Crystal Fighters, by Jackson Grant. Interview with Sebastian Pringle, centre.
2016 has been a year marked by divisiveness, politics that promote a fear of others and a movement to put up walls and barriers around our national identities. Global political attitudes have shifted toward a national defensiveness and a distrust of alien cultures, veering away from ideals that embrace, accept and celebrate differences.
But if there is one band that is standing defiant in the face of those ideologies, it is Crystal Fighters.
Based in London, the band’s core members are Sebastian Pringle (vocals, guitar/ukelele), Gilbert Vierlich (keys, guitars, Txalapaparta) and Graham Dickenson (guitars. txalaparta). They formed in 2007, and while Sebastian and Gilbert are both Londoners, Graham is from the US and former singers and original band members Mimi Borelli and Laure Stockley are Spanish and of Basque descent respectively. The band were inspired by stories in a notebook authored by Stockley’s Basque grandfather (the name 'Crystal Fighters' was taken from a play written by him). From the start, the band’s sound was grounded in Basque-folk influences, combining electro beats with the ferocity of the txalaparta, a Basque percussion instrument.
Crystal Fighters are an important band to have around right now. Their largest fanbases are in the UK and Spain, and can be seen as a creative example of the importance of nurturing cross-border relationships, “We are English speakers, but we are heavily influenced by Spain,” says Sebastian. “Thankfully Spanish people like our music too. While there is loads of amazing music in Spain made by Spanish musicians, they are mainly known in Spanish speaking countries. So we try to make Spanish songs in English, as it just comes easier to an English speaking audience.”
The band’s unique Basque-electro sound demonstrates how creatively fruitful global fusions of culture and music can be. While writing their first and second albums they travelled to the Basque region, and for their newly released third album Everything is My Family, Sebastian returned again to the Basque countryside, “...we always try and use elements from the Basque culture as it ties the music together. Usually it’s the wooden blocks, the Txalapaparta” he tells us. “It has such a tribal energy about it, we love using that in our music”
Live in Amsterdam, 2016. Photo by Teresa Weikmann
While writing Everything is My Family, Sebastian also travelled further afield to South and Central America. “It is really life experience - that’s the main thing that shaped the album” he clarifies. ”Whether it's the Basque culture, North America, Central America... wherever we go we try to connect with the people and the landscape and the land - the sound of the place - and just let it flow”
Everything is My Family maintains the signature upbeat positiveness characteristic to the Crystal Fighters sound. Lyrics focus on themes of love, partying, dancing and togetherness. “The lyrical idea just comes from appreciating everything having its place in a beautiful cycle of life - the idea that everything is helping each other exist in this world” Sebastian says. “Going back to the big bang, or whatever it was that sparked life - there was a family at that time, so surely we are still a family now - just much more spread out.”
The sense of inclusion and community is important to their live show as well, as they urge their audiences to hold hands and come together. “That's a whole other side to our thing” he explains. “The body is amazingly sensitive, receptive to positiveness, smiling, hugs, to joy - that will actually make you live longer. We are social beings.”
Crystal Fighters nurture and encourage optimism. Two years ago their drummer Andrea Marongiu tragically passed away from an underlying and undetected heart condition. Despite this, the new music has not ventured into negativity or hopelessness. Rather, they pay tribute on the track “Lay Low”, which celebrates life and the profundity of the love between friends and family. It is an uplifting track, emblematic of the attitude of the new album.
Whilst maintaining his passion for exploring new sounds in different places, Sebastian still lives in east London. His attitudes differ to those of some of his fellow countrymen - those who agree with Prime Minister Theresa May, who recently declared “If you believe yourself a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” Sebastian reflects on this statement. “I suppose she is trying to be divisive and get people to get behind their country. I completely disagree - going under the ‘everything is my family’ type thing - refugees, asylum seekers. It’s terrible selfishness that these richer governments seem to have”
One of Crystal Fighter’s earliest and most popular track is the electro-frenzied rave song 'I Love London', which has evolved into a sort of anthem for Londoners. In light of recent political events, does he still love London? “I do love London” he says, unwavering. “I currently live in London, I still have optimism. Although, I realise that I hang around in certain circles - I am vegan, I go to vegan restaurants...but I see people understanding and trying to make a change, especially environmentally.”
Through their music and live performances, Crystal Fighters want to make you dance, smile and forget a little bit about the darkness of the year. “There is an element of positive action to our band” he stresses. “Positiveness, get together, dance, fun, freedom, light, awesome - and that makes you feel good. We are glad to be fighting that corner”
Crystal Fighters are currently on their European tour, and will play Spain in December. For more information, click here.
"Everything is my Family" is out now.