We Tried Kayaking with Crystal Knives

Spencer had never been kayaking before …

For local EDM star-on-the-rise Spencer Mutsch, aka Crystal Knives, music means experimentation. Frequently collaborating with other artists, the producer is always open to new perspectives and musical styles. Crystal Knives performs at the Miller Lite Oasis Stage at 7:30 p.m. tonight. When I suggested we go kayaking during our interview (why not?), he greeted the proposal with this same go-with-the-flow enthusiasm. 

This was my first time kayaking in years, and Spencer’s first time ever, but we got the hang of it quickly. A quick crash course on the dock and we were off, cell phones stashed in plastic bags, just in case. (Spoiler alert: nobody fell in!)

While we were on the water, Spencer talked lyric-writing, artist collaboration and time travel.

Sarah de Warren, Spencer’s guest vocalist, joined us for the excursion; she raced ahead with ease as Spencer and I searched for the right distance between shouting and playing bumper kayaks.

As we paddled, Spencer described his production’s recent shift from a rhythmic focus to a lyrical focus. In particular, we discussed the process of creating “When I’m Okay.” These lyrics, co-written by Spencer and Sarah, contain line-by-line allusions to the Greek myth of Prometheus, the Titan who created man from clay. 

“We used that as a metaphor for the impact that another person can have on you,” Spencer explained as we floated on Lake Michigan. 

Although he’s no stranger long-distance or studio collabs, tonight will be Crystal Knives’ first live performance with a guest vocalist. Spencer said he’d like to eventually experiment with live instruments in his performances as well, expanding on the current DJ style of his performances. 

“The vocals are the first step to start testing the waters,” he said, skimming the surface of the water with his paddle. “No pun intended.”

As we made our way back to the dock, I asked Spencer who might join him on his dream collaboration.

“Can I time travel?” He asked without skipping a beat, specifying that he’d love to work with The Weeknd in 2012. “That’s when he was releasing Trilogy, which I feel like was the most raw, authentic body of work he has.” 

Just before we climbed back onto the dock, Spencer offered encouragement to other up-and-coming musicians.

“It’s not a straight line,” he said. “You just have to learn how to check your perspective and keep your eyes on the end goal.” 

Perhaps kayaking and EDM aren’t the most natural marriage. But after all, music is about experiences, shared and old and new. So maybe the water really is a perfect place to talk about music: out of your comfort zone, trying something you’ve never tried before. At least I can say with certainty that by the time my feet were back on land, I’d gained a new appreciation for the talent and dedication that goes into the genre.



Elizabeth Johnson is an editorial intern at Milwaukee Magazine and a journalism major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.