2014 was a devastating year for music festivals in Korea. But one of the high points is bound to be the New Generation of Ska Festival, a free street festival held in Sinchon on August 30.
Ska is far from Korea’s most popular musical genre, but it has its own devoted adherents and practitioners. This festival offers a diverse selection of bands from Korea, Japan, and America, ranging from two-tone to ska-punk to reggae.
It was made possible through a crowdfunding campaign undertaken earlier this year by a team of ska musicians and organisers, named Team New Generation of Ska. Their fundraising goal was KRW 15 million, and they managed to raise 101 percent of what they needed in time for their deadline.
The main organiser, Ryu Jinsuk (Skasucks vocalist), has been booking ska shows for eight years, growing the momentum of his brand, New Generation of Ska. The first show was at the legendary punk club Skunk Hell, and ever since the start he’s had a mind to develop this into an affordable festival in order to introduce ska to his country.
“We want to introduce our genre of music to people who don’t yet know it,” says Jinsuk. “Anyone who happens to be wandering past can just stop by and take a look (it’s free after all). We would love it if people stopped by and said ‘wow, this music is pretty damn cool.’ Perhaps then, when they get home they might begin to listen to more ska music–that would be amazing. We would love that to happen.”
Read more from the New Generation of Ska interview on DoIndie.
Let’s take a look at the various bands playing the New Generation of Ska Festival.
Skasucks began around 2006, playing a brand of music that doesn’t quite fit into any one genre, but probably best fits with ska-punk. Their music is intense, focused, and often moody. Their live shows are some of the best in the Korean music scene, with audiences reacting strongly to their music and becoming part of the performance.
“I just want us to all be having fun together (the audience and the band) — that has got to be the best way, right? ” says Jinsuk. “If by some chance an audience doesn’t really like us, well that’s just how it is. In those situations we just aim to have fun by ourselves! My conclusion is this: if it’s fun, then it’s good.”
Read the full Skasucks interview on DoIndie.
Rudy Guns are much younger, having formed in 2012. By the end of that year, they visited Japan to play the Japan/Korea Punk Festival, a long-running tradition between the Korean and Japanese punk scenes. More recently, they released their first EP, and are looking forward to playing the New Generation of Ska Festival and where that might take their musical career in the future.
“I have been to Japan four times,” says Yun Indeok, lead guitarist/vocalist. “Japan is the place that makes me feel excited and gigs in Japan are always fun. Also, it is very exciting to hang out with our Japanese punk friends. It is always inspring for me to talk to punks with a different cultural background. For that reason, I’m inclined to take care of my Japanese friends when they visit Korea. We are really excited to be there with our sincere Japanese friends, Rollings and Autocratics. And the Bruce Lee Band will come and perform with us!! This is an international music festival we made by ourselves without any capital strength of enterprise. I congratulate the TNGOSKA team with all of my heart.”
Read the full Rudy Guns interview on DoIndie.
From Busan rises Ska Wakers, a prolific band that’s been making energetic and genuine ska music. Having recently releasing their first full-length album “Riddim of Revolt,” Ska Wakers are on the warpath, coming to Seoul earlier this summer for the Rise Again reggae music fest on the 8th and later for the New Generation of Ska Festival on the 30th. For those of us stuck in Seoul, we may not realise just how proactive they are in their hometown too.
“We are always asked in interviews ‘What is ska?'” says a statement made by the band. “Ska and reggae are still unfamiliar genres to many people in Korea, but even so, it is our passion and our spirit so we won’t let that defeat us! To us, it feels like when people hear our music they begin to fall in love with ska and reggae music, and our fan base is gradually getting bigger and bigger. Because this genre of music has a unique energy, loads of people are really beginning to get into ska music. There is a message within our music. If, while people are listening to and enjoying our tunes, they also hear the messages within the songs, then I feel like we have completed our part of the music ‘deal.’”
Read the full Ska Wakers interview on DoIndie.
No.1 Korean, or Numco as it is often abbreviated in Korean, has been blending ska, punk, rock and a whole lot else for Korean audiences since 2007. Though they may not take formal things like musical genre as seriously as Korea’s other ska bands, they put on a memorable performance fronted by their charismatic band leader Kwon Milk. Kwon has an extraordinary singing voice that he also puts to use in his solo project, Kwon Milk and the Greatest Voyage.
“[The band name No.1 Korean] came about as a result of a friend’s dream,” Kwon Milk explains. “We made a band called Number 1 Korean in the dream. So, because of this dream we started a band together, initially, just for fun. Seeing as we were born in Korea and we live here every day the name has a meaning I guess. Not only that, but I hope the name (and our music) gives a little bit of strength to the Korean people.”
Read the full No.1 Korean interview on DoIndie.
Korea has had some great reggae bands and some great ska bands, but most of the time they end up sounding too much alike. Then once in a while comes along something incredibly new to blow everyone’s mind. This year, that band will be the Pegurians, a five-piece skinhead reggae group playing a rare brand of reggae that’s extremely danceable. The backbone of the band is the Hammond XB-2 organ manned by Korea’s number one rudeboy, Jude Nah. Jude was previously keyboardist of Korea’s leading ska-punk band Skasucks, but he eventually left to pursue his own musical interests. Now, finally, one of those interests has been brought to life through the Pegurians.
“[Skinhead reggae is] a genre between rocksteady (a subgenre of ska) and reggae so it’s a bit more like ska than reggae from those days but still totally different from ska,” Jude explains. “This early reggae first came out around the mid/late ’60s. Immigrants from Jamaica in England brought this early reggae music to British skinheads and it became very popular among them in that era. Skinheads were very interested in Jamaican rudeboy style and culture. Actually skinhead fashion came from Jamaican rudeboy style. Soon that popular early reggae was called skinhead reggae between them. There are even songs named ‘Skinhead Moonstomp,’ ‘Skinhead Girl’ and ‘Skinheads a Bash Them’ and they use the word skinhead in the lyrics. And… how do I have to say this?…there’s this kind of sound which sounds like late ’60s skinhead feeling sound or beat in this music. It’s a totally skinhead thing.”
Read the full Pegurians interview on DoIndie.
Burning Hepburn are one of Korea’s longest-running bands. These guys are from Daejeon, and what’s more, they’re still headquartered there. They’ve worked for over a decade at growing the scene outside of Seoul, and they even wrote the official cheer song for Daejeon FC. Their music is mainly punk with a lot of other influences including ska.
“Actually there aren’t any movements that can be called a ‘scene’ for punk or any other rock culture [in Daejeon], but some bands are struggling by themselves,” says Song Wonsuk of Burning Hepburn. “We are also trying harder to help to get something started in Daejeon. Usually in Korea, everything including indie music is focused in Seoul, and especially counterculture like punk is thought to be quite difficult to be maintained in local areas. Especially when it takes only an hour for audiences to get to Seoul by KTX. It’s not only a problem of convergence, but also I think there is a kind of tangled sense of inferiority which is felt in other local areas. For example, some people think that everything in Seoul is better and nicer, and things that are only in Daejeon don’t seem so good, since they are still staying in Daejeon… Somehow, bands from Seoul seem more glamorous and seem to play better, and so a lot more people come to the same live club in Daejeon when bands come to play from Seoul. I think it’s important to both bands and audiences to solve this kind of problem. Bands should do their best when performing, and audiences should support and be more proud of their local bands and come to see their gigs more.”
Read the full Burning Hepburn interview on DoIndie.
Back in December 2003 when I first arrived in Korea, the only punk venue in town was Club Drug. I went to one show at Drug which turned out to be its last. One of the bands playing there was ska-punk group Beach Valley, and to the best of all our recollections, this may have actually been their last show too. Now, over ten years later, Beach Valley is reuniting to play the New Generation of Ska Festival, and maybe more?
When asked about how the Korean music scene has changed over the past decade, each of the members had very different things to say.
“It hasn’t changed that much,” says bassist Yoon Ki Sun. “I loved the punk scene at that time, and also the people in the scene nowadays — friends and brothers.”
“The punk scene is still growing up,” says vocalist Jang Chang Min, “and still there have many good bands appearing on the scene after 2002 when punk was booming. Even if Korea has problems like military service and a low population, our punk juniors are struggling hard, and I believe their hard work will make this scene better.”
“The old punk scene was more fascinating,” says drummer Ryu Hae Won. “Punk is not all about good musical skill.”
“It’s meaningless to say when the scene was better, and I think it changed a lot after a long time,” says guitarist/vocalist Han Myung Kwon. “There was a flowing of culture but it was weaker than the scene of these days. In the old days, the band-centered movement was active, but now the culture which includes punk affects a lot on the scene.”
“It was 100 times cooler and more romantic around the early 2000s,” says Woo Chang Hoon. “There were many different genres too.”
Read the full Beach Valley interview on DoIndie.
Reska is an abbreviation of Reggae and Ska. They were founded in 2012 and for the past few years they’ve been bringing Jamaican sounds to Korea.
Formed sometime in the ’90s, Lazybone are the oldest ska-punk band I am aware of in Korea, as confirmed in my interview with Beach Valley. They’ve bounced around between the genres over the years, at times leaning more toward emo and pop-punk, but they’re best known as pioneers in ska-punk.
Bruce Lee Band
The Bruce Lee Band is best known for its Korean-American frontman Mike Park. Park was a hardworking part of the West Coast scene, founding Asian Man Records, through which he gave many bands their first chance and also released his own music. He has performed in Korea a couple times in the past, but the New Generation of Ska Festival will be his first time playing a show in the Korean ska scene.
Based in Tokyo, the Autocratics first visited Korea for the New Year Asia Ska Festival in February 2013. Their style is a wild mix of genres, combining 2tone ska, ska-punk, and skinhead influences all in one very characteristically Japanese energetic act.
Formed in Chiba, Japan in 1996, Rollings first visited Korea in November 2011 for the Korea/Japan Oi! Festival. Their style is much more together than the Autocratics, drawing influences mainly from 2tone and third-wave ska that results in a better groove for dancing, while still having the energy to keep audiences excited.
The New Generation of Ska Festival will start at 15:00 on Saturday, August 30. You can find out more here.