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Instrumental double feature: Kombynat Robotron vs. Shem

I have a deep respect for improvisational artists. Mostly because I know by experience how hard it is to shut down the perfectionism and to just let “the moment” be. For many people -like me- it is just simply impossible to give up control, and therefore it is quite rare to find artists living by this aesthetic. Lucky me to find two of those then, and coincidentally they both happen to be from Germany and releasing their brilliant new albums in March of this year. Kombynat Robotron from Kiel is perhaps the more contemplative of the two, and working from a more vintage perspective. Shem from Stuttgart are their heavier, and more psychedelic counterpart, druggier too if you will. Together they would make one hell of a live package, but since that won’t be an option for a while, perhaps just closing your eyes and listening to their new albums will have to make do.

Kombynat Robotron- -270° (2021 Tonzonen Records)

Perhaps the most telling example of Kombynat Robotron’s improvisational nature is the fact that if you listen to album closer Hubble with headphones, you can hear voices having a conversation in the background. Not something they planned, but they just went with the flow and kept it in, and now it just adds to the mysterious atmosphere (what are they talking about? We might never know…).

All the more impressive about -270° is the fact that even though the band is jamming together, the songs are pretty well structured, and they have a great dynamic flow. The band keeps a nice steady drone most of the time, but spices things up with great drumming, and just overall great musicianship. Opener Compton feels like a giant airplane slowly taking off, while Chandra kicks off Jimi Hendrix style and upholds this smoothly swinging retro vibe. Spitzer is a lot spacier already, with a riff that feels like coming through a missile silo and trippy motorik beats. Finally, Hubble is the album’s tour de force with its 20+ minute space trip. It’s like the band landed on the moon, and weightlessly jump-walks through craters and eerie moon desert sands.

Kombynat Robotron has surprised me quite a bit with this release. I have listened to this album over and over and discovered new things every time. It has been quite a while since I was captivated this much by a completely instrumental jam band. Completely instrumental, and completely improvisational. There is a lot to learn here about freedom, and going with the flow. All the way into space, and beyond.

Shem- II (2021 Clostridium Records)

Alexander from Shem contacted me a while back with new music from his instrumental five-piece Shem. He said this about their band name:

“In the context of the band, Shem is a word that a friend of us found in some weird book about alien traces on earth, meaning that all ancient monolithic structures in the world are actually beacons to communicate with an ancient outer space civilisation – shem stones. We found the concept quite fascinating, therefore also the use of stone monoliths on the cover of “II”. I believe it also has meaning in judeo-christian mythology, but nothing we relate to. I think it’s also a slang word for Cocaine in the German rap scene, but that’s definitely nothing we saw coming!”

The music definitely reflects the trippy, monolithic spacey outlook the name seems to promise, with vast layers of feedback and keyboards battling for dominance. Stylistically the band is heavier, noisier and druggier than Kombynat Robotron, but they do have a very similar approach when it comes to making music and recording it. They jam. “90% of the music is purely improvised with as little editing as possible done in post-production” Alexander states.

I’d love to see these two German improvisational jam bands take on the stage together and throw their psychedelic freestyle jams onto the unsuspecting masses. When it comes to instrumental jamming, I do believe these are the young wolves to turn to in 2021. Let’s hope they can be let out soon, because music like this is always best to experience alive.