In the early 1990s, The Crystal Method came into existence. The original founding duo consisted of Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan. For over 25 years, the two producer-DJs have been pioneers of the American “big beat” genre of electronic music.
Without a doubt, The Crystal Method has always been an electronic music innovator, easily grouped alongside an international collection of artists like The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Basement Jaxx and more. Their sound laid a foundation for what various electronic music genres are now, with heavy breakbeats, samples and synthesizer-produced loops and patterns. In addition to numerous albums and compilations released, The Crystal Method’s sound has been featured on video games, movies, T.V. shows, fashion runway shows, commercial advertisements and more. The group has always maintained a unique reverberation, at the same time constantly satiating an international rave scene with fresh and inventive music.
In 2017, Ken Jordan retired from music, but The Crystal Method now soldiers on led by founding member, Scott Kirkland.
I had the awesome opportunity to talk story with Scott Kirkland last week. With a sense of excitement and thrill for the up-and-coming Crystal Method show at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, we discussed his first musical influences, the early heyday of rave culture and the touring grind of the early 90s. We discussed The Crystal Method’s rise to popularity, and connected on the level of community that’s typically known to those who love electronic music and its unique culture.
When I spoke with Scott, he was taking a break from the studio where he’s finishing up his newest album, “The Trip Home.” The release date is later this summer and coincides with the 21st anniversary of The Crystal Method’s first studio album, “Vegas” (Outpost Recordings). “Vegas” is pretty much legendary and was certified platinum in 2007.
I started our conversation by asking Kirkland about the production process. “I’ve been mixing it with my good friend Glenn Nichols over at Sound City Studios here in The Valley [Los Angeles]. It’s where Nirvana made “Nevermind,” where Smashing Pumpkins made “Siamese Dream,” and where Fleetwood Mac made “Rumours” amongst many historic albums by other groups. The result of all this work is making me feel very jubilant right now!”
Scheduled to play two shows in Hawai‘i – one in Honolulu and one here on Maui – Kirkland continued by expressing anticipation for his upcoming trip. He told me, “You’re in my favorite part of the world. I’ve been going to the islands since I was a kid. My parents would take me there. I’m super excited to be coming back to Hawai‘i.”
When I asked him what he was most excited to experience on Maui (besides playing at the MACC), he stated, “I’m looking forward to going back to Mama’s Fish House. Enjoying the food, and seeing all the action from the ocean and the people braving the island, creating such a majestic balance with water sports. It’s a special place and I feel that the two times I’ve had a chance to go there, it really feels like it’s part of Maui. You just can’t miss Mama’s if you want the full experience of being on Maui.”
Scott was born in Southern California and moved with his family to Las Vegas when he was just 1-year-old. He spent the next 19 years living in Sin City. He told me how his family worked in the gaming industry and how different it was in Vegas then, versus now. In the ‘70s, Clark County only had about 150,000 residents. Today, there are over 2 million residents. He still visits family in Las Vegas often, and was just there to shoot the album artwork for his new album, “The Trip Home.” I asked Kirkland about some of his earliest music influences.
“My mom loved Donna Summers, Stevie Wonder and lots of disco. My dad had a pretty decent turntable, and I remember the Marantz receiver with that nostalgic blue glow. They had parties a lot, and I was sometimes the one playing at Christmas parties and other house parties. I remember getting a thrill out of playing music and having someone in the room react to it, sing along or just tap their foot. That’s a way that I kind of got the bug to share music. My mom listened to lots of disco, she loved the ‘Combat Rock’ album by The Clash, and my dad loved all kinds of rock, Pink Floyd and some of the more abstract and synthesized stuff. My parents said the first song I ever danced to was ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple. I love music, I love playing music and I always knew that I wanted to play music.”
Kirkland wanted to learn to play the drums like his uncle, but later settled on a different instrument: the guitar.
“I started taking guitar lessons during that sort of heyday of hair metal, Judas Priest and the start of Metallica. I’d go to lots of shows anytime anyone came into town. I took guitar lessons from Mark Slaughter who then went on to start his own band, Slaughter, which had that classic rock anthem sound. He was a really sweet person and when he went off into his musical adventure he gave me a cassette tape and inside he wrote a really lovely paragraph of encouragement. To me, he was someone who was now leaving Vegas and going to tour the world. Being someone who also had that aspiration, he inspired me to keep grinding.”
Kirkland continued by saying, “I was never really a good guitar player, though. I was into heavy metal, and when I first heard Depeche Mode, I was still carving AC/DC on my Pee Chee folder. One day, in the back of my classroom, my friend Jason gave me his Walkman to listen to. “Black Celebration” was playing. I remember thinking ‘holy shit, this is so awesome.’ It had this epic cinematic vibe. It was bigger, dark and had a motive. That’s when I really started to get into the world of Depeche Mode, New Order and many of those other bands. A lot of those bands used the guitar sound, so I again brought out my guitar and began to play with making music in combination with synths and a little drum machine.”
In fact, Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan first met while working at a grocery store in Las Vegas. Scott was in the break room messing with his drum machine when Ken walked up to him. “Ken was like, ‘hey, you make music?’ and told me he was working with a singer. I had written a song with lyrics, and he had a singer. So, I played him the song one day and he liked it and we recorded it. We started working with his singer, and then Ken eventually moved from Vegas to L.A. I followed him out there, and the rest is history.”
When Scott first moved to Los Angeles, things began to change fast. They were exposed to the rising rave scene of the late ‘80s-early ‘90s, and experienced a lot of firsts. I asked him about the technology that they were using at that time and what some of his earliest electronic music exposure entailed.
“I had a synthesizer I got for graduation, a drum machine, guitar, amp and a little 4-track player that I would do demos on. Before I had a sequencer, I started getting into sampling. When we first came to California we had a sampler and Ken had some gear and we combined our stuff. We’d go out to raves in 1989-1990, very early in the scene. Actually Marques Wyatt did this party called MAC’s Garage (Marques, Angel and Chris’ Garage) that we’d frequent, and we also went to a club called Moonshine, what the Moonshine record label derived from. They were basically at warehouses with sound and rave light visuals. People would find their way to raves through a kind of secret map location.”
For the early days of The Crystal Method, going out and discovering new things and realizing that the world and music was changing was extremely influential for Kirkland. He told me that this is what really inspired him and Ken.
“At first, we thought that we’d be producers and we liked the idea of working with singers. When we started experiencing the club world, we saw Orbital and were just amazed that it was just two guys up there playing with their synths. We realized that we could do that too, and decided to get in there and start to make our own music.”
The duo responded to a record label advertisement in Herb Magazine. The ad was from a small upstart label called City of Angels, and they sent in a demo that eventually became their first release. “Now is the Time” came out in 1994, and then “Keep Hope Alive” followed in 1995.
In regards to the first official launch of The Crystal Method, Kirkland told me that they began to do shows wherever anyone would book them. “We’d take our gear to the airport, give the guy $20 to check in 600 pounds of cases and fly into a city, set ourselves up, play a show, and then go back to our hotel in whatever promoter’s 2-door hatchback. Then, we’d fly to another city and do it all over again. We knew that the only way we’d grow, and if radio wasn’t going to play your music, is by getting out and playing in front of people. We did that all through 1996. We started making our first album, “Vegas,” and signed to Major record label which was the name of the Outpost label in early 1997. Then, we distributed it through Universal and Geffen.”
The first big show Crystal Method played was with The Chemical Brothers in L.A. in 1996. At that point in time, The Chemical Brothers were actually known as the Dust Brothers. Scott and Ken were huge fans of them, even though they only had a few songs and remixes out at that time.
Scott told me more about that experience. “That was an exciting time because there was such a vibe for [The Chemical Brothers] and the early West Coast break scene. There wasn’t any one particular electronic music style; there was techno, house and a couple of other things. We just really loved the organic nature of breakbeats and coming from a world where we were raised listening to a lot of funk, disco and soul, it was a very natural progression. In connection with our rock influences, that brought in our idea of distortion and grit. That punch brought the vibe of being really passionate about something- our music.”
Pretty soon after, The Crystal Method played a show with The Prodigy in Denmark around 1996. “Playing with those bands, and seeing a little bit of the world, that was another new thing,” said Scott. “There weren’t really any festivals in the U.S. in the early days. The grind of touring pushes you more, and makes you enthusiastic, passionate and positive about it. Going outside of the U.S. made us think we’re kind of behind, and maybe one day there’ll be a really thriving scene in the U.S. That thought was encouraging and motivating. We realized that we were onto something and loved it. We had a lot of fun and got a lot of positive reaction from our tracks.”
I asked Kirkland about his first impression about the rave scene. “I remember feeling really positive about it, and the community. I grew up going to a bunch of rock shows where there’s a certain amount of testosterone and beer guzzling that brings in other factors, mosh pits, etc. This was different. It wasn’t always just about the music. When I went to those first raves in warehouses, just going in and having the sense that you’re doing something slightly secretive and partially illegal was new. You’re surrounded by all these people from different backgrounds, different races, different vibes, different ages and everyone just got along. You went in there to dance, and you became a group of like-minded people. Maybe you’d never see those people again until the next party, but in that room, and at that time, it was magic. It felt like such a cool scene,” said Kirkland.
In addition to being early innovators of a now giant and mainstream electronic music scene, The Crystal Method participated in many groundbreaking and diverse projects that no other electronic music group had ever done: video game music, film soundtracks, commercial advertisements and some of the first fitness-electronic music fusion projects like the Nike Drive shoelace running device. Raver-gamers may also remember a Playstation video game called “N20:Nitrous Oxide.” The entire game soundtrack was created by The Crystal Method, and featured a galaxy-like underworld where a spaceship would fly around collecting little mushrooms and coins with an “E” on them.
Donatella Versace personally reached out to Crystal Method to ask them to perform at Versace’s first runway show after her late brother Gianni was assassinated in 1997. That is when The Crystal Method became one of the first electronic groups to provide the musical vibe for a fashion runway show full of supermodels, A-listers and celebrities.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Kirkland if he had any advice for a new DJ or producer in the electronic music scene.
“Don’t be like everyone else. Find your sound, find your style and embrace it. Be passionate about everything you do. Don’t take any shows off, don’t miss any opportunity to make someone smile. Be nice, be kind and be humble, and for God’s sake, have fun.”
The Crystal Method plays at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center at 6pm on Sunday, June 10. The show is all ages and ticket prices start at $20.
Photos courtesy of The Crystal Method