Buying underground and indie CDs in Korea is no easy task.
There’s pretty much only one place to go, Hyang Music, a hole-in-the-wall shop in Sinchon crammed with shelves of CDs. They have music of all genres, and their Korean indie stuff only occupies two shelves. For online shoppers there’s also Mr Kwang’s online store, but I don’t buy stuff online.
Then every once in a while, Label Market comes along. Housed in the art gallery on the second (or sometimes third) floor of the seven-story Sangsang Madang, Label Market is a bazaar of offerings from Korea’s numerous small-business music labels. This is only a temporary exhibition, so go while you can; the current Label Market (the sixth ever) runs until February 17, but it’ll be back.
Some of the labels represented have dozens of established bands, while some may only constitute a few rough demos from new talent. You’ll find Beatball Records and Dope Entertainment alongside Townhall Records and the Independent Musicians Collective, all arranged along shelves surrounding the entire room. There’s too many to count, but the Sangsang Madang website tells me there are 42 labels in total. In fact, here they are:
긴가민가레코드/넥스트페이지 크리에이티브 /노리터뮤직/다다뮤직/DOPE ENTERTAINMENT/디스커버리 뮤직/디지털레코드/Deep Forest sound/락킨코리아/러브락컴퍼니/레트로 뮤직/록스타뮤직앤라이브/루디시스템/루바토/루비레코드/루오바 팩토리/리플레이뮤직/릴라레코드 /마스터플랜 프로덕션 & 해피로봇레코드/매직스트로베리 사운드/Mushroom Cloud /모모씨뮤직/물고기뮤직/뮤직커밸 /미러볼뮤직/보자기 레이블&미디어/붕가붕가레코드/블러섬 랜드/비트볼뮤직/세븐다이얼즈레코드/SAIL MUSIC/스스레코드/스틸 페이스 레코드/소니 뮤직 엔터테인먼트 코리아 &도모 /시골길 무지끄/신촌콘서트/Sunny Side Up Music/Some Music Korea/약기운 엔터테인먼트/엄브렐라뮤직/에반스뮤직/엠와이뮤직/오디오가이 /우먼앤맨스/일렉트릭 뮤즈/자립음악생산조합&헬리콥터 레코즈/JNH뮤직/쥬스미디어/GRmuzik/GMC 레코드/진엠포리움/칠리뮤직코리아/카바레사운드/CORNSOX/쿵짝쿵짝연구소/타운홀레코드/타임엔터테인먼트/튠테이블 무브먼트 & 파고 뮤직/트리퍼사운드/트위스터뮤직/파스텔 뮤직/파운데이션레코드/PAG Jazz/퍼플미디어/폭도레코드/푸른곰팡이/friendz.net /프로튜어먼트/플럭서스뮤직/후추부추사운드/흥얼흥얼 팔도 어쿠스틱/HIP SQUARE
Don’t expect me to tell you about them all, because I’ve never even heard of most of them and I can’t spend all day finding their proper romanisation.
Having the CDs sorted by label affords an interesting opportunity to expand your knowledge of Korea’s music scene. Like Kingston Rudieska? Well, their albums appear on the shelf under their label Rudie System right next to CDs by Busan band Ska Wakers and Jeju band South Carnival, so why not check those out? Very effective because at a regular record store those three bands would be far apart.
And if that still isn’t enough to give you some idea what you want, Label Market holds free concerts on weekends.
The day I went, I got to see rock duo Mimi Sisters and disco-bbongjjak legend Epaksa, all doing the YMCA together. The good doctor appeared on stage a little after 7:30 for a few of his off-the-wall songs and a lot of chatting with the gathered audience. One of the strangest performances I’ve seen, but also very cool. This last weekend, Kwon Milk’s band Number One Korean performed along with Ska Wakers.
You might show up hoping to get one or two CDs like I did, but soon you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of CDs that you now suddenly need. I went last Saturday and walked away with nine CDs, not a bad haul that cost me under KRW 100 000. Here’s what I bought:
It was great seeing Suseong Land by Amature Amplifier [sic] for sale, but I already have that album and it doesn’t make sense to buy it twice. It’s a wonderful solo CD by Hahn Vad, a singer-songwriter who created his own fantasy world based on his life as a bachelor. Now married, he’s created Yamagata Tweakster, an electronic-dancing performance act that’s equally as wild as Amature Amplifier, just more energetic.
I was very happy to finally find a copy of the solo release by Funkafric Boostdah keyboardist Lim Ji-hoon. Eight excellent tracks, each coloured with jazz, funk, Latin, and reggae, in which the organ is the lead singer. And the liner notes are beautifully photographed, a throwback to the era of vinyl records when album sleeves were works of art.
I went to the Label Market in 2012 hoping to buy a copy of Kwon Milk‘s CD, but it had already sold out before I could get a copy. This year I grabbed a copy of his CD, The Greatest Voyage. Kwon Milk might be best known from his band Number One Korean, a ska-punk group known for their goofy gimmicks. But for this act, he grew up a bit and made the best use of his fantastic voice.
Just like I mentioned previously, I got Kingston Rudieska‘s newest CD, 3rd Kind. It seems every time I turn my back for a moment, these guys come up with yet another new full-length CD. This album has quickly become one of my favourite Kingston Rudieska recordings, better preserving their lively stage presence than previous recordings. And no, they’re not saying what it sounds like they’re saying in this song.
And yes, I gave South Carnival and Ska Wakers a try. Ska Wakers seem a bit more willing to experiment beyond ska, starting off with a track featuring distortion on the guitars. South Carnival has a much more laid back sound, and one track even has steel drums or whatever those are, giving it more of a cruise ship feel, probably appropriate for a Jeju band. Both four-song EPs were released with help from Kingston Rudieska manager Han Kuk-jin and trumpeter Oh Jeong-seok. I was able to find a great quality recording of what appears to be Ska Wakers busking, presumably in Busan.
Just so you know I don’t listen only to ska, I also picked up a copy of Blues Man in Seoul by Korean blues musician Ha Heon-jin. Featuring six songs of remarkably authentic blues, this 2012 recording seems like it’s become dislodged from time. Lately Ha has been collaborating with jazz drummer Kim Ganji, and I’m excited to hear how that’ll sound. I also see they’re playing at Label Market on February 16.
I bought the Steel Face Records 2012 Compilation, despite the fact that I probably have all the tracks by punk bands the Patients, the Essence, and the Swindlers on separate CDs, each very hardworking bands active in the Hongdae music scene. But all I had from rock band Paryumchiakdan was mp3s recorded years ago, and I wanted to own an actual hard copy of their song “Night of Wine.”
I also picked up a split album by Steamboys and Stereobay, two new bands that I haven’t seen in concert yet, but that come recommended by friends. Here’s one of those non-video YouTube videos.
Label Market comes equipped with special listening tables, so you can grab the store sample CD and have a listen before you decide to buy it.
There are four more advertised shows coming up at Label market next month.
February 2: The Frog in the Well, 21Scott, DHMP
February 3: Kim Dae-jung, Applemint, Garlixx, Radiowave Tree, Reska
February 16: Kim Ganji with Ha Heon-jin, Jeon Seong-gi, We Dance
February 17: Band Met, Pico Green, Rocket Diary, Monkeyz, Patients
I never thought I’d see such a huge collection of Korean bands all in one place. It would be hard to imagine a room or a music collection of Korean albums that even comes close to the diversity represented here.
Too often indie and underground bands get labeled as amateur and dismissed for not selling as many units as mainstream acts. But nothing could be further from the truth. These bands are less famous because they’re making music on their own terms, and there are fewer avenues available to them, but it doesn’t make them inferior to more carefully manufactured mainstream acts. Maybe the only difference is that without your interest and support, a lot of these musicians and bands wouldn’t exit.
More on the Sangsang Madang Label Market.