Seoul’s Jambinai mix Korean traditional instruments like haegeum (a fiddle-like instrument), geomungo (zither), and piri (a double reed instrument) with guitar and glockenspiel to make haunting fusion compositions that contain elements of post-rock, experimental, and psychedelic music.
One of the most unique bands in the local underground scene, the trio now have some music industry hardware to back this up. In November, Jambinai were awarded the Jury Prize at the EBS Hello Rookie Final. The event took place at Seoul’s AX-Korea concert hall and attracted more than 2,000 spectators eager to check out South Korea's best new acts.
“The Hello Rookie concert was the biggest gig we’ve ever played,” shares geomungo and glockenspiel player Shim Eun Yong. “The venue was packed and we heard that hundreds of people were turned away at the door because there was no more space inside.”
“Playing that show was a fantastic experience for us. It was great to share a stage with other amazing young bands, and for all of the groups to be able to make so many new fans,” says Shim.
Jambinai performed “Time of Extinction” and “Grace Kelly” during the competition. Wanting to make the already dynamic cuts more powerful, Shim and her band mates — guitarist and piri player Lee Il Woo and haegeum player Kim Bo Mi — recruited bassist Ian Gallagher (from the post-hardcore group Lo) and drummer Ryu Myung Hoon (from the screamo band 49 Morphines and the punk act Rux) for their showcase. The move worked well, as Jambinai walked away at the end of the night with a shiny trophy and 3 million won in prize money.
“We were really surprised to win because our music is very different from the music in Korea’s mainstream and underground scenes,” says Shim. “We felt really proud of ourselves when we won. It’s a moment we’ll never forget.”
While their Hello Rookie Jury Prize award was the band’s top highlight of 2011, performing last summer at one of South Korea’s largest music outings, the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival, was a close second.
“That was our first time playing on a big stage at a major festival,” says Shim. “People were really curious when they saw us with traditional instruments. After we began playing, though, they were shocked because most Korean traditional music is soft. But we don’t make soft music. Our music is hard and heavy.”
Formed in 2009, the members of Jambinai first met while studying at the Korea National University of Arts. In 2010, they issued an excellent three-song eponymous EP that garnered praise from domestic and international music scribes alike.
On Jan. 26, they will release their debut full-length. Entitled “Différance,” the effort boasts nine tracks that were written last year between May and October and recorded in November and December. While “Différance” was crafted solely by Jambinai’s three members, the group would like to have their guest players from the Hello Rookie Final appear on their next disc.
“On our EP, we focused on Korean traditional instruments,” explains Shim. “Our new album has more of a band sound to it. It’s heavy and has a rock feel. We tried to incorporate all the different types of music we enjoy, from hardcore to modern classical, and play them our own way.”
“Différance” will come out on homegrown hardcore imprint GMC Records, which is also home to Lee’s other band, 49 Morphines. Despite being very different from most of the label’s roster, Jambinai have been shown nothing but kindness from GMC fans.
“They respect our music,” says Shim. “Some of them actually told us, ‘You guys are like Metallica with traditional instruments.’”
Jambinai hope to gig extensively in support of “Différance.” While the bulk of their concerts thus far have taken place in Seoul, the group have performed in Incheon and Busan too. They would like to tour in other parts of the country, and there’s one place in particular where they really want to play.