CRYSTAL DISTORTION

Valerio Mannucci

from NERO n.04 march/april 2005 The day after. In my opinion it’s not something temporal, but rather a state of mind. And it’s not even a question of lost sleep or physical malaise: the day after is a particular day for anyone who lived a great night out. But the day after is also symbol of a change that has occurred. A little like that traceable change inside the rave movement…

Brief summary:
Simon Carter (AKA Crystal Distortion) is one of the most important figures in the European underground scene. With his tribe (the legendary Spiral Tribe, a troupe of 23 people known for their free parties and problems with the law), he consolidated the foundations of hard tecno and raves around Europe, thus contributing to the current concept of the “rave movement”. And yet today he seems to be subtly critical towards it all. Even if he doesn’t want to place blame on anyone, it appears that he’s decided to distance himself from a certain type of behaviour in order to adapt to new strategies. A sign of maturity or cynicism? Difficult question, especially in a situation like today’s.
To briefly explain, what’s happening inside the vast and historically connotative reality of the rave movement is not exactly a linear and positive process. The story is always evolving and for several years now, various European states (the first among them being the United Kingdom and France, where parties sometimes reached among the tens of thousands) have initiated a political agenda of prescriptive repression and police. It’s not easy to have a clear idea about it all, nor does it interest me to examine so contorted an issue, but the situation is definitely very delicate and understandably tense. In response to such repression, instead of the large rave parties that gathered mighty masses of regulars, one has returned to parties organised in smaller spaces (squats, social centres, etc). The problem, however, is that if things are changing, not everyone seems to realise it, especially the public. They therefore find themselves in a situation of change, difficult to control and above all condemned if the methods and unconscious ideological patterns remain the same. As an external sympathiser of this ambient, it’s not up to me to judge the strategies needed to get out from this historic transition, which otherwise risks making anachronistic a reality of undoubted value and great vitality. But if we add to this that even the organisers sometimes undervalue the logistical and organisational situation, perhaps we would have a clearer picture (even if inevitably personal) of the current state of things.

Rome, February 19, 2005
Here I am, a dozen hours before the party’s over, hoping to find the time to chat with one of the people who contributed to the invention of the illegal parties, the tribe and sound systems. Let’s say that I can’t actually be described as a “fan” of his, but to find oneself seated on a couch with Simon (that is, Crystal Distortion) is a little like finding oneself facing a dark star, it’s useless to deny it. A star, however, that’s a lot closer than when watching it from below, from a dark, crowded, delirious dance floor. If you cross paths with him when he passes near an audio system, then you’re on your own. You succeed in delaying him with difficulty. But now that he’s here, lounging on the couch and devouring the seventh shitty film that the next-door neighbour of his kind host lent him, at first impact he seems almost defenceless. After having stopped the DVD, Simon finds the time and strength (but above all the desire) to exchange a couple of words with me, without too many pretensions, and with points of unexpected profoundness. Sure, he’s tired, but he also comes out of a really serious live set and a busy night. Unfortunately, also from a series of rather unpleasant events mainly connected to the breaking down of the gates by some guy (as nice as he is thoughtful), intolerant of that most inconvenient (but necessary) of social compromises: the queue. Sure, it wasn’t well organised, but it was still a queue…

Valerio: The illegal European underground movement has notably changed in recent years and you often also play in clubs. Is removing yourself from a context that you created a personal necessity of yours, or is it only a reaction to the impossibility of using the old methods?

Crystal: Hmm…this is a very tough question…well, perhaps for now it’s better if we say that I’m mainly interested in playing….better still, let’s say that I willingly play where they ask me to. In the end, it doesn’t make much difference to me, if I have to be honest. I see it more as a matter of social evolution and new possibilities.

Valerio: With regards to exactly this, how do you see the relationship between the record market, in which you are beginning to be personally involved, and the culture of the movement that you yourself contributed to spreading?

Crystal: Record market and culture of reference…I wouldn’t know; I have my label and I intend to move forward…the point is that one needs to go forward in some way. When you always move among the same people, who hold onto the same ideas and the same way of doing things for years, in the end you have to move on, you have to change, you have to be able to adapt. When opportunities arise that can be exploited, one at least needs to be capable of exploiting them; then, when one’s on the inside, one sees how it goes…

Valerio: If I understand correctly, you think that today’s situation is very different from the experiences in the early 1990s… I would like to explore this aspect: do you believe that it makes sense to speak of politics and, above all, ideology in these environments today? How do you think one can intervene today?

Crystal: Ideology? If we consider fun as an ideology, then yes. The problem is at the base and comes from the fact that today we are very ‘protected’ and, if on the one hand this is good, on the other it takes a lot of the fun out of daily living. And so one must move wherever one finds a bit of fun. In short, we have arrived at a point in which ‘global security’ is tightening a rope around us. They tell us these stories of terrorism in order to be able to protect and therefore control us, and then they go take what they need in the Middle East and spread their democracy in the world. Apart from everything else, the problem is that to live without money today, in the 21st century, is really difficult compared to only ten years ago. Today there’s too much control. So also the notion of ‘living without money’ no longer makes sense. The people that animate the rave movement are now a stereotype, while before they weren’t, perhaps because before it was something new and there was a consciousness of being at the start of something big which needed a foundation. Today the thing is already packaged and ready to go, and even if it’s no longer the same, the phenomena continues to grow. The system defined a category for the people who go to raves and keep an eye on this stereotyped - and therefore more controllable - category. The thought of stealing something today is suicide. Therefore, if you want to throw a good party you have to spend money. And in order to go to a good party you have to pay. Because of this I can say that I view money only as a tool. You don’t have to be afraid of it but neither see it as something good. Returning to the matter of control, today we’re so kept in check by the media, by the fact that one can’t bring a penknife on board an aeroplane because it means you want to kill a pilot, that probably money is man’s only chance of defence in this economic nightmare. Perhaps it will be our last defence given that all the other rights have been taken away from us. All that’s left is to support yourself and plan. I now play in commercial ambits for this reason, to also show that it’s really a small choice with respect to the real problem at hand. In the end, the people who go to the parties today are not so different from the others, in a certain sense. The people who animated the scene for years can’t go on for the rest of their lives risking arrest every weekend by the police. More stable situations are needed to be able to go forward coherently. I strongly believe in camouflage now, I think I can do more damage hidden inside the system than living it from the outside and remaining only a target.

Valerio: Radically changing the subject, I wanted to ask you a purely musical question: it seems to me that you’re moving from the classic straight sounding board towards a principally broken rhythmic structure. Do you think this is a macro-tendency?

Crystal: Perhaps we got tired or bored of listening to and playing that stuff. I still think it continues… (he says this laughing, ndr). I don’t know if it’s actually a macro-tendency, I believe that music goes forward by itself, that we don’t decide where to make it go. The music writes its own story, at least as far as I’m concerned it functions like that. And, therefore, perhaps it is a macro-tendency.

Valerio: Always with respect to your music: previously you often used a lot of bits and pieces of analogue instruments, while today you only use a laptop for the live sets. Is it a matter of convenience or is there a different work on the sound?

Crystal: I use Logic to edit the stuff that I produce. This allows me a lot of flexibility, to play live very easily, pretty accurately, and above all it allows me to use a lot of loops. It is, as you were saying, mainly a matter of convenience. There’s no different work on the sound, given that I seem to understand that you mean the use of very advanced software instruments. If you have enough control over what you’re doing, you can do what you want with these digital means, following the same path, but with greater convenience. I like this small set a lot, it allows me to play a lot of stuff, also old tracks that would be difficult to reproduce with the old instruments, it allows me to compose music… I’ll probably let the rest go screw itself, because I can travel without problems: you’re not tied to anything and you can go easy. Also, the quality of the sound doesn’t suffer, especially if you produce with the computer, because the sound remains inside it and the quality isn’t lost.

Valerio: Outside of your circle and the things you usually do, is there something else you like?

Crystal: I played the cables in a rock band!… No, I don’t know, it’s difficult to say, it’s difficult to give names, I’ll inevitably forget someone, but let me think… Obviously everything that’s valid… Sonic Youth for example, or if we’re talking about really current things, Cursor Minor comes to mind. That’s great music, you have to hear it, if you want I’ll play it for you, do we have Internet access?…

Valerio: Apart from music, what else interests you in the various artistic fields?

Crystal: Good food definitely… But I understand you weren’t referring to this, so I can tell you that in art I like the stuff made in Flash. Art… a good question would be: do you like art? (he says this with a slightly bitter smile, ndr).

Valerio: So I’ll ask you: do you like art?

Crystal: I like fortuitous, spontaneous art. I like accidental art… apart from everything, I like to make and watch videos, I like the industrial stuff and I like things that move. If we talk about institutional art, the absolutely funniest thing in the world was when the Tate Gallery gave an award to a work called Light Switching On and Off (a work by Martin Creed, ndr). A light that switched on and off, on and off, on and off, in an empty white room… (this time I also laugh, ndr).

Valerio: To finish up, then I’ll leave you to watch the film you were watching, what can’t you stand?

Crystal: Do you know that film in which people are coming back from a rave and walk into the metro? You see the hot-dog and sausage stands, the people buying their tickets. Two or three times a week, I’m in the middle of that kind of scene, in absurd hours and not always in the best of conditions… You have to take out your metro pass, open your bag, search in your jacket pockets, look in your trousers…sometimes you even have to take off your trousers! And then you have to put everything back together again and you’d also like your brain back that, by now, is long gone…


(A special thanks to Davide Talia for his collaboration and to Strike s.p.a. for giving me the chance to interview Crystal Distortion.)

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