A Korean celebration event at UKC’s Gulbenkian Theatre was treated to a combination of film, food and music which all built up to a celebratory live show by Korean post-rockers Jambinai.
The band’s five members took to the stage in darkness and began with current album Onda’s opening track Sawtooth, an initially quiet song with an introduction played on the piri (Korean flute) by band leader Lee Il-woo. This is initially recorded via a loop pedal and ever so slowly over the course of the next minute or so the other members of the band slowly join adding texture and layer before the drums well and truly kick in.
Jambinai go on to treat the audience to a performance of truly eclectic music. The mixture of traditional rock instruments (guitar, drum and bass) with traditional Korean instruments (haegeum and geomungo) and occasionally vocals all led to create something truly extraordinary and very, very loud.
As a group they are seated for the performance which adds to the minimalism of the set. They are an incredibly skilled group who manage to use a variety of techniques to build epic soundscapes. There are moments where the individual instruments take different roles within the building of the sound, with the geomungo sometimes played as a rhythm instrument and as the driving force of the song, and at others for the melody, supplementing what is already there.
During the introduction of Onda it is explained that it is a song designed to cure pain. What follows is a vast song echoing Sigur Rós, with ethereal vocals backed by a solid tribal drumbeat. Set closer Connection from 2017’s Difference album encapsulates aspects of everything that has come before it and wraps up the performance beautifully. There are moments where you could be listening to traditional Korean folk music, and others that sound like Mogwai-inspired post rock, massive soundscapes of Spiritualized or the controlled feedback of Sonic Youth. At points the show has an almost metal feel.
At one point Il-woo jokes that they are from South Korea, the same as boy band BTS, but that they are the unknown ones. While BTS are filling stadiums and the Western world seems reasonably obsessed with K Pop, Jambinai suggest the country’s music bears closer examination.