For two weeks, London was treated to many different genres of Korean music being performed throughout the city as part of the K-Music Festival. Organised by the Korean Cultural Centre UK, this Festival was aimed at celebrating 130 years of friendship between the UK and Korea and helped to open up Korean music to British audiences. As part of this festival, indie bands Kiha and The Faces, Uhuhboo Project, as well as indie soloist Yi Sung-yol all played to packed audiences at Kings Cross iconic Scala venue. Before their respective gigs, we got the chance to have a sit down and chat with them, asking about themselves, their music, and performing in London.
First to perform at Scala and represent the Korean indie genre was UhUhBoo Project. The UhUhBoo Project is a Korean indie band you may not recognise by name, but if you’re a fan of Korean cinema, it’s likely you’ll have heard their work more than once. Made up of original members Jang Young-gyu and Baik Hyun-jin, when performing live they’re joined by their band. With a totally unique style and sound, their music ranges from the dark and atmospheric to a slightly flamenco Spanish sound with touches of Gypsy music in there too. Not held back by any constraints or boundaries, they’re free to make the music they want, how they want it. As veterans of the Korean indie music scene and with years of experience under their belt, they’ve always stuck to the sounds and styles that suit them, and the resulting music they make together is truly one-off.
As UhUhBoo Project is one of the first generation of Korean indie bands, we asked them about their thoughts on what the current indie scene is like in Korea. Baik spoke about how Korean indie, and the term Korean indie, formed during the 1990s. He described how in the 90s, indie bands had a lot of references they could look to for inspiration and for their music, and by the 2000s, the number of Korean indie bands had greatly expanded. Currently Korean indie bands are able to create solid identities for themselves and now is the time when a true indie scene is forming. Baik seemed very positive about the Korean indie scene at the moment, saying that there were a lot of really good and fun groups out there and that he thinks there’s a good future for indie music in Korea. Jang and Baik would recommend listening to one of our own favourites, Goonamguayeoridingstella, who you might remember from the Korea Rocks tour earlier this year. UhUhBoo Project also said giving new Korean folk and blues singer, Kim Il-du, a listen is a must too as he’s very unique. As for places to catch the best Korean indie music around, Jang and Baik said Seoul’s Hongdae area was the place to go to.
UhUhBoo Project and Jang respectively have had a lot of involvement in films with their music. Uhuhboo Project has created music scores for Director Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Night Fishing, as well as Director Kim Ji-woon’s The Foul King. At the beginning and towards the end of Night Fishing, UhUhBoo Project even makes a on-screen cameo. When asked how they got involved with Park and Kim’s films, Baik mentioned that as directors Park and Kim have now become very famous, they find that they’re often asked about their involvement with the directors. They told us that when they made the music for their films, it was earlier on in the directors’ careers and they weren’t as famous as they are now. Back then, both directors were already fans of UhUhBoo’s music, and when they started making films, they collaborated, and that’s how it all began.
We finished off the interview by asking them about performing in London. Baik told us that when UhUhBoo Project perform live, there are five of them on stage, who have been performing together since the mid-90s. Baik also said that the thing he was enjoying most about this trip was that the five of them were able to spend time together and explore places like Hampstead Heath in London. In terms of how they’d decided on their set-list for London and performing for a foreign crowd, they’d thought back to their experiences performing in Colombia two years before. The duo felt that even though their audience might not speak Korean, they didn’t feel there was a need to pick songs in a different way and that music was a universal thing.
To read the full account of the interview and gig, please go to this link: here
Yi Sung-yol has been involved in the Korean indie scene for a long time now and is often seen as one of the most respected figures on the indie circuit having been in the industry from the beginning. Originally playing as one half of the duo, U&ME BLUE, he went solo in 2003 and from there has been steadily releasing albums over the past decade. Not only does he write his own songs, but has written tracks for both Korean dramas, such as ‘Princess’ Man’ and ‘Que Sera Sera’, and for films from some of Korea’s top film directors such as Park Kwang-su’s ‘A Single Spark’ and Kim Ki-duk’s ‘The Coast Guard’. With strong, powerful melodies and lyrics, his songs reach out and appeal to many different music lovers’ tastes. As a man with many talents, he also hosts two radio shows, one looking at Anglo-American Literature, and one catering to Korean indie music, called Indie Afternoon.
KCM: I wanted to start by asking you a bit about yourself. I read that when you write songs, you usually write them in English first. Are you more comfortable writing in English, do you like the sound of English lyrics better?
Yi Sung-yol: All of the above I guess. I was born in Korea and raised there until I was about 14 when I moved to the US and lived there for about 10 years. I then moved back to Korea, then did that a few more times. So sometimes it’s more comfortable for me to think of the lyrics in English, American English, and sometimes it’s the other way round but it’s likely that I feel comfortable doing a demo in English, or when a song’s just starting to come out.
KCM: Is it easier expressing your feelings in English?
Yi Sung-yol: Yeah I guess so. Like I said, it’s my experience, they’re all mixed up from being in The States and from being raised in Korea.
KCM: You’ve been on the Korean indie scene for a long time now, how do you feel the indie scene in Korea has changed? Do you think it’s improved? Do artists get more exposure?
Yi Sung-yol: Yeah, I think so. In terms of variety there’s a huge difference. Back in the early 90s there was like a handful of bands, they didn’t know the concept of independent music or whatever, but nowadays we have so much variety within that scene, the indie scene, so that’s a good change.
KCM: Do you think it’s easier for indie bands to be more successful in Korea now than in the past?
Yi Sung-yol: They have to compete with so many different bands so I guess it’s not easier, but they have more channels to put out their music, that’s for sure. At least they know what indie is now.
KCM: We had a Korea Rocks tour here a few months ago, and the band Gate Flowers said the UK audiences were very lively. Do you have an expectation of how the audience will react tonight, or no idea?
Yi Sung-yol: No idea [laughs]. I just hope I don’t get booed off the stage! But that’s not going to happen as I’m sure you guys are very nice. Hope everything goes well.
KCM: While you’re in London, do you have any plans for your free time?
Yi Sung-yol: Yesterday I went down to Abbey Road and took a picture of myself crossing the road. I also want to maybe check out Tate Britain or Modern.
To read the interview in full, please go to this link: here
Kiha and The Faces
One of South Korea’s foremost indie bands is Kiha and The Faces (장기하와 얼굴들). With unique lyrics and catchy tunes, the band shot to fame in the late 2000s and have since then have been unleashing their fun and playful creations on the world. Not only are their songs a masterpiece of entertainment, but Jang Ki-ha himself directs their innovative and enjoyable music videos too, make sure you check out all their fabulous MVs, many featuring Ki-ha’s self-confessed sexy hands!
KCM: I wanted to start by asking a bit about yourselves. How did you all meet and come together as a band?
Jang Ki-ha: We were actually all in different bands, I was a drummer in a band previously. I wrote all my own songs and decided to form a band and gathered them all together.
KCM: The band name is ‘Kiha and The Faces’, do the other members ever want to be referred to as anything else?
Jang Ki-ha: [laughs] A lot of Koreans ask us this.
Lee Jong-min: We always answer we don’t have a problem with it [laughs].
Translator: I think he’s being a little sarcastic though.
Lee Jong-min: Do you have any alternate recommendations?
KCM: [panics] Kiha and the Handsome Faces? [KCM note: Don't judge me!]
Kiha and the Faces: Haha, thanks.
KCM: It seems more recently Korean indie has been getting more recognition. How can bands emerging onto the scene establish themselves?
Jeong Jung-yeop: Well, we didn’t actually think we’d be this successful…
Jang Ki-ha: It’s very simple, they have to make good music and be lucky. We were both, making good music and lucky.
Jeong Jung-yeop: It would also be good not to listen to the music that’s trendy and try to not follow a trend.
KCM: While you’re in London, is there anything particular you want to do? Will you have time to explore?
Lee Jong-min: I want to meet pretty girls!
Jeon Il-joon: I wanted to ride Brompton bikes but couldn’t. [KCM note: Brompton bikes are a type of fold up bike]
Jang Ki-ha: I really like British ale so I’ve been having a pint or two everyday, and plan to continue this. [laughs]
Hasegawa Yohei: I want to buy vinyl records, I’m a vinyl collector from the 50s or 60s. Mono records, not stereo.
Jang Ki-ha: He’s especially into mono vinyls.
To read the interview in full, please go to this link: here
The K-Music Festival 2013 was a great opportunity for us to listen to new music and unknown bands. We had great fun interviewing Kiha and The Faces Yi Sung-yol and Uhuhboo Project and hope they had a great time performing in London.