FM 102/1 Artists in Residence: The Virginmarys & Crystal Fighters

Sponsored by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's a la Carte at the Milwaukee County Zoo (8/15-8/18)






To find out more about the Virginmarys, visit thevirginmarys.com, and like them on Facebook here.

Get music from the Virginmarys, including their latest release, Stripped, on iTunes or thevirginmarys.com

Hailing from Macclesfield, England, the Virginmarys blend the sound and fury of Nirvana, Mudhoney and the Screaming Trees with the honesty of prime British rock of the early 1970’s, before the wizards and capes overcame the attack and dynamic. Their belief system begins with a devotion to the idea of playing. Live or in rehearsals, this trio are at their most comfortable with instruments in hand. Debut album King Of Conflict was recorded live in the studio with Toby Jepson producing and Chris Sheldon (Pixies, Foo Fighters) at the mixing controls to capture the band at their thrilling best.

But this is not ‘muso’ territory. Whilst Ally may have learnt his playing via a local blues maestro and lived in a house soundtracked by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Free and The Allman Bros courtesy of his dad, the revelation of Nirvana and the digging backwards to punk and forwards to the diverse likes of Elbow and Arcade Fire meant that when Ally, Matt and Danny set out to write rock songs, those were never likely to be dumb, despite being a hell of a lot of fun. Further, Ally’s nature and his position as lyricist sees the band using songs to deal with real life, real feelings and serious subjects. So a typical song from the trio rocks as hard as anything you are likely to hear but can talk about making the wrong calls despite yourself (“Dead Man’s Shoes”), domestic violence from the less thought out position of male as victim (“Portrait Of Red”) and anti-capitalism (“You’ve Got Your Money”).

It’s that blend of rock schooling and intelligence that makes The Virginmarys such a thrilling proposition. Having spent three years touring and playing alongside a series of self-released EP’s the band have built a fan base that encompasses the likes of Slash (a regular VM’s t-shirt wearer), We Are Scientists, Eagles Of Death Metal and Ash, all of whom have invited the band to support them and thousands of devoted fans across the globe. In the process they have featured on BBC Breakfast, scored an iTunes single of the week both in the UK and US, sold out London’s Garage at a canter as part of HMV’s Next Big Thing series of shows at the close of 2011.

Those beginnings have fostered a band that are ambitious without being arrogant, Ally claims that honesty is at the heart of everything he does, Danny wants The Virginmarys to be a catalyst for new bands to form and create great new music and Matt sees success as blowing away the dross that currently populates daytime radio and creating a world in which their music, and that like it, makes the music world an exciting place to be once more.


To find out more about Crystal Fighters, visit crystalfighters.com, and like them on Facebook here.

Get music from Crystal Fighters, including their latest release, Cave of Love, on iTunes or crystalfighters.com.

Every band believes that what they’re doing is unique, but few if any have as much right to make that claim as Crystal Fighters. That is, unless you know of many other groups out there fusing traditional folk music from the Basque region with contemporary dance styles, using state-of-the-art technology alongside traditional instruments from that part of northern Spain such as txalapartas and txistus, and whose debut album is based on an unfinished opera about the nature of existence and meaning of love written by a member’s grandfather in the final throes of a mental breakdown.

It is to Crystal Fighters’ eternal credit that from such esoteric raw material they have managed to fashion a supremely accessible dance album, full of irresistible rhythms, anthemic melodies and chant-worthy choruses. Star Of Love – which was assembled over a year from a number of musical ideas, beats, chords and lyrics, many of which were developed as part of their experimental and explosive live show - features 11 gloriously tuneful, exotic and euphoric songs. The fact that it can be enjoyed as a bunch of club bangers as well as a series of explorations of the themes of love and hate, insanity and death, confusion and hope, can only enhance its appeal.

So who are the mysterious characters behind Crystal Fighters? Step out of the shadows Sebastian, Gilbert and Graham, and Mimi and Laure on vocals. Not fans of the cult of personality, not much is known about them as individuals, where they are from or what their backgrounds are – they are happy to retain some mystique, especially in this over-lit age in which it is hard to keep  secrets. Suffice to say they have individually explored the gamut of music subgenres and their attendant scenes from techno to punk to dub and drum ’n’ bass, and are bringing those numerous experiences and influences to bear on Crystal Fighters.

They describe what they do, in the simplest terms, as “fast dance music with Basque instruments, synthesisers and voices”. Their diversity makes itself apparent on their records, but perhaps even more so in concert, where Sebastian in the middle of the stage with his acoustic guitar and tambourine is flanked on one side by Graham on electric guitar and, on the other, by Gilbert with his table of electronics, computers and keyboards.

The key instruments in this furious live melee are the txalapartas that are positioned between Graham and Gilbert, which they play in unison. They are a huge part of the live show, the sound of wood on wood in a rapturous four-handed rhythm ringing out over the harmonious mayhem with such primal authority. “People like our live energy,” says Gilbert, who draws the distinction between the spectacle and energy-rush of Crystal Fighters live and the “intricacies and melodies” of the recorded variety.

Crystal Fighters’ live shows are legendarily intense affairs, carousing and chaotic but full of captivating beauty. “Live, we’re more punk and chaotic, on record less so,” concludes Graham. It is in concert that the collision between past and future – between Basque exotica and mystery and techno dance adventurism – is most apparent. It’s pure pleasure, like everything Crystal Fighters do. And it comes from somewhere high above the old hills of their home, a love that comes to conquer.