Listen to Austin 360 Radio

SXSW regional preview: Britain

Staff Writer
Austin 360


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.

More from Britain

Alice Russell

From: Brighton, England

About: Another blue-eyed soul singer from across the pond, Russell is occasionally billed as an older, wiser Adele. Her solo jazz stuff veers perilously close to torch song territory, but her collaborations with DJ/producers, notably Quantic and his Colombia-based Combo Barbaro, produce a compelling mix of laid-back Latin jazz with funky hip-hop underpinnings.

Could share a bill with: Adele, Duffy, Ocote Soul Sounds

Michael Kiwanuka

From: London

About: He's been compared to soul greats like Otis Redding, toured with Adele and topped the BBC's Sound of 2012 poll. Not bad for a guitar-slinger in his mid-20s. His rootsy soulful sound isn't particularly original, but his heart is true.

Could share a bill with: Ben Harper, India Irie, James Taylor

Ed Sheeran

From: Framlingham, England

About: An unlikely heartthrob (he's a ginger!), 21-year-old Sheeran comes to SXSW fresh off wins for solo artist and British breakthrough act at last month's Brit Awards. Though panned by some critics as an empty teen idol, he actually packs a fair amount of depth into well-crafted pop.

Could share a bill with: Jason Mratz, Regina Spektor, John Mayer


From: Oxford, England

About: Bedroom project grown into a busy touring band, Jonquil makes breezy, summery, highly accessible pop music. They claim the Smiths as an influence, but it's a lot easier to pick up hints of the Housemartins and Vampire Weekend.

Could share a bill with: Vampire Weekend, Belle and Sebastian, Arcade Fire

The Heavy

From: Noid (a fictional hamlet near Bath), England.

About: The Heavy drops big band rock and soul that's alternately brash and brooding. Though Kelvin Swaby's vocals contain an obvious hat tip to Curis Mayfield, the band's sound is so relevant in the new millennium that everyone from the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show to HBO's "True Blood" has tapped them for soundtrack music.

Could share a bill with: Black Joe Lewis, any Daptone Records artist, Tom Waits

Toddla T

From: Sheffield, England

About: Despite rocking a terrible stage name, young DJ/producer Tom Bell is a force to be reckoned with on the UK electronic scene. He blends dancehall, house and grime into deeply soulful dancefloor gems. He's produced tracks for a who's who of UK urban music stars, has a regular slot on BBC radio and is headlining three official SXSW showcases. Move something.

Could share a bill with: Theivery Corporation, Pretty Lights, Beenie Man


From: London

About: Pronounced "subtract," Sbtrkt is the alter ego of Aaron Jerome, DJ/producer of bass-heavy and faintly melancholy downtempo dance tracks. He performs in a modernized "tribal" mask frequently accompanied by at least one vocalist and has been steadily selling out shows in the UK/Europe.

Could share a bill with: James Blake, Massive Attack, Santigold

Native Sun

From: London

About: A collaboration between Mozambique-born rapper Mohammed Yahya and singer-songwriter Sarina Leah, the duo blends soulful vocals with clear and thought-provoking rhymes. Though their subject matter is unguarded urban realism the vibe is pure positivity.

Could share a bill with: Floetry, Talib Kweli, Common


From: London

About: A sunny quintet that creates sweeping indie pop full of lush arrangements and unusual instrumentation (violins, glockenspiels and saws, oh my!).

Could share a bill with: Local Natives, Mother Falcon

Lady Leshurr

From: Birmingham, England

About: A petite spitfire with a versatile flow that pivots wickedly from slow and deliberate bravado to a devastating machine gun spray. Throw in a few melodic hooks every now and then to sweeten the package. Is this grime 2.0? We certainly hope so.

Could share a bill with: Busta Rhymes, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Invincible