Chuseok day is over, but much of the country is still a bit slow and quiet and not everything is over. However, there are quite a few shows going on tonight (Friday) and this weekend. If you are looking for something to do, you should check one or two out.
The biggest show is a two-venue team-up Saturday night at FF and Gogos 2. 20,000 won gets you into both shows, starting around 6pm, with a solid lineup of Hongdae veteran bands like Gogo Boys, Phone Booth, Gogo Star, and Used Cassettes.
Another fascinating show is actually a freebie, an acoustic show with Whang Bo Ryung (Smacksoft) at one of my favorite venues, Mudaeruk. The show starts at 4pm, and there will also be a couple of guests. I think that Whang is using these shows to work on some new songs and get her 2014 album ready.
Anyhow, we’ve added a bunch of gigs, so check out the calendar to see all that’s going on.
Okay, so I’ve been wanting to update the look of the Korea Gig Guide for a while. However, I found it strangely difficult to find a look that I liked and that functioned properly with the calendar, sidebar, etc.
And this is the template I chose. What do you all think? Does this look right on your computer? (or phone or tablet, or whatever you use to read the KGG).
On Sunday, I spent the day at the City Break rock festival (or “CITYBREAK,” as the organizers prefer to write it), from just after the gates opened at 11am until … well, not that late. I stayed until Shin Joong-hyun, but skipped out on the headliners, Metallica.
It was a fun day, but it really made me think about how far festival culture has come in Korea since the Triport festival of 1999. Even since the first Pentaport in 2006. To be fair, both of those festivals were hit by typhoons. But in pretty much every way, it’s amazing how much better organized and pleasant today’s festivals are in Korea.
(Warning: This is an old man review of festivals. If you are young, you may not give a crap about many of these things I mention).
(Warning II: These photos were all taken with a camera phone. Don’t expect amazing, high-res close-ups).
Citybreak was held at the old Jamsil Sports Complex, in the southeast of Seoul. It had three stages, each well laid out and convenient. The smallest stage, the Music Stage, had the best restaurants and shade, with a big arching shell covering most of the sitting area. There was also a cooling dome thing, where fine mist constantly sprayed to help cool you down — a very nice idea.
All the restaurants operated on T-Money cards (the thing you use for buses and subways in Korea), and I’m told that all the festivals in Korea use those cards now. That is such a simple and convenient idea. Having to line up to buy coupons (like at a lot of foreign festivals), and redeem those coupons for food and drink — so lame.
But the best food booth of the festival was also the hardest to find. Deep in the main stadium, far away from the stages and people (and decent signage) was a restaurant selling whole roast boar! So good. I really like how they roast boar in Korea.
All the bathrooms I went to were clean and relatively lineup-free. The portable toilet trucks were air-conditioned. So much nicer than most festivals I’ve been to.
Oh, right, the music. I checked out a mix of Korean and international groups. Juck Juck Grunzie opened with a solid set, but they were the first group of the day, so things were pretty quiet. It was my first time seeing them since Ahreum switched to keyboards and they changed their sound, but I quite liked it.
Apollo 18 played on the Super Stage, but also early — they also brought in a couple of guest singers, giving their show more of a hardcore vibe. It was okay, but I thought the crowd was grooving more on the pure A18 experience.
Japandroids were great to see again. Although, to be honest, the sound mix wasn’t great, which hurt their show. Japandroids are at their best when they hit you with a wall of sound, but this show sounded more like it was coming from the next room.
By the time Ash took to the stage, things were getting a bit busier:
And here’s a pic of the main stage around 6pm, when Rise Against was playing:
As for Shin Joong-hyun … well, the guy is a legend, but he is getting up in age. Plus, he (along with the crowd) seems rather enamored by his material from the 1980s. But I prefer his earlier songs and earlier styles. But it was great to see him, regardless.
Anyhow, the crowd was in good spirits and well behaved. I didn’t see anyone making an ass of himself. Everything worked. Maybe it helped that it wasn’t a huge concert — maybe 10,000 people at the peak for Metallica — but I was more than happy with how the day went.
Canadian two-man rock duo Japandroids are definitely one of my favorite groups these days. I caught them at Primavera in Barcelona about three years ago and, despite having no idea who they were at the time, absolutely loved their set. Since then, their second album, Celebration Rock, took off, turning them into one of the hottest groups around.
I missed Japandroids on their first trip to Korea, earlier this year, but was very happy to see them on the bill of this weekend’s City Break festival, over in Jamsil Sports Complex. In fact, Sunday’s line-up at City Break looks pretty amazing, imho. It starts out with two of my favorite Korean indie groups, Juck Juck Grunzie and Apollo 18, then has Japandroids, followed by two of the most important Korean rockers of the 1970s, Kim Chang Wan and Shin Joong-hyun. So I’ll definitely be there for that show.
Drummer David Prowse of Japandroids was nice enough to answer a few questions over email. I used a couple of his comments in my column about the festival over in the Korea JoongAng Daily today. But I thought Korea Gig Guide readers might be interested in the whole thing:
Q. After coming so close to breaking up at one point a few years ago, did you guys have a “Holy shit, this is actually going to succeed!” moment?
Prowse: When we decided to stop doing the Japandroids thing, we had been a band for a number of years and didn’t really feel like we were any closer to success than we had been when we started. I don’t think we had particularly lofty goals — I just wanted to be a band that was able to tour a little bit and have a label that would put our records. I wasn’t interested in being rich or famous. I just wanted more people to hear our music, and be able to tour without playing empty rooms every night. So I would say that by the time we went on our first tour of the US and Canada, in June 2008, we had already experienced about 10 “Holy Shit” type moments. “Holy Shit – Pitchfork wrote about us!” “Holy Shit – Unfamiliar Records wants to put out Post-Nothing” and so on and so forth. Looking back, that first tour was the real turning point for us where we transitioned from being two guys who love playing music in their spare time to being (I hate this term but can’t think of a better way of putting it) “professional musicians.”
Q. Now that you’ve been promoting this album for more than a year, have you seen many changes in how audiences respond to it? Their favourite songs? Or how you approach the songs?
Some of the first shows we played after we finished recording Celebration Rock was SXSW in March of 2012. It was a scary thing playing those new songs for people initially. We were happy with the songs, but it was so hard to gauge how they would be received, especially considering how attached some people had become to Post-Nothing. It was hard to believe we could make something that people who like as much as that record.
When the new record actually came out, in June of 2012 , it was crystal clear that Celebration Rock was going to be a lot bigger than Post-Nothing. You could see it at the shows pretty much instantaneously – all of a sudden people knew all the words to the new songs, and were just as excited about the new stuff as the old stuff.
At this point, so many more people know Celebration Rock compared to Post-Nothing, let alone anything older than that. I think we both assumed that “Young Hearts Spark Fire” would be our “hit”, or whatever you want to call it, for the duration of our time as Japandroids, and now I would say that there are at least three songs from Celebration Rock that get more of a response from the audience on any given night. It’s been pretty amazing to see this record keep growing as we continue to tour on it…
Q. Anything particularly memorable of your last show in Korea? Or your swing through Asia?
The last Asian tour was incredibly exciting for us. It’s such a surreal experience to travel somewhere as foreign as South Korea, for example, and get to play for several hundred people who actually know your songs. I remember one of the stranger moments of that tour was being in Seoul and seeing the news reports about North Korea’s underground missile tests. We were pretty freaked out by that, but to everybody in Seoul it just seemed like business as usual to hear about the potential threat of nuclear war. People watched the news, talked about it for a little while, and then went on with their day. I suppose there’s not much else you can do, but it was a pretty surreal scene for me to witness.
Q. Two Asian tours in a year? Is this a sign of your getting more popular in this part of the world, or do you see the Asia market in general getting better for tours for groups like yours? Or are you too wrapped up in the day-to-day of touring to get a sense of where your fans are and what’s going on?
It seems like the world is opening up to “indie rock” in a pretty amazing way right now. I think a lot of that has to do with how accessible music has become because of music review websites and digital file sharing. It’s interesting to me how bands are able to share their music so much more easily while at the same time they have a harder and harder time actually being able to sell their music and be able to make a living from record sales. I think we’ve been able to take advantage of this new musical landscape in a lot of really cool ways, because we can tour pretty cheaply since we’re a two piece, and because we enjoy touring and are interested in going to as many places as possible. Before we’ve actually gone and played a show somewhere, it can be very hard to gauge how popular we are in certain countries and certain cities, so the first tour of Asia was just to see if there was any interest in our band. It went really well so we wanted to make sure to come back as soon as possible, and luckily we managed to sneak in one more tour of Asia and Australia before our record cycle was done!
Q. With all these summer shows, have you gotten a chance to check out many local acts in other parts of the world? Have you come across any local music scenes that really impressed you?
For the most part, we usually just tour with one other band for an entire tour, and don’t have local support acts most nights. That touring strategy has some big upsides — for example, it’s really great to get to know a band over the course of a tour and you usually form a pretty lasting bond when you get to play with the same band night after night. Plus you can really streamline the schedule and it just makes touring way easier logistically. The downside, of course, is you miss the chance to randomly see a band who genuinely surprise you and inspire you that you knew nothing about previously. It’s a really amazing thing when that happens. The last time it happened for me actually was when we were in Busan and Genius opened for us. That band just made me really, really happy. They’re great.
Q. And, of course, what’s next for Japandroids? Touring for the next five years? Sick of each other and ready to commit dual homicides? Time to start work on a new album?
Well, we haven’t killed each other yet, so that’s good! But it’s certainly time for us to have break for a while. Once the excitement of touring wears off and we’re home for a minute, I think we’re both going to pass out for a while. Then once we’ve recovered we can figure out what we’re doing next…
Japandroids play at Jamsil Sports Complex on Sunday, August 18 as part of City Break. The show starts at 11 a.m., and Japandroids will perform from 3:30 – 4:10 pm. One-day tickets for City Break are 165,000 won and a two-day pass costs 250,000 won. For more information on buying tickets, visit here.
Hello, Korea Gig Guide readers. It’s been a heck of a long time since I posted here. But it is definitely good to be back. I started the KGG way back in early 2008, but after moving to Europe, I thought it did not make much sense for me to write about live music in Korea. Fortunately, Shawn was doing such a great job* here, it was the easiest thing in the world to give him the reins.
*And by “job,” I mean toiling away endlessly for free.
Anyhow, after a few years in Barcelona**, I’m back in Korea again, at least for a while, and I am getting back into the local music scene. So far, it does seem like things have been getting better since I’ve been gone. There are a lot more buskers out on the streets these days, in various parts of town (especially in Insa-dong). And there are more indie-music shows on Korean TV, which is pretty important for exposure. Plus there are so many more music festivals now, it’s kind of amazing.
**Barcelona was pretty dire for music — it has some decent bands and a surprisingly fun bluegrass scene, but there’s just very little grassroots interest in indie music there. Big festivals do great, like Primavera and Sonar, but not so much the clubs.
Last Sunday, Shawn and I traveled down to Apgujeong, of all places, to catch some shows at a relatively new venue called Keu Keu (aka Club Kklvsht, aka “Live Shit Keu Keu”). In the past, Apgujeong was better known for trendy clubs and discos than for live music, but I am happy to see live music escaping from Hongdae as often as possible. Plus, with the new subway line finally open, it is much easier to get to that part of town.
Keu Keu is one of the more interesting locations I’ve seen in Korea, with two large rooms and four smaller room, full of funky art and low, beanbag chairs. Booze was really pricy, but that’s what you get in Apgujeong, I guess.
The day had a pretty full lineup of performers, artists, and music, but we were mostly there for Modsdive, Jambinai, and Kumca. Modsdive was pretty typical postrock — pleasant enough, but a lot of the chord progressions and structures typical to the genre.
Jambinai is one of my favorite Korean groups, however, as soon as the show started, Kim Bo-mi’s haegeum broke, leaving the group rather incapacitated. They tried gamely to keep going, but the haegeum is such an integral part to their sound, they had to call it quits early.
Kumca gets a prize for one of the weirder names I’ve come across in Korean music. That’s short for “Kkume Kamerareul Gajyeoolgeol” (“I Should Have Brought a Camera to My Dream”). Despite having a singer, Kumca was also very postrock, but in a dreamier, more psychedelic style.
Like many of the bands on Sunday, Kumca played with a variety of videos playing in the background, adding to the eerie ambiance (although doing little to add to my lousy photography skills).
But it looks like Keu Keu is getting some pretty good usage. Exit Six held a fundraising concert for their Rockdo festival there the night before. 360 Sounds has also had shows there. Young, Gifted, and Wack is doing a concert to celebrate their first anniversary there this Friday. And Super Color Super is putting on an 11-band gig at the space on Saturday night. More info about both of this weekend’s shows can be found in our “Coming Events” section.
So if you are in that part of Seoul, Keu Keu is worth supporting.
I guess the title of this post pretty much gets to the point. If you want to learn more about Korean indie music, you should check out the very imaginatively titled website Korean Indie, recently started by myself, Anna Lindgren of IndiefulROK fame and Chris Park of the review site Wakesidevision. Together, we are hoping to create one big site, full of news, reviews, and other information about Korea’s music scene.
The plan is eventually to have a pretty good database about a good chunk of the Korean scene, all in one place. So if you are thinking about going to a show, you can easily find out about the bands playing. If you like what you hear one night, you can learn about a band’s releases (and maybe buy someone from Hyang or Purple or some online site). And we’ll have plenty of news, too.
I guess the motivation, at least for me, is how frustrating it is that there is not more information available about this music. If you want to know about K-pop, there are endless sites about that sort of music. If you want to know about Korean movies, you have Darcy Paquet’s excellent Koreanfilm.org and other sites. Even TV dramas have some decent resources. But for indie and non-pop music? There is not a lot out there.
None of which should slow down the Korea Gig Guide. In the three years since I started this site, I’ve been pleased to see it grow steadily, thanks to the interest from all of you. I will not be so active here in the future, but Shawn, Jon, and Dain have been doing most of the work here for some time anyways. So thanks to everyone who has frequented the Korea Gig Guide over last few years, and thanks to Shawn, Jon, and Dain. And I hope to see you at Koreanindie.com soon.
The laid-back electronica group Byul has a new album coming out — with the great title Secret Stories Heard From a Girl in an Opium Den — and to promote that release, they are holding a release concert-performance-party this Saturday (Oct. 22). Along with Byul, there will be Baik Hyunjhin and Kuang Program playing, and the deejays Sulki & Min, Sticky Monster Lab, Work Room, Lowrise, and Jang Woochul. That’s a fairly impressive lineup for 25,000 won.
Byul, of course, first rose to fame with the soundtrack to the quirky and wonderful film Take Care of My Cat. But since then, the group has added members and grown, and put out a whole series of abstract design magazines called Monthly Vampire, and done plenty of other funky stuff. You can get a great overview of the band at The Creators Project.
It’s an early show, though, beginning at 5pm (doors open at 4:30) at Theater Zero in Hongdae. Theater Zero is a bit hard to find these days, and the old URL does not seem to be working anymore, so I linked to a Google map for it. But the theater is on a tiny, winding backstreet in the heart of Hongdae, not far from the bustling Hongdae Park.
Oh, and I linked to Byul’s “Pacific” once before, but I quite like it, so here it is again:
Btw, this is looking like a great weekend for music in Korea. In addition to Byul, we have shows by traditional-postrock Jambinai (at Sangsang Madang on Thursday), the Grand Mint Festival in Olympic Park, Evergreen Festival at Hangang Park, the second Seoul Night concert series at clubs all over Hongdae on Friday, and a screening of the old film Nosferatu with a live orchestra playing the score (at Platoon Kunsthalle at 7pm on Saturday). So many fun choices….