fri 10/07/2020

Jambinai, Rich Mix | reviews, news & interviews

Jambinai, Rich Mix

Jambinai, Rich Mix

Supremely intelligent South Korean fusion of noise-rock and folk

Jambinai - intricate, cross-cultural layering of sounds

For three unassuming musicians, sitting cross-legged in a row, Korean folk-noise fusion band Jambinai’s London debut last night was seismic. With an ambitious project to integrate the techniques and idioms of traditional Korean folk with a blend of noise-rock, drone-rock and electronic music, they gave a concert that was, from the moment the grinding drone of the geomungo started yawing through the crowd, utterly distinct and original.

There are two formations performing, a trio of multi-instrumentalists, with Eun Young Sim playing geomungo (a traditional seven-stringed zither, plucked with a short piece of bamboo), Ilwoo Lee on piri, a tiny but penetrating oboe, and Bomi Kim playing haegum, a two-stringed, ululating viol. They also sing, and for the noisier tracks Lee swaps the piri for electric guitar, and also controls a mixing desk. They were joined for four of the eight songs by another drummer and guitarist.

Despite their diminutive size, both piri and haegum have a distinctive piercing tone that veers between mournful and hypnotic, and cuts through any amount of electronic noise. The geomungo has a slightly huskier resonance than a western bass, but the bamboo plectrum gives its sound a potent cutting edge, and it serves a similar role in Jambinai’s compositions. Lee applies noise effects - both purely electronic and distortions of the acoustic sound - liberally, and there are no concessions made to any supposed sensitivity of a world music audience. There were passages in “Time of Extinction” or “Grace Kelly” that had the raw power to satisfy any Sonic Youth fan, to use just one of the comparisons drawn.  

They play with an almost ritualised intensity, heads drooping and swaying, entranced by their music-making

Their original compositions are constructed in layers of contrasting atmospheres, which are powerfully and dramatically manipulated to change mood. “Naboorak”, for example, lays Bomi Kim’s ethereal singing over a fiery, thrashing drum and guitar foundation to create a disorienting, unsettling sonic collage, while “Connection”, a piece for trio, weaves a delicate piri solo over repeating patterns of acoustic sound from the other two instruments to mesmerising effect. There are no lyrics, just looped humming and chanting, and no obvious sense of narrative as such, but the moods conjured are awesome.     

They play with an almost ritualised intensity, heads drooping and swaying, absorbed in, even entranced by, their music-making. Since everyone except the drummer plays sitting cross-legged on stage, they’re not looking at their shoes as British bands of a similar outlook would do; is this the birth of kneegaze rock? Either way, it’s a deep and highly original fusion of sounds and traditions that works compellingly on many levels, showcasing both intelligent musical craft and a subtle but extraordinary stage drama.

@matthewwrighter

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