If you listen to Crystal fighters latest album “Cave Rave” and then watch their live show, you might think they are two different bands. On record, they are very much a new-age sounding, folktronica band, yet seeing them live is like being a drunken college frat party with sweaty shirtless men and a jacket that would make even Gary Glitter think twice. Oh, and their live sound is much more dance punk with undertones of Ska, world folk and hardcore jazz. I arrived about midway through their set and the mosh party was well underway.
Crystal Fighters have been described Basque folk. Basque country is a region in Spain that has made headlines in recent years for its separatist movements. While the band steers clear of any sort political ideology or identity, these British dudes are really intrigued by the Basque history, culture and language. While their sound is quite varied – ranging from the aforementioned electronic-folk and ska/dance punk fusion – the influences and elements of Basque music are certainly present when they perform. One of the more traditional Basque instruments to appear on stage is the txalaparta, (pronounced Cha-la-par-ta), which is sort of a primitive xylophone made of wood or stone and played with wooden blocks. The word itself – in the Navarre region of Spain where the band formed – refers to the trot of a horse, which is similar to the sound that it makes. How very onomatopoeiac of them. It’s gypsy twin – the toaca or semantron – is used to summon monks to prayer.
I often try to stay as neutral as possible during shows. I find that this allows me to be the most objective. Yet, during Crystal Fighters’ two hours plus set at the Electric Owl, I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the ravers and moshers and sweaty dreadlocks… complete with a shoulder bag which contained my precious macbook. The very same laptop that is used to write this blog. I guess that goes to show just how infectious their music is. Good thing everybody there was DD free, at leats I’m hoping that was the case.
So how did a band from Britain end up becoming leaders in Basque music? According to guitarist Gilbert Vierich, it was a sound that made them interesting and unique, and although they didn’t take it too seriously at the time, they noticed that people started paying attention to their sound so they kept at it. Their backstory (and namesake) actually involves an insane grandfather one of the band members. Laure Stockley’s gramps had a written a poem and the band was formed “in an attempt to expand upon the wild and deranged spirit of Stockley’s grandfather’s writings”. Their songs do have a certain madness to them. The three main members also slightly resemble long-term patients of a mental ward, mixed with a little bit of modern cave man.
In addition to the Txalaparta, other Basque instruments that appear are a danbolin (also known as the pipe and tabor, which is a three-holed pipe attached to a Bodhran-like hand drum) as well as the txistu, a Spanish style tin whistle/recorder thingy. Perhaps the scripps judges should have the young spellers attempt these words and use them in a sentence. The “txalaparta and the Txistu” also sounds like the name of alien sitcom. While Sebastian, Gilbert and Graham, may resemble those hunted by the MiB, they are a tribute to one of the oldest communities in the world.