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HARD Fest: Crystal Castles Prove They Ain't No Live Band

By Jake Guidry in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 16, 2010 7:00PM

2010_cc.jpg Last Friday, the now-traveling HARD Fest rolled into Chicago for its fifth stop and took over Congress Theatre. Headlined by Crystal Castles, the mini-festival included DJ sets from Rusko, Sinden, The Twelves and others. While Congress Theatre isn't a very good place to see an electro show, mostly due to bad acoustics, it is one of the few venues in Chicago that can support a bill like HARD Fest's. Unfortunately, our thoughts on the venue's sound issues were reaffirmed throughout the night, as it was consistently mediocre to bad. And when a band like Crystal Castles is playing, the sound better well be on point.

The night, up until Sinden, was mostly electro fare as one might have guessed. Catering to a crowd that supports shows like HARD, DJs played, as is known in the industry, bangers. We made some observations on this at last week's Lollapalooza, and while the emergence of electronic dance music is a positive thing, we can't help but think so many new-adopters are attaching themselves to a style of music that is seemingly set to expire within the next year. Music snobbery aside, the sets electrified crowds, which is really the whole point anyway.

Sinden, a prolific DJ out of the UK, brought more variety to the table, exploring jungle, dubstep, electro and even hip-hop. Akin to a Diplo set in may ways, Sinden transitioned between genres in such a way that engaged the crowd and always kept them dancing. Despite muddy sound at times, the set was a highlight of 2010 so far for us.

Whatever energy and excitement Sinden garnered was immediately dashed by Crystal Castles. Although the general crowd's response is no indicator of just how bad this set was, let us give it to you 100-percent straight: the sound was atrocious. On their albums, Alice Glass' voice is an instrument; a tool that must work in harmony with the rest of the music. When her voice isn't portrayed in the way that it needs to be, Crystal Castles lose a delicate balance and become annoying. Her muffled voice disrupted eardrums and synthesizer riffs alike, proving that Crystal Castles are a band left for headphones. There is a punchline somewhere in the fact that at one point her mic wasn't working at all, leaving us strictly with the music.

The only reason we didn't leave was the man who would take the stage next. Rusko ended the night with a set much like the one he conducted on Perry's stage at Lollapalooza. Full of dubstep and crowd interaction, Rusko did what he does best and gave us a good time.

HARD Fest is an entity that continues to assemble stunning bills. They consistently feature top-level DJs and electro acts. But with the delicacy of the sounds with these musicians, we will continue to question the appropriateness of Congress Theatre.