Show Review: Crystal Castles At Kool Haus

By Marko Cindric

Of the numerous acts within the Toronto electronic music scene, perhaps none are as iconic as Crystal Castles, a chiptune-based duo consisting of Alice Glass on vocals and Ethan Kath on production. Reputed for their explosive live performances, I felt an almost supernatural obligation to be in the crowd during their hometown performance at Kool Haus on November 3rd, fronted by openers Hugsnotdrugs, Tarantula X, and Kontravoid.

Upon entering the venue, nearly hypothermic thanks to especially chilly winds on the waterfront, I was met with an enthusiastic DJ set from local electronic group Hugsnotdrugs which quickly helped to warm up the crowd. Perhaps most impressive about their performance was the peculiarity of their track selections (a Marilyn Manson club remix being one of the most bizarre). Unfortunately for followup performer Tarantula X, another local DJ and producer, there was a noticeable loss of interest in mixing sessions by the crowd throughout his set. Rightfully so, as the concert was beginning to feel more like a standard club night.

10:00 signaled the start of Kontravoid’s set. Formerly the tour drummer for Crystal Castles and Trust, as well as an ex-member of Toronto synthpop group Parallels, Cam Findlay released his debut LP under the Kontravoid moniker earlier this year. This performance blew me away. Kontravoid burned through his set with minimal breaks between songs and almost seemed to be operating on a different plane. This otherworldliness was only emphasized by his rather spooky signature mask and a spectacular use of stage lighting, often resulting in a haunting symmetric view of Findlay in perfect centre stage, being blasted by light from either side. The set was accented by almost perfect mixing, allowing Findlay’s Ian Curtis-esque vocals and darkwave instrumentals to both achieve a tasty sonic balance and come through loud and clear.

Crystal Castles began their set shortly after 11:00, heralding their arrival with a performance of “Plague,” the first single from their upcoming album Crystal Castles (III). This set-opener proved the perfect opportunity for front-woman Alice Glass to showcase her infamous scream-like vocals. However, following the second track of the set, “Baptism,” two things became apparent: the screaming would lose its charm in no time, and there was definitely something wrong with the mix. Sure enough, I found that even from different vantage points, the bass drum was consistently drowning out numerous synthesizer parts, and was in turn drowned out by Glass’s piercing screams (as emphasized by the barely-survivable onslaught of “Intimate” later in the set).

The core of my attention turned to the visuals of the performance rather than the sonic elements, with a lightshow that can only be compared to standing too close to a nuclear explosion and somehow enjoying it. Glass, whose fiery stage presence is perhaps one of Crystal Castles’ largest selling points, did not fail to deliver. Arguably the most satisfying moment of the set was the band’s performance of another of their new singles, “Wrath of God.” Not only was the mixing significantly better than during other tracks, but the lightshow truly exemplified what one might imagine the wrath of God to look like. The band played a solid mix of new and old material, including currently unreleased tracks “Telepath” and “Yes No.”

Despite the hype, I was left a little underwhelmed by this show. That being said, I don’t believe it was an accurate representation of what Crystal Castles truly have to offer. I was, on the other hand, extremely impressed with Kontravoid, and would not hesitate to attend another performance by either of these two incredible local acts.

Crystal Castles (III) is available on November 12, 2012 on Last Gang Records.

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