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The rise of psych-rockers Khruangbin | Music



Onstage, the Texan trio Khruangbin are a strange sight to behold. At their sold-out show at London’s near-5,000 capacity O2 Academy Brixton last December, guitarist Mark Speer and bassist Laura Lee, dressed in long, black, heavily fringed wigs, sway in unison, while bald drummer DJ Johnson sits calmly in his poncho, pensively holding the groove. All three sing amorphous vowel sounds over Speer’s downtempo, wailing guitar melodies while the crowd of teens, jobbing musicians and parents savouring a night out howl along to the strings, trying to keep up with their electric range.

Formed in 2013 in Houston, Texas, Khruangbin have come a long way from their origins playing in the band of the same church that Beyoncé used to attend. With only the backing of the indie label Night Time Stories, the group have built a sizeable following who have kept them on the road almost continually for the past four years, a singalong crowd dedicated to the blend of easygoing funk, Tex-Mex and touches of west African rhythm they have showcased over two albums. They count Jay-Z among their fans, have 3.9m monthly listens on Spotify and were set to headline London’s 20,000-capacity Cross the Tracks festival this month. All this with a band name (meaning “airplane” in Thai) that most of their fans struggle to pronounce. On the face of it, the band’s crossover success is as peculiar as their stage presence.

“When you see us play, it should look like we just fell on to this planet,” Speer says from Oakland, California. “We play Earth music, like we’ve listened to all these different genres – from west African rhythms to Mexican and south Asian melodies – and now here we are.” This unpredictable blend of sounds has led to a slew of miscategorisations when it comes to the band’s output; it’s regularly referred to as either “Thai funk”, “classic soul” or “psychedelia”.

For Speer, their “Earth music” is an amalgamation of cultures filtered through their own Texan lens; a recapitulation of the contentious othering of “world” music. “When you normalise English-language music in the west and decide to call everything else ‘world’, belittling it in the process, that’s fucked up,” he says. “There’s so much other music out there, of all languages, that needs to be appreciated and it’s why we try to make our own output as universal as possible.” This means an emphasis on impressionistic, almost parodically simple lyrics (the repeated “white cat” on 2015’s Mr White, for instance, or the “yes, this is the third room” refrain on 2018’s Evan Finds the Third Room) that are sung by all three members in unison.

“We all sing together in the band, so our lyrics need to resonate with all of us and with the audience, too,” says Laura Lee, with her wig on, over a video link from Miami. “It makes sense to me that we’ve grown such success internationally since our instrumental music largely tries to avoid language barriers and we’re just inviting people to have an emotional connection with the music on their own level.”

Some might see this anything-goes attitude to music as a form of cultural appropriation, yet Speer justifies it by virtue of their living in Houston. “There’s such diversity here, from west African to south-east Asian, Mexican and Caribbean communities, it’s impossible to ignore how their music makes up the identity of Houston,” he says. “That all feeds inevitably into what we make.”

For their third album, which follows 2015’s The Universe Smiles Upon You, 2018’s Con Todo El Mundo and a collaborative EP with Texan soul singer Leon Bridges earlier this year, the band have taken a new approach to recording and writing. After a gruelling 10-week tour featuring daily plane travel, Lee had something of a revelation. “What I hadn’t realised is that touring was the drug, not any of the partying that might come with it,” she says. “Touring is its own escapism and you get addicted to the rush. But in the process of doing that, I lost myself. We live in costumes on stage and I lost touch with the Laura Lee that exists when the lights go down and the wig comes off.”

From left: DJ Johnson, Laura Lee and Mark Speer

From left: DJ Johnson, Laura Lee and Mark Speer.

In a rare break from being on the road, she went on a hike to a waterfall with a new friend, Mordechai, and dived in. “That jump really did something for me: I realised that we had all been swimming deep underwater without breathing and without really knowing where we were going for the past few years, just chasing every opportunity instead,” she says. “I had to stop to ask what’s important to me and why.” She spent the following day in self-imposed silence in Houston, writing stories based on her experiences in the group and her family’s history that would form the basis of the band’s new record, named after that new friend who brought about this transformative experience: Mordechai.

The album is a typically transporting Khruangbin listen: 10 tracks filled with reverb-heavy guitar, rumbling dubby basslines and that ever-present compressed groove, yet there is also a marked change in the presence of lyrics. Each number now features the band’s voices more prominently, from the communal dancefloor yearning of Time (You and I) to the repeated question “Where are you now?”, directed at Lee’s grandfather, on Dearest Alfred. It is a more personal venture for a band usually so shrouded in costume and presentation.

In a way, Mordechai is the perfect anxiety-busting album for our frantic times. “We record in a barn out on a remote Houston farm, which has played a big part in our sound,” says drummer Johnson. “The serenity of having nature surround us means it doesn’t make sense for us to then be playing hard and fast. We don’t want to take up all the sonic room when you can hear birds and bees outside; there should be space for that, too.”

Forced to pause their touring schedule in support of the new record, each member is isolating apart and getting their head round not permanently being in each other’s company. “Four years flew by on tour and I missed four years’ worth of weddings, birthdays and babies being born,” says Lee. “But I also created an incredible family in the process with Mark and DJ, so I feel very grateful for that. Maybe now I can make time for my other families and friends, too.”

The break has helped shed a new light not only on the band’s career but on the larger, mystical questions of life. “The whole experience of making this album has just helped me focus on the process rather than the results,” she says. “Life is the journey and death is the destination, so we shouldn’t be in such a rush to get there.”

Mordechai is out now

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Is Music Streaming Bad For The Environment?




The global music landscape has enabled consumers to discover a wide range of genres, sound and artists via music streaming apps such as Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud – thanks to digital technology. Spotify is now the global leader in music streaming with a worldwide community of over 200 million active users and an estimated 130 million paying subscribers.

Based on data from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the global revenue from music streaming in 2017 grew to 41.1 percent of the music industry’s total income of US$17.3 billion.

A 2019 Statista report revealed that music streaming revenue in Southeast Asia amounted to US$254 million last year and is projected to grow to US$293 million by 2023. 

Streaming music appeals to users as it allows them to store thousands of songs offline on multiple devices, making purchasing music downloads unnecessary. 

Numbers of music streaming users
Source: Statista 


Despite the allure of digital media, vinyl records stand to be one of the fastest-selling and growing mediums for music. And surprisingly, the re-emergence of analogue formats such as cassettes and vinyl are happening in parallel to digital streaming. According to media reports, global vinyl record sales in 2015 was valued at US$416 million and is expected to reach US$800 million to US$900 million in sales this year. Nevertheless, with the current coronavirus crisis, the projection of sales for 2020 reported last January might be affected.  

In Southeast Asia, the cassette revival is an underground fixture. There are no vinyl-pressing plants here, but cassette plants still dot the region. In Malaysia, the cassette has become an inexpensive format for fledgling artists to get their music heard. The manufacturing cost for cassettes can be as low as RM4 (US$1) per tape, compared to RM60-80 (US$14-19) for a single vinyl record. The high cost of vinyl is also a barrier for many young bands and DIY labels in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.  

“Cassette culture isn’t going away anytime soon. The tape revival, which started kicking-in in Malaysia two years ago, has been a good thing. New bands have something to put out. Tapes are also not as expensive as records. You can now release something that is affordable and also very artsy,” Radzi, owner of Teenage Head Records – a Malaysia-based indie record store told local media. 

Harmful To The Environment

Vinyl is short for polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and its production process is not particularly eco-friendly as it involves toxic acids and consumes a lot of energy. Andie Stephens, associate director of Carbon Trust, a corporate carbon footprint measuring company, said that the environmental impact of vinyl include energy used in the extraction of crude oil from the ground and the subsequent processing and manufacturing. 

Recycling of PVC is also an issue, as it takes at least 100 years for it to decompose. A 2019 article, ‘The environmental impact of music’, by Sharon George and Dierdre McKay from Keele University, revealed that the sales of 4.1 million records would produce 1.9 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). 

The idea that streaming is a zero-carbon medium for listening to music is a misconception. All streaming services depend on a network of energy-intensive server farms consisting of computers. Music is not stored on personal computers or smartphones and is instead, stored on servers within huge data centres. 

“An expected by-product of digital growth has always been a decrease in the perceived heavy environmental cost associated with physical products,” wrote Dagfinn Bach, author of ‘The dark side of the tune: the hidden energy cost of digital music consumption,’ which was published in 2012.

Data centres generate an immense carbon footprint. These warehouses run 24 hours a day every day, producing heat that needs to be continuously cooled. This entails a massive amount of electricity, which in most cases relies on fossil fuels for its generation. 

Even though vinyl has a higher upfront cost of production, it may have a lower footprint over time. According to Sean Fleming’s article, ‘Streaming music isn’t as green as you might think,’ featured by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the carbon footprint of a vinyl record remains the same no matter how many times it is played, requiring only enough electrical energy to spin the record and provide its amplification.

“A very different picture emerges when we think about the energy used to power online music listening. Storing and processing music online uses a tremendous amount of resources and energy – with a high impact on the environment,” said Kyle Devine from the University of Oslo, who led a research on the environmental cost of recording formats. 

Streaming may reduce the upfront production of carbon but it makes increased energy demands and emissions every time a song is played. Bach wrote that streaming an album over the internet 27 times can use more energy than the manufacturing and production of its vinyl equivalent. This is something to think about the next time you stream your favourite song. 

Related Articles:

Music’s Future Is Streaming

Will Malaysians Stick To Netflix And Spotify?

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Illinois State Program Plans Virtual Camp for Music Students – NBC Chicago




Aspiring string musicians in Illinois can sign up for a virtual camp offered by the Illinois State University String Project this month.

The virtual camp is open to students of the violin, viola, cello and bass who are entering grades four through eight. Students must have at least one year of experience.

The String Project typically holds weekly group classes for children, supervised by Illinois State University faculty and students majoring in music. Leaders have turned to virtual options during the coronavirus pandemic.

Camp classes will be held using the video call service Zoom. Students also can upload assignments for one-on-one feedback.

The five-day camp runs July 27 through July 31 and costs $50. Students need their own instrument, a music stand, a reliable internet connection and a computer or tablet.

Students should register by Wednesday.

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Coronavirus: London Ont., Home County music festival going virtual – London




The Home County Music and Art Festival is going virtual this summer due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

What would’ve been its 47th year has now been changed to “Stay Home County 46.5 Festival” with two days of music to be streamed online.

Tim Fraser, the artistic director of the festival, spoke with Jess Brady on 980 CFPL’s Afternoon Show on Friday.

“We’ve got 12 artists — some local, regional and some are international.”

Read more:
3 major London summer festivals postponed until July 2021 due to coronavirus pandemic

“This was supposed to be the 47th version of the festival, but we’re going with 46 and a half,” Fraser chuckled.

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In previous years, the festival has taken place at Victoria Park with music as well as vendors.

“A lot of people actually start their holiday shopping at the festival and they’ll buy stuff from the local crafters and artists, so we’re going to be working on some stuff throughout the rest of the summer to make sure people still have the opportunity to shop from local people.”

Canadian music legends take to social media amid coronavirus outbreak

Canadian music legends take to social media amid coronavirus outbreak

Fraser says he hopes the festival can return to Victoria Park in 2021 for its official 47th year.

The 2020 festival is running Thursday, July 16 and Friday, July 17.

Line-up for July 16:

  • Saidat
  • Julian Taylor
  • Megan Bonnell
  • Alash Ensemble
  • AHI
  • The Small Glories

Line-up for July 17:

  • The Marrieds
  • Ken Yates
  • Leela Gilday
  • Wolf Saga
  • Terra Lightfoot
  • DJ NDN

Read more:
Summer festivals for 2020 in London, Ont., in limbo due to coronavirus pandemic

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Meanwhile, TD Sunfest 2020 will be held online Friday, July 10 and Saturday, July 11 from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. both days.

Sunfest ’20 Connected will involve 15 international and national music ensembles representing countries like Brazil, Colombia, South Korea, Sweden, Mozambique and Ukraine.

-With files from 980 CFPL’s Jacquelyn Lebel

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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