Our Blog of the Week series has taken a minor hiatus lately, but only because we’ve been so busy interviewing the best bloggers in Korea for upcoming posts. To restart the series we asked music journalist and Korea Gig Guide blogger Shawn Despres, also a writer for Jeju Weekly, The Japan Times and Fujirock.com, some questions about KGG and the Korean music scene. He answered with a ton of indie information, including a lengthy list of the bands you need to watch out for in Seoul.
Who runs Korea Gig Guide?
Korea Gig Guide is run by me, Jon Dunbar, and Dain Leathem. The site was originally founded by Mark Russell. Mark is now based out of Spain. Although he doesn’t work with us on Korea Gig Guide anymore, Mark is still very interested in Korean music and now helps run a website called Korean Indie.
It’s an excellent resource. How did it start? Why do you do it?
Mark started Korea Gig Guide in February 2008. I met him by chance in a restaurant in early 2008. I had just moved to Seoul from Japan and we talked about some Japanese bands that we liked. A few days later, I emailed him and said I was having trouble finding information about live gigs in Seoul. I asked him if there was anything here like the site Tokyo Gig Guide. He said there wasn’t a site like that, but that he had been thinking about making one. A week or two after that Korea Gig Guide surfaced. When the site first started, I began emailing Mark a few times a month with info about any shows I came across online or that I saw posters for in Hongdae to help him build up Korea Gig Guide’s concert calendar. In May 2008, we decided that it would make things easier if I just inputted the concerts directly to the site on my own, and from that point on I’ve been a part of Korea Gig Guide. Jon started contributing to the site in early 2009 and Dain joined us in the summer of 2009.
I can’t speak for Jon or Dain, but I wanted to be a part of Korea Gig Guide because I wanted to learn more about the local music scene. Looking for shows for the site’s calendar was a great crash course on Seoul’s music scene for me. I have learned about a lot of new bands from being a part of Korea Gig Guide. And I still continue to do so. We keep doing Korea Gig Guide because we are all big fans of live music and want people to know about all of the good shows going on here.
What’s your opinion on the music scene here in Korea?
It’s continuing to improve. I mainly pay attention to the local indie scene. There’s a lot of talented bands in Hongade and they are slowly getting better at promoting themselves both locally and overseas. More bands are trying to tour internationally too, which is slowly helping to bring more exposure to what’s happening in the Korean scene. And, love it or hate it, the popularity of K-pop is helping make people more interested in other forms of Korean music too. Last year Galaxy Express played a show in Tokyo. Their manager told me after that the room was packed with music industry staff. He asked some of them why they were at the gig and they told him because K-pop was doing so well they were curious to learn about Korean rock as well. Something similar happened to Apollo 18 at Fuji Rock last summer. After their performance they were interviewed by a major radio station. There are more than 200 acts at Fuji Rock each year from around the world. The Apollo 18 guys spoke with the program’s producer after the interview and asked why he chose to interview them. He said that because K-pop was so popular, he wanted to expose people to another side of Korean music. In the fall I wrote a story about Juck Juck Grunzie for The Jeju Weekly newspaper. After it was published I had people from China and Australia writing me to ask for more info about the band.
There’s still lots of room for growth in the music scene in Korea. More promotion and more touring outside of Hongdae are two things many bands need to improve upon. There are other things too that need to improve, but it would take too long to go through all of them here. But with each passing year, things seem to be getting better. And that’s something to be happy about.
Do you have a favourite Korean artist?
Like I said before, there are a lot of really good Korean acts. Some of my personal favourites include Apollo 18, Galaxy Express, Vidulgi Ooyoo, Juck Juck Grunzie, 13 Steps, Bulssazo, Idiotape, DJ Soulscape, Rux, Underwears Band, Hellivision, Mukimukimanmansu, Momguamaum, Kuang Program, Bamesom Pirates, Funkafric & BoostDah, No Respect for Beauty, Yagamata Tweakster, Windy City, Sagitta, Loro’s, 49 Morphines, National Pigeon Unity, The Geeks, and Jambinai. There are many other local bands that I enjoy too. I’m sure Jon and Dain have different lists of local favourites. It may take a bit of digging, but there is no shortage of cool music being made in Korea.
What’s the greatest gig you’ve been to in Korea?
That’s a tough question. I’ve seen a lot of great shows over the last few years here from local and international acts. The best gig I’ve seen this year was Hellivision with Myungsoo Hwang at Strange Fruit on March 30. Hellivision formed last summer and features current members of Second Session and Underwears Band and former members of Cocore and The Mustangs. They played the first half of their set by themselves on March 30 and were just joined by Hwang for several songs at the end. Hwang used to be the guitarist in Cocore, but he’s kept kind of a low profile since the group disbanded in 2010. Hellivision play instrumental rock stuff that is sometimes loud and noisy, sometimes funky, and sometimes trippy. When Hwang joined in, he used an effect pedal that made his guitar sound like a sitar and the crowd loved it. Hwang has great presence and helped make Hellivision’s music even more intricate and psychedelic. It was great to see him playing live again.
Before the show I had said to a friend that Hellivision were getting pretty good. As soon as they finished their set he came up to me and said, “You lied to me. You said they were getting pretty good. But that was f#cking great.” Hellivision will release their debut full-length through the newly formed RCL imprint (Reggae Chicken Label) in the coming months. I had the chance to hear a few of the un-mastered tracks at Three Kings Studio in Hongdae and the songs all sounded awesome. I can’t wait to listen to the finished album.
What’s the best venue in Seoul?
Anywhere that has good bands playing. I couldn’t care less about the room or area where a concert is taking place. I’m more interested in what’s being created on the stage.
Any upcoming events you can recommend to us?
Rux, 100 Blossom Club, and Humpbacks will be playing a free gig in the playground near Hongik University on Saturday (July 7) at 7pm. Rux are local punk rock royalty. They played their first gig in 10 months on June 10 at Rolling Hall and were great. I caught Humpbacks last weekend for their CD release party at Bbang and they put on a really energetic rock ‘n’ roll show. A (hopefully sunny) afternoon of noisy tunes and bouncing tatted-up punks and rockers sounds like good fun to me. And you can’t beat the price!
On Sunday, Underwears Band will be playing at Veloso in Hongdae with Second Session. Underwears Band are one of the top post-rock bands in the country (and all of East Asia for that matter). The group were absent from the live music scene for several years, but began performing together again in January. I’ve had the chance to see them play twice this year and they were fantastic both times. According to Veloso’s website, Sunday’s show will see Underwears Band playing one song with members of Second Session, Loro’s, and Bulssazo. That should definitely be pretty cool to see.
You can find all the information on the gigs Shawn has mentioned on Korea Gig Guide.
Images: Juck Juck Grunzie by Verity Inett. Apollo 18 courtesy of Apollo 18.