The New Psychedlia: Khruangbin nominated by Virgil Abloh

The New Psychedlia: Khruangbin nominated by Virgil Abloh

The Houston, Texas-based trio crafts otherworldly, Thai-inflected funk music.

The Houston, Texas-based trio crafts otherworldly, Thai-inflected funk music.

Photography: Milos Nadazdin

Styling: Yana Kamps

Text: Ilana Kaplan

As the Discovery Issue, V117 features our cast of the latest and greatest ahead, as nominated by the cultural forces of now. This editorial appears in the pages of V117, our Spring Preview 2019 issue, on newsstands today!

KHRUANGBIN NOMINATED BY VIRGIL ABLOH

When Texas native Laura Lee returned to the States after attending high school in Thailand, her preoccupation with Thai culture only intensified—slowly at first, ingredient by ingredient. She began experimenting with Thai cooking and its many variations, eventually studying the language in order to better understand the recipes she whipped up. One day, she happened upon the word “khruangbin,” meaning “airplane.” Despite the mostly negative associations between the words “airplane” and “food,” the word lodged itself in Lee’s brain. Its sound became something of an obsession, and was still swirling in Lee’s head when it came time to name the band she had formed with fellow Texans Mark Speer and Donald “DJ” Johnson.

“We didn’t have a name by the time we were playing our first show, so we just said, ‘Let’s call ourselves Khruangbin. It’s not like anyone’s going to care anyway,’” Lee recalls. Whether or not they got the name, people cared enough to listen—first locally, then all over. With their first single, “A Calf Born In Winter,” released in 2013, the “khru”—that is, their dedicated fan base—was born. With the subsequent LP The Universe Smiles Upon You and 2018’s follow-up, Con Todo El Mundo, that following, which has the kind of fervor usually reserved for jam-bands, has only grown. In 2018, Virgil Abloh tipped off his own cult-like following with the tweet, “super amazing, fave new band.”

Speer and Johnson had met in 2004 while playing in their Houston church’s gospel band together. Three years later they met Lee through friends. In 2009 the three-way friendship, which had centered on grabbing burgers every Tuesday night, became an artistic partnership, when Speer began teaching Lee to play the bass.

Despite their homespun roots, the band’s sound is remarkably global and multifaceted, incorporating sounds of everything from “shadow music,” a form of Thai guitar pop; to Googoosh, who was an Iranian superstar in the ’70s. In sum, categorization is futile: “In an ideal world, the music we make would just be called ‘Khruangbin,’” Lee says. Contrary to the increasingly singles-driven consumption of music these days, the band’s albums play like one epic, sonic journey, taking cues from the rock and funk records of the 1970s. “Our albums have been really specific about being an ‘album.’ You listen to it from start to finish, and we try to give the same flow to our live show,” says Johnson.

Con Todo El Mundo broadened their psych-rock sound. Hypnotized by music from the Middle East they encountered while on tour in Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria, Khruangbin diversified even more than they had on their 2015 debut—both in terms of their influences and their musicality—with the help of instruments like the pandeiro (an acoustic tambourine of sorts), the tan tan (a giant gong), and the surdo (a Brazilian drum). “Those kinds of sounds ended up embedded within us, just taking in all that music on the road for hours at a time,” recalls Johnson.

They’ve also ironically capitalized on their less-than-accessible band name. On their website (Airkhruang.com) visitors can generate a custom travel playlist by inputting their departure and arrival locations. But despite how worldly they may sound, having played and drawn inspiration from music all around the world, Khruangbin says they wouldn’t be the kind of band they are without their Texan roots. “We wouldn’t sound like Khruangbin without growing up in Houston,” says Speer. “To me, Khruangbin sounds like Houston.”

This feature appears in the pages of V117, our Spring Preview 2019 issue, arriving on newsstands January 10th!

Laura wears top Off-White, DJ and Mark wear Louis Vuitton by Virgil Abloh

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