A minute before coming on stage, the audience is asked to observe a minute’s silence for the victims of the Halloween tragedy in the central Itaewon district of the South Korean capital of Seoul.
It’s a sombre and focused start to a striking and arresting journey in sound lasting some 90 minutes, and the last date in a UK tour for Dongyang Gozupa (“Eastern High Frequency”) as part of this year’s K-Music Festival (now in its ninth year, and concluding on 24 November at Stone Nest on Shaftesbury Avenue, with Glitterbeat artist Park Jiha presenting the retro-futuristic The Gleam).
They’re a striking power trio – Dohyuk plays the evening’s MC, in between thrashing his kit with one hand and one stick, sometimes getting up to retrieve the stick, and sometimes looking like he’s about to drown or pass out over his kit. Eunhwa’s yanggeum opens the music with “Ochejilgus” – the opening track from their latest CD, and what sounds like a voice of a keening spirit, summoned up from her hammered dulcimer, which proves a wildly versatile instrument as the evening goes on. Like Grunge bands of yore, the quiet bits soon detonate, with drums and bass lines collapsing on each other like boulders strewn on an angular path, the hammered dulcimer seeping through it all.
It’s an abstract, molten music that can suddenly solidify into punishing angles, amalgams of punkish thrash and speed metal that may be structurally sound, but how long can you stretch it? Out of them flow shimmering, wonky abstract passages that sound like the music’s having a whitey, before Minhwe starts unflexing one long greasy, muscular bass line of a minimalism that Miles Davis would have given the nod to. Bassist Ham Minhwi defines the sound’s borders and progression, and stirs into it a rack of wooshing electronic effects to add to the flow, arranged somewhere at his feet. All the while the yanggeum is a continual shapeshifter whose journey ranges from heavy psychedelia and glissando surf guitar from an alien beach to sweeping, penetrating sheets of avant-folk sounds ascending and descending to and from the high end. It’s in the realm of the ecstatic. The prog-rock time signatures and angular riffs on the night’s closer, “Spirit” is a ten-minute challenge, but with Dongyang Gosupa K-Music Festival has succeeded again in unleashing the extraordinary and arresting, and on a wet Wednesday night too.