Jambinai & Leenalchi
(Queen Elizabeth Hall. 10 November 2023. K-Music Festival and EFG LJF. Review by Gareth Thomas)
On Friday night, the Queen Elizabeth Hall set the stage for two very different, but equally eclectic, Korean bands: a double bill that marked the opening night of one festival (2023’s EFG London Jazz Festival) while signalling the end of another (the 10th annual K-Music Festival).
First up were Jambinai, presented as heavy metal “with a difference”. The band, founded in Seoul in 2010, blend noise and post-rock elements with ambient soundscapes through the use of traditional Korean folk instruments: the bowed haegeum, piri, and the characteristically percussive geomungo zither. These bring a certain eerie folk feeling to dark, doomy rock. And although some of the nuance of these instruments is lost in the wall of sound of the performance’s heaviest moments, a very good atmospheric balance is achieved throughout.
Uncharacteristically for a rock band, each member of Jambinai remains seated throughout their performance, this is until the final track of their set: “Onda”, meaning “come” in Korean. It’s a dramatic and uplifting song, perhaps also the band’s most popular, with lyrics such as “At the end of your darkness, pain will turn into the shining stars and it’s going to come to you” (sung, of course, in Korean). During the performance of this, vocalist and guitarist Lee Il-woo (who also plays the piri and sheng wind instruments) stands up, hands reaching to the sky in a triumphant climax: a rather moving gesture to finish the set.
Following a short interval, Leenalchi’s set is a striking contrast to the first. But, much like Jambinai, they have similar roots in traditional Korean music: that of Pansori musical storytelling. This expressive style of singing and gesturing, when combined with Leenalchi’s cyclical electric bass and synth-driven grooves, takes on an almost hip-hop guise while remaining something very much unique. The funky, energetic and fun atmosphere here is strikingly different to Jambinai’s heavy and dramatic rock, as An Yi-ho and Jeon Hyo-jeong – two of the group’s vocalists – dance about the stage.
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Given this energy, the Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall seems like an odd choice of venue for Leenalchi. Perhaps a space with more room to dance along would be better suited. That being said, this didn’t stop a number of people getting up to do so during the band’s joyous encore.