View more photos in Colin Young-Wolff's “The Crystal Method Secret Show @ Echoplex” slideshow.
If electronic dance music ever gets its own This Is Spinal Tap-like parody, The Crystal Method would have to be the film's hard-partying, amplifier-past-10 inspiration. Not that there's anything wrong with that: Since the mid-1990s Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland have been injecting dance music with a rockist sense of urgency. It's just that TCM is a stadium band for the 21st century, sans the British accents, but definitely with the rock-star appetites.
And so it was quite a treat to see the pair performing a surprise, invite-only show early Saturday night at the Echoplex in Echo Park for a crowd of a few hundred people. The performance was part of a promotion from the Avid/Digidesign/Pro Tools software and M-Audio hardware folks, who help make electronic dance music possible on the back end. While you're more likely to see an act like TCM dishing out its latest work (Divided By Night) via turntables because it's simply more cost-effective, the Echoplex crowd was treated to a full-on live experience that featured an array of digital toys.
Jordan and Kirkland, both in trademark black, prowled around the stage and sampled a buffet of gear that included a laptop, keyboards, controllers and pads as a screen behind them flickered with the alien, globe-like logo from their latest album. It was a digital head-bangers ball from the minute Kirkland grabbed a microphone and twisted his gear to staccato, talk-box mode: “Welcome Los Angeles; welcome Glendale Boulevard; we are the Crystal fucking Method.”
The first third of the hour-long set focused on the duo's latest material, which has the rubbery bass-lines and synthetic urgency of “nu school breaks” and its brethren, dubstep. But by mid-set, the pair was mixing in its classic material and blending in the kind of 4/4 beats that so many break-beat artists (Adam Freeland being a good example) have turned to. TCM's trademark breaks, which keep the metronome timing of 4/4 without the constant kick drum emphasis (think Black Eyed Peas' “Boom Boom Pow”), are ass-moving, but they don't resonate with the boom-tss mandate of contemporary dance floors.
The set was sequenced, DJ style, and Jordan and Kirkland banged their heads like guitar heroes. They tweaked their pads — ugly, gurning faces and all — like Eddie Van Halen strokes his strings. The pair practically invented this kind of live, digital performance, and it has mastered the sometimes-awkward interplay between dance-floor oriented sets and devil-horns rock shows. This was hair metal in the age of chipsets and processors.
During one interlude, Kirkland mentioned to the crowd how the pair had made one particular track “15 years ago.” It doesn't seem like that long ago until you realize that, back then, what they were doing was underground, the concession table's $20 t-shirts and $10 CDs would have been priced the other way around, and a Jesse Jackson-sampling track such as “Now Is The Time” (1994) presented a prelude to a dream called Barack Obama. They say that rock 'n' roll will never die – and this EDM thing is a wholly different beast – but if rockers acknowledge the bluesy soul and black ghosts in the futuristic machinery of TCM, then maybe the saying is right after all.