Sunday, 13 June 2010
Korea - Seoul
I moved to Korea in August 2007 to teach English, an occupation that leaves one with plenty extra cash, plus public transport here is dirt cheap, and most importantly it's possible to sit in a train station all night without getting mugged, so I started travelling to shows on a regular basis. Anyway... I live in Cheonan, a small city 60 miles south of Seoul. There is literally nothing in this city, as far as a hardcore scene goes. The Korean hardcore scene in general is very small, for such a populous country (45 million), and the majority of what does exist is centered around Hongdae, which is one small area of Seoul. There are also small scenes in Busan, Daegu, Cheongju and I guess Daejeon, but for the most part there is surprisingly little interaction between each of these sub-scenes. There's a pretty good level of quality though, several bands worth checking out.
In Seoul, the promoters to note are Open Your Eyes (Ki from The Geeks, Cliff from Shellback and a guy called Bomb), who tend to book bigger shows with foreign bands; they just brought Bane and Ceremony here, and in the last couple of years have also brought Strike Anywhere, Terror (twice), No Turning Back, Have Heart, Down To Nothing and probably one or two others that I've forgotten about.
Because of the relatively small audiences here, each foreign tour is a financial gamble for them, and they rely on donations from kids in the scene because they do everything DIY and don't fuck with corporate sponsorship. Then there's Townhall Records and GMC Records, who mostly book all-domestic shows with their own affiliated bands; most bands are either signed or at least linked to one of these two labels, and again, there's not much interaction between the two these days (OYE is linked to Townhall Records and the two often work together).
There's also Unionway Krew, but they mostly deal with pop/skate punk, which doesn't interest me so much... and Soeultari DIY, which is more punk/crust (they've brought Fy Fan, D-Clone, System Fucker and Attack SS from overseas) and have been involved in some controversy recently; I'm not sure if they're still active.
Bands from Seoul... well, the obvious starting point is The Geeks. You're probably at least semi-familiar with them already. They're Korea's longest-running hardcore band (ten and a half years), and the only Korean hardcore band to have toured the States. They tour overseas about once a year (most recently in Indonesia) and I think they're planning on touring the US and/or Europe in 2010/11...? The singer, Ki, is the main guy responsible for Open Your Eyes booking. They're on Townhall Records, so let's have a look at the other Townhall-affiliated bands.
Townhall mostly deals with youth-crew and the more positive side of hardcore. The biggest hardcore band other than The Geeks are probably Things We Say, who were on the Youth Crew 08 international compilation 7". They have a great LP called Our Decisions, which was released in mid '07. Frontman Victor (he's Korean but always uses his English name) got married and had a kid a year or two back, so they're less active now than they were. Ki from The Geeks also plays bass in this band.
Things We Say's drummer (Hoonhee) and guitarist (Seungjae) are also in No Excuse, who have Townhall label head Kyusuck on vocals and 13 Steps vocalist Dokyo on bass. No Excuse are more metallic with more breakdowns; they remind me of Deal With It from the UK, who in turn take their main influence from old Cro-Mags records.
Then there's Burn My Bridges (old school hardcore) who are very popular within the scene.
Shellback are a new band who play darker, maybe more melodic hardcore, something that is different than what already exists in the Korean scene; vocalist Cliff is, along with Ki from The Geeks, one of the hardest working guys in the scene, as part of the Open Your Eyes booking team.
A few bands associated with Townhall but not signed to the label... Vicious Nerds is a side project of Geeks guitarist Joonsung, they make me think of the old Philly band I Hate You, but political and lighthearted instead of confrontational. Joonsung does vocals after a recent lineup change, fellow Geeks members Bong (bass) and Gene (guitar) are also in the band.
BanRan (Korean word meaning 'riot' or 'insurrection') are fronted by ex-Things We Say guitarist Yongjoon and feature drummer Hoon-hee (No Excuse, TWS, others). They play short, fast and loud hardcore punk, and have songs about how much they think Korea sucks. They're fast as shit and my favorite band in this country.
And I guess I'll mention the band I shout in, Chadburger; we also play fast hardcore with short songs, we've been doing it longer than BanRan but they're better :P
And lastly, Veteran are an awesome new crossover-style band mostly featuring members of Captain Bootbois.
I'm not quite as familiar with the GMC side of the scene so I probably won't ramble as much here. Their bands tend to be more metallic and macho, though not in quite the same meatheaded jock way as you might imagine. They're all good people, as far as I know. The label boss sings/raps in Firestorm, who are good fun. MaZe play relentlessly fast and heavy metallic old-school hardcore, with sick vocals. Knockdown are heavy as shit, lots of sludgy breakdown riffs, great music. Ninesin and Vassline are both pretty much melodic death/thrash metal with hardcore attitude. Samchung are a long-running band that started out playing grindcore, then transitioned through NY style hardcore into some sort of macho '80s metal. Captain Bootbois have a dodgy name because they started out as a skinhead streetpunk band, but these days they play a unique blend of streetpunk, metal and hardcore influences that everyone ought to check out at least once; they have some fucking great songs. 49 Morphines play... I guess you'd call it 'screamo', but I feel like I'm insulting a band by giving them that tag, and I love 49 Morphines. I'm pretty much certain I'm missing at least a couple of other GMC bands, but the label has been relatively quiet lately.