The London K-Music Festival is starting this Friday and in preparation for the week of Korean music, from 14th June to 21st June, the Korean Cultural Centre UK hosted a music forum to focus and talk about the spread of Korean music in the UK. This was the first of 4 forums that the KCC UK will be hosting in 2013. Throughout this year we’ll see the KCC UK also organising a forum on art, literature and last of all, another Korean film forum in November during the London Korean Film Festival. So look out for them!
At this K-Music Focus Forum we saw David Jones, director of SERIOUS, Max Reinhardt, presenter of BBC Radio 3, Ben Mandelson, a music producer, Edwina Mukasa, journalist, and Simon Broughton, editor of The Songlines, chat about how they discovered and fell in love with the music of Korea and what the K-Music Festival 2013 means to the British public.
David Jones began the forum by stating that this concert consists of what they think is exciting about Korean Music right now. Ben was called a cultural enthusiast and advisor on the current British music market, and along with most of the panel has worked very closely with the preparations of this music festival, catered to appeal specifically to the British audience. This Festival is designed to look into the future, to see how the British people enjoy Korean music and try to expand on it and get more British people listening to the musical sounds of Korea. Hopefully this music festival will become a regular event exposing the UK to all forms of Korean music.
The panel talked about the presence of (or lack of) Korean music in the UK scene. The most difficult thing about Korean music seems to be the most interesting, in that it’s structured differently and in a way that is not familiar to the UK. Unlike western music, Korean music is very minimal, there are normally only a few instruments to allow you to be completely familiarised with that instrument. Ben Mandelson said that Korean music is not afraid to embrace the natural sound of a instrument, exploring all parts of itself from the base to the strings, and not afraid to take time, air and space to create music. Korean culture and tradition is always innate within the music and sounds. Korean music is interested to reach out to wider audiences yet it always contains a strong sense of self and identity.
Ben, who is very passionate about Korean music (he still has the cassette where he recorded his first encounter with Korean music during a BBC radio broadcast), describes Korean music as music with hair, music with splinters, music that is lively, noisy, vibrant and “fantastically wonderful”. Even though the sounds are foreign, a completely different style and on completely different instruments, you are able to find a familiarity within it. Some advice from the panel is that Korean music can get pretty experimental so you just have to “take a deep breath and dive right in”.
All the panellists seemed very passionate about Korean music, but why has it taken so long for Korean music to reach out into the world?
Korean music is modest and conservative, and it’s too busy spreading its wings across the South Korean nation to concern itself with hitting that minority fan base in another country. It’s also a music that needs to be experienced. Pansori has very sensual aspects, everything from the shouts of the audiences to the chemistry between the drummer and the Pansori master. It’s something that has to be felt, it’s not something that can be broadcasted. You have to feel it live, in a little hanok, sitting on the wooden floor next to the drum so you can feel every beat and vibration with your whole body. That’s how you fall in love with Pansori. And seeing as South Korea is still not a MASSIVE tourist destination, it’s hard to get new people to discover and fall in love with Korean music such as Pansori.
The panellists also talked about how no one has ever really said: “Hey, you have to listen to this, it’s really cool”. No one has really pushed Korean music like what Rolf Harris did for Indian music many years ago. With cultural music, you really have to rely on the community, but it’s suggested that Koreans are not very confident nor is everyone filled with the fiery passion to spread the love of Korean music. The only form of Korean music out there that’s really pushing itself is K-pop, a result that is solely due to the passionate and enthusiastic K-pop fans. All these people just need someone to take notice!
David Jones said he wanted this festival to cater to the UK audience and not be about what’s big in Korea – adapting the Korean music scene into a programme that will appeal and interest the British public to help people discover something they would have otherwise overlooked. The Festival team has worked hard to cater to everyone’s needs from orchestra and tradition, to trendy cool indie so hopefully you will find something to fall in love with! If you want to find out more about the acts performing, make sure you check out our post on The K-Music Festival.
K-Music Festival Highlighted in Time Out London Magazine
Panellist Picks of the Festival
The opening performance by The National Orchestra of Korea is sure to be an interesting night. Orchestra is a very western thing yet here it doesn’t feel western, yet it’s not exactly Korean. The National Orchestra of Korea has created a very unique sound and texture and this will be a very rare opportunity for us to experience this refreshing new sound live.
Simon considers the Geomungo Factory to be the most exciting band of South Korea right now and will be his own personal highlight of the Festival. Geomungo Factory takes a very traditional form of Korean music and does something amazing with it; a unique and accessible way for everyone to embrace the traditional sounds of Korea. Max Reinhardt also thinks the Geomungo Factory would work well with Tim Burton; someone needs to introduce him to them and say dude, that’s basically the OST of your next film SORTED. So if you’re a Tim Burton fan, make sure you check out Geomungo Factory!
And of course they can’t have a Korean themed festival without catering to the MASSIVE amount of Korean Film fans in the UK. Korean film Director Park Chan-wook has raved about the Uhuhboo Project and has used their music in Night Fishing (2011) and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002).
The K-Music Festival highlighted in Time Out Magazine London
The Music forum was also very keen to hear about how others became interested in Korean culture and music. We got the chance to hear how the panellists became exposed to Korean music.
Simon Broughton went to South Korea during 1988 Olympics to make a program. He didn’t know a lot and when he got there, he jumped straight into a very overwhelming music scene. But he spoke to a friend who told him he needs to embrace it naturally, like a waterfall and from that he learned how to enjoy the new and different world of Korean music. During that visit he discovered Pansori which he found to be the “most alienating music you could imagine” and from then on whenever people asked him what was the worst style of music out there, he would say Korean Pansori. But luckily he braved up and accepted an invitation to Pansori 3 years ago which was so refreshing and different, he’s since fallen in love with Pansori and seen the error of his ways…
BBC Radio presenter Max Reinhardt went to South Korea last autumn knowing very little about the country and it’s culture. He spoke to friends about South Korea but didn’t really get anything from them, but nothing could have really prepared him for South Korea. Max is from the theatre and unlike Simon, he fell in love with Pansori straight away. He called it a very “economical form of theatre” as there was just this one lady and a man on the drum, taking on the persona of a whole story of characters, sometimes even armies and recounting these epic tales.
Ben Mandelson as mentioned before discovered Korean music from a BBC broadcast which he still has on a cassette. He was so surprised by it, the music almost made the radio bounce off the walls. He found it to be somewhat of a wake-up call and from then he would often go to Korea Town in New York and blindly buy music CDs before Korean music became a little bit more English friendly.
And of course you can’t talk about Korean music without mentioning K-pop! Edwina was the K-pop representative on the panel. Edwina discovered K-pop 5-6 years ago through a friend, the first MV being Epik High. Unlike the other panellists, Edwina discovered Korean music before going to Korea. She was captivated by the music such as TVXQ, Superjunior and BigBang. She got the opportunity to write about it and didn’t realise the K-pop audience was still growing and becoming a lot more diverse as before it was limited to just Asians, but now people from all other the world are fans of K-pop. From K-pop, Edwina became interested in the Hallyu wave more generally, as a lot of K-pop culture leaks into K-dramas and varieties.
The K-Music forum gave a very interesting insight into the spread of Korean music in the UK. It is great to see the UK putting a focus on Korean music and working hard on introducing it to the British public. BBC Radio 3 will also be recording all performances of the music festival and broadcasting it to reach a wider audience to gain Korean music even more fans! We wish this Festival all the success and will no doubt earn a lot of new Korea Fans in the process!