Category Archives: concert review

Korean Festivals, Then and Now

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.

Rocking Apgujeong

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.

Jambinai

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.

KGG Staff 2012 Live Faves

This is being posted a bit later than usual, but here’s Korea Gig Guide’s annual “Staff Live Faves” list sharing the 10 shows from the past year that we each enjoyed the most.

If anyone is interested, our 2009 picks are here, our 2010 picks are here, and you can see our 2011 picks here.

Shawn Despres
1. Fucked Up @ Fuji Rock Festival (Japan) on July 29

2. Hellivison (with Myung-soo Hwang) @ Strange Fruit on March 30

3. Mono with The Holy Ground Orchestra @ Fuji Rock Festival (Japan) on July 28

4. Apollo 18 @ Salon Badabie on November 17

5. Moja @ Salon Badabie on May 19

6. Morrissey @ Uniqlo AX on May 6

7. Rux @ Rolling Hall on June 10

8. Underwears Band @ Sangsang Madang (Label Market) on February 17

9. Summit Beatbox @ Yogiga Expression Gallery on October 28

10. (Tie between two concerts) Romantiqua @ Club Freebird on November 16
Toyshop @ Salon Badabie on November 17

Jon Dunbar
1. Heimlich County Gun Club, Mixed Blood, Veggers, Dead Buttons (Punk Rock Toy Drive) @ Alternative Space [Moon] on December 8 (live photos here)

2. Suck Stuff (with Paul Brickey), Skasucks, Captain Bootbois @ DGBD on June 16 (live photos here)

3. Attacking Forces, Chanter’s Alley, Samchung, Captain Bootbois @ Club Spot on July 28 (live photos here)

4. Babylove and the Van Dangos, The Essence, Josh Roy, Kingston Rudieska, Funkafric & Boostdah @ Club Ta on October 11 (live photos here)

5. Find the Spot, Smoking Barrels, Kitsches, Burn My Bridges, Pariah, Last of the Diehards, Seoul Mothers, No Excuse, Animal Anthem, 13 Steps, Things We Say, The Geeks (Townhall Benefit for Hwang Kyusuck) @ Powwow on November 24 (live photos here)

6. Tyler Brown and Sato Yukie, Brothers of the Hole, Mixed Blood, No Control, Something Fierce, Chadburger, Scumraid @ Lowrise on August 4 (live photos here)

7. Shin Jung-hyun at Olympic Park Gymnasium on December 2

8. Mukimukimanmansu, Pavlov, Paryumchiakdan, Bamseom Pirates (Rhee Sung-woong Exhibition) @ Artsonje Center on April 13 (live photos here)

9. Paul Brickey and Al Dunbar @ Danginri Theater on June 23 (live photos here)

10. Shinchonji National Olympiad @ Jamsil Olympic Stadium on September 16 (live photos here)

Dain Leathem
(shows listed by date)
1. Yellow Monsters and Galaxy Express @ Rolling Hall on February 5

2. Crystal Rain @ Club Evans on March 10

3. Harry Big Button @ Strange Fruit on April 6

4. Radiohead @ Jisan Valley Rock Festival on July 27

5. Skrillex @ UMF Festival on August 3

6. T-Bone Ska and Kingston Rudieska @ Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival on August 11

7. Maroon 5 @ Jamsil Sports Complex on September 15

8. Glen Check @ Let’s Rock Festival on September 22

9. Babylove and the Van Dangos @ Club Ta on October 11

10. Apollo 18 @ Club FF on November 16

We hope all of you see countless great gigs in 2013!

Jisan Done, On With the Next Festivals

By Mark

Sadly, I could not attend this year, but it sounds like the Jisan Valley Rock Festival was pretty good this year. Yonhap is reporting the festival had 84,000 people there over its three days, which I think is its best turnout yet. And you can read reports on the festival here, and here.

Next weekend is going to be a really big one for music fans, with Pentaport, Naksan Beach Summer Party, and the Busan International Rock Festival all going on.

* * *

Btw, here are a few blog reviews of this year’s Jisan:
- Korean Beacon, with a focus on Priscilla Ahn and Aziatix.
- Priscilla talks a bit about her Korea trip here (although not much about Jisan).
- A fun review with lots of pics at Strange Lands.
- Timeless, Bottomless links to some videos of Chang Kiha and the Faces playing at Jisan.
- Video of Aziatix playing.

Plus Fuji Rock has a great review blog, as always. All worth checking out.

Korean Bands in North America — So Far, So Good

By Mark

So I guess our friends who are playing North America at the moment are all about halfway done their tours. And we are starting to get a little press on them.

At Canadian Music Week in Toronto, where Seoulsonic took Galaxy Express, Vidulgi Ooyoo, and Idiotape to play last week, Idiotape got praised by the Toronto Star as one of “Nine acts that stood out from the Pack.” Said the Star:

This Korean electronic trio were achieving the near impossible — getting a strange audience in Toronto to dance — with their infectious sound, somewhere between Cut Copy and Chromeo. The two guys twiddling knobs at the front, Dguru and Zeze, could have kept it going, but the stunning live drummer known as DR kept breaking parts of his kit with his power. Even so, the audience was won over. If the band`s attempt to break into North America is serious — and they are playing at South by Southwest after this — then catch them the next time.

So it sounds like they were a big hit. Kind of funny, considering they might be the band with the smallest following of the three in Korea. But different places respond to bands differently, so you never know.

Funny, too, to see that they played Clinton’s, a dodgy old dive bar on Bloor Street that has been around since 1937 and helped launch the careers of Holly Cole and Cowboy Junkies. But it is also right in Toronto’s Koreatown, and these days has a noraebang and PC bang in the back (or at least it did the last time I was there).

* * *

By the way, you might want to check out the calendar and see the latest lineups for the Beautiful Mint Life, World DJ Fest, and Green Plugged festivals. All three have updated their lineups, with the World DJ Fest now looking especially large and impressive.

KGG Staff 2010 Live Faves

By Shawn Despres

We at Korea Gig Guide are obviously big fans of live music and do our best to get out to as many shows as we possibly can.  Although we all saw many great performances over the last year, we’ve each compiled lists of the ones that stood out the most.  Here are our favourite concerts from 2010.  If anyone is interested, our 2009 picks are here.

Happy gigging in 2011!

Mark Russell
1. Japandroids @ Primavera Sound (Barcelona, Spain) on May 28
By far the most fun show I saw all year.
2. Caribou @ V-Hall on July 9
3. Mineri @ Cafe Bbang on July 16
4. LCD Soundsystem @ Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival on July 24
5. Martina Topley-Bird @ Jisan Valley Rock Festival on July 31
6. 3rd Line Butterfly @ V-Hall on July 9
7. Belle & Sebastian @ Jisan Valley Rock Festival on July 31
8. OK Go @ Merce Festival (Barcelona, Spain) on Sept. 24
9. Vamps @ Sala Apolo (Barcelona, Spian) on Oct. 12
10. Pixies @ Primavera Sound (Barcelona, Spain) on May 28
Actually, not so good, but for someone in my age group, I was happy I finally saw them live.

Dishonorable Mention:
The King Khan & BBQ Show @ Rolling Hall on June 19
Sure it was canceled, but how often do you get to be around for a band breaking up? Quality drama, and it did not cost a thing (except for Super Color Super, the poor promoter).

Shawn Despres
1. Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO @ Rusty Spurs (SXSW, Texas, USA) on March 17
2. Matt & Kim @ White Stage (Fuji Rock Festival, Japan) on August 1
3. Caribou @ V-Hall on July 9
4. →Pia-no-jaC←, 8otto @ Sangsang Madang on December 4
5. Apollo 18 & friends (members of National Pigeon Unity, Donawhale, and Slow Fuzz) @ Live Club Ssam (Ssamzie Space) on December 31
6. Vampilla @ The Toff in Town (Melbourne, Australia) on January 3
7. The Flaming Lips @ AX-Korea on November 20
8. Ego-Wrappin’ and The Gossip of Jaxx @ Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival on July 25
9. Galaxy Express @ Green Plugged Festival on May 21
10. (Tie between two concerts) Toe @ Live Club Ssam (Ssamzie Space) on May 22
Vidulgi Ooyoo, Jambinai @ Live Club Ssam (Ssamzie Space) on November 27

Jon Dunbar
1. “2007 Punk Rock Flashback (Jesse’s Welcome Back Show)”: SkaSucks, Suck Stuff, Attacking Forces, The Geeks, Shorty Cat, … Whatever That Means @ Club Spot on December 11
2. Return Bois, Brothers of the Hole, 100 Blossom Club, Paryumchiakdan, Captain Bootbois @ Hair Flower (formerly Skunk Hell) on December 18
3. I&I Djangdan, Kingston Rudieska, plus others @ Bibim Festival in Jeonju on May 21
4. Bane, Ceremony, Shellback, Banran, No Excuse, Things We Say, Geeks @ DGBD on May 22
5. “Stay Posi Festival”: Chadburger, …Whatever That Means, Banran, Vicious Nerds, 13 steps, Chokeslammer/Veteran, Things We Say, FC Five @ DGBD on April 25
6. SkaSucks, 99Anger, … Whatever That Means, No.1 Korean, Kickscotch, Attacking Forces, Black Leather Lagoon @ Club Spot on October 30
7. All the Purge Movemement shows @ Hongdae Playground
8. 51+ Party @ Dooriban on May 1
9. Bamseom Pirates, Vicious Nerds, Banran @ Dooriban on December 4
10. Chadburger, Shellback, Banran @ Queen Practice Studio on March 13

Dain Leathem

1. Green Day @ Olympic Gymnasium on January 18
Electric atmosphere, over two-and-a-half hour set, a tight band, a charismatic front man, and great songs – this is what all rock ‘n’ roll shows should be like.
2. Muse @ Jisan Valley Rock Festival on August 1
3. Galaxy Express @ Ssangsang Madang on October 10
4. Serengeti @ Rolling Hall on September 4
5. Crying Nut @ Green Plugged Festival on May 22
6. “Crazy for Crash”: Crash, Art of Parties, Apollo 18, Pia @ Jisan Valley Rock Festival on July 31
7. No Brain, YB, Kim Chang Wan Band @ Time to Rock Festival on June 4 – 5
8. Cocore @ Soundholic on April 25
9. Windy City @ Time to Rock on June 5
10. Kingston Rudieska, Re-Ska @ DGDB on December 24

Scatterbrain’s Summer Festival Awards

By Mark

Scatterbrain, one of Korea’s best indie music websites, is running an online survey to determine the top acts and festivals of the summer. All the questions are in Korean and English, and Scatterbrain’s programmer-in-chief tells me that he would love to have as many expats participate as possible. Personally, I am happy for anything that brings the local music scene and international music lovers a little closer together, so big thanks to Scatterbrain for this.

Anyhow, you can take the survey here.

Peace in DMZ Goes to Pieces

By Mark

To nobody’s surprise, it seems there will be no Peace in the DMZ concert next weekend. The only thing I find surprising is that it took the organizers so long to announce what everyone had long suspected.

Peace in the DMZ had faced a lot of troubles from the beginning. They lost a couple of big investors when Artie Kornfeld told them they could not use “Woodstock” in the name of the festival (which, given that the organizer called itself Woodstock Korea and used the Woodstock URL, they apparently really wanted to use). The lineup of bands was a strange jumble that did not really make sense together. But I do find it amazing that in 2010, we are still having this basic, ugly concert problems in Korea.

Now the big question is, will Kanye West really be performing at the Summer Week&T concert in Naksan Beach this weekend? He is still listed on the posters and website, but there is no signs of any mention on Kanye West’s websites, Myspace page, Facebook page, etc. Hopefully it is just an oversight. I find it hard to believe that SK Telecom (a cosponsor of Summer Week&T) would attach their name to an event that misleads about its lineup.

(UPDATE: I just saw Kanye West mention traveling to Korea on his Twitter feed, so I feel a lot more confident about his show now.)

* * *

Oh, the Jisan Valley Rock Festival last weekend was a lot of fun. I was there on Friday and had quite a good time. The concert site is pretty far from Seoul (and organizers definitely need more signage at the bus station … and more shuttle buses), but it is a very picturesque location.

3rd Line Butterfly played soon after I got there, and were their usual solid selves (although 3:40pm and in sunshine is not really their ideal slot). Martina Topley-Bird was really good — a wonderful voice and delightful stage presence.

After enjoying the excellent Belle & Sebastian, I found a good seat at the back, by the food stalls but with a good view of the stage, and basically sat there for the rest of the evening. But I am old, so unapologetic about being lazy.

Best of all, all the advertised bands showed up and performed. What a crazy concept.

Anyhow, Jisan is clearly the top music festival in Korea now, in term of acts, professionalism, turnout and general ambiance. There is a decent write-up about how Jisan went over here.

UPDATE: There is a much fuller and more interesting overview of Jisan over at this blog. He mostly seemed to like it, although he thought the lineup was not as good as Fuji Rock. But to defend Jisan Valley — Fuji Rock has 13 stages, gets well over 100,000 people and costs 39,800 yen (or 550,000 won, or $450), so of course they get more. Korea is still building its festival scene and I think you are going to see more and better festivals in the future.

Pentaport Rundown

By Mark

So last weekend was the Pentaport Rock Festival, held over in Incheon. I thought I would write up my impressions. But feel free to add you own, if you went and if you want.

Actually, the only day I attended was Saturday, so that is all I can report on. The highlight for me was seeing LCD Soundsystem, who were as bouncy and dancy as I had hoped (although I think their new album is not as fun as their previous ones, imho). And because most of the crowd was slow in getting over for the start, it was really easy to get a good spot up near the front. Wagdug Futuristic Unity (a side project of Hiroshi Kyono, of Mad Capsule Market) had their moments, but did not excite me so much.

As for Korean music, the band Ynot had a pretty good turnout; an enthusiastic, uptempo set. Vassline was WAY TOO LOUD, but from a distance they seemed pretty enthusiast. YB band was their usual solid self, if you like their sound, and for a lot of people there, I think YB was the highlight of the night (judging by how many people seemed to leave once YB was finished).

No way was there 27,000 people there, as reported, but it was a decent turnout. As usual the fans were enthusiastic but polite. A surprising good diversity of food in the food area, and lines were all reasonable. All in all, a good time.

Actually, my Pentaport started on Thursday, as I was a participant at the first Pentaport Music Conference, which was an industry event that featured some big music professionals from the United States and around Asia to network with the local music scene. Among the speakers was me, which was a little strange — as a writer, my only audience is usually cats. But it was fun (and a little scary) speaking before a big room of music industry professionals. And it was great to meet so many new people in the music biz.

Technically, Pentaport is not over yet, as there is still the Incheon Fringe Festival and the Incheon Arts Festival (which will have better Korean indie bands, imho). No information on them in English yet, but they are worth checking out. I will try to write up something about those events in the next few days.

PS: The esteemed Niels Footman has already posted his take on this year’s Pentaport over at his website.