Steven Kim, the founder of the Jisan Valley Rock Festival, has lived in the middle of Korea’s live music scene since 1997. He attempted to launch the first summer music festival way back in 1999 with the Triport Rock Festival, but unfortunately a typhoon rained out the fun that year (well, I had fun anyway, but the rain did not help the concert). Seven years later, he tried again with Pentaport (same location, but two more ports, apparently), and once again he was met by torrential rains, but this time the festival survived.
Over the next couple of years, Pentaport flourished, but a conflict with his partners last year led Steven and his company Nine Factory to create the Jisan Valley Rock Festival instead. Despite being crazy-busy, Steven took the time to answer a few questions about Jisan Valley and the local music scene for the Gig Guide. Enjoy.
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Mark: How has the Korean music scene changed the most since Triport?
Steven Kim: Yes, I think the music scene changed quite a lot after Triport and the late-90s, and changed further in the early and mid 2000s. I think the changes are now going on every year.
The biggest change in Korea is that the retail music market has downsized drastically. For example, [a few years ago] there were over 1,000 music record retails shops in Korea, but now there are only about 50 stores around the whole of Korea, waiting to be closed.
Younger Koreans are the most advanced users in getting and downloading digital music online. Although many do purchase those downloads, the overall market is not very significant.
The concert market has increased over the last 10 years, but it has been a very slow and gradual increase. However, the markets have become diversified, with many different genres of music and concerts, which is a good thing and it shows some potential for growth in the future.
Any increase in the market share of concerts is probably due to the growing number of female audiences and their ever-growing purchasing power. Whether it be rock or pop or pop idols or musicals, nowadays most of the tickets sold are snatched up by female fans, who represent about 80% of the market. Similar female dominance in the market share is happening throughout the entertainment industry, like for movies, art galleries and even some sports like baseball.
Mark: How would you compare the live music scene in Korea to other countries around Asia? Japan? South Asia?
Steven: Comparing any Asian countries’ music or live industry to Japan is very futile. Japan now is officially #1 music market in the world (the United States dropped to #2 last year) and it is a top-5 market in the world for live music. The rest of the Southeast Asian countries’ live music industry is still in an early stage.
Mark: What has been the biggest challenge for you as a concert promoter? Was it Triport? The first Pentaport? Some other concert?
Steven: Dealing with a fragile, weak market every day. Whether it is multi-day festival or weekday concert, it is work for us — but our work doesn’t make us tired and we welcome any work-related challenges.
Mark: What was the best concert you’ve put on so far?
Steven: For the sheer content of the concert itself and for the quality of the show, it would be Roger Waters’ “In the Flesh Tour” in 2002 and Sting’s last tour in Korea in 2007. While Roger Waters’ show was a mind-bending experience, with a 360-degree surround-sound system, Waters’ musical perfectionism and the high-tech show production, Sting’s show was a stripped-down, minimal production, with no video screens, no fancy lighting or special effects, just him and his music – and great music at that.
Those two concerts showed the meaning of true craftsmanship in music and innovative creativity in concert. It was a kick in the butt and a wake up call to the current music industry in general, as well, where either manufactured pop or an “oh, I can play that, too” kind of indie spirit prevails.
I saw Roger Waters again at Coachella a couple of years ago, when he took the stage after My Morning Jacket. It was a very symbolic event of how craftsmanship still plays such a big part in music. I believe My Morning Jacket wished they never played the show under him.
Where are the Stings and Pink Floyds of the new millennium? It feels like all the great music all came out around mid-90s, then stopped. Except some electronica dance music.
Mark: Who are the international acts that you most want to bring to Korea, but have not yet?
Steven: It is always changing, but nowadays for us, it is not about U2 or some Led Zeppelin reunion tour. U2’s current tour cost $750,000 daily on the road, whether they do a show or not on that particular night of the week. If U2 were to come to Korea for a show, it would take their crew and equipment at least seven days to travel back and forth, plus the money that they would’ve made if they had stayed in Europe or the US.
So it is simple math.
We want to bring in and introduce artists that we can grow together, and make something of the scene, build the market together in due time. Oasis’ first gig in Japan was at these 300-400-person small club shows, and then they went on to selling 30,000-stadium shows there in less than 10 years. Oasis was a scene maker and part of the ongoing legacy now.
So we are in search of the right band to build this market together. However, there’s a time factor to coordinate, that “nail on the head” moment, and you can’t bring anyone too early or too late. Finding the right act and fine-tuning the right time is always hard. Spin magazine is still haunted by the fact that they chose Teenage Fan Club’s debut album “Bandwagonesque” as the best record of the year in 1991, the year that Nirvana released “Nevermind”. So it’s hard.
Mark: What does Korea need for local indie rock bands to become more popular in Korea? Abroad?
Steven: They need to learn to play well and listen to more music. And they need to get out of the whole indie system, with the feel good factor of doing it myself. There’s nothing wrong with DIY, but you have to do it right.
The Sex Pistols only had one album in their entire short-lived career (although it seems like people talked about them forever), and the rest was an attitude. The Clash lived on for many years, with six great albums, and they influenced millions of bands around the world — they even had a song on the new Iron Man movie soundtrack.
The Korean indie scene still lives in Anarchy in the UK phase, in an us-or-them kind of sentiment. The word “indie” has became a cover, an excuse for “I don’t play that good, but have spirit.” “Indie” doesn’t mean anything unless you’re playing and making good music, which is what fans need and spend more money for.
Korean pop idols and the mainstream are doing very, very well abroad with their gorgeous good-looks, equipped with killer tunes that are produced by legions of Motown-type writers and producers. Their tracks don’t come out hastily, but only after carefully done, professional sound mixing at the studio, not in some underground basement, where even the Sex Pistols would have stayed away from.
Mark: Who are your favorite Korean bands these days?
Steven: Apollo 18, hands down. And The Black Skirts and Guckkasten. Girl Generations and Afterschool.
Mark: What should people expect at Jisan Valley this year? Anything different? More music? Anything besides music?
Steven: Load of good music, good people from around the world, without strangers. More trees and camping facilities, and a bigger swimming pool with poolside party.
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Note: This year’s Jisan Valley Rock Festival runs July 29-Aug. 1. More acts should be announced mid-May. You can buy tickets for this year’s Jisan Valley Rock Festival in English online here, or by calling 02-3443-9969.