Various - Kāthā

  • Inspired by the Thai and Khmer concept of sacred mantras, a handful of Asia-based producers make mystical magic on Siamese Twins' latest compilation.
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  • Embrace Of The Serpent, an Oscar-nominated Colombian film from 2015, tells the story of a shaman and his encounters with two Western scientists, each part set 30 years apart. Shot in the Amazon, it touches on sociopolitical topics such as the colonial gaze and human civilisation through the lens of dreamy jungle landscapes—canoes drifting across misty water, a dying man surrounded by a swarm of butterflies, explorers trekking through thick greenery. The film stands out for how it explores powerful concepts through sensual imagery in a meaningful way. Siamese Twins Records, a year-old label based in Bangkok, follows the same strategy, replacing visuals with captivating electronic music. Specialising in slow-burning hybrids of dub techno, ambient and house (with whiffs of '90s Goa trance), Siamese Twins is a psychonaut's dream. Hair-raising acid, driving percussion, guttural didgeridoos and swirling melodies interlock like dancing flames, creating a sense of disorientation that feels equally soothing and stimulating. Behind these conventionally trippy aesthetics lies the label's profound engagement with Asia's many spiritual beliefs, as heard on their two themed compilations, featuring regional talents who interpret ideas from Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. This latest edition, Kāthā, refers to a Thai and Khmer term for sacred mantras. It originates from the Sanskrit word gāthā, meaning "verses recited (usually mentally) in rhythm with the breath as part of mindfulness practice or meditation," as the label describes. Combining live instruments, traditional rhythms and muted vocal samples at a tempo that stays below 120 BPM, Kāthā is a study in cosmic forces. Its eight tracks invoke a meditative state, albeit in very different ways. Some are straightforward. Label cofounder Sunju Hargun, under his Khun Fluff alias, transports us to a mountain monastery on "Dāw," with looping chants and bell peals. Bandung-based Fahmi Mursyid's "Sunda Bamboo" is an airy passage of ghostly chimes and rippling waves that recreates the cloistered calm of cloud forests. Other contributors take a more metaphorical approach. The opener from Ying Shui Di Jiang, with its sound bath of bird chirps, woodwinds and synth ripples, is a sonic portrayal of samsara (the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), as gentle noises give way to an eerie din. "Untitled" from Taipei-based Initials B.B. is a haunting foray into industrial ambient—like a calm lake, its charm lies in its near stillness. "Cyberd" from Nic Ford, a resident at Ho Chi Minh City's Observatory club, is easily the album's most beat-centric cut, combining acid ripples, dub frequencies and smatterings of percussion into something heady and engrossing, like the chill-out side of esoteric '90s trance. Kāthā's free-floating soundscapes connect different strands of reality and consciousness. Pounding drums conjure up scenes from an ancient healing ceremony in Cambodia known as arak, where musicians summon spirits through polyrhythms, while the wobbly synths and droning melodies tie the music to contemporary experimental electronics. The album favours the heavier, sombre side of ambient and techno, but always remains light-footed and floaty. From start to finish, Kāthā is a next-gen interpretation of Asian spirituality. Its ability to combine centuries-old mysticism with hazy frequencies and rich sound design in a meaningful way that transcends cliches of psychedelic music resonates deeply at home and abroad, paving the way for more pan-Asian talents to explore their roots.
  • Tracklist
      01. Ying Shui Di Jiang - 英水帝江 02. Temple Rat - The Garden of Earthly Delights 03. Khun Fluff - Dāw 04. Mogambo - Sleepless (नींद) 05. Initials B.B - Untitled 06. Nic Ford - Cyberd 07. Fahmi Mursyid - Sunda Bamboo 08. Vice City - 驚蟄 Kenn Ti̍t