Now that electronica, and its countless spin-offs and nicknames, has more or less infiltrated the U.S. music consciousness, laying claim to the music genre has become almost as fashionably cool as dissing the Spice Girls. For every handful of legit acts (Prodigy, BT, The Chemical Brothers), though, there are a slew of in-with-the-in-crowd wannabes (David Bowie) and reasonably talented, go-nowhere outfits (Cirrus, Electric Skychurch).
In such a fast-paced world of synthesizers and breakbeats, recognition seems difficult, if almost impossible to come by. In fact, the genre itself almost favors faceless souls behind the instruments, as opposed to the idol worship of the mainstream dance world.
The Las Vegas-based duo The Crystal Method will possibly change all that. After churning out a number of singles between 1994 and 1997, including "Now is the Time," the first release off the City of Angels label, and "Keep Hope Alive," a searing anthem featuring Jesse Jackson, DJs Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland (who met while spinning at a strip club) made their mark with a debut full-length album, Vegas, released in July of last year.
The album, a mix of hard-hitting electronica beats and infectious, groove-driven melodies, has currently sold nearly 200,000 copies in the U.S. alone. A contribution to the Spawn soundtrack that paired the guys with Filter and various television appearances only served to solidify The Crystal Method's progressive success and increased visibility.
"I think the steady, slow, worm-like pace that we're on is better than either just nothing happening right away or, like, a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing," admitted Jordan over the phone from a tour stop in Albuquerque, N.M. "For the most part, people hadn't really been exposed to this type of music and the whole culture thing that went along with it."
Jordan agreed that initially, many artists "shot themselves in the foot" by choosing not to tour and staying behind the scenes. Audiences couldn't respond to someone they didn't see. Another problem he sees with the U.S. being so slow to respond, though, is a lack of home-grown artists in a British-dominated scene.
"I think on the one end, it works out really well for us to be one of the few acts that have an album out, touring and stuff. But on the other hand, if we're the only one doing this it's like, we can't carry the whole country," said Jordan. "If there were more people, I think just by that fact that there would be more people into the music."
For now, though, Jordan and Kirkland seem content as stateside poster boys. They honed their live skills last summer as part of the Electric Highway tour, a revolving-artist festival that featured Fluke, Arkarna, DJ Keoki and dozens of other up-and-comers. It's an experience Jordan reflects on with a decidedly mixed attitude.
"Every night we played to pretty decent-sized audiences, great lights, great sound, the whole nine yards, but other aspects of the show weren't as great," admitted Jordan, who played the Westpark Entertainment Center late last year as part of the tour. "Some of the shows started really early or ended early ... so some of it was just ill-conceived and not planned."
Despite the spectacle of Electric Highway, Jordan said this current tour, which kicked off in San Diego on Feb. 6 and runs through March 13, is actually playing to bigger crowds. Electric Highway averaged roughly 1,000 people a night, while this outing regularly exceeds that number. The first three dates sold out.
"We just exercise a lot more control," said Jordan, referring to the fact that he and Kirkland chose road partners BT and DJ Taylor, along with David Holmes, Fatboy Slim and the Propellerheads, who will appear on select dates.
"We get to make sure local promoters are involved. Our crew now has been with us. They understand the whole thing. Electric Highway, the crew was the production crew for Yanni, so it was a little bit of a culture barrier there, to say the least. It's just much smoother."
One thing that doesn't change from tour to tour are the audiences, which Jordan calls "incredibly enthusiastic. We like it to go crazy when we go on. We get as close to the crowd as possible. We like them to get into it."
Jordan said fans can also expect lots of freedom at the band's shows. "We make sure there's places for people to move," he said. "We'll never play a place that is all reserved seating."
The Crystal Method's main goal, though, is to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do indeed do their own thing onstage.
"What we try to do every night is to just give a performance, a live performance, us playing, rather than just like either taped playback of material or sequenced playback of material," said Jordan. "In other words, we want to perform instead of having our gear perform, which is, I think, what a lot of electronic acts are guilty of, or have been guilty of in the past."
Once the tour wraps in mid-March, Jordan said he and Kirkland hope to start working on a second album, along with a few remix projects for other artists.
"We'll always want to do a couple of (remixes) a year to keep one foot on the dance floor and one in the ghetto, I guess," joked Kirkland. "Hopefully after the second album we'll get a chance to maybe produce one other artist a year, but we can't schedule our time that well right now."
One reason could be the increased number of outside commitments The Crystal Method has taken on, like remixes and production offers. "It's like this is what we've always dreamed of, and we're on the road, and we say, 'No, we're on the road, we can't do it,' and cry," laughed Jordan.
The guys have also entered the world of high fashion, performing on MTV's third annual Fashionably Loud and at a recent private Versace show in Milan.
"It was like, 'What? You want to fly us to Milan and have us play for a bunch of supermodels walking around? Uhhh, okay," Jordan said, in reference to the group's unexpected entrance into the fashion world.
Besides perusing couture lines, Jordan confessed a fondness for ice hockey, roller-blading and going to the movies when he's not bringing the house down with his music. In fact, Jordan proved himself a considerably competent critic with his quick dissection of a recent flick.
"I saw Jackie Brown with my dad during Christmas. I didn't think there was enough killing. There was lots and lots of long, drawn-out shots of people just driving in a car."
While Jordan calls himself the least-qualified person to comment on the recent Oscar nominations (for which Jackie Brown received one), he did disclose a plan for catching up with new releases.
"Our A&R guy is married to Rosanna Arquette. So, I'm thinking she's got all these copies of movies, like new releases, that she can get. I've got to ask him to send us tapes on the road so we can watch movies."
Pending his mobile theater outings, Jordan seems content with The Crystal Method's current ranking among the ever-changing electronica scene.
"It's been great. The shows get bigger, and the record keeps selling," said Jordan. "The only thing is that the more we stay on the road, the more we're not in our studio. We're just wondering when we get to work on our second record."
The Crystal Method, BT and DJ Taylor hit The Orbit Room at Incognito, 2524 McKinney, tonight at around 8 p.m. Tickets are no longer available at Soundwaves, but call (713) 237-9431 for more information.