Tonight’s Crystal Castles show ends with Alice Glass sobbing into the microphone. It’s a weird end to an intense show, but, given that she’s spent her last hour as rag doll lightning rod for Ethan Kath’s dystopian techno, pretty appropriate. Glass has screamed, torn round the stage, climbed the speakers, climbed the drum kit, and hurled herself again and again into the crowd. Sometimes she’s walking, messianic, on the upstretched arms of an adoring Brixton Academy. More often she’s swallowed up by the roiling sea of kids, vocals submerged by behemoth electronics. 3 songs into the chaotic, pounding assault, the singer tells the crowd that her friend died last night, aged 18. ‘There’s no heaven, there’s no hell… there’s just fucking nothing.’ She lights candles on an onstage shrine. The audience, here to party, don’t know how to react, aren’t really sure what they just heard. They cheer when the tyrannical beat kicks back in and Glass looks lost and crazy.
With a live drummer added, the show sacrifices subtler whirrs, clicks, stutters and glitches in favour of pounding apocalypse. The first half of tonight’s set proceeds at break neck speed; the band play chicken with their back catalogue, bewitched, they rush at it with a terrible momentum, not giving two fucks about what gets smashed apart in the collision. Glass’s yowls and Kath’s cold, bullying beats are to electro what PILs Metal Box was to disco, both a loving homage and a vicious bastardisation. An awkward listen on record, live they’re more so, with islands of melody crushed into whichever tiny frequencies the drums neglect to dominate. Crimewave, Alice Practice, the songs are recognisable by a few signifiers, a spatter of 8 bit jitter or an arpeggio fighting for air, but everything eventually succumbs to the brutality of the rhythm. The new material, sparsely peppered through the set, is made for this treatment, and the jack boot synth of Sad Eyes pummels out with particular intensity. A future single release beckons.
Finally, a crescendo is reached, walls of static, co-opted as chainsaw basslines, merge into the beautiful melancholic euphoria of Untrust Us, only to collapse into militant acid squelches, utterly stripped of warmth. The strobes hammer, the Academy goes batshit.
The band finish, then complete a jagged encore, Kath playing a few seconds of Intimate before switching suddenly to the fractured arpeggios of Yes/No. As the crowd continue to tear each other apart- literally in the case of the dozens of skinny kids backing away from the front bruised and dazed- Glass is spent. She collapses in tears, whether for her dead friend, from exhaustion, out of the sheer madness, or a combination of all three. As gigs go it’s a gruelling experience for everyone involved, yet leaves you in no doubt that Crystal Castles are a remarkable act. Lurching this close to the brink of destruction may be unsustainable, but it’s utterly enthralling.