Kimchibilly: Korea’s New Twist on the Oldies

Written by on May 24, 2013 in Lifestyle

The RockTigers perform in Busan

Good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. It comes in many forms, but one sound that’s making waves from Korea is kimchibilly. Never heard of it? It’s not entirely new but it’s not entirely old either. Kimchibilly is a foot-stompin’, swing-dancin’ helluva good time. It’s wailing vocals, some mean guitar, and maybe even a little slap bass. It’s angst and pep and fun all rolled into one exciting genre with just enough attitude to make it spicy.

Roy from The RockTigers performing in Busan

Kimchibilly is a direct descendant of rockabilly, the musical lovechild of early rock ‘n’ roll and hillbilly music born in 1950s America. Although rockabilly has come back again and again in various incarnations, it now thrives in a pervasive subculture that’s grown to include variations as diverse as gothabilly, psychobilly, and now kimchibilly, South Korea’s take on the melting-pot-styled genre. Rockabilly skipped over Korea in its first incarnation due to the Korean War, so it seems only fitting that Korea would give the sound its own twist when it finally arrived following the punk movement of the late 90s and early 2000s. Now kimchibilly is working with a vengeance to be heard over the endless repeat of K-pop anthems. Let’s check out five kimchibilly acts making noise on the indie scene right now: The RockTigers, The Moonshiners, Teddy Boys, Billy Carter, and Sunday Losers.

The RockTigers ( 락타이거즈) and Kimchibilly Nights

The RockTigers (Photo Credit)

The RockTigers (더 락타이거즈) are the undisputed face of the kimchibilly movement. Formed in 2001, the RockTigers have changed their line-up a few times. Now two of the original members, vocalist Velvet Geena and singer-guitarist Tiger rock out with Roy on upright bass, Eddie Tarantula on lead guitar, and Jeff on drums. Starting out as a punk band in the early 2000s, they changed gears after playing at a rockabilly and psychobilly festival in Japan and found the style more closely mirrored what they were striving for. Unveiling their new up-tempo sound, foreign friends and fans began to playfully refer to their music as “kimchibilly,” despite some initial resistance.

Years of Kimchibilly Night posters (Photo Credit)
(Click to Enlarge)

The name gained hold after its first public print appearance on the band’s 2008 EP titled, “Taste the Kimchibilly”. Around the same time the band helped launch the wildly successful Kimchibilly Night, a semi-regular tour event that brings fans and top kimchibilly bands. Through the Kimchibilly Night events, The RockTigers have managed to promote foreign rockabilly bands and generate interest in the kimchibilly scene in Japan, and even Mongolia! 33 Kimchibilly Nights, three studio albums and two EPs later, The RockTigers wow their audience in Korean, English and Japanese to accommodate their growing multicultural fan-base.


The RockTigers’ look is almost as captivating as their showmanship – you’ve really got to see them live to truly appreciate it. Dressed in spiked leather jackets and leopard print, the men style their hair into slick spikes and pompadours, while Velvet Geena seems to debut a new hairstyle or hair colour at every show. They burst onto the stage full of energy, writhing, sliding, and bouncing their way through their set, twirling their guitars and mics in the air. They belt and bellow, and genuinely have a good time and so does their audience who, like me, sing, swing, and dance right along with them. The 34th Kimchibilly Night is coming up on May 25th at DGBG in Seoul, where you can check out The RockTigers along with Teddy Boys (테디보이즈) and Billy Carter.

[youtube][/youtube] (Korean) (Official English Facebook Page)

The Moonshiners ( 문샤이너스)

The Moonshiners ham it up (Photo Credit)

I have no idea where these guys get their playful energy from, but it’s seemingly endless! From their look to their stage presence and catchy tunes, The Moonshiners are definitely worth checking out. Their quirky sense of humour shines through their videos, and as if that isn’t reason enough to pay attention, then lead singer Cha Seung Woo’s dreamy looks will probably keep more than a few of you tuned in! Or is that just me…? Cha-Cha as he is known to fans is joined by Choi Chang U on bass (Dave), Son Kyung Ho on drums, and guitarist Baek Jun Myung (Fury Baek). They released their first EP in 2007, followed by two studio albums. I can’t get enough of their 2011 release, 푸른밤의 (BEAT!). The title track doubles as a promo video for their men’s clothing line. Fun, stylish musicians? More, please! New studio album guys – stat! (Official Facebook Page) (Official Twitter Account)



Teddy Boys (테디보이즈)

Teddy Boys… will be boys (Photo Credit)

Just one look through their facebook page and you’ll want to get to know these guys better. It’s full of funny candid photos and videos, and they seem to genuinely enjoy interacting with their fans all of which only makes me want to run out and see them live. The band is led by 김대연 and 원용주 on guitar, 배성광 on bass and 윤수영 on drums. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of seeing them in concert, but you can check them out at the upcoming 34th Kimchibilly Night in Seoul. (Official Facebook page) (Youtube channel)



Billy Carter (빌리카터)

The gals behind Billy Carter (Photo Credit)

When you hear the name Billy Carter, you might picture a big, burly man singing the blues, and that’s what the two tiny female powerhouses behind Billy carter want you to think. Jiwon (Goyang) Kim’s vocals lilt, growl, and ring, perfectly matched by guitarist Jina Kim’s sure strums. Their sound fills the room, with no need for fancy instruments or gimmicks aside from the occasional tambourine or harmonica. I just love their sound! Keep your eye on this act, and look for them at the 34th Kimchibilly Night that I mentioned above.





Sunday Losers (일요일의 패배자들)
This quartet, sometimes also known as Sunday’s Losers, have a secret weapon that gives them their unique sound: the kazoo. Sunday Losers bring the plastic toy kazoo to the stage, alongside the more familiar guitars, upright bass, and drums. Lead singer Kim Tae-hoon grew up listening to rockabilly and says in interviews that he was inspired by the social commentary he found in these songs, which inspires his lyrics.



And with that, our roundup of kimchibilly is complete. Do you have any favourite kimchibilly bands? Who do you want to see perform next? Next time you head out to a show, don’t forget your dancing shoes!

About the Author

Jessica Steele

Jessica Steele is a Canadian expat teaching, writing, and adventuring in Busan, South Korea. She has lived in Korea for nearly four years, but her travels aren’t finished yet. Her favourite things in Korea are the festivals, neon lights, and of course, kimchi.