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.