High Rollers

The Crystal Method places its bets on technology and cashes in

Just a short time ago, Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland were flat broke. The digital duo had to bum rides to and from work in their hometown of Las Vegas from a girl named Crystal. But in Vegas the drinks are cheap, and the couple were able to drown their sorrows at all hours of the day and night. To make matters worse, both men were simultaneously into Crystal.

In spite of all the hitchhiking, hangovers and heartache, Jordan and Kirkland managed to keep hope alive. In the music world, any artist struggling to reach the top is merely betting that his hard work will pay off. In a busy casino of music gamblers, The Crystal Method beat the odds and hit the jackpot.

The group's form of energetic electronica has garnered alternative-radio spins and MTV rotation. Its debut album, Vegas, has already produced four singles, which include the sure bets "Trip Like I Do" and "Busy Child." With all of this popularity, the word "crossover" comes to mind. Some purists of techno music may find TCM to be too commercial or even synthetic (as if there's anything remotely organic about a genre that is 100 percent electronic). But so what? TCM's brand of dual synthesis clearly shows that Jordan and Kirkland are holding all the cards. For one, these method men don't subscribe to the seemingly endless thud-thud-thud-thud of many techno/house arrangements.

Their breakbeat style incorporates hyper-kinetic hip-hop beats coupled with warm analog keyboards that are fat enough to clog arteries. In today's digital domain, TCM is pleasurably out of synch. Soulful techno may be oxymoronic, but this dynamic duo believes that it is bringing soul into the world of technology by going against mechanical monotony.

Secondly, the members of TCM are conspicuous by their presence. With the exception of a few crossover acts like Bjsrk and the Chemical Brothers, or Prodigy and Aphex Twin, electronic music remains more or less faceless. With TCM, you know who you're dealing with. On MTV's Fashionably Loud show, hosted by Cindy Crawford, TCM appeared before a soft-porn parade of models decked out in stylish black suits, managing to hold its own amongst the glamorous company.

The enormous line outside The Bash on Ash in Tempe on February 8 stood as a testimony to the group's widening appeal. College students, 21-and-overs, ravers, dance-club regulars--you name it. The sold-out and over-capacity event had The Bash virtually swelling in size, and inside, mind trips were far easier to obtain than trips to the bar or rest rooms. In the tee-shirt booth, a shirt on the wall read, "Got Meth?" Those clever FBI agents probably seized one for evidence.

"Hey, you want some X?" asks an entrepreneurial concertgoer. "I've got the best right here, they're green goblins--this is the same stuff they're doing in N.Y. Everybody's got the stuff from L.A. that's got all kinds of junk in it. This here is pure MDMA!"

With all his East Coast ravings, he is definitely not the "friend" that got TCM in trouble. He then approaches a guy wearing a Prodigy shirt. A little later, the concert promoters announce to the waiting crowd, "Coming March 4 to Hayden Square Amphitheatre--Chumbawamba!" Naturally, hardly anyone cares.

The overly dense fog from the smoke machines (some mechanical and others human) makes for difficult breathing during the moments before start time. Stagehands run around, but there are no mikes to plug in or Marshalls to warm up. Instead, an array of anonymous keyboards (Jordan and Kirkland choose not to endorse brand names and cover them with black tape) flanks both sides of a center-stage rack full of digital equipment. Welcome to the machine.

Jordan and Kirkland take their positions and begin the CM introduction as heard on Vegas, complete with cosmic narration. Eight powerful beams of green light radiate from behind as the chairmen of the boards get everyone into the moog. The packed house is in a trance as beams pulsate from white to blue to red, but then an ascending siren announces the end of the intro. The crowd knows full well that "Trip Like I Do" is just seconds away, and every head and shoulder bobs up and down with furious intensity when the song explodes from the PA.

Like doctors, the two operate. Their faces are deadpan as they concentrate on enveloping the crowd in the warm glow of analog synths. Skilled hands dart back and forth to twiddle effect knobs, play keys, and trigger and tweak digital noises. It's impossible to determine exactly how much of the music has been preprogrammed, but with all their movements so carefully rehearsed, they deserve to be thought of as performing musicians. Jordan and Kirkland show just how much they feel their music and energy by employing gestures not unlike those exhibited by musicians performing with "real" instruments. On stage left, Jordan leans into his keyboard much like someone trying to push-start a Volkswagen. His stance seems to say, "Faster, faster--louder, louder." Kirkland, on the other hand, prefers to tip his Yamaha DX7 up on one end, occasionally twisting it until the keys are facing the audience. Like some kind of virtuoso guitar god, his movements speak, "Go for it!" Dressed in Adidas (All Day I Dream About Synths), Airwalks and baggy jeans complete with swinging chains, these polyphonic partners embody music and image that is in synch with the crowd.

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