Welcome to the Underground

Written by on September 30, 2011 in Arts

Korea has some of the most hardworking, but underappreciated independent bands in the world. In a country dominated by pop music, independent bands struggle in the underground to make a name for themselves. Every band listed here is someone’s labour of love, honed over years of practice, often with no reward other than playing great music to a few dozen people in a dingy basement.

If you ever wanted to see live music in Korea, or find out what the music scene’s like, you’ve come to the right place. This is a listing of major shows scheduled in October — festivals, touring bands, album releases, and anything else worth noting that I could find. This is what’s going on in underground and indie music for the month of October.

I was originally going to cover the rest of the year, but there’s simply too many shows this month. As it stands, I’m probably going to run out of Internets before I finish.

Cheonan After Dark Indie Fest

  • Friday, September 30 to Sunday, October 2
  • all shows start at 10pm
  • Venue: Banana Bar on Friday, Dolce on Saturday and Sunday
  • Admission: 6000 won for one day, 10 000 won for two days, and 15 000 won for all three days
  • Friday bands: Angry Bear, Telefly, Billy Carter, The Essence, Things We Say
  • Saturday bands: Midnight Smokin’ Drive, …Whatever That Means, Seoul City Suicides, Self-Made Hero, Kkachisan, Black Leather Lagoon, 13 Steps, Low Deal
  • Sunday bands: Genius, Tiger Summer, Awkward Turtle, Go Home Together, Original Green System
  • RSVPThis three-day event, the first of its kind, will build some momentum in the Cheonan live music scene.The first day features an eclectic array of bands, covering genres such as blues, power pop, and hardcore punk. One band worth checking out is Billy Carter, who despite their name are a duo of Korean punk girls who sing folk and blues music. You can hear them reinterpret “Personality Crisis” by the New York Dolls here.The second night features the biggest bands, with Seoul’s most experienced bands coming down for the night, as well as 13 Steps, a hardcore band from Cheongju. Low Deal is a new Cheonan band. The highlight may be Black Leather Lagoon, a hysterical side project of Seoul punk band the Tremors featuring members dressed in drag and singing Cramps covers.
    Black Leather Lagoon

    Black Leather Lagoon

    The third and final night of the festival has several bands I’ve never heard of, including some whose Korean names were difficult for me to translate. Genius is from Busan, but I can’t find information on the remaining four bands. There are likely to be a few surprises on this night, and don’t forget that Monday is a holiday.

    Inward Eye Korean Tour

  • Friday, September 30 at 7:30pm to Saturday, October 1 at 7pm
  • Venue: FF on Friday, Sangsang Madang on Saturday
  • Admission: 15 000 won on Friday, 30 000 won on Saturday
  • Friday bands: Inward Eye (Canada), Yellow Monsters, Apollo 18, Glen Check, Wiretap in my Ear, Romantic Punch, Seogyo Group Sound, Black Bag
  • Saturday bands: Inward Eye (Canada), Galaxy Express, 3rd Line Butterfly, Crying Nut, Yellow Monsters
  • RSVPInward Eye are a Canadian band from Winnipeg, a city so isolated that it’s cultivated one of the country’s best undiscovered underground music communities. Inward Eye plays an energetic style of power pop influenced by bands like the Who, the Clash, and the Rolling Stones. They got international attention when they performed at the Summer Olympics closing ceremonies in Vancouver in 2010.

    The visit is organised by Seoul Sonic, the same group that sent Galaxy Express, Idiotape, and VidulgiOoyoo on a North American tour earlier this year.Inward Eye is playing two shows, but — no offence to FF or the bands playing — the second show is worth the extra ticket price. You get Korea’s loudest garage rock band, Galaxy Express, as well as the legendary Crying Nut.

    Wonder Breeze Music Festa

  • Saturday, October 1 to Monday, October 3
  • Venue: Yongmun Culture Center
  • Admission: 77 000 won for one day/143 000 won for all three days
  • Saturday bands: Rock Tigers, Rocket Tree, Rissang & Jungin, Band Gangsanae, Sijosae, Goodbye Sea, Ohm, Common Ground, TA Copy, Polacostic, Huckleberry Finn, DJ Mulder, Planet Shiver
  • Sunday bands: BMK, Gate, Gukkasten, Kim Chang Wan Band, Kim Tae Woo, Ria Band, Barameul Gareugo, Biuret, Urban Zakapa, Winterplay, Im Jang Hee, Freaky, Pia, DJ Pumkin, DJ Mazestik
  • Monday bands: 2am, Galaxy Express, Nuntteugo Cobain, Bigaen Hu, Standing Egg, Eight, YNot, Joaseo Haneun Band, Koxx, Crying Nut, Kingston Rudieska
  • RSVPThis festival popped out of nowhere, staking a claim for the beginning long weekend of October.The first day features a lot of bands I’ve never heard of whose names are difficult to search for (for instance, I just learned Sijosae is the Korean name for archaeopteryx). The one name that will stand out is Rock Tigers, Korea’s longest-standing rockabilly band (but more on them later).

    The second day feels a bit more lean, with nu-metal band Pia most likely expected to be the headliners. The band that should not be overlooked, however, is Gukkasten:

    Looking at the schedule, the big day will be Monday, when the lines between K-pop and indie rock blur as the likes of 2am, Ynot, and Crying Nut share the stage.

    Han Kyeong-rok of Crying Nut

    Han Kyeong-rok of Crying Nut

    One of the many highlights of the night will be Kingston Rudieska, Korea’s premiere traditional ska band formed in 2004. Their infectious ska rhythm can get anyone dancing, even people who’ve never heard of ska before. Although their name references the capital of Jamaica, they are thoroughly Korean, performing most of their songs in their native language and introducing Koreans to the sweet sounds of ska.

    Ssamzie Sound Fest
  • Sunday, October 2 at 1pm
  • Venue: Namyangju Sports & Culture Center
  • Admission: 25 000 won at the door, or 20 000 won in advance
  • Bands: Jang Kiha and the Faces, Bamseom Pirates, Gogo Star, Dongmulwon Soran, Hong Sun Kwan and wHool, Goonamguayeoridingstella, Windy City, Yellow Monsters, Sugar Donut, LeeSsang, Galaxy Express, Han Young-ae, Yamagata Tweakster, 24 Hours, Black Bag, Fantastic Drug Store, Four Brothers, Peacock Green, The Koxx, te’ (Japan)
  • RSVPThis year of the Ssamzie Sound Festival, many of the bands were chosen by audition. They played small shows in Hongdae, and the bands with the best response were invited to the main festival in Namyangju. A lot of bands I wanted to see didn’t make the cut, and we’re left with a few bands that may not otherwise have many chances to play a big stage.

    One exciting band to see is Bamseom Pirates, a two-piece grind outfit. Their songs are fast, hard, and very short. The lead singer has been playing since he was in middle school, when he created the one-man metal band Pyha.

    Bamseom Pirates

    Bamseom Pirates

    Another unusual act to catch will be one-man band Yamagata Tweakster, featuring the eccentric Hahn Vad singing along with a digital backdrop. He is more regularly seen on small stages, or even playing in the street, so it should be interesting to see him at a big festival.

    There’s only one foreign band this year, te’ from Japan. I hear some similarities between them and Korea’s Apollo 18, though te’ seems to be all instrumental. Here’s a sample.

    “Them and Us” Compilation Album Release
  • Saturday, October 8, 8:30pm
  • Venue: Club Spot
  • Admission: 15 000 won, which also gets you one CD
  • Bands: …Whatever That Means, Skasucks, Burning Hepburn, The Swindlers, Seoul City Suicides, Plastic Heart, 13 Steps RSVPThis will be a historic show, not specifically because of the live concert, but it’s the debut of “Them and Us,” the most extensive compilation of Korean underground music in years. It contains eleven bands, each performing one original song and one cover. Shortly after, the band …Whatever That Means is emigrating to the US, where they will travel around the country and hand out albums in order to promote the talented underground bands of Korea.
    ...Whatever That Means is joined on stage by fans.

    …Whatever That Means is joined on stage by fans.

    The CD is a combination of old and new, but the oldest band playing at Spot is probably Daejeon’s Burning Hepburn, who I believe formed in the 1990s. You can hear an interesting blend of influences in their music, from punk, ska-punk, ska, and something else I can’t put my finger on thanks to their creative use of unconventional instruments.

    Global Gathering 2011
  • Saturday, October 8, 12pm
  • Venue: Hangang Park
  • Admission: 110 000 won
  • Bands: Digitalism, Groove Armada, Roni Size, Example & DJ Wire, Yolanda Be Cool, East Collective, Idiotape, Astrovoice, Oriental Funk Stew, Soulscape, 360 Sounds, Mongoose, Glen Check, The Koxx, Viphex13, Limzi, Telepathy, Super 8 Bit, Lee Soo, Trampauline, Gon
  • RSVPGlobal Gathering is more of an electronica festival, so if that’s your thing this is the place to go. But also, there are several live bands playing.

    One group that’s sure to stand out is Yolanda Be Cool, an Australian team responsible for the song “We No Speak Americano.” If you don’t know what that is, chances are you were born deaf. It’s ubiquitous in Korea, played everywhere, even on the Korean drama City Hunter. Here it is below, but be warned: it will get stuck in your head.

    24th Kimchibilly Night
  • Sunday, October 9 at 6pm
  • Venue: Club DGBD
  • Admission: 15 000 won
  • Bands: The RockTigers, Peppermint Jam (Japan), The Strikers, Copy Machine
  • RSVPKimchibilly nights are a common occurrence, as you can see by the fact that this is the 24th incarnation of the concert series. Spearheaded by Korean rockabilly band the RockTigers, this event has managed to bring in an impressive number of foreign bands, usually from Japan where the rockabilly and psychobilly genres are alive and kicking. This time around, they bring The PeppermintJam, for another promising night of rockabilly and punk music, provided by the opening acts.

    Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, dating back to the ’50s. Here’s a sample, from PeppermintJam.

    Max Tundra tours Korea
  • Wednesday, October 12 to Saturday, October 15
  • Venues: Nevermind in Gwangju on October 12, Urban in Daegu on October 13, Fabric in Busan on October 14, and Theater Zero in Seoul on October 15; all shows start at 10pm
  • Admission: Gwangju: 14 000/18 000 won; Daegu: 10 000/18 000 won; Busan: 10 000/18 000 won; Seoul: 15 000/20 000 won (first price is advance/second is at the door)
  • RSVPMax Tundra is coming to Korea for an unprecedented four-day tour. It’s rare enough for most bands to play outside Seoul, let alone touring bands, but Max Tundra will visit Gwangju, Daegu, Busan, and Seoul in the span of four days. I guess he’ll be hard at work.

    Ben Jacobs, as his mother probably would call him, is a multi-instrumental musician from England. His music is mainly electronic, but he mixes in a lot of analogue sounds. Here’s a sample.

  • Sunday, October 16, 5pm
  • Venue: Dustbox (Japan), Locofrank (Japan), The Coin Rocker Boys, Yellow Monsters, The Strikers
  • Admission: 35 000 won
  • Bands:
  • RSVPIt’s a busy month for the Strikers. They release a CD, and play not one but two shows with Japanese bands. This show should be pretty fun if you’re a fan of pop-punk or skate-punk. Korean bands (and fans) always bring their A-game when there are foreign bands, and the Japanese always ooze stage presence.

    Dustbox has a pretty reliable pop-punk sound, and they’ll probably put on a good show. Their drummer sounds pretty good. This song is in English, and it seems like they do a pretty good job at it.

    Here’s Locofrank. The video starts with what seems like a commercial shoot, but I think it’s just a setup for the music, which doesn’t start until a minute and a half in. To my ears, they sound a bit more Japanese than Dustbox.

    And just so Korea doesn’t feel left out, here’s a video from Yellow Monster, which convinces me they’ll be exciting to see live.

    Stryper Live in Korea
  • Sunday, October 16 at 7pm
  • Venue: V-Hall
  • Admission: 67 000 won in advance/ 75 000 won at the door
  • Bands: Stryper, Quest, Downhell, Ishtar
  • RSVPBut he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)That’s right, a Christian glam metal band.

    Here’s them performing one of their famous songs, “To Hell with the Devil.”

    We’ll see if Christianity and metal are the right combination to sell tickets, but after MxPx’s successful visit a few years ago, they probably won’t be disappointed.

    Of course, metal is not usually considered the holiest of genres. To balance things out, here’s a song from Downhell, one of the openers. This video is a collaboration they did with Mike Terrana, a famous American drummer who’s collaborated with more bands than a sane person can name.

    Whether you’re good or evil, this show should feature a solid night of glam metal and headbanging.

    Grand Mint Festival 2011

  • Saturday, October 22 to Sunday, October 23 at noon
  • Venue: Olympic Park
  • Admission: 77 000 won for one day/121 000 won for two days
  • Saturday: Grand Mint Band, Yun Jong Shin, Nell, W&Whale, Moonshiners, Russian Red (Spain), Jaurim, Peppertones, Kingston Rudieska, 10CM, Jang Yoon Ju, Loro’s, Dear Cloud, Yozoh, Thomas Cook, No Reply, Black Skirts, Baksol, Gom PD & Friends, LeeSA, Serengeti, and more
  • Sunday: Grand Mint Band, Have a Tea, Tahiti 80 (France), Depapepe (Japan), Speak Out, Sweet Sorrow, Urban Zakapa, Moonshiners, Hot Potato, Gukkasten, Sister’s Barbershop, the Koxx, Daybreak, Jiteun, Achime, Soran, Glen Check, Palace, and more
  • RSVPGrand Mint Festival might turn out to be the biggest festival of October. Apparently tickets have been going fast, so it is likely to be sold out if you don’t book in advance. This festival features mainly Korean bands, including bands performing “special busking,” and there will be a few foreign bands there as well.

    On Saturday you can see Russian Red, a Spanish singer often compared to Canadian singer-songwriter Feist. Despite being from Spain and having “Russian” in her name, she sings almost exclusively in English.

    On Sunday you can see indie-pop band Tahiti 80, another band whose name contains a geographic location nowhere near where they’re actually from, this time France.

    Ever Green Music Festival
  • Saturday, October 22 to Sunday, October 23 at 1pm
  • Venue: Hangang Park
  • Admission: 38 500 won
  • Bands: No Brain, GoGo Star, Gate Flowers, Superkidd, Schizo, Casker, Taru, Poe, Crying Nut, and many moreIf you don’t want to shell out so much money for a festival (or it does sell out), Ever Green is a more affordable alternative to Grand Mint. I couldn’t find the right page for the event, so I don’t have a complete lineup, but there are definitely some good bands on the list.Here’s one such band, Casker, from the label Pastel Music.
    Whitesnake Live in Korea
  • Wednesday, October 26 at 8:30pm
  • Venue: AX-Korea
  • Admission: 110 000 won
  • RSVPThis is a great month for fans of ’80s metal. First Stryper, and now Whitesnake. Whitesnake is a British band formed by David Coverdale, previously from Deep Purple. Here’s a video that will take you back to the past.

    X Japan in Korea
  • Friday, October 28 at 10pm
  • Venue: Olympic Park Gymnasium
  • Admission: 77 000 to 187 000 won
  • X Japan is one of Japan’s first metal bands. Unlike Stryper and Whitesnake, they play more progressive metal, a subgenre of metal that’s more complex, and sometimes influenced by jazz fusion and classical music. X Japan themselves make liberal use of classical piano passages and vocal melodies. Although they’ve toned it down, X Japan are also pioneers of the visual kei movement, which I imagine started as a localisation of hair metal.X Japan was previously slated to come here in 2009, but cancelled causing much disappointment, so a lot of people are cynical that they’ll actually make it this time. There’s no word yet on the openers. Here’s what they promised last time.

    Okay, that’s all for now. Of course there will be a million more shows, as a lot of them don’t get planned more than a week in advance. The month should end on a high note as every live hall will have a Halloween show, but none of those are ready to be advertised yet.

    I’ve narrowed this list down to just the larger shows, but remember that almost all these domestic bands play shows all the time that are less advertised, more affordable, and more intimate. You can get more inclusive information at Korea Gig Guide.

About the Author

Jon Dunbar

Jon Dunbar is a former editor and staff writer for Korea.net. His first visit to Korea was in summer 1996 when he was a teenager, and he returned permanently in December 2003. He is involved in the Korean underground music scene and has supported local musicians through writing, photography, and occasionally planning events. He has been blogging for more than a decade, mainly on music, urban exploration, and his cats