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Lhasa: Sans Vocal

BUSAN, South Korea – Lhasa speaks volumes to Busan without a single word.  They execute instrumental-only, melodically driven pieces, infusing rock and electronic into a live show that’ll knock your socks off.  Comprised of two American ex-pats, Eric Anderson and Rhylon Durham, the duo first teamed up to compose material last fall and have been gigging around town since then.

Lhasa’s catalog has ripened into a distinctly “post-rock” sound, a genre that is massive amongst alternative and indie fanatics of the Western world.  Music aficionados of Busan now have the pleasure to partake in the intense peaks and hypnotizing textures of locally brewed post-rock all.

Initially they crossed paths via friends of friends, and their mission since that rendezvous was to incorporate an electronic element into their sound.  Reflecting back, Anderson says, “We succeeded in making something with heavy electronic components; driving, melodic, with a good sense of rhythm to it. I will add aggressive at times maybe.  It gets pretty large sometimes with all the layering.  And we keep jokingly describing it as ‘dreamy’ which maybe comes from all the ambient reverb and us doing our best to make things epic.”

Durham chimes in, defining their style as “Loop-driven dream rock to evoke your best memories all at once and mix them together until it’s just one big picture you see that makes you say Yeah!”

What this translates into is a sound that is unexpectedly able to render monstrous sonicscapes.   Anderson helps wrap your mind around this mystery, “All of our stuff is based on looping.  I will play a guitar / keyboard part, record it and then play it back on the fly and continue to add layers.  I think our sound is defined most by that.  Because I’m looping, I can layer a lot of simple picking parts.  That gives it a very different quality than playing a couple of chords.  You can also build a really intense wall of noise that way.”

Eric Anderson

Anderson uses a laptop as a synth for keyboard parts and he also plays the computer like it’s a sampler. “If I have some beats or melodic parts that I sequenced previously, I can play them back and loop them as well.  That’s what makes it possible for there to be two of us in the band.”  

Together with Anderson’s “dreamy” guitar and keys, Durham partakes on the layering as well while simultaneously thrashing on his drum kit.  “Essentially I just try to get cool sounds on my sampler that fit with the jams, and try to hit the little pads with my fingers while holding drumsticks and keeping the beat. It can get a bit confusing, but it’s fun to multitask. It can get a bit hairy at times, but I try and keep that mental groove.”

Musicians comparable to Eric and Rhylon’s sound include Mogwai, Don Caballero, and Battles.  Those bands paved the way and Lhasa exhibits parallels to their guiding predecessors.

“I guess the guitar lines by themselves are pretty post-rock.  People say Sigur Ros, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But, we don’t really do anything so slowed down like they do.  Rhylon keeps it pretty up-tempo,” says Anderson.

Rhylon has been enamored with Chicago natives Tortoise for years, explaining “Their dynamics and layering have an influence. Also, Lymbyc Systym, who we played with in Busan recently, aren’t too far off.”

The Lymbyc Systym showcase at Vinyl Underground was dynamite indeed.  They have also performed with other bands that the Seoul concert promotion team Super Color Super has gifted upon Busan, including Chinese indie rockers The Moools and the Japanese electronica punks Den!al.  Anderson reminisces about a personal favorite, “We got to open for Xiu Xiu (from Beijing) when they came with Super Color Super.  Ended up being one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time.  Awesome to have played with one of my favorite bands.”

All of these stellar opportunities have opened up for Lhasa even though they are so fresh, and it might coincide with the company they keep.  Anderson mentions, “Poko Lambro was really supportive when we started and they’re a really entertaining act, as many know.  Sleep Stalker from Busan is on my list.  Sssighborggg from Seoul as well.  (The group) 10 who we’ve played with a handful of times by now.  Sunday Losers.  Everyone I’ve met through the music scene are good people.”  

A key component to the boom of productivity in entertainment events and happenings in Busan lately is RAD CITY, Rhylon’s side project.  RAD CITY is a communal gathering of experimental art and music. “We really want it to merge worlds between Koreans and foreigners to get all these great people in the same place and have them meet each other and hang out and hear and see all these awesome things and get excited about the potential of their city and themselves.”

Rhylon Durham 

Through RAD CITY, artists have an avenue to display and sell their work, or give it away scot-free.  “We’re always trying to dig up different and unique music, film, live graffiti, and video art to throw in the mix. We’re game for anything, really,” he explains.

RAD CITY RADIO is the media outlet for the ensemble.  Rhylon produces the shows, and he states that, “There is a focus on the music of those playing at RAD CITY and related events in the Busan area.  Also, I’ll be doing profiles of Korean bands that are really swell.”

The atmosphere at Busan venues like Kyungsung’s Fabric, Vinyl Underground, Monks and PNU’s Moo Monk along with the intensity of Lhasa’s instrumental language catapult you to Himalayan heights, and the band name is Tibetan, to boot.  Rhylon describes the name choice: “At the time of forming the band, I was planning my four month trek through the Indian subcontinent, starting near Sri Lanka. The final destination was Tibet. I definitely had the Himalayas on the brain.”

Don’t look for profound meanings of the name Lhasa, as Anderson points out, “I don’t think there was going to be anything deep about it.  It’s something we agreed sounded okay.  Coming up with a name is hard.  You don’t want something too pretentious…or lame.”

You can hear Lhasa’s music here.

Photos: Rachel Bailey and Andrea Carolan




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