By: Tom Rainey-Smith
From the streets of New York to the underground clubs of Seoul, Smacksoft frontwoman Bo Ryung Whang has been fashioning her own blend of electronica-infused post-punk since she first started performing in Seoul in the late 1990s. Smacksoft was established shortly after, taking on its current form in 2007 when Bo Ryung returned from a stint at art school. Her whispery vocals betray a rawness and honesty that reflect her unapologetic commitment to creating self-expressive art.
Smacksoft released their fifth album titled Follow Your Heart at the end of 2012, which earned them a nomination at the 2013 Korean Music Awards for “Best Modern Rock Album,” and is planning to bring out their sixth full-length by the middle of this year. The band will join other Korean acts including Crying Nut and Jambinai at Texas’ South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival next week before heading off to California and then on to Amsterdam. In order to raise funds for their upcoming tour, the band will be performing a special tour fundraiser gig on Friday, March 7 at Nest Nada in Hongdae.
Korea Gig Guide had a chance to interview Smacksoft’s frontwoman Bo Ryung to ask her about the evolution of Smacksoft and their upcoming tour.
Q: What is the meaning behind the name Smacksoft?
A: The sound of the words “smack” and “soft” both sound like they feel. I like the inherent duality in putting these two things together. For me, they represent an anti-violence and anti-authoritarian attitude. I like mixing these punk/anarchy and pro-peace ideas together. It is confrontational and serious but also has some humor to it.
Q: Tell us about your journey as a musician from your early days in the punk scene to the present. How has your sound evolved?
A: I have always listened to and played music, painted, drawn, and written stuff – whatever was a meaningful expression of myself at any given time. I don’t follow trends or what other people are doing, but I am definitely inspired by things that are happening around me and collaborating with other musicians and artists. I think the biggest evolution in my music has occurred through technology – the amount of control I can have in the production and editing as well as playing has allowed me to exercise greater authenticity in my work.
Q: You’ve played many shows in support of various social causes such as “Rock and Resistance: Against the Naval Base on Jeju Island” and “Solidarity for US Military Camptown Women’s Human Rights.” What is your motivation to support these causes?
A: I simply believe it is the right thing to do. Human history is full of violence, war, and suffering, but it is just as equally full of beauty and kind acts. I think sometimes it’s hard to remember that we have the power to change things positively if only we will speak up and get involved.
Q: It can be quite difficult trying to survive off your music alone as an indie musician in South Korea. How do you manage?
A: It is difficult to be an artist. There’s definitely a reason why everyone says that. But, honestly, I never really thought about it too much. It wasn’t a question for me of whether or not to live a creative life. I just did it. I’m not really alone as an indie musician, there’s a whole core group of people working to support and promote the indie scene in Korea from venues like Club Rainbow to people who listen to our music. To make ends meet I might teach art, sell some of my paintings, or do other things like that.
Q: Do you have hopes of releasing a new album in the near future?
A: Smacksoft plan to release our sixth studio album in June. And, I just released a solo EP on February 27. It’s called “As If Nothing Ever Happened.”
Q: You recently shot a beautiful new video for “Dreamer of Myths.” Tell us about the experience of filming it.
A: It was really cold but really fun. We had a great crew. The video for “Dreamer of Myths” presents my thoughts and ideas along with the music. I am wearing a mask with words – rage, betrayal, feeling lost, loneliness – and when I take that off and burn it, I felt this emotional release of actually letting go of all the human fears and suffering that we create for ourselves.
Q: You toured the US back in 2012. What was the highlight of that tour?
A: Definitely just seeing the States and getting to drive through the country was a highlight. Also, we met some great musicians when we played in Chicago at Transistor and Reggie’s. One band, Evil Twin Sister, their guitarist Mario had a friend who had just seen us play in Tijuana, Mexico so he had already heard about us – that was exciting. Playing in Tijuana was also an amazing experience. And, even though our music is mostly in Korean, people still responded to the music, which was very moving for us.
Q: What can US-based fans expect from you at SXSW?
A: True post-punk music – not the “indie” packaged, soul-less music produced by following some kind of set formula. I think we’re all going to have a great time getting to share our music with a new audience. I think they’ll love us!
Q: Lastly, you’ll be collaborating with the belly dancer Eshe and her Navah troupe this Friday night to raise money for your trip. Tell us what is it like to take part in these kinds of music-dance collaborations from the band’s perspective.
A: Clearly, music and dance go together well – it’s a natural collaboration. I think working with any artists expands the whole creative process. I think it shows us all what is possible and creates a wonderful experience for all of the participants regardless of whether they are dancing, listening, playing, or doing something else. Performing live is really the best feeling there is.
Smacksoft’s US tour fundraiser show takes place on Friday night at Nest Nada. The show starts at 8 pm and tickets are 20,000 won. Apollo 18, Rainbow99, and bellydancers Eshe & Navah will also perform. For international fans, here are Smacksoft’s overseas gigs in March and April:
March 13 Austin, TX @ Icenhauer’s (SXSW)
March 16 San Antonio, TX @ Limelight
March 20 San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall (CAAMFest)
April 12 Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Sugar Factory (PMPS Fest)