Juck Juck Grunzie have been a fixture of the Korean indie scene for nearly a decade. As their name indicates, they trace some of their musical heritage back to the grunge sound of the early ’90s, but their music is perhaps best described as psychedelic noise rock. Drawing inspiration from a diverse range of musicians from Bjork to King Crimson, their at times slow and sludgy sound can surprise you by giving way to frenzied chorus lines and unexpected blasts of raw attitude.
The band recently announced that they had been invited to perform in late June at one of Europe’s most renowned music festivals, Glastonbury. Despite this recognition, they remain committed to a DIY ethic, working with the support of other bands in the community and organizing their own tours. When I arrived at the cafe for our scheduled interview, they were busy booking their own plane tickets for their upcoming tour. I sat down with vocalist/keyboardist Ahreum Lee and guitarist Jeehye Ham to discuss their upcoming shows.
Of course the first thing I asked them about was their reaction to being picked to play Glastonbury. When they heard the news, the band had just finished a typically powerful set and was instantly reduced to tears. “The first time we heard from the promoter that we’d been accepted, we cried. We all hugged and cried,” Ahreum explained. “We’re really happy and excited to play as it’s such a great festival with a great history.” Despite the importance that such international exposure could hold, they are trying to stay grounded and are cautious about describing this as their big break.
Juck Juck has gone through many changes both musically as a band and personally as individuals since emerging in 2007. Having released their first EP, “Soundchecking,” in 2011, they finally released their full-length debut, “Psycho,” in late 2013. Guitarist Jeehye explained that while they started out quite focused on developing a certain sound, now they are more comfortable and confident with their style. Ahreum sees the band as an extension of herself: “It’s hard to describe because it’s like talking about your life and getting old and you’ve been changed, right. So when we change, our music also changes.”
Having been somewhat intimidated about interviewing a band who are known for their aggressive and impassioned performances, I was taken aback to find myself the only person with a beer in hand. It was Friday night after all, and most of my experiences told me that this was a prerequisite to the whole rock ‘n’ roll thing. Surprisingly, Ahreum informed me the band prefers to stay dry. “We’re like grannies,” she joked. “We like to sit in a room and chat with cookies. We love tea but don’t drink alcohol.”
Two of my favorite Juck Juck songs to see performed live are their rollicking rendition of Dead Kennedys’ “Too Drunk to Fuck” and the title track of their last album, “Psycho”. I asked them about the meaning behind the latter, which has become their trademark. As it turns out, it is based on an incident experienced by Jeehye’s mother who, before Jeehye was born, was knocked unconscious after inhaling carbon monoxide fumes from burning coal briquette, a traditional method for warming homes in Korea. She survived, coming to only after hearing the words “psycho, psycho” whispered in her ear.
Having played shows at the 2012 Jisan Valley Rock Festival, City Break 2013, and the Spring Scream Festival in Taiwan in 2013, the band is amped about their upcoming European tour with shows in Germany and the UK. To date, their most memorable gig was at the old anti-eviction squatter struggle known as Duriban in Hongdae. Ahreum described the scene vividly to me: “We played on the third floor at Duriban and the whole floor was wobbling because everyone was jumping together in excitement.” She felt a sense of unity that would be hard to replicate, “[At that moment] everyone shared the same goal and the same mind in the same space.”
This sense of unity, family and community was a recurring theme throughout our interview. When I asked if there was enough support for local music, Ahreum suggested that it would be good to see public funding going into supporting smaller shows where local bands can receive the attention they deserve. She feels that it can be difficult to get recognition at larger shows when there are big name acts playing. The band also made it clear that they are grateful for the support of other bands and musicians in the local scene. “We want to thank the people and bands that have supported us,” Ahreum said. “We play shows and tour DIY style and so without their support and help, we couldn’t make it.”
In this DIY vein, Ahreum held a public gig-slash-wedding party with husband and fellow musician Adam Hickey of band New Blue Death. A number of her friends were hesitant to come out at first despite it being their wedding day as they had never been to an indie show before and didn’t know what to expect. Juck Juck hopes to break down these barriers and Ahreum said she would like to see more people feeling confident enough to come out to shows: “Even if you’re alone, you can enjoy the show.”
Fortunately, you’ll have the chance this weekend to do just that as Juck Juck are holding a fundraiser concert at Mudaeruk to help them cover their European tour costs. Known for electrifying crowds with their dynamic stage presence, the band promises to put on an energetic performance on Sunday, June 14 and is even perfecting a taekwando-inspired dance routine for the show. Until their first fundraiser show last Saturday at DGBD, the band had been on hiatus for three months, so this is a great opportunity to get to see them before they head of to take on Europe. Sunday’s show will start in the afternoon and will include a flea market and non-stop performances from a total of eight bands including Apollo 18, Hellivision and Vidulgi Ooyoo. Juck Juck will also be unveiling two brand new songs that will most likely wind up on their next recording, a work in progress they hope to complete by next spring.
As for what keeps them going, besides the music there is a clear feeling of camaraderie between the members; they see the band as a family. Jeehye explained, “To put it simply, we don’t just make music, it’s about our relationship.” The band also wants to grow their community, inviting fans, old and new alike, to come out to see their shows and get involved in the local scene. Ahreum extends an open invitation: “We hope that those people reading this article will come out to our shows and get involved in our community.”
Juck Juck Grunzie play on Sunday, June 14. The concert is a fundraiser show for their European tour and and will also include sets by Apollo 18, Hellivision, Ludistelo, Ankle Attack, Danppyunsun and the Sailors, Victim Mentality, and Vidulgi Ooyoo. Tickets are 15,000 won and the show will run from 2 pm – 9 pm. For more information, check out the concert’s Facebook event page here.
Here are the set times for Sunday’s concert:
2:00 – 2:40 Juck Juck Grunzie
2:40 – 3:30 Apollo 18
3:30 – 4:20 Dan Pyunsun and the Sailors
4:20 – 5:10 Hellivision
5:10 – 6:00 Ankle Attack
6:00 – 6:50 Vidulgi Ooyoo
6:50 – 7:50 Ludistelo
7:50 – 8:40 Victim Mentality
And here are Juck Juck Grunzie’s European tour dates:
June 25 Pilton, UK @ Glastonbury Festival (Pussy Parlure)
June 26 Pilton, UK @ Glastonbury Festival (Gully Outernational)
June 30 London, UK @ Windmill Brixton
July 1 Berlin, Germany @ Kantine am Berghain
July 4 Berlin, Germany @ West Germany