Right now, you can’t help the feeling that Khruangbin are teetering on the edge of going from best-kept secret status to bona fide big name.
The release of their second album Con Todo El Mundo earlier this year caused much appreciative nodding of heads from those already in the know, and clearly piqued the interest of a wider audience too. A series of festival slots and a collaboration with UK electronic duo Maribou State made them a summer favourite on BBC 6Music. This probably helped in ensuring that their return to Berlin sold out several months in advance.
Tonight’s crowd, ready and waiting well in advance of the band’s entrance onstage, is one of the hippest and hairiest I’ve seen in a while. These are people who know their indie from their Elbows. Even the girls have man buns.
There’s something slightly inhuman about their stage presence.
Similarly, Khruangbin’s arrival onstage immediately gives away a band whose look is almost as recognisable as their sound. Halloween or no Halloween, there’s something slightly inhuman about their stage presence. Bassist Laura Lee (described by Ms Plus One as ‘like Cleopatra in hologram form’), epitomises this most. The choreographed chemistry between her and guitarist Mark Speer (‘like Jack White on mushrooms’) is mesmerising in itself, and that’s before a note is played.
The band jam an intro to the set, before launching into a slew of tracks from 2015’s The Universe Shines Upon You. “We‘re gonna play some spooky old cuts, and some spooky new cuts,” drawls Speer. The crowd lap it up, determinedly singing along with the opening guitar riff of ‘August Twelve‘ even in the absence of lyrics.
Blues, funk and world music are traversed within a single track, threaded together by three often breathtakingly synchronised musicians.
The trio from Texas are one of the tightest psychedelic rock outfits on the scene, although the moniker seems slightly reductive. Blues, funk and world music are traversed within a single track, threaded together by three often breathtakingly synchronised musicians.
Speer’s slight of hand on the whammy bar and drummer DJ Johnson’s impeccable breakbeats drive the room crazy at regular intervals, with the band playing up to the appreciation. They look almost bashful as they knock back shots of tequila – again, to perfect timing, of course.
At one point, they break out into a ten-minute medley of nineties hip-hop motifs.
This being their night, Khruangbin start to take artistic liberties as the set goes on. Favourites ‘Mr White’, ‘Maria También‘ & ‘People Everywhere (Stay Alive)’ are all given experimental twists, the band deftly tweaking the tempo as they please, adding improvised flourishes along the way. At one point, they break out into a ten-minute medley of nineties hip-hop motifs, before switching back to the abandoned song like it was all just a casual diversion.
Khruangbin do everything with such confidence, flair, and obvious enjoyment that you’re left wondering whether they’d happily go on like this forever: darlings of the cool crowd and proud of it. In some ways, this is a band that seems exactly the sum of its parts; they know precisely how to steal a show and do it effortlessly every time. There are moments when you wonder what more could be added with a sprinkling of spontaneity among the well-drilled set pieces. Regardless, Khruangbin offer a sound that is both intensely enjoyable and genuinely their own. And it’s one that’s catching on.