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House Wares


Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan
Katrina Dickson

Ambient Vegas: Scott Kirkland (left and left) and Ken Jordan of the Crystal Method put a homegrown mark on electronica.

America's the Crystal Method acknowledges
its European counterparts with big rockin' beats

By Karen Reardanz

THE AMERICAN MUSIC scene has been teetering on the verge of an electronic revolution since the mid-'90s, with music prophets proclaiming the dawn of the age of electronica just around every syncopated corner. All the signs are there: the token treatment from MTV; the sight of Orbital, Tricky and the Chemical Brothers in only the hippest of magazines. Even old-school rockers like David Bowie, Madonna and now Robbie Robertson have fallen under the techno-trance, releasing albums heavily influenced by manic jungle beats and ambient strains.

So far, however, the phenomenon has been primarily a European one. With the exception of New York-born Moby, American acts have had scant success breaking into the scene's upper echelon. Until now.

The Crystal Method is America's newest entree into the forefront of techno, a homegrown duo that takes as much influence from the soulful grooves of the R&B-laden '70s as it does from the pulsing techno-heavy house sounds of the British and, more recently, French.

Originally hailing from the sun-baked streets of Las Vegas, the Crystal Method delivered its self-produced and -mixed debut album, the aptly titled Vegas, last year to enthusiastic critical response. Although the Crystal Method's Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland officially joined the media circus at the right time, they were hip to electronica before music critics saw it as the future of modern music. Jordan and Kirkland moved to L.A. in 1989 and, while honing their skills as musicians and DJs, remixed tracks by other artists, played parties and laid down their own tracks for trip-hop and dance compilations.

Although the Crystal Method's album marks a bid for wider recognition of an American act--and electronica as a whole--Vegas is more accessible than cutting-edge. The Crystal Method's music stems from the wave of the techno scene propelled by the success of the Chemical Brothers (a.k.a. the Dust Brothers). A logical synthesis of the more acid-sounding house movement and a down-tempo approach to dance music, the songs are complete entities in themselves--they don't rely on notes and beats from previous songs to stitch them together.

Purists call it ear-candy, and while the Method is at the high end of commercial house, there are other artists, such as the lesser-known La Funk Mob and Cotton Club, that have yet to achieve the same commercial status because they lack the bubble-gum appeal of the Method.

Still, the Crystal Method's sexy pulses, funky breakbeats and looping bass lines laid over swirling ambient and trip-hop do make for a great dance record. "Jaded," "Busy Child" and "Comin' Back" are about as good as songs like these come, and the prospect of experiencing them live is reason enough to check out the Crystal Method in the flesh.

Bringing the samples and sound bites off the record and into clubs and concert halls has always been a cross to bear for electronic artists. Most succumb to performing behind barricades of computer banks and towering speakers, and relying on light shows for visual effect.

The Crystal Method, though, steps out from its barrage of equipment and behaves like a real-life band, thank you, playing its instruments and (could it be?) maybe even making eye contact with the crowd. The Method's shows then become more human, seem less computer-generated.

Whether the great electronica hype ever pans out doesn't really matter. The people who buy DJ mix tapes and understand the organic sensibilities of house, jungle or trip-hop don't care if the music they dig is all over MTV. It's not about how many records are sold--it's about the energy of the music and the live shows, and the Crystal Method's got that part covered.

The Crystal Method plays Wednesday (March 11) at 9pm at Palookaville, 1133 Pacific Ave., SC. Tickets cost $16/$14. (454-0600)

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From the March 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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