Saving the earth with “Gaia & Friends”: Crystal Fighters interviewed

J.N. April 20, 2019

Meeting up with bands just when they arrived at the venue a few minutes after lunch time and after a late night the evening before and a very long nightliner ride to the next city, isn’t the optimal interview situation. Frontman Sebastian Pringle admits that he is very tired and that we need to Photoshop the photos to make him look fresh but as the interview progresses, it’s far from a drowsy chat.

Four full albums into their career and with both feet in the Baelaric beat box, London based Crystal Fighters are still believed to be Spanish, a myth that the band has been toying with for the duration of their four album releases, but with pieces of truth as some band members at different times had Spanish roots.

The core trio of the band, supplemented by drums and vocals, are in thrall to Balearic house, Basque music and highlife, and draw accolades in social media as one of the truly great live acts of the decade where they swiftly turn shows into an uplifting party experience.

But Crystal Fighters are also known for their huge effort of raising awareness of global issues as environmental problems and world poverty, building an image of a modern hippie act that use its super powers to channel these problems to their huge fanbase across the world.

When we sit down with Sebastian a rainy and very cold day in Hamburg, much attention is being paid to their passion for different charity contexts and a possible resurrection of the Mama Earth show they had to cancel.

From celebrating life to celebrating the world

What is hilarious with Crystal Fighters is that people for a long time thought you were Spanish. How long did it take for people to realize you were British and not from Spain or South America?
Yeah, they did and they haven’t stopped (laughs), it still goes on. I find it fun, some people find it annoying but I feel bad about it at times because you lead people down the path that isn’t necessarily fully true, even though there were members of the band who were Spanish at different times. It’s just one of those things you need to deal with as band, like identity issues.

In the beginning we really made an effort to adopt different identities, musically and visually. It was partly out of the fact that we found bands from America and England quite boring, and we wanted to embrace something that was from a different culture, from a different vibe, and shock the industry somehow with that approach, and I guess that still goes today (laughs). 

Much have changes since you started out with your first singles on Kitsuné, “I Love London” and “Xtatic Truth”. What made you change to a more Balearic or Latin electronic sound?
It was kind of there from the beginning, our style was a bit more rudimentary in our approach possibly, but even on “I Love London” we have the cow bells and on “Xtatic Truth” there’s the ukulele.

Those days we just used a very simple setup and recorded in a very basic style. We didn’t have a lot of percussion to use, it was just samples basically, but later on when we recorded albums with big producers it was like “Ok, let’s get some percussion and make it happen for real”, and I suppose that’s where the Latin vibe comes in a bit more stronger.

I know you said that “Everything Is My Family” is a celebration of life and to “have fun while it lasts”. Is your new album “Gaia & Friends” a celebration of the world then and a way to make it last just to make it possible for people to have fun in it?
That’s a nice way of putting it. I suppose the title was slightly loaded in the sense that, like “Are we friends with Gaia and who is being friends to the earth?”. There’s a charity called Friends of the Earth and it’s kind of playing on those ideas and leading on from “Everything Is My Family” which has more of a family vibe and everything’s being connected in some way, between friends.

This [“Gaia & Friends] kind of takes it a step further where you really have to make an effort to be friends; there’s a mutual benefit from trying to be friends with each other. If you want to be friends with someone, if you like someone as you hopefully like the earth, you have to make that effort. If you’re not friends they will reject you, it has to be a symbiotic relationship.

But does it also means that the “Mama Earth” show you cancelled at Alexandra Palace, in the very last minute is back in the works again considering the theme of “Gaia & Friends”? Or is that what the Wave Rave is about in July this year?
Well, as you say we have Wave Rave coming up which is similar I guess. That [the “Mama Earth” show] didn’t work for a couple of reasons mainly that we were working on the music and it wasn’t the right time to do the concert in terms of where we were at and where our fans were at, and it was just too much.

The new thing is the Wave Rave which will have similar themes of sustainability like cleaning the beaches and embracing the nature by being outdoors, and have that approach to life. And of course to support some charities as well.

Bringing awareness to environmental issues with “Gaia & Friends”

Global warming and climate change are hot button issues but despite the scientific consensus on these issues, there’s a wide range of extremist opinions that makes it difficult to reach through. Thankfully, the creative community has taken notice.

There are several artists creating works dedicated to bringing awareness to environmental issues and inspiring action to save our planet, and Crystal Fighters may be one of those bands that put most effort into these global issues.

Their attempts of raising awareness of global issues as environmental pollution and world poverty have made the band a movement on its own. Guitarist Graham Dickson went with Oxjam to Ethiopia to put attention on global poverty and Sebastian Pringle was being shown around the Peruvian part of the Amazon rainforest by the deforestation charity Cool Earth, and the involvement in such global movements have created an image of a band that put all their effort into supporting charity organizations.

It seems like you’re one of those bands in the frontline of raising awareness about what lies close to your hearts. Graham was with Oxjam in Ethiopia two years ago and took part in their “Against Poverty” campaign and you had this plan for the huge “Mama Earth” show planned at Alexandra Palace. How important is it for you as a band to illuminate different aspects of global problems?
It is very important. This day and age there’s so much information out there from different channels about these things. Certain people don’t engage with it because they don’t see it from their favorite artist, and for that reason I think it’s important for many different levels of artists or politicians to raise these things; many water droplets form a flood of information for people to take on board.

And that’s interesting in the perspective how powerful artists are in bring out messages. We had had an interview with Midge Ure who together with Bob Geldof organized that huge Live Aid event at Wembley in the eighties, and he said that you should never underestimate the power of artists and the message they can put out together. Is it the role of artists, especially as you with a huge fanbase, to take charge on these issues?
Sometimes it’s good that it’s not coming from the same voices, having different perspectives on it but not to be pushy and just say “This is how we do it”. I’m vegan but I don’t go around telling people “Oh, you should be vegan”. I don’t request that from anyone, naturally I’m not pushing anyone, but if people would ask I would say something about it just like the environmental thing. But it’s a struggle in my mind as to how much to push it in those situations.

I don’t like to make overly conscious protest music even though I believe in my heart there’s many, many things to protest about from deforestation to poverty and wealth distribution, womens’ rights and all these things. I just don’t want to say it in a song because our music is about happiness and escapism. But hopefully, if you’re open for these ideas, then the cryptic messages, the metaphors, come through to you and you start thinking “Ah, they’re saying something more, maybe I should look in to that or look in to them or read an interview and understand where they come from, and then find out”.

We have tried it in some songs but it’s hard when you should agree on songs on record, but I can see us in the future getting more conscious even in the lyrics because I think it’s important.

I recently had a cousin who passed away in very sad circumstances, just like what happened with Andrea [the band’s drummer who passed away], and you realize that life is very short, and living consciously and living with awareness of your body and your intake, and your whole approach to life, is so important. Also, to realize that there may not be time to go and see Colombia or Peru, or go to Africa, or do the things you always wanted to do just like that famous Paulo Coelho quote that one day you will wake up and won’t have time to do all the things you wanted to do, so do it now. You never know when you’re going to die so you need to add to experience.

I would argue that buying into big brands and buying into the easy life the corporations offer you just for them to make money, is not necessarily your experience, that’s the experience they want to give you. Your experience is awakening the mind, travel, see and understand cultures, and understand the mysteries of ancient cultures because they have endured over many years while fashions change. These truths are timeless.

But do you think it’s difficult to have an impact on people’s way of thinking although you have fans that look up to you and may listen to what you say?
As I said before, we mainly speak with our music not being afraid of putting the influences in from different cultures and be proud of that. I’ve heard a lot of bands talking about “You know, we’re from England and we play Britpop”. That kind of enforces the stereotypes like “We are not like them, this is our heritage and we stay like this”, whereas I’ve found on my travels and by listening to other kinds of music that we share a lot more than we have differences. Once you look beyond the cultural reference points, there’s many things we have together.

Also when you go to a different country and look above the shops and things like that, the nature is the same, this world has no boundaries. There’s a few walls being built and passports you need to show, but the world is ours together.

It’s hard for people who never had travelled to understand that and it’s hard when you do travel and when you find yourself up against that, like a “Hey, you can’t come here” type of feeling, and migrants today feel that more than anyone. They are not allowed to do that, they are not allowed to work and they cannot survive in certain circumstances.

You have been around the world and have lots of experience of different people and cultures, and I see “Gaia & Friends” as an evidence of that. But how do we expand common people’s minds to get an understanding of what happens in another part of the world? We have this movement of young people that strike for a better climate growing big for example.
I really love that movement. There’s probably much awareness in that movement of what is the cause of climate change and what are the factors that are going on from the industrial powers and the commercial powers that are creating this problem.

My view is that we are guilty of deforestation and animal agriculture; there’s a belief from my perspective that animal agriculture is the main problem and it’s all intertwined with the overall environmental problem.

But it’s also about engaging with the youth and I’m so happy how many young people that really want to see that vision fulfilled. They are in general very passionate about the idea that we need to look after our Gaia, our Mother Earth.

There is a genuine consciousness shift happening, and once enough people start to believe in that the commercial powers will start to provide for that need.

Can you see yourself being part of a second run of Live Aid but with focus on the climate this time, just like you tried to organize that “Mama Earth” event?
That would be nice, wouldn’t it (laughs). I think that if you try and you fail you should always try again (laughs), especially if you believe in the idea and I really believe in that idea.

Bob Geldof himself wasn’t a huge star at the time (laughs). He was a bit like us, a bit of a leftist renegade but they managed with their belief and passion to realize something massive. That’s very inspirational and I can see that happening.

Photographer: ©Teresa Enhiak Nanni
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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.