When I first got to college, something I started doing more of (than usual, even) was lying. Particularly, about my cultural interests: The kinds of music, TV, movies, books, that I had as my life touchstones.
This was done as a sort of stilted self-defense, a way to reassure strangers that I was as innocuous and likable and malleable as possible. Of course, that’s the stupidest way to make friends — you end up looking like a people-pleaser, which I was/am, and as hokey as it sounds, people really do respond to authenticity.
But there were a few things that I didn’t lie about. One of them was Crystal Castles, and my devotion to a band I hadn’t yet ever seen in person. It was one of several tethers to the person I actually was in high school (others included Mad Men, and my inescapable Asian identity), so even as I ran around doing things like rushing an Asian sorority (haaa) and kissing random frat bros at parties (HAAA), there were at least a few things that I did do for enjoyment. And I’d come home at 3 am, sloshed and sleepy and trying to remember what essays I had due later that week, and collapse into that tiny dorm bed for another round of exhaustive pretending, but sometimes, I’d put on Crystal Castles’s “Baptism” and dance around barefoot (I know, I know) in the carpeted room I shared with someone who’d later become her sorority’s president. So.
But one by one, the threads connecting me to Crystal Castles began to fall apart. It started with the dissolution of my high school relationship; I’d dated a boy who literally only wore black up until our junior year of high school, and he related to Crystal Castles in the way that people who only wear black do to any sort of nihilistically-inclined group. My own adoration of the band was partly because of their music but also partly because of Alice Glass, she of the fearsome cropped hair and oil slick eyeliner and drinking-whiskey-out-of-the-bottle antics. (Aside, was there any girl/woman who didn’t feel the pressure to start enjoying whiskey around 2010, 2011?) I chopped off a foot of hair in high school in an attempt to get her look; it didn’t work, and when I asked a former friend about it a couple of years later, he told me, “Yeah, nobody wanted to say anything about it, including [redacted].”
So, there was that. But II as an album made me cherish them more; songs like “Celestica” and “Not In Love” (especially, of course, after the Robert Smith version came out) and “Vietnam” struck a chord, rolling over me in waves of audio ecstasy. I couldn’t understand the lyrics most of the time, so it really was all about the music — the ebb and flow of the band’s crystalline production, spearheaded by Ethan Kath, and the way that Glass’s voice served as an organic anchor for it all, a seemingly direct continuation of a punk-feminist ethos against the notion that women’s voices have to be pretty, in the music industry or otherwise. (Something that’s, alas, taken a turn for the worse with the rise of the aural honey pots of EDM.)
I would go on to see Crystal Castles… four times?, between summer 2011 and summer 2013, and they remain my most-attended artist. Three times at festivals (Oxegen in Ireland, Governors Ball in NYC, HARD Summer in LA), once at LA’s Hollywood Palladium ballroom, all of which stunk of sweat and weed and piss — each time, I would walk out of the crowd with a silly grin on my face, on a raver’s high but not actually rolling.
And then, they were no more, and in the aftermath of their split (which I chronicled on my stint for One Week One Band) I tried to hold onto that feeling of “They get me. They got me.” Except: with Alice and Ethan fragmented and pointedly at odds with each other’s accounts of their time together, it was difficult to reconcile the public record of their disputes (catalyzed by Glass releasing a frankly frightening song called “Stillbirth”) with the private harmony I’d internalized about them. They had been an example of my favorite kind of partnership dynamic, the hermit and the hellion, and for the severed parts of the totem of my musical and personal identity to go, “Actually, we don’t get along, and we won’t ever get along,” cut me deeper than anything before or since. Which is fine — people change, circumstances change, what we see isn’t ever all of what’s going on. But the band had been a real rock in my life for my most formative decade, and to see it continue on as a faded iteration of the thing that first demanded my attention… Well, now I understand(-ish) why old white classic rock fans are so angry all the time.
The disconnect between Crystal Castles, the myth I clutched to my chest as I entered adulthood, vs. Crystal Castles, the band that was recently dropped from an ostensibly feminist SXSW showcase, has been growing for years. But it was only until our founding femme, April, asked me which artist I fan over the most that I paused to consider — Crystal Castles wasn’t that for me anymore. I had been rudderless for a while, but to actually say “Well, it used to be Crystal Castles” still felt/feels like a betrayal; not of Ethan or Alice, but of the teenage girl who used to bounce around her bedroom to “Air War” and “Vanished,” the too-drunk-to-function young woman who threw up in a Port-a-Potty and rallied hard to mosh to “Suffocation,” her sober counterpart who shed tears to “Sad Eyes.” It’s inevitable that things change as time moves on, and to acknowledge that shift in a formal way is still uncomfortable, but there’s also nothing to be done about it — you look over your shoulder at the person you once were, and wave goodbye.