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SXSW regional preview: Britain

Staff Writer
Austin 360

England

Crystal Fighters

A five piece-piece from London, Crystal Fighters play an ecstatic mash up of chaotic dance music, melodic indie pop and hyped up electro-folk. At the rhythmic center of the music is a txalaparta, a traditional instrument from the Basque region of Spain that looks like a wooden xylophone and has a storied history.

"When the cider was ready in the hills, (villagers) would play rhythms to get people to come," says lead singer Sebastian Pringle, speaking on the phone from London. In its first life the instrument was a communication device, a call to celebration in the countryside.

"But it's also an instrument that you have to play with another person," Pringle says. "We sometimes play it on our own, but it's a true partnership instrument. You rely on the other person to make the beat happen, which is a powerful idea for us."

The band was born when original singer Laure Stockley, a Basque native who was living in London, returned from her homeland with an unfinished manuscript for an opera written by her reclusive grandfather. The manuscript, not coincidentally, was titled "Crystal Fighters."

"It was really inspiring," says Pringle. "It inspired us about different types of music. We played shows based on this kind of operatic, dramatic kind of model. We used that as our kind of starting point for playing music."

The band also traveled to the Basque area of Spain and studied firsthand the traditional music of the region. Though Stockley is no longer with the band, those sounds remain a guiding influence.

"We live in London so we're around the cutting edge of dance music," says Pringle. "We've grown up with that. Spending time in the Basque country and learning more about the classical music, the folk music was really interesting to us. Dance music is always evolving so we need to make the newest type of dance music but with attention to this sonic land that folk music has so deeply ingrained in it."

A series of tensions run through Crystal Fighters' music, ancient rhythms collide with pulsing electronic beats, the screech of city life and sweet swirls around faintly sad celebrations of a pastoral countryside. Mythical creatures often appear in their videos. A burlap sack-faced mummer lures a woman into London's underbelly. Dancers dressed as forest nymphs dance in a parking garage. Psychedelic colors and heavy clay masks make frequent appearances.

Pringle attributes these tensions to "an appreciation of the mixture that is the modern world."

"We're very interested in the unexplored side of the natural world," he says. "We represent something to do with different angles and visions of reality."

Official showcases: 1 a.m. today at the ND, 1 a.m. Thursday at Latitude 30 and 10:45 p.m. Friday at the Parish.

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