Live Review: JAMBINAI – Dingwalls, London

JAMBINAI perform at Dingwalls, London (15/05/2024) (Photo: WHAT A TUNE)

South Korean band JAMBINAI stop off in London on their European tour for a thrilling live performance at Dingwalls, Camden.

JAMBINAI is the antithesis of K-pop. 

Their music builds on South Korean folk and gives it a post-metal twist. 

Opening the show with Time of Extinction, band member Lee Il-woo lulls everyone into a trance playing the piri (a double reed flute, used in traditional Korean music).

The other members join him, Kim Bo-mi on the haegeum (a type of fiddle), Sim Eun-yong on the geomungo (black zither), and finally Yu Byeong-koo on bass guitar, and Choi Jae-hyuk on drums start to play.

They build an ambient soundscape drawing us into their unique musical world, where loop pedals and the electric guitar go hand in hand with the saenghwang (a tall bamboo mouth organ).

It’s a primordial sound rooted in feeling and texture over glossy productions amounting to an enrapturing live experience.

Core members Lee Il-Woo (guitar, piri, taepyeongso, vocals), Shim Eun-Yong (geomungo, vocals), and Kim Bo-Mi (haegeum, vocals) met in 2009 at Korea’s National University of Arts while studying traditional Korean music, then decided to put their own spin on the music they’d studied. The other two members joined the band in 2017. 

In a 2019 interview with CLASH Lee Il-woo from the band elaborated on their concept, “most people expect Asian traditional music to make something smooth for yoga or meditation. We wanted to break all of that.”

And break it they certainly do.

Their latest album ONDA is an assault on the senses. Tracks such as Sun. Tears. Red. twist and turn in unexpected ways, gliding from a haunting folk song before plunging suddenly into a heavy metal explosion of drums, bass, and electric guitar offset by the whining of the haegeum and thrum of the geomungo. 

The piece shifts again into a lopsided march and then surreally ends with strumming a few guitar chords and singing, sounding more like a standard indie track than anything that’s come before. Elsewhere, the addition of the triangle in Naburak and its urgent ringing creates an exhilarating change of scene.

For a band invariably tagged as “rock” or “metal”, this isn’t music to dance to, it’s a seated gig and more akin to performance art, oscillating between peaceful ambient and noise music.

By the halfway point of the show, with the music following this same ambient-to-noise structure, it all starts to sound slightly formulaic. The vocals are also sometimes overwhelmed by the bass and drums.

In the final moments of the show, during ONDA, Lee Il-woo stands on a chair. He howls at the sky until the veins on his neck stand out his neck, uncaring that the mic is now out of range. Each player is in ecstasy, including Kim Bo-mi who trembles with emotion, eyes closed and repeating a riff on the haegeum.

It’s at these moments throughout the show where the band really shines, it’s an anthemic climax, the pinnacle of a journey we’ve been led on, underpinned by an addictive hook.

JAMBINAI is an act that is hard to distill down into a precise label. They occupy a unique space at the crossroads between post-metal, folk, and performance art.

And that’s precisely what makes them such an exciting act to watch – because there’s nothing else like it.

Total Score
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