FRICTION: Crystal Castles @ Mercury Lounge, with HEALTH, Team Robespierre, & Apache Beat 3/26/08

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review by Sheryl Witlen
photos by Nicole Steinberg

Each month, FRICTION NYC, a New York City-based music and culture site, curates a showcase highlighting NYC’s indie music scene, visiting acts, and DJs. This month, FRICTION packed the Mercury Lounge for a sold-out performance by Crystal Castles, HEALTH, Team Robespierre, and Apache Beat. KEXP correspondent Sheryl Witlen was there:

The influence of tribal music on New York-based bands is here to stay. Much like MGMT, Yeasayer, and The Big Sleep, Apache Beat has learned how to channel primal, humanistic rhythms in a completely effective and alluring manner. Driven by equally heavy elements of percussion and foreboding layers of guitar riffs, they opened Wednesday night’s Friction Showcase exuding confidence and poised control. This five-piece ensemble led by vocalist Illirjana Alushay, with Christina Aceto on synth, Philip Aceto on guitar and backing vocals, Mike Dos Santos on bass and backing vocals, and Neil Westgate on drums and percussion, take their name from former Kraftwerk and Neu! drummer Klaus Dinger’s phrase for krautrock’s motorik pulse. Whereas some of the later bands in the evening vibrated with noise and electricity, Apache Beat’s sound was mature and instinctual. Animalistic in her movements, snaking her way across the stage and thrashing about like a creature of the wild, Illrigjana commanded everyone’s attention with violence and aggression, lending an edge to Aceto’s and Santos’ stoic stage presence. Westgate on drums is a force to behold. Like a subconscious trick of the mind that leaves the audience craning their necks in search for the source of their throbbing sound, Westgate’s performance does not disappoint. Closing out their set with an explosive collaboration of blues and heavy guitar riffs, Apache Beat left the audience with a lasting impression through their fury and resonating sound.

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The cult-like adoration for Team Robespierre is what you get when you combine electronic, punk, hardcore, and scream core music with a live performance of soaked with sweat, grit, and spit amongst angry white hipsters and indie music lovers. Give the indulgent and tainted New York concert-going crowds chant infused sessions backed up by squealing guitar and squawking keyboard and you will leave them begging for more. At least that has been the overall reaction to this Brooklyn foursome ever since they accosted the hordes of CMJ attendees. Tonight, Team Robespierre attacked the dance floor hipsters like a thunderstorm unleashing its fury upon a sun soaked steaming city street. That is -- it was hot, sweaty, disturbing, sticky, and volatile in every way you secretly hoped it would be. The magic of music like theirs lies in the rawness of the release. Audience members cast aside their inhibitions and social restraint to become one with the mass during this most powerful of live concert experiences. This was my third time amid the madness, and I was not disappointed. With a performance comparable to the emperor of hipster house parties, Dan Deacon, the members of Team Robespierre leave everything on stage. Forget trying to swoon an audience with restrictive singing rituals and just abuse them. Berate their ears, violate their space, and strip them of their comforts. Team Robespierre thrust their music upon you, devouring you within a wave of brilliance on tracks like “Black Rainbow” and my favorite, “88th Precinct.” As always, their set came to crashing halt too soon, yet we should give thanks for their return to the city in early May with a spot supporting The Teenagers. Hopefully by then my ears will have recovered.

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Acting as each other’s stimulus and muse, the two closing bands for the evening have collaborated and produced some of the most danceable and adored beats of 2007/2008. Due to the success of “Crimewave,” one might expect HEALTH and Crystal Castles to be geeky, colorful and joyous electronic outfits, yet this could not be farther from reality. Combining their affinity for outlandish elements of sound and craftily cultivated mundane noises of daily interactions that tend fall upon deaf ears, these two outfits have created completely revolutionary and quite often ostentatious music. During tonight’s performance, HEALTH quickly carved out their position with disturbing detachment and chilling adroitness. Benjamin Jared Miller, Jake Duzsik, John Famiglietti, and Jupiter Keyes have been well received within the English music community and are infecting audiences with their caustic sound at a alarmingly progressive pace. The presence of the famed Zoothorn, a permutation of microphone and guitar pedal, pitched their sound to a realm of unknown danger and despair. HEALTH unleashed a sound so alien and abusive that it created a physical atmosphere, as though all oxygen had been sucked from the room. Time stood still. Bodies and ears strained and convulsed while HEALTH impressed and conquered. In comparison to HEALTH, Apache Beat and Team Robespierre collectively seemed like a gentle breeze. During their indulgent studies of symmetry and reaction, it became evident that HEALTH places more emphasis on their sound than their overall performance. This is not a band to interact with, but a band to revere and later reflect upon. It was impossible for my mind to encompass all the assaulting sounds as I was overwhelmed, yet still impressed, while it was all unleashed onstage. HEALTH are a band that is sure to evolve in ways one can only hope to comprehend or prepare for.

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Being a child of the 80′s lends one an affinity to certain aspects of popular culture. One of these is noticing a band that garnered its name from one of my earliest childhood loves, She-Ra. Crystal Castles, a Toronto based electronic duo made up of vocalist Alice Glass and instrumentalist Ethan Kath, a boy who she was destined to find and befriend, and who was most likely playing with his Atari set at the same time she was playing with her She-Ra doll. Whether or not these youthful pastimes actually took place, the music that these two have concocted was meant to make a movement based on color, chaos and climatic chemistry. The two met in December of 2003 and quickly started experimenting with all the clicks and fizzes the electronic/dance community had to offer over the past few years, working up to their self-titled debut LP, released this past month via Last Gang Records.

Earlier in the evening, each of proceeding acts charged the audience, who were ready to detonate on Crystal Castles’ spark. Alice and Ethan burst onto the stage armed with their much talked about Atari 5200 sound-chip spiced keyboard, and immediately the dance party was ablaze.

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With Ethan, Alice has found herself someone so expertly keen on the delicate science of clicks, buzzes, beeps and shrieks that make Crystal Castles stand out as one of the most experimental outfits and outpaces any band trying to keep up with their lead. As insanely infectious as his mastery of his craft is, it’s exciting to see just how far he can stretch the ears of melody loving audiences. Much like his contemporaries The Klaxons and HEALTH, Kath carefully selects each sound that he combines and builds so expertly in songs like “Courtship Date” and “Crimewave,” which envelop the listeners within a wave of fusion and upheaval.

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With Alice, Ethan has a pint-sized, angst ridden, pulsating songstress who is one of the most refreshing female forces I have ever witnessed. Illuminated by only a strobe light in the densely packed room, Alice was the ultimate enigmatic muse by which all Electronic/Dance female aspirations should set store by. Shrieking and gyrating to Ethan’s frantic and haunting melodies, she threw her voice and body around with equal aspects of frustration and sensuality as she marked the audience as hers and the night for Crystal Castles. Sound coalesced amid the flashing lights, encircling the bewitched dancing masses and lending a mysterious element to the alien performance at hand. At the end of each song, the audience was left waiting and gasping for the next, strung out by Alice’s timely vocals, screams, and sensually alluring panting which became an instrument of its own.

That night, the Mercury Lounge was transformed into a cave of frenetic dancers that would easily make any Berlin or London transports easily feel at home. Cleverly composed, Crystal Castles’ set was seamless. The more melodic and crowd pleasing songs coaxed the audience to dance early on while the closure of the set broke the limits of sound and nearly halted everyone’s twitching to a stop. At the end, like everyone else, I was left stunned and stuck in my spot, my body still pulsating and eager for more.

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Check out more photos from the night, and head over to FRICTION NYC to find out about next month’s showcase with Fuck Buttons!

This entry was posted in KEXP, Live Performances, Live Reviews, New York. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Comment

  1. Lizard Lips
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Sweet sweet Apache Beat.... The last song in that set rules.

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