While Korean pop culture is spreading around the world like wildfire, less mainstream endeavours are left to their own devices. Despite this, Korean independent music has garnered an impressive response through grassroots channels such as word of mouth and social networking operated by music creators. Since its inception when bands Crying Nut and No Brain played in Club Drug in the early ’90s, independent music in Korea has been dominated domestically by punk rock.
Normally the domain of the lower classes (and the cheap), punk music has been left in the dust. But Korea’s punks continue to work their hardest to create music they can be proud of. Jeff Moses, an American living in Seoul, wanted to support their efforts. As well as playing guitar and singing for the Seoul band …Whatever That Means, he runs World Domination, Inc. (WDI), a promoting group. Under that name, he released “Them and US,” a compilation CD featuring eleven of Korea’s hardest working bands.
“There are a lot of great bands here in Korea,” says Moses, “and we want people to know about them. That’s a big reason we put this album together.”
“Them and Us” is the most comprehensive cross-genre compilation of Korean independent bands since 2004, when Skunk Label released “We are the Punx in Korea,” a compilation of 30 songs from 30 bands. The eleven bands represent a mosaic of Korea’s underground music scene, old and new, as well as various flavours of punk, hardcore, and ska. Among them are established bands that have been around close to a decade, such as the Geeks, Attacking Forces, Couch, and Burning Hepburn, as well as new talents such as Find the Spot, Plastic Heart, and Skasucks. A few foreigners appear on the album, including Seoul City Suicides, as well as Jeff, who is the only foreigner in his band, showing that it’s not just Koreans who care about spreading the gospel of Korean punk music.
This new album takes a unique approach, showcasing two songs from each band, one an original and one a cover. Aside from allowing bands to show respect to their influences, Moses says he thinks that “it would be a good way to introduce the bands to people who have never heard of them. Most people have never heard of Find The Spot, but they might be interested in hearing a Korean band cover a Gang Green song, and hopefully hearing that will get them interested in hearing what Find The Spot’s original material sounds like.”
Among the covered bands are well-known punk bands such as Sex Pistols, Cock Sparrer, and the Descendents. Some bands choose their influences, such as …Whatever That Means’ cover of “The Creeps” by Social Distortion or Roadrunner’s cover of “All the Small Things” by Blink182, while other covers span genres, such as Attacking Forces’ punk version of the Jamaican ska classic “A Message to You Rudy” and the Geeks’ hardcore version of ska-core tune “Knowledge” by Operation Ivy.
All tracks were recorded in Club Spot, a basement live hall in Hongdae next to the playground. It was a collaboration of Moses, his bandmate and wife Yang Jeong-ah (nicknamed Trash), and Spot’s owner Seon Myeongjin. Trash arranged recording sessions for the bands and designed all the artwork, while Myeongjin handled the recording, mixing, and mastering.
“It was a complete DIY venture by WDI, the bands and Club Spot,” says Moses. “When it comes down to it, I think that’s the biggest reason why I’m proud of this compilation.”
The original plan was to record songs performed live, but there weren’t enough channels on the mixing board, so bands used the PA system to record songs one track at a time. “While it’s not a total live recording, it still has that live energy and gave bands the opportunity to come in and do two new recordings without having to pay a recording studio,” says Moses.
They were on a tight deadline to finish the CD in time for their tour of the US west coast this December. Dates are set in California, Oregon, and Washington State, where the tour will end in Seattle.
“Having a new compilation album available gives us a chance to promote the bands here in Korea that people in the US may never hear of otherwise,” says Moses, who intends to give the CD out for free to people he meets on the tour. “We’re also hoping to make a lot of contacts while we’re in the US that will make it easier for other Korean bands to do DIY tours in the US. Giving out the comp for free will be a good introduction to these bands for venue owners and promoters.
“It was also a chance for Trash and I to pretend that World Domination, Inc. is a real thing,” he laughs.
Here is a complete list of the Korean bands and the songs they cover.
…Whatever That Means is a melodic punk band whose songs are mainly in English. They formed after Jeff created a band to perform at their wedding.
Skasucks are a very determined band, having been around for over five years now. They play ska-punk music but they’re heavily influenced by two-tone ska, and keyboardist BJ lends a vintage touch to their intense live shows.
Attacking Forces are a skinhead band from Cheongju, although most of the members have grown their hair out, gotten jobs, gotten married, and grown up. Their music is as fun as ever, and they are one of Korea’s most fun bands. They pay respects to the roots of ska with “A Message to You Rudy,” a song written by Dandy Livingstone but made famous by the Specials.
Burning Hepburn from Daejeon have been active for as long as anyone can remember. They started out as more of a streetpunk band, but their influences have guided them in more of a ska direction.
The Geeks are probably Korea’s best-known underground band abroad, having toured the US twice and South Asia once. They are Korea’s only full straight-edge band, meaning none of them ever drink, and if you meet someone anywhere in the world who’s knowledgeable about the subgenre, they’ll probably know of the Geeks.
Roadrunner – Blink182 “All The Small Things”
Roadrunner is the youngest band on the album, and I haven’t actually seen them yet. They play pop punk.
Find the Spot are one of Korea’s younger hardcore bands, and over time they’ve come into their game very well. Their hardcore sound fuses with punk influences, and their live performances are energetic and full of crowd participation.
To the Swindlers, choosing to cover Sex Pistols was probably an easy choice, as they are heavily influenced by the classic punk band, with vocalist Byeongjae’s cocky swagger and sneering vocals.
Plastic Heart broke up for a while, but they reformed when lead vocalist Wolly left Skasucks. They started as a typical punk band, but over time they developed a more aggressive sound.
Seoul City Suicides are the only all-foreigner band on the CD. They’re a bit more rock than the rest of the bands, but for this album they played a couple punk songs, which turned out as some of the best recordings of the album.
Probably Korea’s most hated punk band, thanks to the shenanigans of the lead singer. They play an energetic, melodic style of punk called pogo punk. They’ve been on hiatus for a few years as the drummer, Sharon, moved to Japan to study, but she happened to be visiting again during the recording, so they were able to record a few songs together.
If you’re in Korea, you can find copies of the CD at Club Spot, or buy it off any of the contributing bands. There will be a Daejeon album release party on November 5 too. If you’re in America and want to know if WTM is coming to your city, or if you want to invite them to your city, you can get in touch on their Facebook page.