On the day that many were trying (and most probably failing) to grab Radiohead tickets for their tour next year, guitarist Jonny Greenwood was preparing to bring his side project Junun to the beautiful Art Deco Troxy.
Junun, a collaboration between Greenwood, multi-instrumentalist Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express, is a collision of East and West. Traditional qawwali (in both Hebrew and Urdu) and Rajasthani folk music are given a contemporary twist courtesy of Greenwood’s understated arrangements and Ben Tzur’s unique compositions. Junun is an album surprisingly packed with bangers, which makes the prospect of seeing the 11 man party bring it to life an interesting one.
It’s probably safe to assume that most of the crowd were here to witness the emo Peter Pan of rock himself, it being East London and all, although a surprising number appeared to have brought their mums along too.
Here, though, it’s not Greenwood that’s the centre of attention. Tucked away in the background, fiddling with peddles and the like, he’s very much just a supporting character in this production. Nor is it Ben Tzur, who is front and centre, leading this merry band of men. The real stars are the Rajasthan Express, a collection of Indian musicians brought together for this project.
There’s something quite magical about watching these musicians get to bring their love to new audiences. From witnessing the enigmatic Chugge Khan dancing around the stage with his khartaal to seeing Nathulal Solanki twirl his sticks as he played the nagar almost as much as he twisted his moustache, it was a treat to watch as they shared their passion.
The beautifully contemplative opener Kalandar gave us a glimpse of each of their talents; the fantastic brass section bursting through the quietly shimmering guitars. Meanwhile, Julus let the percussionists like Solanki really go at it. By the time Junun came around, with its complex layer-upon-layer of rhythm, it was almost impossible to sit still.
From the almost divine beauty of Modeh to the pounding beats of Roked, this was a group of musicians coming together with a telepathic connection to bewilder, hypnotise and elate an audience that probably weren’t quite sure what to expect. Soon, the cheers for the Rajasthan Express, with all their talent and character, eclipsed those for Greenwood. And rightly so.