – definitely a big thing in opera. I remember seeing operas when I was younger, and they sort of talk and sing at the same time. There are bits where people explain the story, and I feel like our music has those elements.

It is like a performance also with props and movements, which you once incorporated into your shows. Do you guys still to do that with today’s performance as well? Is it also broken up into a couple of acts as well?
Sebastian: We definitely set the scene before we come in – there are entrances and exits and a kind of flow.
Gilbert: I see it as telling a story and actually engaging with the audience beyond just playing a bunch of songs and trying to take them on some sort of journey musically and interactively.
Graham: I think once we have more music to play we’ll be able to do intermissions and stuff like that. Right now it would be a little bit odd.

Coming up from the classical musical background, how did you guys get into the commercial scene in the first place?
Sebastian: I wouldn’t say we necessarily came from the classical music scene (Gilbert did, kind of). We were kind of making dance music and we suddenly got hit with this idea and book from Laura, and that sort of threw us back into it, because he had studied it as a kid and I’ve worked on a bit of opera when I was a teenager. We kind of got back into it through these instruments and percussion, and the style of this unfinished opera.

So how did you guys get into dance music?
Gilbert: Definitely in the UK I grew up with a lot of these startings of electronic music. Bands like Faithless and the Prodigy were quite big when we were young and then that transformed into teens and early 20’s rave culture, and going out and partying. Actually when we first met we were going to a lot of dance music events and sharing those moments. It’s a bit like a cave rave in itself – you go in and you come out spiritually enlightened saying “that was the best night of my life”

It’s like no other experience.
Gilbert: Exactly, everyone goes through it, and I think it’s very enlightening – it’s slightly hedonistic, it’s like packed with freedom. It’s almost less about the music and more about feeling it.

Has growing up in Europe had an influence on your music?
Sebastian: I’m from America. It’s interesting talking about growing up with dance music because I actually grew up with Rock n’ Roll, which is more of a organic sound. I think what’s awesome about this band is that we all come from such different musical backgrounds. Together you have this kind of melting pot of sound and I got into dance music when I went to Europe. When I started living there that’s when I started to realize that techno isn’t trance and deep house isn’t psytrance. I find my ears finally tuned to the dance music subgenres.
Gilbert: And I guess to answer the question about being in Europe, yeah Europe has a great dance culture, and all the different countries have their own penchant for different types [of music]. Like trance is really big in Holland and France, because both have a strong heritage of partying but they also do concerts. The USA is like – well of course there is the whole big EDM explosion ‘blah, blah, blah’ rave culture in that sense, but there’s still showman/concert-based bands with all these well-established venues that have been around for 10 decades.

Have you noticed any differences just in general between your European audiences and your US audiences?
Sebastian: Different countries like different tracks. When we came here, some tracks happened to be more alive than others, and the same in Europe. They like different songs but I think there is a coming together of the tastes, and the journey the DJ can take you on is something that appeals to people around the world. That’s what we try to do in our music as well – to make it kind of like a mixture between what a DJ set should be like and what a crazed theatrical event should be like.
Gilbert: The thing is that Europe is way more used to dance culture. So the people are raving harder in the crowd and stuff, whereas America comes from all of that concert background so people are watching, getting into it their own way, but it’s not like in Europe. Maybe we’re better known out there – people tend to freak out.
Graham: I think of like dubstepping, and what kids listen to in America, so I think it’s kind of becoming a little bit clubbier in the crowd, which is cool.

From a European standpoint, what are your thoughts on what America has done with EDM and how we’ve taken it.
Gilbert: It’s all good. It’s like when a kid first gets a new toy; you go crazy about it, you cover it in glitter and glow sticks, and then after a bit of time you realize “Oh maybe that’s not good we’ll just put it on the shelf and look at it”
Graham: I think the difference, in my perception, is that in Europe there’s an older, more mature sound and genres. You have 40 to 45 year olds who are at the club.
Gilbert: Because when they were 20 that was the big thing.
Graham: But in America you go to see these new EDM DJs and it’s not like this older culture of dance music that’s been around for decades.
Sebastian: But having said, that there’s no better kind in London. There’s different countries within Europe you know – the three day non-stop party that happens in Berlin doesn’t happen necessarily in America. In America I’m not sure I can imagine a club staying open.
Graham: That’s the thing here – it’s still underground. In Brooklyn and even Manhattan you can find these parties, there just isn’t a club for it.
Gilbert: I think there’s a real danger though in over-thinking the whole situation. People want to have a good time, people get bored by old things, and need things to spend their time. Dance music is new in America – they are going crazy!

I’ve talked to other European DJs and they’ve said US fans are actually crazier – more stalker-ish. Have you guys had that kind of experience here or no?
Sebastian: I actually just got ‘packed’ for the first time ever.
Gilbert: They thought he was Alice Cooper.
Sebastian: I was holding a guitar they were waiting for some actor.
Graham: I think in America, generally, if you have an opinion you express it. So if you really like a band, you really let the band know you really like the band. And in other cultures it’s not necessarily that direct.

Having six members in your group, does it ever get a little tense having so many people on the road all the time? Do you guys ever get into conflicts or quarrel?
Graham: Brothers fight.

What are the main topics you guys fight about?
Gilbert: It’s mostly the music, it’s what everyone is most passionate about and has different ideas. So it’s about coming together so everyone is happy at the end. After that there’s not really much to argue about, except… “Why isn’t this gig sold out?!” but it was.

Is there a method you guys do to get over it?
Sebastian: We talk about the band breaking up and then we don’t.
Gilbert: We talk it out and then it starts being a joke.
Graham: The worst meltdowns end up being jokes.
Gilbert: You need to solve the issue, you need to realize why people are like whatever. You can’t just walk away from it and give it some time and ignore it because it’ll still be there. Whereas if you get right into it and get it out of the way we can all laugh about it forever… or cry.

Tell us in your own words about Cave Rave (the album), how would you describe it? You said everything is like an opera, how is Cave Rave like your opera?
Graham: I think Cave Rave, basically being in the Basque country writing these songs, made us really think about how Basque culture was created, who actually started the Basque culture, being such an ancient culture in itself. And we kind of looked more into early documentation of creativity like cave art and hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt, down in South America, all of these different kinds of documentations of existence and creativity and kind understanding of where we stand in the universe. And so because of that kind of collective knowledge around the globe before we were all in touch we decided to basically represent some more instruments from different cultures around the world. So there’s some more African influences because of the ancient documentation, some South American instruments, and I think generally the message is love. Things can suck, and things do suck a lot of the time but actually with love there’s nothing wrong. So it’s like have fun, embrace love, embrace yourself, and the freedom of love. Listen to the music on your headphones or in the club or wherever else.
Gilbert: We love combining the old with the new. And so in Cave Rave, rave is a new thing, caves are an old thing. It’s continually about combining that whole folk music thing with that modern twist, but also doing it in a more seamless, cohesive way. With the first album, it was more a track there and a track there. With this one we wanted to make the songs really good first and then hopefully the piece would come out of that, and it did. So hopefully it sounds more cohesive and has a more specific sound in a moment in time.

Cave Rave, the actually show, is that going to reflect the album as well?
Gilbert: So they’ve been doing cave raves in the country for thousands of years. In fact, there’s much documentation to show that many rituals, musical included, would happen in caves. Caves were often the meeting point of minds for presentations of thoughts and paintings and artistic things. So having written the album in our spiritual homeland, it was a real honor to be offered to play one of these caves.
Graham: People for thousands of years would go into the caves to transcend into different dimensions of consciousness and then document it. And it’s like if we can get into the cave and have everyone transcend and enjoy the same feeling someone felt 35,000 years ago, it’s pretty cool.

Your stuff is getting a lot of remixes from current producers and DJ’s. Would you guys ever consider actually collaborating with a producer?
Graham: We did actually. We did a song with the guy from Feed Me. It’s huge! To have a sick modern producer take some guitars and turn it into that heavy electro sound is amazing – something we wouldn’t do ourselves for our album.
Gilbert: We’re definitely looking to collaborate with more artists. We quite like the idea of collaboration and ‘twisting up’ the traditional format. Like, we might collaborate with the New York Ballet next, or whatever.

What about hip-hop artists?
Graham: One of my dreams would to have Ghostface [Killah] and GZA rap on a beat of mine. And now that we have a booking agency, we’ll see what we can do.