Crystal Fighters have always sought to open themselves up to the world. After all, they’re inherently a fusion concept – part British and part Basque; part old and part new; part pop and part traditional. But when the world changed, so did they. Separated on different continents by the pandemic, the band looked inwards, and started to realise what had been missing. Dialling into the energy of their earliest recordings, new album ‘Light+’ is their most inspired, dynamic, and addictive statement yet, the sound of a band utterly renewed.
2010’s debut album ‘Star Of Love’ introduced them to the world, succeeded by excellent sophomore set ‘Cave Rave’. A decade of lights, camera, and action followed, with Crystal Fighters becoming used to lives of perpetual motion. “I’m always excited to visit different places,” says frontman Seb Pringle. “There’s always something to learn from different music and cultures around the world.”
While this simple message sustains the band, it also pushed them to the brink. At the dawn of the pandemic they were close to burnout, beginning to lose sight of what motivated them. When lockdown came, it was almost blessed relief, a respite from an unwieldy schedule. Drawn to South America by his passion for music, singer Seb sought out the cumbia, champeta and bullerengue rhythms of Colombia. Without a better option as the world started to shut down, he decided to stay put, seeing out the pandemic in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast of the country. “It felt like living outside of normal time,” he says. “I was on a beach, with not much access to the outside world. It came as a relief, really. I was able to enjoy life, and reflect on my experiences.”
Co-writer Gilbert Vierich remained in the UK, while band mate Graham Dickson saw through these world-changing events from his new home in the United States. Throughout all this the band remained connected – by phone calls, Zoom meetings, and WhatsApp groups. The world may have slowed down, but – if anything – their creativity increased. “We were writing purely for us,” the singer points out.
When he was finally able to return to their base in the UK in the summer of 2021, Crystal Fighters were primed and ready to go. It was as if a fire had been lit inside them, resulting in song after song. Around 60 tracks were demoed – more than some bands write in their entire career – before the group entered the studio. “There’s an infinite amount of new things you can do with music,” he says. “That’s what keeps me interested. It’s how you can mix old and new music, traditional sounds with cutting edge electronic music.”
The idea was simple: to give fans a fresh definition of Crystal Fighters by returning to their core values. As a result, ‘Light+’ is packed with ideas – from rave workouts to tropical pop, from hints of cumbia to delicious pop melodies. “We wanted to get to the roots of who we are, and how we felt when we were first coming up,” the singer points out. “When we only wanted to make music for ourselves, and to make people dance at our shows.”
Old friends Charlie Hugall and Luke Smith returned to produce the new record, with additional help in the electronic arena from Ghost Culture – whose collaborative record with Falle Nioke became a mutual soundtrack for the group’s lockdown activities. A band unleashed, ‘Light+’ feels unforced, natural, and completely true to their back catalogue. Take new single ‘Manifest’ – constructed with the help of FYFE, it opens with crisp guitar chords before surging into a heady 80s inspired synth feels, blessed with light, hope, and a quiet sense of urgency. “It’s about chasing the setting sun,” says Seb. “The freedom that travel can bring; and escaping the confinement we all felt for so long in our lives. Something so many still dream of escaping.”
In a way, the single points to the energy of the album as a whole – it’s about embracing freedom, and making people move. Looking to their live shows, Crystal Fighters have a way of zeroing in on a frenetic and reckless disregard for convention. “Our rule was, if you want to play fast, then play fast. In the live shows, our favourite moments can be incredibly fast, and kind of chaotic… but in the collective energy it all hangs together.” It’s also an album of deep emotion, however. Take ‘Carolina’ – a real-life love story set in Colombia, it’s a homage to a woman Seb fell for, someone who escaped the rat race, and made her way to the coast. “She was living a different life… with not a lot of money, but a lot more happiness. I wanted to tell her story, of how she claimed her freedom by letting go of what society expects of us to pursue her own dreams. Living a life you enjoy rather than living for your work.”
Lyrically, the band move from grand, thought-provoking statements – ‘Multiverse’ and ‘End The Suffering’ – through to simple ‘boy-meets-girl’ pop songs. “It’s the contrast,” Seb says. “Real life has to happen as well. Each of us is looking for love, or pining over a situation in our lives. It’s honest to write about that, as well as something that’s a bit more spiritual. It speaks to who we are as a band.”
‘Love x3’ started as an acoustic idea, before becoming a lush tropical onslaught, asking fans to open their hearts once more. “It’s asking for us to experience love as a collective. It’s what can sustain us, and heal us as a society,” he says. “We’re all in need of real connection. And we need music that speaks to us as individuals, as people who are fallible, and need help. Sometimes life can be a very tough place to be. Music can really help people open up.”
Scorching album highlight ‘Tranquilo’, for example, takes its name from a carefree expression common across the Spanish-speaking world – put simply, it means ‘all good’. “We wanted to capture that vibe, and take it over to English-speaking cultures,” he says. “It’s a reminder of that familiar feeling of when we want to be all calm and chill, but reality gets in the way. It’s asking people to step back from the traffic of your thoughts, and observe them. Life can be hard… so you’ve got to take it easy.”
Right now, Crystal Fighters are living their lives in a ‘tranquilo’ fashion. Each moment counts, and they take life for what it is. “It taught us the value of collaboration,” he says. “The time we spent apart mellowed us all out, in a certain way. We’re happier than ever, and we want to use our platform to deliver our message to the greatest number of people that we can. As the album says, more light. More positivity, more clarity. We all need more hope in our lives.”
Crystal Fighters are like a burst of light in the darkness – soon the sun will be coming up, and the party can begin.