It's not surprising the sad passing this month of American rock guitar great Ron Asheton has been felt across the musical divide. His sudden death certainly resonated with Canadian electro-punk duo Crystal Castles whose multi-instrumentalist Ethan Kath reserved great admiration for Asheton's trailblazing work in legendary proto-punks The Stooges.
"When I was a kid I played a Yamaha keyboard," says a slow-talking Kath on his home phone in Toronto. "But then I discovered the Stooges so I gave that up and played bass in a Stooges cover band for a few years with some drinking friends."
Although he never saw Asheton's and Iggy's reformed Stooges shows - "all I have is a bootleg video of them from the early 70s" - Kath admits it was the Detroit masters' seminal sound that initially inspired his early forays into sampling.
Downloading a computer program ACID Pro 4 while on tour in LA, Kath experimented by cut n' pasting split-second fragments of Stooges tracks to try "to make something out of them."
"That was my style with sampling," he says. "I would chop things up to death."
By 2003 his stockpile of sample-saturated instrumental tracks needed a little something extra to flesh out his creative vision. He found it in pint-sized Alice Glass, then 15-year-old vocalist in local Toronto noise-punk outfit Fetus Fatale.
"As soon as I heard her lyrics I knew that's what my tracks were missing - her view of the world," he says. "I remember that everything she said was completely original and I'd never heard anyone say anything like it before."
Drafted into the Crystal Castles rank(s), Glass assumed total control of all lyrical and vocal content thus becoming a foil to and a front woman for programmer Kath, who recently remixed tracks for Bloc Party and Klaxons.
"I gave her my instrumentals and just told her to write whatever she wanted over them," says Kath. "She likes what I do and I like what she does - we don't mess with each other."
The pair's self-titled debut album from last year seamlessly manipulates arcade game synth-punk into distorted shards of computerised nihilism. It's a record that has very quickly earned the band cult status and an unwarranted association with the 8-bit scene, a subgenre of electronic acts using computer technology commonly found in old Commodore 64s and Gameboy consoles.
"I'd rather not talk about that," says Kath. "It's so not relevant to what we do. I mean those bands are 100% 8-bit where it sounds like you're actually listening to an Atari whereas I think we're more like Daft Punk and New Order with noise-punk on top of it."
Now writing their second album for a September release, the duo is using a live drummer on their current world tour.
"We're shocked by the fact that anyone's listening to us," says Kath. "When we started we really just thought we'd record some songs and that would be it, maybe do one tour across America of basement parties. But we're shocked that anything more than that has happened - it's a complete surprise."