As many of you know, Seoul’s main punk venue, Skunk Hell, recently shut its doors. Jon Dunbar, the very cool blogger and punk enthusiast (not to mention urban explorer), recently wrote an essay about the club and what its demise means to the local scene, an essay he graciously has allowed me to post here.
ESCAPE FROM HELL
by Jon Dunbar
It’s unthinkable to those of us who’ve called Skunk a second home over these last four and a half years. Skunk Hell has been a symbol of punk in Korea since it opened in January 2004 in the old location of Drug. And now that it’s gone, the punk scene is without a home.
“I think it should have been closed earlier,” says Yoo Chulhwan, former manager of Skunk Hell and lead singer of Suck Stuff. “Running Skunk Hell wasn’t a profit-making business and there wasn’t much chance that it was going to make a profit, so I think it doesn’t make any sense running it losing money.”
“I feel free,” says Won Jonghee, owner of Skunk Hell and Skunk Label and lead singer of label flagship band Rux. “As time passed by, the pressure became harder and harder.”
Anyone who’s been to Skunk Hell recently has probably noticed the poor attendance rates. Sometimes there will be less than ten paying customers at a Saturday show. According to Chulhwan, Skunk Hell remained open thanks to support from friends. And though there’s no other club in Hongdae that gets the same amount of support, it wasn’t doing the job–it wasn’t bringing in more people, just delaying the inevitable. “I’ve never seen any other club getting as much support as Skunk Hell,” says Chulhwan. “It wasn’t enough compared to the amount of time we devoted.”
Now without Skunk Hell, where will we go for punk shows? Well, there’s always DGBD, for starters. And Spot. Oh yeah, and Minor League. And of course there are plenty of shows at SSAM, Sangsang Madang, and Freebird, to name a few. All within one district of Seoul.
“I really think there are too many clubs for bands in Hongdae,” says Chulhwan. “The scene is getting bigger,” explains Jonghee. “There’s more bands, but there are many more clubs right now, so the clubs have no bands. Some clubs have to close down and some clubs have to do other music. I can say Skunk Hell is the original punk club, but now there are more, so I don’t wanna fight them. Skunk won’t compete with other clubs ‘cause we just wanted the punk bands to be free to play.”
When Skunk Hell opened in January 2004, there were no other venues for punk bands to play (unless they wanted to spend a ton of money on hall rental). But now, there are too many clubs, and not enough bands—and not enough fans—to go around.
And, of course, both Jonghee and Chulhwan had to look at the scene as both promoters and musicians. “I wanted my label to be fun for me but after a while it was more pressure,” admits Jonghee. “One other reason I quit Skunk Label is for Rux.” And Rux, along with Chulhwan’s band Suck Stuff, recently signed onto Dope Records where they will be exposed to a larger audience beyond Skunk’s walls, with far less effort on their part.
“If the punk bands were soldiers, Skunk Hell was the bunker,” says Jonghee. “The bunker protected the soldiers. Now we don’t need a bunker. I’ve been a label owner and club owner for a long time. I want to go out and fight. To run the bunker, it’s very hard to be a soldier. The punk bands have been in the bunker for too long, so it’s time to go out and fight with all the trendy bands.”
Jonghee is also in school right now, studying filming so he can make music videos. “My musical goal?” says Chulhwan. “I never had one when I started a band, just enjoying the moment.” You can see a review of his latest album, “New Classic,” in Broke in Korea #7, available online.
“I think working for Skunk made me grow up,” says Chulhwan. “I learned a lot in the last three years working as Skunk Hell’s manager. I am now interested in starting a few businesses based on what I learned. I’m enjoying this situation because I’m the kind of guy who thinks I’m the happiest when I’m pursuing money.”
“For me, punk is not a business,” Jonghee says, “so we’re gonna go out and fight.”