T’ien Lai was established by Kuba Ziołek and Łukasz Jędrzejczak (both born in 1985).
The band emerged in 2012 from a previous group, Tin Pan Alley, which the musicians were trying to reorient by changing its style and name. After some changes to the line-up, Tin Pan Alley, existing from 2006 and creating music inspired by American independent guitar scene (Sonic Youth, The Sea And Cake), was transformed into an apocalyptic, noisy trio – one of its members was also Tomasz Popowski, Ziołek’s friend from several other bands (Ed Wood, Alameda 3, Innercity Ensemble).
After a poorly amplified concert in Łowicz, the musicians were located in separate hotel rooms. They came to realize that at their disposal were three antiquated Polish radios called Śnieżka, and began to ‘play’ together by moving the tuning knobs. The musicians came up with the idea of recording an album consisting of radio waves altered by effects.
The new band, eventually created without Popowski, made the decision not to use any traditional instruments. It was quickly breached and forgotten, but on their debut album Da’at, released in October 2013, the sounds of the radios play the main role, modified by guitar effects and synthesizer loops.
Around that time Ziołek, under the name of Stara Rzeka, released his first LP, Cień chmury nad ukrytym polem, which granted him publicity both at home and abroad. The record Późne Królestwo by Alameda 3 also debuted at that time. Da’at, similarly to these two albums, could be encompassed as part of Ziołek’s manifesto of ‘magical brutalism’.
The label, Monotype Records, announced Da’at the following way:
T’ien Lai invites you to take part in an urban ritual of liberation and disorder, in which kitsch and folk overlap with sanity and truth, creating an inseparable relation.
Their second album, RHTHM, appeared in the Fall of 2015. As Ziołek said:
After some time has passed, it seems to me that the true debut record by T’ien Lai is RHTHM. Each song explores a different form of rhythm: be it guitar, bass, percussion instruments, or electronics. Each track is subordinate to some particular, specific rhythm.
On RHTHM, T’ien Lai’s music moves from the moody phase towards krautrock, or even techno. This album was announced as the first part of the ‘rhythmic trilogy’. Technology is juxtaposed with nature, synthesizers mix with the rhythms of African shamanic instruments, and cosmic scrunches, clippings and buzzes were an integral part of the music.
The premiere of the CD was preceded by extending the band’s line-up. Two new drummers joined in: Mikołaj Zieliński (playing in Rara, and cooperating with Ziołek during previous projects – baritone guitar in Alameda 5, bass in Alameda Trio) and Rafał Kołacki (known from Hati, Mammoth Ulthana and Molok Mun, and from Innercity Ensemble, co-created by Ziołek). On RHTHM they both made guest appearances, similarly to Paweł Kulczyński (Wilhelm Bras), the drummer Jacek Buhl and saxophone player Rafał Wawszkiewicz.
In the four-person line-up, the band – even before the premiere of the CD – started to play completely differently and using… completely different material. The concerts became similar to rituals with a big margin for improvisation. The musicians, wearing masks, started to drag the audience into an ecstatic interaction. Its hypnotic rhythm, created synthetically and complemented by polyrhythmic acoustic parts, became its most important quality.
T’ien Lai have performed, among others, on Unsound Festival in Kraków, CTM in Berlin, Rekolectiv in Bukarest, in Strefa Monotype in Warsaw, and in June 2016 was preparing to play at the Mutek Festival in Montreal and Luminato/Unsound in Toronto.
2013 – Da’at
2015 – RHTHM
Author: Jacek Świąder, translation: Natalia Sajewicz, June 2016