The future is bright for Nantucket native Graham Dickson and his folksy, rock and roll band, Crystal Fighters. The breakout band Crystal Fighters is a tough act to categorize, but the song “Plage” off their debut album is probably the best sample of their sound. French for “beach,” “Plage’s” jaunty melody and ebullient ukulele echo the influence of world music while the song’s catchy, spirited lyrics are the kind you could imagine singing around a bonfire. By the time the song is over, you can almost taste the ocean air in your lungs and feel the toasty sand between your toes. Which makes perfect sense, as the beach is never far from the mind of Graham Dickson, the Crystal Fighters’ founding member.
Born on Nantucket, Dickson now travels the globe with the band, performing at concerts and festivals from Brussels to Berlin, San Diego to San Francisco. Yet no matter where he travels, Dickson always keeps his island home close to heart. “It was such a beautiful place to grow up,” he says. “It’s the kind of place where you didn’t have to lock your doors. There was such a sense of safety, and a sense of freedom that came from that.” This freedom included plenty of time spent outdoors, learning to surf off Nantucket beaches, and immersing himself in music. He was playing piano by the age of five and then went on to learn the drums and guitar.
While he certainly inherited creativity from his mother, local artist MJ Levy-Dickson, the 29-year-old’s musical tastes came largely from his father, who introduced him to improvisational and theatrical rock and rollers like Frank Zappa. He also exposed Dickson to dub reggae, a drum and bass- heavy subgenre that springs from Jamaica, where the elder Dickson once lived. “Throughout my childhood, my father always made sure I listened to many different styles of music,” he explains today. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was giving me extensive instruction.” And when it came to music, Dickson was a stellar student.
However, it wasn’t until studying at Edinburgh University that Dickson met musician Gilbert Vierich. Vierich introduced Dickson to his long- time friend Sebastian Pringle, who was producing music in London, and Crystal Fighters was born. The band’s sound still needed some fine-tuning. After experimenting with various styles, the three discovered folk melodies from the Basque countryside of northern Spain.
Around that time, friend and singer Laure Stockley, who would eventually join the band, shared with them an un- finished opera manuscript that she had recovered from the home of her reclusive late grandfather. “It was a book he had handwritten on his death- bed,” explains Dickson. “It was kind of crazy, full of these insane yet incredible writings.” Crystal Fighters extrapolated the mad, existential musings to create the lyrics and melodies on their debut album Star of Love.
With their famously energetic and artsy shows, Crystal Fighters has been catching fire with a certain breed of fans and music critics. They’re drawn to the music because it is exotic and euphoric, funky and punky, and stems from a group that would be equally at home playing Burning Man, a warehouse rave or Woodstock. And with their star rising, Crystal Fighters has certainly had a chance to tour the world, playing everything from music festivals in Spain to clubs in Chicago, bringing their global sound everywhere from Japan to the Azores. They’ll be logging even more miles now that they’re touring to support their new album, Cave Rave.
Ironically, despite all the band’s globetrotting, Dickson says Nantucket is one place they haven’t yet had a chance to play. Local audiences will just have to wait and see when this Nantucket native will bring his music back to where it all started.