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Culture, Music

Crystal Set

by Katie de Klee / 29.10.2013

A couple of weeks ago we got wind of a project that is dark, unpredictable and totally unique: a new audio show that’s comic, horrific and fucking confusing. It’s like watching television with a blindfold on and your hands tied behind your back. So we thought we’d give you the chance to listen to it too. First, we chatted to the man behind the noise – Matt van Onselen.

MAHALA: Tell us about the team behind The Crystal Set.

MATT VAN ONSELEN: My writing partner and I are both professional writers – a published author (Michael Rands) and freelance writer (me) respectively. We have collaborated for many years on various creative projects, most notably a daily political cartoon called BlackSheepTV and we developed a South African sitcom for which we shot a pilot and pitched to the various TV channels.

Why move to audio?

Realising that local television is bound by non-existent budgets and severe content restrictions, we took our interest in comedy to the audiosphere, aiming to create an old-fashioned radio series – with a twist. We created The Crystal Set, a bizarre and dark sketch comedy series unlike any other. It’s not a podcast – which run endlessly and usually consist of people talking on a particular subject – nor is it a radio drama. It’s a series of seemingly unrelated comedy sketches, all bound together by the mysterious Crystal Set itself…

What is a crystal set?

A crystal set, or crystal radio, is an old device that picks up radio waves and doesn’t use batteries. The signal isn’t always clear and people weren’t sure what there listening to.

What is the show about?

Our show is based around the actions of a strange radio host called Brian Evans, who has an unusual story he wants to hide. Then there are pure comedy sketches, each of which relates to a particular theme (per episode). For example, episode one is called “RECOGNITION”, and deals with wanting to be recognised and unacknowledged for what you’ve done or who you are.

These themes relate directly to Brian Evans himself, as is revealed gradually over the series. But what is he hiding? And what will you find when the static clears?

What inspired the character of Brian Evans?

It takes a certain kind of person to be a radio DJ… When you’re asked to speak repeatedly for hours on end, it usually comes at a price. Brian Evans tries to please people and say the right things, but he might not be how he portrays himself on air. In fact he isn’t. We think most DJs are in the same boat.

Do either you or your writing partner have something in common with him?

We like to think everyone has something in common with Brian. The skits that we explore touch on those parts of ourselves that feel anti-social at times, greedy, isolated, or even confused about who we are. The universe of the Crystal Set is dominated by these traits.

Crystal Set family

How long did it take you to write and create the series?

Over a few weeks we discussed the format of the show and set to work recording. Sometimes we’d record for 18 hours straight – it’s the kind of thing that builds with momentum. Some characters became alive as soon as we spoke about them and others didn’t work as well and had to be dropped. The strange thing was the themes that defined each episodes developed out of the character of Brian Evans, and that helped shape the show. The editing work took some time but the medium of audio is really freeing – you can paint a picture for your audience that is often even more distinct than a tv show. For creative types, that’s gold.

Will you do another? Or will you leave it to rest on the airwaves?

Series two is already nearing completion, and we’re really excited. We’ve really come to know what audio comedy can do, and now we’re on a roll. Watch this space…

How have you found the response so far?

The feedback has made all the work worthwhile. People seem to really love the show. The humour is really offbeat and unusual, and the themes the show addresses seem to speak to people and really connect with a part of their psyche. Different people also enjoy different characters and have really embraced the darkness the show offers. Comedy horror isn’t exactly an established genre, so people really seem to appreciate that this isn’t your typical show!

* You can download the first series of Crystal set here, or on itunes here.

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