When it comes to the international music festival circuit, Korea is at a geographical disadvantage, disconnected from the mainland and wedged between two much larger countries with larger music scenes. But every year, more and more international bands visit Korea and more and more people come out to the increasingly numerous music festivals of the country.
When: June 9-10
How Much: 88 000 won for June 9, 110 000 won for June 10, and 165 000 won for both days
Saturday: Jason Mraz, Busker Busker, Lee Seung-yeol, 015B, Idiotape, Sogyumo Acacia Band, Kingston Rudieska, the Koxx, Yellow Monsters, Standing Egg, Raspberry Field, Nine, Bye Bye Bad Man, Joyful Island, Astro Voize, Inside Core, Sugar Pop, Weekend
Sunday: Christina Perri, Lee Seung-hwan, Ego Wrappin, Felix da Housecat, Hot Potato, Band Kangsaneh, Oh! Brothers, Tattles, Zitten, Junggigo, Soran, Lalasweet, the Freaks, Deadend, Bagagee, Kirin, MDS, WOW
This article is just in time for the Rainbow Island Festival, out on Namiseom in Chuncheon. Taking place over two days, this festival has activities running late into the first night, providing a rare opportunity to set up tent and camp on the island. For 55 000 won, you can rent a tent, floor mats, sleeping bag, and a lantern. Access to the island is by ferry only. To get there, you can take the Gyeongchun Line and get off at Gapyeong (Nami Island) Station.
The headliner on the first day is American singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, and the second day features Christina Perri. The domestic acts range from mellow singers such as Junggigo and Kangsaneh to energetic bands such as Yellow Monsters and Kingston Rudieska.
Here’s one of the bands playing on the first day, Busker Busker. These guys gained attention for their runner-up finish on Superstar K3, an Mnet music audition show. They had made a promise that if they made it to the top 3, they would perform a strip dance, which apparently they did at a show in Hongdae.
Guro Indie Rock Festival
When: July 5-7
Where: Guro Arts Valley Theatre
How Much: ranging from 15 000 won to 35 000 won
Thursday: Autumn Vacation, Kim Mok-in, Lee Young-hoon, Big Baby Driver
Friday: Loros, Vidulgi Ooyoo, Baek Hyun-Jin, Byul
Saturday: Galaxy Express, The Moonshiners, Goonamguayeoridingstella, The Freaks, 24 Hours, Mukimukimanmansu, Microkid, Kirin + Yoyo
A somewhat smaller and lesser-known festival (also more affordable and accessible), this one is interesting in that it starts on Thursday and goes for three days. The Thursday and Friday dates start in the evening, with the Saturday one in the afternoon. The Saturday lineup has some must-see bands such as Galaxy Express and the Moonshiners, but the band I’m most looking forward to seeing is the off-the-wall female duo Mukimukimanmansu, whose music defies all description and reason.
Jisan Valley Rock Festival
When: July 27-29
Where: Jisan Forest Ski Resort
How Much: 225 000 won for all three days
Friday: Radiohead, Black Skirts, Kim Changwan Band, Lowdown 30, Black Bag, Achime, Elvis Costello and the Imposters, M. Ward, James Iha, Common Ground, Peter Pan Complex
Saturday: James Blake, Lucid Fall with Jo Yoon-seong Semi-Symphonic Ensemble, Underwears Band, Strikers, Spyair, Owl City, Apollo 18, eAeon, Lee Juck, Taru, Peppertones, Hollow Jan, Harry Big Button
Sunday: Stone Roses, Nell, Los Lonely Boys, Monni, Busker Busker, Boom Boom Satellites, Beady Eye, Sekai No Owari, Yellow Monsters, Jang Pil-soon, Hanumpa
Since 2009, Jisan has been one of Korea’s top rock festivals. The reason they can bring so many major foreign acts to Korea is a partnership with the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan. And with the likes of Radiohead, Elvis Costello, and James Iha, this festival looks promising. Although I admit I’m a bit crushed that Bye Bye Bad Man isn’t on the bill, as they are named after a Stone Roses song.
One of the domestic bands worth seeing is Hollow Jan, who recently came back from a break, relieving Korea of its crippling lack of screamo.
13th Busan International Rock Festival
When: August 3-5
Where: Samrak Riverside Park
How Much: free
Who: James Welsh (Starsailor), Firehouse, Boohwal, Lee Han-cheol Band, Black Skirts, Monni, Downhell, Syndicate, and more to be announced
This festival has been every year since around 2000, featuring the best rock, metal, and miscellaneous which Korea has to offer. It looks like the full lineup hasn’t been released, and presumably they’ll add a lot more.
Worth note on the lineup so far is Boohwal, one of Korea’s oldest metal bands dating back to the ’80s, as well as the much younger metal band Downhell. There’s also the Black Skirts, a one-man band. It originally started in New York as a punk band, but it’s been whittled down to just lead vocalist Holiday Cho, who plays guitar, keyboard, and bass.
Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival
When: August 10-12
Where: Incheon Dreampark
Who: Snow Patrol, Ash, Crystal Castles, Hot Potato, Yi Sung Yol, 10cm, the Koxx, Urban Zakapa, Daybreak, Rose Inn, Kingston Rudieska, Moonshiners, Windy City, Dalmoon, and more to be announced
Pentaport is Korea’s other main rock festival, having started in 2006. Although there has been a bit of friction between Pentaport and Jisan, the two festivals have both managed to find a niche among Korean music fans.
The entire lineup hasn’t been released, but we already have the names of a few of the foreign acts, as well as a good deal of the local bands. It looks like a solid lineup so far, with rock bands the Koxx and Moonshiners, and the reggae and ska bands Windy City and Kingston Rudieska.
Here’s the Koxx, a relatively new band that has made some good progress in ekeing out a solid reputation in Korea and abroad.
When: August 14-15
Where: Olympic Park
Who: Smashing Pumpkins, New Order, Tears for Fears, Soluwax, Foster the People, Gym Class Heroes, The Vaccines, and more to be announced
This festival is in conjunction with Summer Sonic over in Japan, and they’ve already announced some major names coming to Korea. Smashing Pumpkins is an impressive headliner, but seeing New Order in Korea would also be very cool.
There are no Korean bands announced yet, but I’m sure the list will come out soon, and I’m sure it’ll more than double the number of bands performing.
Inner Trip Festival
When: August 25-26
Where: Sunday Beach (Chuncheon)
How Much: 40 000 – 70 000 won
Psychedelic Stage: Astrix, Ziki, Jo Moontribe, Kei Fujishiro, Yuta, Tang, Psytronic, Galaxy Express, Yul, Moonsiso, Newptboy, Iota, Lunic, Voidrover, Hpnotic, Paul Eun
Reggae Stage: Windy City, Kingston Rudieska, Rude Paper, Suri Suri Mahasuri, Re-ska, Tehiun, Tal Gak Go
This festival runs two stages dedicated to psychedelic music and reggae respectively. There also seem to be a lot of DJs playing at both sides which I didn’t list, as well as a fire poi performer and presumably a wide variety of other events. What’s more, this event takes place from Saturday, August 25 at 10am and goes until Sunday, August 26 at noon, promising over 24 hours straight of great music.
The reggae stage has a lot of great Korean acts, led by Windy City. Rather than a music video, this video is a preview for their new digital single, and it shows the unique lifestyle of the band members.
I’m sure there will be a lot more details released leading up to the festivals, and there will doubtlessly be more summer festivals announced with much less warning. For the the best English-language listings of upcoming shows, visit Korea Gig Guide.