While waiting to enter Nublu in New York’s East Village, a passerby observed the crowd of mainly Asians anxiously awaiting entry into the venue and remarked, “Well, I didn’t know Gangnam Style was here.” Taking that rather personally, I scoffed as my acquaintance and the creator of GoodMoMusic.com, Johnny, laughed and said, “Now that…that was good!” Later unpacking the statement that I first took as stereotypical, it revealed a very pivotal point: Korea is no longer just the country blanketing our news with political issues but a country on the rise due to its ability to captivate audiences with its music. Though groups No Brain, Lowdown 30 andGoonam are in no way like Psy or Kpop, they show proof to the fact that Korea is a country bustling with ALL KINDS of music worthy of recognition. Korea is staking its claim.
The 2013 Seoulsonic North American tour took off on March 7th in San Francisco with bands No Brain and Galaxy Express and has embarked on a seven-city tour that has drawn out the indie trance hipsters, punk rockers and the blues junkies to vibe to the sounds of Korea’s premier indie musicians. Korean rock arguably finds its roots dating back to 1962 with the founding of Add4 by Shin Jung Hyeon. Being said to have sounds similar to “early U.S. garage bands”, a blending of “lounge-style vocals” with a “psychedelic twist” characterized the beginnings of rock in Korea. Founded amidst a time of political and social unrest, rock in Korea seems to have arisen out of coping with the issues of post war diplomacy, struggles for democratic freedom and economic instability. Despite these issues and heavy censorship by the then Korean dictatorship, the 60’s and 70’s gave rise to bands blending, folk, funk and rock into almost intoxicating sounds.
Here in New York City, where I was privileged enough to see Goonam, Lowdown 30 and No Brain’s sets, a myriad of people were brought out to the intimate club where the crowd was eye to eye with the musicians. Goonam, composed of Joh Ung on guitar and vocals, Emm ByungHak on bass and also vocals, Park TaeSik on the drums and Kim Naun on the keyboard, opened up and brought sounds of atmospheric, retro-electric rock that left the crowd mellow and in expectation of a night filled with good sounds. When I interviewed them after the show it was nothing but good vibes, which is very reflective of how anyone would feel after seeing them perform. Duringour interview, when asked about what it’s like being a mixed-sex group, atypical of Korean bands, keyboardist Naun, the only girl in the group, responded with “Its good! Being together with these old men is just good!” Their lighthearted and mellow nature showed through on and off stage.
Founded in 2000, Lowdown 30 took the stage performing a rock set soaked in blues, funk and southern soul while the base of the drums shook the walls and almost pounded through the bodies of those in the crowd. Drummer Kim Taehyun gave the drums no mercy as each song’s break down gave way to bass guitarist Kim RockGun’s throbbing layer of sound. The crowd swayed as the sound of vocalist Yoon Byeongjoo’s voice added the blues and grunge to the combination of thumping beats and flaming guitars.
Before I could get my thoughts together and my body prepared for the next act, people were already rushing to the front, packing themselves like sardines, because apparently it was time for the following musicians (and arguably the most anticipated act) to get everybody jumping. Punk Rock group, No Brain, together now for 17 years, which formed in a small club in Hongdae and has continued their career cementing themselves as Korea’s premier punk rock group.
With raw vocals and brash guitars, they had the room jumping without inhibition and screaming the lyrics without a care in the world. Six albums and countless numbers of OSTs and Digital Singles, they were the act everyone rushed to the front to rock out with. Vocalist Lee Sungwoo performed shirtless, leading the crowd in call and responses and breakdowns reserved for shouting obscenities and head banging fun. With Hwang HyunSung on the drums, Jung MinJoon on guitar and Jung WooYong owning the bass, one word described the atmosphere ending the night: ROWDY. Upon interviewing the members after the show, I asked if they had any advice for any juniors coming up in the rock scene to which they responded with a confident and rebellious “There are a lot of great bands in Korea…but No Brain is best. Best music in Korea.”
Korea’s music scene is diverse and up and coming. Artists have been inspired by so many musical genres and have mastered the blending of those styles of music to create sounds that have begun to captivate audiences around the world both Asian and non-Asian. Unbeknownst to the guy passing by Nublu, absentmindedly-making reference to Gangnam Style, he was well close to hitting the nail on the head. Korea’s style has come and it has something to share with the world.