The body electric
Electronic music goes on a Community Service Tour
By Donna Freydkin
July 20, 1999
(CNN) -- If Canadian crooner Sarah McLachlan can stun her many naysayers by staging the Lilith Fair festival -- and if heavy-metalist Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest can keep transforming arenas nationwide into mosh pits -- then why can't The Crystal Method do the same for the burgeoning electronic music scene?
Because electronica can't be played live. Because it's inorganic music that only works in a studio, not on a concert stage. Because you can't take it out of its natural habitat, the smoky dance club, and transplant it into a cavernous venue. And so on.
Not so fast, say artists of the Method, one of the forerunners of the U.S. electronic music movement. These folks think people want to dance, not just mosh. So the band, made up of two veterans of the Los Angeles rave scene, teamed up with Britain's Orbital, the Lo Fidelity Allstars and DJ John Kelley to hold the Community Service Tour. It's an assemblage of four bands staging what are essentially six-hour raves in cities nationwide.
"Our concept from the very beginning was that if we play live, it has to be a live performance, period," says Ken Jordan, half The Crystal Method and a co-founder of the Community Service Tour.
"We have to play the sounds the audience hears. It has to be easy to decipher. And it seems like a simple concept, but it's so important. Not playing live really hurts the image of electronic music. It bugs us when people don't put any thought into their live performances."
"Electronica" in popular music is an overly broad catch-term for electronic listening music created largely from existing music samples by computer. (In contemporary classical work, it's more about original composition, just with electronic instrumentation.)
Detractors of popular "electronica" argue that what works so well in the studio just can't be replicated live. But artists like those of Orbital, the Chemical Brothers and The Crystal Method -- all of whom draw heavily on techno and house music and mutate existing tunes into their own creations -- have long been recognized for their powerful live shows.
The time had some, says Jordan, to field his idea of a true concert -- in which bands did something as basic as playing all their own instruments live, rather than relying on prerecorded tracks. This, to prove that electronica is as viable a music form as anything else on the tour circuit this summer.
"The Community Service Tour was our idea," he says. "We want to do a summer tour every year, and we wanted to be able to choose the acts on it. We can tour ourselves but we wanted to have a package tour so it would make for a longer night."
Orbital (brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll) and The Crystal Method headline the 18-date electronic feast. The tour kicked off with a July 4 performance in Chicago, and is to wrap up July 24 with a Los Angeles show.
"We knew that Orbital and the Lo Fidelity Allstars could do it well on stage. And we won't bring on acts we're not sure about," says Jordan. "There were a lot of early knocks on electronic music, but it was true in some cases -- some bands have very poor live shows. They do nothing more than bring their studio with them on stage. They don't interact with the audience or anything like that."
Not so The Crystal Method, armed with its solid electronic-music credentials. The band's live shows have a reputation for being meticulously planned and executed. Jordan and fellow Method-man Scott Kirkland play all their instruments on stage, letting the audience see exactly what they're doing.
The two started out as DJs in their native Las Vegas. They ended up working out of The Bomb Shelter, their studio in Glendale, California. There they created music using a variety of instruments, samplers and sequencers.
They remixed tracks for artists including Moby, Black Grape and the Zen Cowboys. And after the underground hit single "Now Is the Time" was released in 1994, The Crystal Method even managed to open up for England's Chemical Brothers in January 1995 (the Chemical Brothers are expected to tour later this summer).
"When our first single ("Now Is the Time") came out," Jordan says, "we started doing live shows and getting requests to play it live. We hadn't thought about doing a live show and started to check out other electronic concerts. And we saw that it wasn't live it all -- it was just really bad."
So Jordan and Kirkland came up with the Community Service Tour, which is as much about trying to validate electronic music as about adding some much-needed variety to the summer concert circuit -- currently dominated by the unplugged Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Lilith Fair tours. And besides, club kids need love, too.
"The general feeling when talking about electronic music is that computers make it and that artists aren't writing music," says Jordan. "Our success has helped legitimize electronic music, but other acts have helped as well, such as Fatboy Slim."
Jordan acknowledges that in coming years, it may be more difficult to replicate this summer's stellar lineup, as many of the British bands opt to stay in Europe during the summer months and play local festivals. Nevertheless, Jordan says he's aiming high.
"Next year, we want to play 40 dates. And have it be much bigger and better."
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