Words by Louven Reyes
Photography by Christian Bourdeau
Since 1996 the group Shpongle has been immersing fans into an experience so intense it causes them to dance wildly as if under the trance of indigenous shaman. The duo consisting of Simon Posford and Raja Ram are considered the forefathers of the psybient genre which can be best described as the culmination of psychedelic trance, world music, and ambient. Shpongle’s music strives to move users into psychedelic-like headspaces through highly distorted tracks that mimic altered states of consciousness. It’s alien, melodic, and entrancing. The music ranges from using eternally slow tempos to ultra fast salsa-esque timing. You’ll find spirit like voices droning in and out of their ambient heavy tracks amongst other strange noises. That’s not to say the sound isn’t entrancing, it absolutely is.
Moreover, their music is a wholesome blend of ethnic sounds complemented with Eastern and Spanish influences paired with Western synthesizer rhythms. The musicians meld uncanny instrumental samples from djembes, flutes, didgeridoos, to a personal favorite, the hang drum. It’s a hodgepodge of effects, instrumentals, and vocalizations that work in sublime unison. Inevitably, their style is an ineffable sound that is best understood through live experience.
The duo has created eight albums with some rather esoteric labels such as, “Nothing Lasts...But Nothing is Lost,” “Dorset Perception,” and “Museum of
Shpongle at the Fonda Theater
Behind the bustle of the tourist magnet that is Hollywood Boulevard, we’re eagerly waiting for the procession bubbling up in this quaint theater. The nearly century old Fonda Theatre is cluttered with people wearing enough tie dye shirts you’d think you were on Haight-Ashbury in the 70’s. Color battered T-shirts are amongst the outfits you’d only see at a Shpongle show. The air is brimming with vibrance and cheer. It’s a dingy, expansive place with a wide balcony hovering above stage. I make my way outside and meet a rooftop patio outfitted with a massive projector to screen the show inside. If you’re feeling inclined, you can relax on top of the Los Angeles city lights on faux grass and enjoy the live show with a spectacular view. This was enticing, but I preferred watching the act beyond the screen so I crept back in.
Back inside, I make my way to the balcony and something peculiar catches my gaze. On a ledge, In the middle of the balcony there’s a guy tinkering with this gargantuan projector. The thing was the size of a mini fridge! To my delight, I learned it was Zebbler making final adjustments to his wonder-machine. Zebbler is the visual artist that would be cuing in Shpongle’s sounds with absurd projection mapping. If you’ve ever experienced projection-mapped performances, you’d agree they’re eye magnets.
Down below stands the artist of the hour. He’s an interesting man with exotic feathers streaming from his hat and he’s propped inside this wild podium structure above the stage. On the facade of the podium, are illusionistic infinity mirrors that seem to drag you towards him.
Simon starts the set with Shpongle’s hit “Nothing is Something Worth Doing” and mind-boggling light formations begin to dance across the face of his elaborate DJ cocoon. Fans are captivated, eyes glued to the twirling projections ahead. Their ears absorb the sweet pings of the track’s hang drum and legs and arms move rapidly then slowly in wave-like undulations.
Now the bands anthem, “Star Shpongled Banner” cues in. People around me start to move like hypnotized cobras as the song’s exotic flute weaves in and out. I notice an older woman who appears to be in her sixties grooving along, many middle-aged men, and ecstatic younger folk. It was amazing to see such a well-rounded crowd gathering without the usual age barriers that are a fact at many shows. Shpongle proves to be timeless. After this observation, the song’s outro moved into an unexpected Middle-Eastern theme with speedy hand drum slaps and the crowd got down as if we were in Morocco.
“When Shall I Be Free” chimed in and people chanted with the vocalist’s outcry, “When shall I be free, when I shall cease to be. No more I but we… In perfect harmony.” This song is an expose` of the group’s theme of unity, harmony, and the interrelatedness of all people. You’ll find this ideology throughout the artists’ work and their own incantations to the crowd. It’s commendable that Shpongle strives to help listeners consider that we are all connected sentient beings. Simon blended other notable tracks such as “Brain in a Fish Tank,” “A New Way to Say Hooray!” “Dorset Perception,” and “No Turn Un-Stoned” into his entrancing performance. The set was reflective, warming, and highly energizing.
All in all, Shpongle put on a show fueled with high emotion, feelings of otherworldly spaces, ghostly voices, and unmatched instrumental production. His complementing artist Zebbler created a projection mapping display that made eyelids worthless. Pupils exploded and faces were spellbound. This group proves to be enjoyed by young and old, novel, and captivating beyond expectation. Shpongle takes listeners to another realm of the music experience, one that’s enthralling and like you’ve never heard or dared dream of.