Avant-garde Crystal Method gains mainstream reputation

IN CONCERT

What: The Crystal Method with Sativa Sunrise
Where: Capital Ballroom, 858 Yates St.
When: Saturday, April 20, 9 p.m. (doors at 8)
Tickets: $27.50 at eventbrite.ca

Los Angeles duo the Crystal Method joined a very short list of American electronic music stars in 1997 with the release of their debut, Vegas. The group remained one of the few active entities to achieve mainstream success during the bombastic British invasion brought about by The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, and Fatboy Slim, and this year celebrates a quarter-century of operation — a near-lifetime in electronic dance music terms.

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Theirs is a unique tale, given the landscape at the time of their arrival. For their first several years as a duo, friends Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan made music outside of the public eye, with little notice. It wasn’t until they moved from their native Las Vegas to Los Angeles that things began to click.

“At the time, when we were starting out, in the early 1990s, we thought we would just produce songs for DJs to play,” Kirkland said. “But we started getting attention and started getting asked to play live.”

Operating out of a studio underneath their house in suburban Los Angeles — nicknamed the Bomb Shelter after its original purpose — the two friends hit upon a unique style of music that was heavy on kick drums, guitars and hip-hop samples. That led to a major label contract in 1996, co-joining the duo with Moby as two of the only American artists making big-budget electronic records at the time. Overground stars built up from the underground, the Crystal Method’s resumé now includes video collaborations with Hollywood directors Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water), Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), a million-selling album (Vegas), and a pair of Grammy Award nominations.

Their reputation in concert was always that of an arena rock act disguised as a DJ duo, as they borrowed tricks from the rock and metal bands of their youth. They shared a lighting designer with Metallica, the Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins, and were often included at rock festivals populated by acts such as Limp Bizkit and Filter. “The tracks we were writing fed into that vibe, the rock show look and sound. We embraced the whole concept,” Kirkland said.

“We liked it when bands set up all their gear at the front of the stage, so we did that. And we wanted to be on the floor, in the pit, and not on some pedestal in a different part of the venue. We wanted people to be part of the show, and see what we were doing. We were as excitable as anyone in the crowd.”

Jordan, who now lives in Costa Rica, retired from music in 2017, leaving Kirkland the sole member of the group at present. The two remain close friends (Kirkland pays Jordan a fee to use the Crystal Method name) but the moniker is effectively a solo project at this point. Kirkland suffered a health scare in 2013, which resulted in brain surgery, but he throws himself into every aspect of the business nowadays.

“I’ve been going to shows since I was 12 years old, I know what I like when I go to a show. I don’t care if I’m in a small town. I want to act the same as I would in a club as I would in an arena. Since I’m in control of my destiny, I’m into it no matter what.”

For the first several years of performances by Kirkland and Jordan, the Crystal Method performed live, with synthesizers and samplers. It wasn’t until Kirkland became a solo artist that he become dependent upon the vices of a touring DJ, for simplicity’s sake, with turntables, laptops and software being the most necessary accouterments.

Concerts by the Crystal Method are much different animals today, Kirkland said. “Sometimes we wouldn’t communicate at all while we were playing. Now, it’s much more fluid for the audience, because it’s one person’s interpretation. I’m focused for two hours. I’m very excitable. I still get this nice adrenalin jump right before I go on stage, which fuels me.”

The Trip Home, released last year, was Kirkland’s first full-length studio effort without Jordan. The Crystal Method was always a familiar name in video game and comic book circles, contributing songs to the Mortal Kombat and Spawn franchises, but Kirkland has added several film and television credits, including the theme song for Bones and the score for Almost Human. In a music genre that is notoriously flaky, Kirkland prides himself on being the outlier among DJs and electronic dance music acts.

“You can’t be rude and unaccountable, especially when it comes to the stuff I’m doing now in the world of soundtracks and TV. It always turns out that someone who saw our show 15 years ago is hiring me because they hear I’m good to work with.”

Though the music he’s making nowadays has less to do with rock riffs than it once did, the Crystal Method remains a trusted brand for rock and metal groups and festivals looking to collaborate. Kirkland opened dates for metal legends Tool in 2017, and on May 3 he will replace the Prodigy, whose member, Keith Flint, died last month, on the bill at a Florida festival headlined by Korn, Tool and Rob Zombie.

“We came across audiences that looked at us sideways for a while,” he said of their early flirtations with rock music. “But they would eventually come up to us and say: ‘I’ve never heard of you, but you were bad-ass,’ and they would be wearing Metallica T-shirt. We tended to fit in well, and if we didn’t we pushed our way in and took our space.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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