For too long, electronic dance music has been the domain of
studio-oriented British artists schooled in Detroit techno and Chicago
house. American originals The Crystal Method are helping change that
with their bristling brand of electronica - played live as well as on
record - which stems from a love of rock, hip-hop, electronic and soul.
The Crystal Method's Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland helped re-establish
America's place on the dance music map with the acclaimed 1994 City of
Angels single "Now Is the Time," which married samples and sound bites
with pulsing breakbeats and electronically generated hooks.
Several singles, compilation tracks and remixes later, The Crystal
Method started recording songs for Vegas (Outpost Recordings), their
debut album, released Aug. 26, 1997. The two first worked together as
DJs in their hometown of Las Vegas, but it was a move to Los Angeles
that precipitated the band's surge to the forefront of America's
burgeoning electronic dance movement. After "Now Is the Time" made them
an underground sensation, The Crystal Method were asked to open an L.A.
show for England's up-and-coming Chemical Brothers (then still operating
under the already-in-use Dust Brothers moniker) in January 1995. "I was
scared to death because I'd never been in a band or anything. I was
visibly shaking," Jordan says of his first live experience. "But several
beers later, we calmed down a little, and it was great.
Even though it was our first show, we totally tried to decide what kind
of live act we'd be - whether we'd just bring our studio on stage or if
we'd do it more as a performance. So we pretty much went the performance
route, and we ended up having an excellent crowd response." The Crystal
Method have since balanced their time precariously between the studio
and clubs. Besides sculpting distinctive songs and remixing tracks for
Moby, Black Grape, Keoki and Zen Cowboys, among others, the duo has set
dance floors ablaze spinning discs from Toronto to Florida and from
Seattle to San Diego.
A gig at Boy George's London club Smirk in June 1996 garnered accolades
from crafty Brit crits quick to notice similarities between The Crystal
Method's high-octane breakbeat electrono-rock and music coming from
England's digital denizens. "We know we're different," Jordan says of
the comparisons to other electronic bands. "We're more song-oriented and
That's not to say bands who don't write or record music that way are
doing anything wrong, but this is the way we approach things. There are
similarities between us and AC/DC, too, you know?" According to
Kirkland, growing up amid the flash floods of popular music genres in
the 1970s and '80s helped shape The Crystal Method's blend of everything
from soulful grooves to rock flourishes to bouncy trip-hop to quaking
drum and bass. "My parents were young when they had me - my mother was
15," he explains, "so I was raised with my mom listening to disco and my
dad listening to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
Then I got into heavy metal and then Depeche Mode." Jordan cuts in:
"Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder influenced us more than Aphex Twin." Their
eclectic background is exhibited on Vegas in standout cuts like "Keep
Hope Alive." Originally released as the duo's second single for L.A.'s
independent City of Angels label, the song features a sample of Jesse
Jackson's rousing speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention,
spliced, diced and mixed in with careening sonic washes and a breakbeat
that's got more kick than an outraged mule on amphetamines.
Speaking of drugs, don't jump to any conclusions about the band's name
based on Vegas tracks like "Trip Like I Do," "Vapor Trail" and "She's My
Pusher." The name actually derives from a woman named Crystal whom
Jordan and Kirkland simultaneously had a crush on. "A friend of ours, a
rapper, heard about our little dilemma and blurted out, 'Ah, the Crystal
Method.' We just liked the way it sounded," Kirkland explains. The duo
does, however, have something of a clandestine lab rigged up in the
two-car garage on the property of the house they share in Glendale,
Calif., but it's not for manufacturing illicit substances.
The Crystal Method records, produces and mixes music created on
keyboards, sequencers and samplers at this facility, dubbed the Bomb
Shelter because of a relic in the front lawn left over from the Cuban
Missile Crisis. "Our studio looks like some science fiction control
room," Kirkland says. "It's a weird little capsule we've created where
we sit in our chairs with wheels and bounce from synth to synth and pull
out all these old effects pedals when we're inspired." Jordan adds:
"We've soundproofed it pretty well, and we have the 210 freeway in our
backyard, so that provides cover." Kirkland agrees: "It works out really
well because we could be up late working on a big, beefy track, and you
could walk outside and not even know anything is going on. It's a very
suburban, family-oriented neighborhood; you go out in the morning and
kids are playing and neighbors are walking their dogs.
It kind of brings us back to reality." The music reverberating off
those soundproofed walls eventually made it to tape and then into the
hands of Justin King, a DJ from Great Britain, who was looking to start a
label that would showcase American electronic dance acts. He teamed
with Scottish transplant Steven Melrose to form City of Angels. "Now Is
the Time" was the label's debut single.
It was also the first salvo in a barrage of high-energy, techno-laced
tracks that came to include a remix of "Now Is the Time" by Secret
Knowledge, whose Kris Needs spruced it up with bludgeoned samples of
Moté°Žhead. Outpost Recordings executives soon took note of City of
Angels' inventive roster, which also includes San Francisco's Mephisto
Odyssey, San Diego's Chop Shop, L.A.'s Uberzone and others, and formed
an alliance with the label in February 1997.
According to Outpost, a representative Jon Sidel, who signed The Crystal
Method, Outpost initially became interested in the band in September
1996, months before major magazines started proclaiming electronica the
"next big thing." "The sound these guys made was different," attests
Sidel. "I listened to every electronic band out there, and I compared
each one to The Crystal Method. Ken and Scott had more of a sense of
songcraft, and they are the best at recording and writing these types of
records." Vegas bears this out.
With infectious, propulsive beats perfect for dancing, thoughtful,
sultry melodies suited for home listening, and vocal snippets that add
humor, spirit and sometimes political insight, The Crystal Method offers
America a first-rate electronic dance band of its own - even if some
persist in equating Jordan and Kirkland with their contemporaries across
the Atlantic. "We don't compare ourselves to what the European
electronic groups are doing," Jordan allows. "If they move ahead in
making America a little more receptive to different genres of music, and
if they can help make people not so afraid to dance, that's great. But
we're not counting on them to pave the way, and I'm sure they're not
counting on us either."
"We're so disconnected from them," Kirkland affirms. "We love music, so
we pay attention to what's happening in Europe because there's some
really great music coming from there. But it's a whole separate thing
from us as far as the creative side of it. We just go into the studio
and make music that's right for The Crystal Method, and if anyone else
digs it - cool!"