Korea’s live music venues

Written by on August 20, 2012 in Arts, Lifestyle, Travel

As you can probably tell from my previous blog posts, I’ve been going to concerts in Korea as long as I’ve been living here. On my first weekend living in Korea in December 2003, I went to the Hongdae district to seek out Club Drug.

Back then, the live music scene was considerably smaller and less well known. I can think of numerous times when I’d meet another foreigner at a show who would say “I’ve been here eleven months, and I only just discovered there’s a punk/metal/indie rock/etc scene. Too bad I’m leaving next week.”

Since then, the number of live music clubs has grown, and those of us involved in the music scene have stepped up promotion of Korea’s small but inspired underground music scene, managing websites like Korea Gig Guide, publishing music zines and traditional journalistic articles, and also taking over social networking services to get the word out to Korean and foreign music fans alike. You have to keep your finger on the pulse if you want to know what kind of bands there are, when they’re playing, and where they’re playing.

Show listings can be infuriatingly hard to find, and often they’re not listed on KGG or Muzever until only a couple days before the performance. Usually the venues just serve as venues, and the actual show promoters float around from one to the other depending on a variety of factors. Also, the info dump can be intimidating to a newcomer who is unfamiliar with pretty well all the names given. It can be helpful therefore to familiarise oneself with the venues that host the music.

I am going to introduce several clubs across Korea. Obviously there are far more out there, but I can’t make it to all of them. Some of these I even only know through reputation. This is intended as a useful database to help direct you to the venues you’d like the most, and maybe help you find some good spots to hang out in your city.

Hongdae

Since the mid-’90s, Hongdae has been ground zero for virtually all underground music in Korea. It’s so unrivalled in its monopoly that it’s created a brain drain across the rest of the country, with bands and supporters from all across the country descending on this Seoul neighbourhood on weekends. Due to rising rent and gentrification, show organisers are doing their best to decentralise the scene, but it’s hard to break the habits of live music fans.

Club Spot

Music: mostly punk
Typical bands: Skasucks, Attacking Forces
Atmosphere: dingy basement
Size: medium (100-150 people typically)
Bar: yes
Entry: 15,000 won for regular weekly shows
Location
Website

Club Spot has been around for several years, offering early shows that finish in time to catch the subway home and late-night shows that wile away the hours until first subway in the morning. After the closing of Skunk Hell, it became the main punk club of Hongdae.

Club Spot

Club FF

Music: anything from rock to punk, whatever brings people out
Typical bands: Harry Big Button, Chanter’s Alley
Atmosphere: dingy basement
Size: medium (100-150 people typically)
Bar: yes
Entry: usually around 15,000 won
Location (whoa, what’s going on there?)
Website

FF is quite a trek from Hongdae Station, and it’s located in an alley with lots of bars, nightclubs, late-night kebab stands, and of course people. They tend to be more selective of bands, only inviting bands back that can draw a crowd. It’s a good place for newcomers to discover bands, although it sometimes lacks the camaraderie of other more specialised shows.

DGBD

Music: rockabilly, punk
Typical bands: Rocktigers, Crying Nut
Atmosphere: dark, fairly clean atmosphere
Size: medium (100-150 people, but crammed to capacity when Crying Nut plays)
Bar: yes
Entry: 10,000 to 20,000 won depending on the show
Location
Website

Created by a merging of two of Hongdae’s oldest clubs–Drug and Blue Devil (hence DGBD)–DGBD is best known these days for living out its glory days with Crying Nut shows which always draw a huge crowd. DGBD is also the usual host for Kimchibilly Nights, a series of concerts hosted by Korean rockabilly band Rocktigers, who frequently bring foreign rockabilly and psychobilly bands to Korea. The club has an engaging lighting system, and the sound guy is one of the best in Hongdae.

Skasucks in Club DGBD

Prism Hall

Music: metal, hardcore from what I’ve seen
Typical bands: Noeazy, Vassline
Atmosphere: I don’t know
Size: I don’t know
Bar: I don’t know but I don’t think so judging by the number of people always drinking out front
Entry: 20,000 won or so
Location
Website

Prism is a new venue, opened in a much more remote corner of Hongdae closer to Hapjeong Station. It’s the only venue in the area, so it’s slowly being discovered by more and more concert-goers.

Rolling Hall
Music: anything, usually a bit more famous, lots of touring bands
Typical bands: Rux, Napalm Death
Atmosphere: large dingy basement
Size: large (several hundred people)
Bar: no, and no outside drinks allowed
Entry: usually higher due to the relative fame of the bands
Location
Website

Rolling Hall is one of the clubs that only gets booked for larger shows. It’s been the venue for NoFX and Andrew WK, and Napalm Death’s second Korean show will take place here. It’s one of the few Hongdae venues that has a backstage, which can be good or bad for the band and fans depending on how famous they are. It’s also older than the other larger-sized venues.

Crowd-surfing in Rolling Hall

Sangsang Madang
Music: local bands of medium to high fame
Typical bands: Delispice, Kingston Rudieska
Atmosphere: large dark room in the basement of a very interesting building
Size: large (several hundred)
Bar: no, and no outside drinks permitted
Entry: usually higher due to the relative fame of bands
Location
Website

Sangsang Madang is one of the newer large venues of Hongdae, and unlike Rolling Hall and V-Hall it caters more to prominent Korean bands, hosting special events such as CD releases or other notable concert series. The building itself is remarkable, hosting an art gallery, crafts store, movie theatre, and cafe.

500
Music: world, reggae
Typical bands: I&I Djangdan, Windy City
Atmosphere: large basement room with white stone walls and mats to sit on the floor
Size: large (several hundred, though I’ve never seen it filled to capacity)
Bar: yes
Entry: varying depending on DJs or live performances
Location
Website

If you’ve been to Hongdae a lot, 500 is that place you went one time that you don’t quite remember how to find, but you really want to go back because it was like a cave straight out of the Flintstones. Cheerful atmosphere aside, it has a lot of DJ events, and I don’t often hear about live music events here. Note that the name is typically pronounced in Korean, so rather than Five Hundred it’s called Obec.

I&I Djangdan in 500

Kuchu Camp
Music: independent, lots of Japanese bands
Typical bands: Mukimukimanmansu, Nonstop Body
Atmosphere: calm, casual bar setting
Size: medium (50-100 people)
Bar: yes
Entry: usually around 15,000 won
Location
Website

Kuchu Camp, or Gongjung Camp in the Korean pronunciation, is an interesting DiY venue with an unconventional collective management. It has close connections to Japan, and the art and music of the venue is heavily influenced by the Japanese dub band Fishmans.

Kuchu Camp

Salon Badabie
Music: varies, from hardcore to acoustic
Typical bands: Yamagata Tweakster, Humpbacks
Atmosphere: intimate, cozy basement bar
Size: small (50-100 people usually)
Bar: no, but no restrictions on it
Entry: 15,000 won usually
Location
Website

Badabie almost closed last year when the owner had brain surgery, but after the success of a series of benefit shows across Hongdae, he decided to keep it open. Badabie has a warm feeling, partly due to the wood paneling of the stage, which glow pleasantly under the incandescent lighting.

Korean band Scumraid poses with Darge from Japan in Salon Badabie.

V-Hall
Music: anything, usually a bit more famous, lots of touring bands
Typical bands: Lucite Tokki
Atmosphere: large dingy basement hall
Size: large, several hundred
Bar: unknown
Entry: usually more to compensate for the relative fame of the bands
Location
Website

I actually just went to V-Hall’s website, and saw they were advertising the Napalm Death show…in Rolling Hall. V-Hall is in a sub-sub-sub basement, which can get kind of aggravating to get in and out of, especially if you’re a smoker, but its central location more than makes up for it. It’s more conveniently located than the other two high-capacity Hongdae live halls, but it seems totally random what shows all three of the places have.

Club Ta

Music:
Typical bands: Number One Korean, Swingn Flower
Atmosphere: cozy, laid-back basement bar
Size: small (50-100 would seem to be the optimal amount)
Bar: yes
Entry: usually cheap; I’ve gone to a lot of free shows on weekdays here
Location
Website

Club Ta is a quiet basement bar that goes for mood rather than energy. Most of the shows I’ve been to they had chairs and tables out rather than a mosh pit, fostering a more laid-back atmosphere.

Club Crack
Music: punk, metal
Typical bands: Patients, Swindlers
Atmosphere: tidy basement bar, sort of a tinier version of DGBD
Size: medium (50-150 people typically)
Bar: yes
Entry: usually average
Location
Website

When I first visited Crack’s website, it advertised itself as a hip-hop club, but I’ve pretty well seen nothing but punk and metal shows there. Slightly newer than most other venues, it’s finding its footing and offering opportunities for less experienced promoters to experiment. Although it’s a bit more remote than most other venues, its internal layout is very well designed.

Geeks in Club Crack

 Sapiens 7

Music: metal, miscellaneous other
Typical bands: Remnants of the Fallen, Overhead
Atmosphere: dingy basement
Size: small (50-100 comfortably)
Bar: yes
Entry: usually average
Location
Website

Despite somehow always reminding me of S Club 7, Sapiens 7 usually comes off to me as more of a metal club, willing to give the more extreme bands a home base. Located in an inocuous alley, it’s easy to get to once you know the way, and it has all the parts a live venue needs.

Yogiga

Music: indie, experimental, improv
Typical bands: Sato Yukie, GT Arpe
Atmosphere: small, intimate concrete basement room
Size: small (50 to 100 people on average)
Bar: no, but a lot of sharing is done
Entry: I can’t recall ever being charged anything
Location
Website

Yogiga is a small basement bar (yeah, that should be sounding pretty familiar by now) way in the corner of Hongdae near Hapjeong Station. It is probably best known as the venue for Bulgasari, a monthly experimental music series that draws on the more artistic of Hongdae’s music scene.

Gopchangjeongol in Yogiga

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty more that I’m less familiar with, and I just barely decided not to put Bbang, Freebird, and Jammers on the list because it’s been so long.

Seoul outside Hongdae

There aren’t many shows outside Hongdae, but when there are and they’re advertised well enough they can get a good crowd together.

Lowrise

Music: a variety of underground music from acoustic to grindcore
Typical bands: Scumraid, Park Daham
Atmosphere: dingy concrete room with no windows
Size: medium (100-150 people would be alright)
Bar: no
Entry: usually low if anything, often by donation
Location
Website

Lowrise is located in an interesting part of Mullae-dong where machine shops are slowly being phased out and the vacancies are being filled by art galleries. Although the venue is concrete and windowless, it’s on the second floor, and the main floor is still used by workers who occasionally complain about the noise. The venue is run by organisers who are no strangers to Korea’s music and arts scene, and although the equipment isn’t the greatest, there’s a genuine feeling of goodwill at this place.

 

Chadburger sound-check in Lowrise.

Alternative Space [Moon]

Music: diverse, with performance art
Typical bands: has any band ever played here twice?
Atmosphere: small basement bar that actually looks more like a respectable bar than you’d expect from the area
Size: small (50-100 people)
Bar: yes
Entry: cheap
Location
Website

Another Mullae venue, Alternative Space [Moon] doesn’t have frequent shows, but it is best known for its Art Meet Sound series, organised by a German artist who mixes the Hongdae bands doing the circuits with performance artists, always creating a new and unique experience. Unlike most other shows, she keeps things diverse, so if you go to see one band you like you’ll likely discover a couple new bands to follow.

Mukimukimanmansu in Alternative Space [Moon]

DGBS

Music: anything from folk to grindcore and crust
Typical bands: No Control, Bamseom Pirates
Atmosphere: dingy basement
Size: very small (50-100 people)
Bar: I don’t think so
Entry: cheaper than average
Location
Website

The same mass exodus of independent musicians from Hongdae that created Lowrise also gave birth to DGBS. Found in the basement of the Students’ Union Building at Korea National University of Arts, it is driven in its mission to spread underground music outside of Hongdae.

Ccot Ddang

Music:  anything from grindcore to dub to acoustic
Typical bands: Ha Heon-jin, Ninano Nanda, but it might be too early to label it
Atmosphere: unknown
Size: unknown
Bar: yes
Entry: I’ve seen prices from “Wow, that’s way too much” to “Wow, that’s way too low”
Location
Website

Ccot Ddang seems to be a new venue, and I haven’t made it out there yet, though the shows look good. It seems to share bands (and presumably an audience) with Lowrise and DGBS, basically Hongdae refugees. I’m curious how its location in Hannam will play out.

Powwow

Music: a wide variety
Typical bands: I’d guess Geeks and Sighborg, two bands fronted by two of the organisers
Atmosphere: very small artsy basement bar
Size: very small (25-75 would be comfortable)
Bar: unknown
Entry: unknown
Location
Website

Powwow is a new venue in Itaewon, down the hill from Noksapyeong Station toward Gyeongnidan and HBC. It’s managed by a collective that combines some of the most experienced DiY promoters of Hongdae, representing SuperColorSuper and Open Yor Eyes among others. Coming from such a variety of backgrounds, I have no idea yet what this venue will produce.

Outside Seoul

The venues that allow shows outside of Seoul are constantly changing as bars come and go and promoters forge new relationships. I’m not too familiar with how things work outside of Seoul, so if you know what you’re talking about, feel free to add more information below. And if you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t be afraid of asking questions.

Daejeon Cantina

Music: whoever’s willing to come to Daejeon
Typical bands:
Atmosphere: laid-back bar with pool table and nice big windows
Size: large with multiple rooms
Bar: yes and excellent menu as well
Entry: seems to be reasonable
Location
Website

Not quite a family restaurant, not quite a typical live music hall, Daejeon Cantina is an interesting room that has been used well for putting on shows. Daejeon’s had a tough time keeping live music clubs open, with a history of good tries. More recently they’ve had a few shows organised by Brian Hough, a Canadian who moves around between Daejeon, Cheongju, and Cheonan, and has done a lot to foster local music in all of those cities.

Midnight Smoking Drive in Daejeon Cantina

 Club Realize Busan

Music: a little of everything, but lots of punk and metal
Typical bands: Nachopupa, Gwamegi
Atmosphere: don’t know
Size: don’t know
Bar: yes
Entry: usually decently affordable
Location
Website

Well, I’ve never been here so I don’t have much to say about it.

Cheonan Dolce Live Bar

Music: whoever wants to come to Cheonan
Typical bands: Things We Say
Atmosphere: fairly typical bar setting which doubles as a live club with a decent layout
Size: decent, (75-125 comfortably and lots of seating)
Bar: yes
Entry: reasonable, probably usually 10,000 won
Location
Website

A basement bar that seems like it became a live music club on a whim (or maybe a change in ownership). They’ve had a reliable number of shows there of various genres, largely thanks to Brian Hough.

Neighbor Dave Why’d You Shave in Dolce

 

Club Heavy Daegu

Music: diverse, but lots of local metal bands
Typical bands: Axcutioner, Mr Headbutt
Atmosphere: dingy basement
Size: medium (75-125)
Bar: I totally can’t remember
Entry: usually reasonable
Location
Website

Club Heavy is probably the oldest club on this list outside of Hongdae. Judging by their URL I’m guessing they opened in 1996, and they’ve been putting on shows for a good while now. Yes, it’s a dingy basement, and it’s a bit more removed from major university areas unlike most other venues on this list.

Club Heavy (I believe the band is Golden Ticket but not too sure)

Live hall information changes monthly, so I welcome all corrections/updates/questions.

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About the Author

Jon Dunbar

Jon Dunbar is a former editor and staff writer for Korea.net. His first visit to Korea was in summer 1996 when he was a teenager, and he returned permanently in December 2003. He is involved in the Korean underground music scene and has supported local musicians through writing, photography, and occasionally planning events. He has been blogging for more than a decade, mainly on music, urban exploration, and his cats