Kpopalypse Interview returns, and this time Kpopalypse speaks to Chris P. from the website Korean Indie!
Korean Indie is a website site that highlights independent music from Korea, providing a valuable public service for a scene that is much under-reported and under-appreciated. I’ve known about the website for quite some years, as Korean Indie articles get reposted to Asian Junkie sometimes, as do articles of my own. However an incident where Chris P. the editor of Korean Indie spoke off-the-record candidly after K-CON to one of the elite caonima detective squad about the treatment of independent musicians at the hands of Korean TV drama companies got me and my readers all thinking that perhaps he’d make a good interview subject. At the request of caonimas, I sat down with Chris over Skype for about an hour and he swiftly proved all of us right and pulled few punches in this profanity-laden, soju-and-cider-drenched interview – read on!
How long has the Korean Indie website been going?
Korean Indie started in 2011, and there were at the time three people doing it. I started writing about Japanese and Korean music in 2008 and I had my own site. I then met some people and they had an idea to start their own site, a Korean indie-focused site and asked if I wanted to join, so I said “sure it’d be fun, it’d be interesting”. Most of 2011 was setting the site up, I pooled all the social stuff and we spent three months just trying to figure out what kind of design we wanted, which is a fuckin’ pain in the ass. The site launched and then over the next two years the other two just kind of stopped. One bowed out kind of early on, the other one sent me a resignation letter. I understand – we’re all older, we’re not little bloggers doing fansites, it’s a big thing and people have lives so they move on.
So in 2013 is when I did it by myself, and asked if people wanted to write. I got some volunteer writers who wrote for a little while and then disappeared from the Internet, or just stopped responding to email. I was like “I don’t mind if you want to quit, just tell me!” I’m was like “what’s going on with this person” and then I found out that they moved, or they’re working for a company now. I was like “That’s cool, I never paid you so I can’t say that you were an asshole because you left… but just telling me would have been nice!” So it’s gone through iterations of volunteer writers, right now there are two who are more prolific, and there’s a few others who kind of have shit in their lives so I don’t bother them.
What sort of reaction has the site got? Compared to what you were expecting, when you started it, do you think you’ve turned a lot of people onto Korean independent music?
The majority of our readers are from the USA and South Korea. At a time we did have a lot of readers from France which I was surprised about, but everyone from Europe usually speaks English of some sort, so they can actually read it. To me it was never “I’m gonna be fucking famous, I’m gonna be this awesome motherfucker who knows everything and is going to tell people what to think” and all this shit. I started writing because being Korean and born in America, there’s not many things to connect with, with your culture. I wasn’t a church person because church is weird, I still don’t even know that much Korean – I can survive in Korea and live, but I can’t “have a life” there yet, if I wanted to go. I’d really have to learn a lot more vocabulary and a lot more cultural things because all the people I hang out with don’t follow it that much, it’s not a big thing. So it’s always been mainly for me a feeling of “I’ve found this awesome band, I want to write about them because they’re fucking cool.” As time goes on, other people were like “oh, this music is pretty fucking cool.” I did it for me, and every band I found was more for me, and if other people liked them then that’s great, but it’s not important for me like “oh, if I don’t get 100 views on this one review then I feel like shit”, it’s like “I like this music – if you like it’s too that’s awesome, support the artist, reach out to them and say you love their music” because the artists love it when people outside of Korea say “your music is so awesome”. That’s all I want to do – help other people connect through music the way I connected through it by being Korean.
It’s interesting that you touched on the cultural aspect and how you feel that you couldn’t live a life in Korea. What do you think the main cultural difference point is?
It’s very patriarchal, which is not a problem for me because I’m male, but I just don’t follow all the cultural cues. They’re kind of ingrained in me from growing up with Korean parents, but there’s some things I just miss. In the music scene it’s not a problem, but if I had a job, I would probably fuck up a lot. Also because I’m Korean, I don’t have the white card, where people might think “he’s white, he doesn’t know”, people instead would be like “oh he’s Korean, he should know“.
Could you give an example?
In corporate culture you have respect for your boss and you show them a lot of respect which you obviously have to do regardless. However there’s a thing in Korea which I’ve heard from friends, where if the CEO or boss is working late, you’re expected to work late. I need to have a life outside of work, work is not my life. I actually had an old boss tell me he works to live, he doesn’t live to work – and that’s how I like living. I do what I need to do when it’s required but I’m not going to sit there just because the boss is sitting there, because he probably has to do more work than I have to do, so why do I have to wait for him? I don’t give a shit.
Apparently Koreans work the longest hours of employees in any developed country, but they also have the lowest productivity per hour. It might have a lot to do with people sitting around to keep up appearances.
I think they’re actually afraid.
Do you think that those cultural cues also exist to the same extent in the actual music business or not so much?
I think in the more popular culture like k-pop it’s really different, it’s based on who’s been in the company first, they treat whoever’s been there longer with a bit more respect. In the indie scene whenever I go there I see that too, people who have been in the industry a long time, there’s a lot of respect because they’ve been doing it for a while but it’s not to the point where they’re telling people to do something: “oh, go get me this” or “you’re gonna do this thing because I said so”. It’s much more that like if you’re new, you see someone who’s been in the scene for a while so you say hi, you give him your CD, and say “please listen to this”. There might be some dark sides to it, I don’t know, but from what I’ve seen it’s never been like big brother on your case, like “this is me, I know everything, you don’t know shit so don’t come up to me”, everyone is very welcoming from what I’ve seen.
How much of a crossover do think there is between people who follow the more commercial k-pop and people who are avidly following your site?
For people who just want Korean indie I’d say it’s pretty small compared to the people who come to the site just because they like k-pop. I think a lot of it is there’s some musicians who work with k-pop artists here and there, and there’s some people who watch Korean dramas and might see an indie artist get played and might get interested in them. There’s certain genres that attract the k-pop people and Korean Indie comes up because the search engine optimisation is really good.
When you talk about “Korean Indie” do you define “indie” in terms of the company structure (as in “independent”) or are you also referring to indie as a musical style as some people tend to do? After all there are styles that are not very popular in Korea that people might be doing on an underground level, but people wouldn’t necessarily call them “indie” – Korean black metal, for instance.
I think it’s kind of both. On one side there’s unknown genres, obviously they’re “indie”, also on the other side it’s bands that are not on the corporate labels. But a friend of mine who is really involved with the music scene told me that “you know, when you think about it YG and JYP are actually indie labels”.
This is true, globally there’s really only three major labels (Universal, Sony, Warner) and anything not within that is an independent label. Majors will however have “imprints” where majors will swallow up a smaller label and that small label will become a “brand” within the major label.
An example would be HIGHGRND and YG.
It’s true that SM, YG, JYP etc are independent in terms of business structure, they’re not part of the extremely large western system. They’re promoting their own artists, they have their own separate distribution networks, and in terms of the amount of money made from music it correlates as they don’t actually make a lot from that. The big money at the commercial end of k-pop doesn’t come from music sales.
It’s always the other deals and stuff.
What are some of your favourite independent artists right now?
Lately I took a bit of a break from Korean music, every few months I take a week off because I miss a lot of the stuff I used to listen to when I was a little younger,so I go back and see if they’ve had anything new. I got back into Korean music because there’s an electronic duo called 75A, it’s an electronic artist named Grey and a girl called Fuckushi Oyo, and they’re a duo and they released their third album, so I got this email from them out of the blue. They said “this is our third album, take a listen!” and I listened to it and it’s fucking great. It’s just so different. HEO‘s new album called Actress is coming out in a few days and he sent that to me today so I’ve been listening to that all day. I listen to whatever is out, Billy Carter had their new album just come out so I’m listening to that too.
With independent Korean artists, just like independent artists anywhere in the world, I’d imagine that they’re not making a lot of money, would that be correct?
Who does make money within the Korean independent scene, and if so, how do they do it?
Right now the only two that I know that are consistently making decent money are Crying Nut and No Brain. No Brain actually has their own label Roxta Music, so they’re making some money off of that. There’s a band on Roxta Music called Rose Motel who have been on TV a lot so they might be making some money there. Crying Nut also just because they have been around so long, although I think the members do their own thing on the side, so they’re not just musicians. One of them opened a cafe in Korea recently, in the past few months. Otherwise, Love X Stereo have a recording studio now and recently released music from Rock’N’Roll Radio, and MAAN. It’s so expensive to record in Korea, especially if you’re not an electronic artist who can do it from home. Love X Stereo have a studio where you can record really cheaply and they have a whole set-up there, plus a really good engineer and some other people who work for them who do really good mixing.
I did an interview with Sarah Wolfgang who used to be in k-pop group Tahiti, and she spent the whole interview telling me how difficult it was being an idol in training. At the end of the interview I asked “what you would recommend for people who want to go down the commercial idol route” and her response was “don’t do it, if you really love music go the independent route instead, because it’s more difficult so you’ll really work out whether you really want to do music or not, as it’s actually harder to be an independent artist”. So it must be pretty fucking hard! What do you think are some of the main challenges that independent artists face in Korea?
You can say the majority, probably 95% don’t even know that it exists. If you walk down Hongdae, all you hear from all the fucking stores is the newest single from some fucking k-pop group blaring as loud as possible, which fucking sucks. So they don’t know, but there is a really strong small community that do amazing things, they go to a lot of shows, they support bands live. If you look at official music storefronts like Melon or Bugs or Naver, the way they set music up is that you buy music passes, so you can download or buy a pass, you have a number of plays or downloads. So artists are not getting money like in the USA through iTunes or Google Play, or Bandcamp, it’s more kind of like Spotify where they get paid a shitty amount of a cent that doesn’t even correlate to anything. So you’ve got a population who have no idea who the fuck they are, and then you’ve got a music service that fucks them again, and then at the end of the day you make no money. The problem is Korea in itself is a much more digital world so buying CDs is a big thing. Compared to the USA they’re about the same price, $11-$14, but it’s a difficult thing, a lot of the music stores that had CDs have shut down because no-one’s buying them anymore, and when I go to shows if a band has a CD I’ll usually pick it up (to support the artist). I’ll buy the physical thing, even though I love digital because I listen to it when I drive or at home.
There was an artist who is in a band now called Juck Juck Grunzie, I was in Korea one year and I went to go and see them live, she was the guitarist. I saw their show and afterward I went up to say hi, and they asked “oh, do you want to go and eat with us?” and I was like “why not, it’s 11pm and I have nothing else to do”. During that conversation I asked “so what do you guys do apart from music?” and she said “oh, I’m a nurse”. I was like “What? You’re a fucking nurse?” and she said “yeah, that’s my day job”. I said “fuck, that sucks!”, and she was like “yeah it does!” [laughs] The majority of people in bands, they do it because they love music, they love playing, they go through that shitty job for the weekend to perform in front of either a packed house or like ten fucking people. That’s what I love, it feels more pure. In the USA it’s harder to go and see shows because they’re so spread out but when you’re in Hongdae, you can kind of find shows really easily over the weekend. Even now places are playing acoustic sets throughout the week.
I had a friend who went to Korea a few years ago and she’s a big fan of independent music in the west, and she became very frustrated because she searched and searched and could not find any hint of a Korean independent music scene whatsoever. Now that’s not saying that it wasn’t there, just that she didn’t know how to find it. What advice would you give to someone who said to you “I want to go to Korea and while I’m there I want to see some independent music”?
There are some good resources now, there’s DoIndie, they have a events list of upcoming shows. Facebook is a good place, but I don’t know how much people use Facebook to find shows.
You have to know what to subscribe to first, I guess.
Yeah, that’s the hardest thing, when I go it’s Facebook or ask friends, but if I’m going to go there for a week I’ll use DoIndie so I can see what’s coming up and then usually a show might pop up here and there.
In terms of “indie” as a style of music, what styles of music go down better in Korea generally speaking?
For indie music?
Yeah. When I search YouTube channels dedicated to indie music I find about 80%-90% ballads, it’s really frustrating.
Yeah, that coffee-shop shit is really popular, partly because it’s the easiest crossover.
Yeah, coffee-shop ballads sound much the same when a mainstream artist does them as when an indie artist does them!
10cm is like the premier coffee-shop stuff. I listened to their stuff in the beginning and by about the third album I was like “wow, this is fucking boring”. It’s like the same… they’re good, but…
It took you three albums to work that out? [laughs]
Well I was expecting them to expand a little bit, I didn’t expect them to do the same thing. But yeah the coffee shop stuff does really well. The electronic rock stuff does really well… a lot of the time it depends on the line-up of a show, the easiest indicator is who’s playing. There’s some independent bands with good-looking guys, I’m not saying they’re idols or anything, but there are bands who have the fangirls and good for them!
In Australia where I live, there’s a quite a strong trend of cover acts who play live, because it’s very difficult to get people to come out to see original music anymore. Is original music more popular in Korea or do they have a strong cover band presence?
I don’t really know of any, I know of bands who play covers during a show, but not strictly dedicated cover bands. I think there might be one for The Beatles, but that’s it. I don’t even know what they’re called, I think I came across their video once and thought “this is kind of funny” and then I moved on.
What sort of touring options do groups have?
In Korea it’s five cities, it sucks. Korea is so small, there’s only a few big cities, Daegu and Busan, Seoul, obviously Hongdae, I think there’s a couple of other clubs outside the Hongdae neighbourhood… but when people now say it’s like a nationwide tour I kind of laugh, but I also feel sad. For a US band it would be like going up and down California and that’s it.
Well, it’s probably better than Australia where you’ve got a land mass about the size of the USA but almost no-one lives there! Our bands would probably like to be able to travel 200 meters and play to a whole new audience!
What about breaking into overseas markets, I imagine that’s a fairly challenging thing, has anyone really broken through from the Korean independent scene in a meaningful way?
There are a lot of bands that can do it. Love X Stereo is one of the biggest ones, I think, and I’ve talked about that a lot here and there. Annie lived in the US, their sound is like electronic pop-rock-ish, so it can mix well with what’s popular now. A lot of the issues are with licensing, they’re on Spotify and that’s cool but for me for a band to be breaking through they need to be able to tour, they need to be able to do that grungy-ass west-coast tour or east-coast tour.
Galaxy Express did a full 30 date tour of 35 shows a few years ago. It was really funny because I saw them when they first got here, they did a show in San Francisco area and they were all bright-eyed and happy and excited. One of their last shows was in Oakland, I went to that as well and I was talking to the tour manager (who unfortunately passed away this year), and I was like “how’s it going?” and he was like “oh, we fucking hate each other”! They were in one of those Winnebago-type campervans and were driving all over the country and he was like “America’s so fucking huge, what the fuck is this?” They’re trapped together, they have to play shows, they can’t get drunk like in Korea, they have to stay sober so they can drive the next day for tons of hours. One of the issues I also see is there’s a visa problem for musicians now, it’s much harder to get a visa for a musician.
It’s fucked over a lot of bands, which is kind of sad. Whatever That Means and Full Garage did a tour a few months ago, and I don’t know if they got the artist visa or not, but they did a real west-coast tour because Jeff who is the guitarist in Whatever That Means is from the Pacific north-west I think? He’ll probably get pissed off if I don’t know this, but I don’t know! But he put on that whole tour. Then there’s Soulsonic which is a really good tour and I know the guy who puts it on, and I talked to him about expanding it but he’s also said he wants to do more shows. He doesn’t want to do only five or six shows, but there’s no market to go outside of San Francisco, L.A., Austin, New York , Toronto… he has to go where there’s a Korean Asian population that will come to the show, which is sad, so it all boils down to money, as always! You need to be able to at least recoup costs, but I don’t think it ever works out that way.
Do independent artists in Korea chase endorsements as a funding source, in the way that commercial k-pop does?
I don’t think they’re against it, the problem with things like that is that they just get fucked. This is a story I was told: a big company approached a friend of mine, their band and they were like “we want to put your original song in a drama, for the ending theme”. The band said “okay yeah, that’s cool” so the company submitted this contract. I asked “was it like a standard contract, where you get paid a residual or anything” and they said “oh, fuck no. We get paid $200 and they get all rights to everything, they get to play it as much as they want, they can do whatever they want with it and we can’t say shit.” I asked them what they did and they said “well we signed it, because what else can we do? This is a chance to get our music in front of other people on a big TV show that people are going to watch”, so you have the checks and balances of it – do you take the small money for the exposure or do you say “fuck you” and possibly get blacklisted?
Or just have them not pick the deal up and get some k-pop band or whatever?
They wouldn’t get a k-pop band, it’s too expensive! They’ll find another indie band who will do it for $200.
Are indie artists in Korea against the whole commercial k-pop thing? Is there an “us and them” mentality, or do they get along, or somewhere in between?
I don’t think it’s like “us and them”. There are some people who believe that corporates shouldn’t touch the music scene, but I think overall they just want to make music and want to expose their music to as many people as possible, and want to get fans. Not like to be hugely insanely popular although they probably wouldn’t mind it, but they just want to be able to make music for a living, which unfortunately is just not feasible.
Do independent music fans in Korea have the same sort of obsession with vocal technique? When I see comments about commercial k-pop from the fans everyone’s always talking about their favourites being great singers, and there’s always so many arguments about who can sing better than who, does that also apply to the fanbases in the independent scene?
I don’t think as much. Put it this way, does it matter if a hardcore singer can actually sing, or can he just growl really well?
There are a lot of melodic rock bands who have good singers, there’s other genres like Jambinai, their vocals go from two really amazing female vocalists to a guy who basically drones, but if it fits the music…. I don’t think necessarily people care so much that someone can hit a two-octave high note. I don’t know who does that, but…
Neither do I!
I don’t think there’s a big focus on that. I think people who listen are like “is the music good? Do the vocals fit the music?” There are some people who can’t sing that well, but it fits the music, so who cares.
One thing that I’ve never really seen much of from Korean independent artists that I’ve found so far, that I really thought I would have found by now but I never have, is a Korean punk band with really extreme political content or something like that.
Oh dear – you’re missing out!
Can you fill me in?
I went to Korea in 2013, there’s a punk club called Club Spot which was unfortunately closing down, so I went to one of the last shows, it was going to close in a month. There’s a band called Dead Gakkahs, “gakkah” is “president” in Korean. It’s two girls, probably 5’2″ to 5’4″ and they were dressed in schoolgirl outfits, and I’d heard them a litte bit, I’d heard of them, and I was like “oh yeah they’re pretty hardcore punk, okay, that’s cool” so I went there and I was standing there drinking a shitty Budweiser, and they start and the songs were a minute long, maybe 40 seconds each and they just start screaming. I was like “holy shit, what the fuck is this? This is amazing!” After that I actually interviewed them, through email, and I don’t know all of the content of their songs but I do think they are a bit of a political band even though they haven’t made music in a while. I do think there are bands who are political, but because I don’t speak Korean fluently, I don’t necessarily know unless they sing in English. Especially now – I’m sure more songs are coming out that are very political.
Usually with the western groups you can tell just by looking at the video even if you don’t know the language, they’ve got some sort of political content in the visuals, but I’ve never really seen it from Korea.
I think they’re very careful, just because if it gets out, a lot of things can happen, especially in the current regime.
Do you think they would actively clamp down on independent music if that was the case, shut down clubs or arrest people?
I don’t think so.
…or more subversive kind of pressure, like a blacklist?
Probably a blacklist, but I don’t even think that the government is concerned. It would be different from a k-pop artist saying something really dumb, that would hit all the headlines, if a Korean indie band did that it probably wouldn’t even get noticed, because no-one cares what that person thinks.
Are the fans who are into Korean independent music a bit more rational than your k-pop fans? Do you get people sliding menstrual pads under the doors of the dwellings or things like that?
I feel bad saying this, but I watched a band called 24Hours play a few times, and there are a lot of girls in that crowd always. The lead singer, he’s charismatic onstage, but to the point where they get offstage everyone says “that was such a good show, I really like the show” but I’ve never heard of anyone getting a crazed fan. They’re more, I don’t know if they’re subdued, but I’ve never heard of it, no-one’s ever told me, I wish they would, if something like that happened, because I would just laugh my ass off!
How much drug-taking is there in the Korean independent scene, and what are the favourite drugs?
[laughs] Umm… well, I don’t think drug use is widespread, because of the laws, and how difficult it is to acquire them, though it is possible. When they come to the USA one of the first questions I get asked is “can you get something of this?”. It’s never hard drugs either, it’s all really light stuff. It’s there, I would imagine it’s there, it’s not open ever, and it’s not like the US where someone smoked something and he said “I smoked something” and the law can’t get him at that time because he admitted something without proof. They smoke a little… a lot… of weed, I’ll say weed, but it’s not like they’re going crazy. In Korea you go to jail if you have weed, which I think is stupid as fuck.
Every time I talk to someone about how much drugs there is in the Korean music scene they say “oh there’s not that much drugs” but then every other week someone’s going to jail for marijuana, so obviously there is some!
It’s basically just marijuana, I’ve never heard of any group with anything else.
Is Korean independent music big enough to be plugged into the organised crime network in the way that the bigger k-pop labels are?
I don’t think a lot of bands would be, if it was there – I don’t know if it’s there or not – I couldn’t with certainty say that it is, but if it did exist it would be with some of the older people in the scene. I don’t think any of the newer bands have anything to do with anything like that, or they’d be living much better lives! I don’t know. I’m sure there’s some influence here and there, but I don’t think it’s like the way it’s come out with the bigger groups where they needed funding for something, because if that was the case the Korean independent music scene would be so different!
[laughs] Yeah, they’d actually have money!
Yeah, clubs wouldn’t close every fuckin’ year!
What advice would you have for someone starting a group in Korea?
Korean or ex-pat?
You can answer for both if you want!
For Korean groups: play some good fucking music. It doesn’t matter if you’re not technically savvy on your instrument, it’s more about the emotion that you put forward. It doesn’t even matter if you have an album or not, most bands don’t have an album for a while, and time between albums could be years. But play music that people can enjoy, connect with your audience, play as much as possible, and continue to get better. When I was in bands when I was younger, we sucked in the beginning, because you don’t know everyone’s certain cues, you don’t know how they necessarily play in the beginning, and as you get more comfortable as musicians together you end up improving because you’re piggy-backing on each other. I’ve seen the evolution of some bands and some of them just kind of stay where they are because they don’t play live that much, and some every weekend they’re playing at a club and they get really fucking good really fast. Within 3 to 6 months they’re leap-frogging themselves from where they’ve started.
For an ex-pat band: you know, good on you, oh wait I just used the Australian term didn’t I?
You have to add “mate” at the end! “Good on ya mate!“
Oh yeah, sorry! I’m drinking soju and cider so I figure that would make a better conversation as I tell dumber stories when I get drunk.
With an ex-pat band: I have no problem with ex-pat bands at all, I just don’t give a shit about them. That’s not why I started writing about Korean or Japanese music, it’s not why I decided to do Korean Indie, and I know there’s a lot of bands. I know they work hard, I get emails from them a lot saying “oh we want to be covered in Korean Indie” but it’s like “alright, there’s the first thing – you usually speak English, and if you want to…” – oh man I’m going to get so many people who will be fucking angry at me about this….
With my friends in Korea I’m pretty vocal about my opinions about ex-pat bands, because my experience has never been hugely positive compared to Korean bands. People who go to Korea aren’t necessarily there to learn the culture, they’re there to make a quick buck teaching English, I feel like if you want to make music as an ex-pat band, that’s fine, and if you’re making music that’s different from what everyone else is playing that’s fine also, you should do the same thing, you should play a lot of shows, you should find your audience, you should have fun. But never think just because you’re playing in a show or at a venue or whatever that your music is somehow better than where you are, to say that you know more bands and you’re more influenced by the other people. When we talk about people’s influences in Korea, they’re pretty knowledgeable about worldwide music. There are some times where I’ve seen one ex-pat band on a line-up and I think “alright, I’ll watch this” and I’ll watch them play and they act like they’re so fucking cool, and I’m like “who gives a shit? We’re not here for you! No-one gives a shit about you!” You know – play because you’re having fun, I’m tired of this western style where “you have to have this attitude, and you have to have this showmanship about how you’re so fucking awesome” and who gives a shit man, who gives a shit about you, like in the long term? You’re making music, you might leave in another year, what impact do you have on this scene? Are you doing it for you, or are you doing it because you want to be a part of the scene…
“So I can put “I played in Korea” on my resume…”
Jeff from Whatever That Means, he’s in Korea, he’s a professor at a college, he is like my gold standard of someone who went to Korea and fell in love with it and is doing really good things. He’s so involved in the punk scene there, he also works at a studio doing mixing called Thunderhorse, I don’t know where it is. There’s a club outside Hongdae called Club Sharp, where he’s helping putting on punk shows and he was at Club Spot as one of the organisers. Whenever I talk to him, which isn’t often, it’s just good to talk to him, because I have so much respect for him and for what he’s been doing there helping Korean punk bands come out and do a tour here. But overall, I don’t give two fucks about ex-pat bands! [laughs]
What would you like to see change the most in the independent scene in Korea?
I would like to see them make some money! They’re making good music. Regardless of how much money they’re making now, they’re working hard and making great music, but it would be nice to see them get some return on their investment – being able to do real tours in the US. They go to Europe a lot and do really well there, the visa restrictions are much lighter, but it would be cool to see some bands who go to Europe come here. There’s a lot of bands that I would like to see. I would love to put on a tour for Korean bands in the US where I could pick the lineup of all different styles and just have them show up.
What do you think people would be the most shocked if they knew about Korean independent music?
The most shocking thing is that it exists! A lot of the first comments I get on Facebook or Twitter are like “I didn’t know there was Korean indie music” and it’s like “what the fuck, man”. I understand where they’re coming from, because what is promoted and what the Korean government is putting so much money in is exports to make money, so dramas and movies and k-pop. When I first started listening to Korean music, I started with Japanese pop music and went to Japanese indie and rock and math-rock, and I was listening to k-pop and I thought “if Japan has this, then Korea must have this too” and I started listening to Korean indie bands really early on, and that’s why I have seven Korean band tattoos!
If there’s anything that you’d like to add that we haven’t discussed, then go right ahead!
If you like the music, buy it! Stop using Spotify, it doesn’t pay them. If you read a review on the website and you see that there’s a Bandcamp or you see that there’s an iTunes, buy it. Apple music and their streaming shit, that’s good for promotion and exposure, but these bands need some fuckin’ money. Stop being so stingy and saying “I love this band!” “Well did you buy the album? You didn’t buy the album because it was nine dollars?” What the fuck! Support the band when you can, if they come to your city and you find out about the show, go to the show, buy their merch, give them a reason to really enjoy their visit here. Show them some love, and stop saying that you’re going to do something and do it. If you love a band, tell your friends about them, the only way Korean independent music is going to escape South Korea is if more people talk about it. South Korea isn’t going to put more money into what they are doing unless there is a bigger return on their investment and that’s not going to happen unless people are talking about it, just like they’re talking about k-pop.
BONUS EXTRA-DRUNK K-CON SECTION
Tell me a bit more about K-CON and how you didn’t like it, because that would go very nicely with the interview I think.
You want to hear about K-CON?
So I got invited, this is my third time getting invited and my second time going. I got invited one year, I didn’t go because I asked if they would pay for a hotel and a flight and they said no, so I said “alright, peace out, not interested”. The second year I was asked by a writer who writes for Maryland k-pop , but she does do some Korean indie stuff. She asked me to come out and I said “I was asked last year and are you going to pay for anything?” Mnet put it on, and they got money, so like what the fuck, they have to pay for something, I’m not going to come out there for nothing. I understand that some smaller bloggers would be like “I get to speak at K-CON, that’s so awesome!” I’m too old for that shit man, I don’t care – it’s cool to speak about it but I’ve got bills to pay, and taking time off work and all that stuff costs a lot of money. So that was 2015 and that was a good panel that I really enjoyed, there were people there that knew about Korean indie music, they were really well-spoken, they had bands they liked.
This past year, it was kind of a clusterfuck because I was asked not by a writer who was a moderator, but by K-CON themselves, and the girl who asked me – no disrespect to her, she was very accommodating and welcoming, I think she watched some of it or read some of it or something so she thought it would be really good to do it again, and me being the person behind Korean Indie which is the easiest thing to associate with a Korean indie panel, and asked “oh do you want to come out again?”. So I asked the same thing “are you going to pay for a hotel or a flight? Last year you guys paid for the hotel.” and she said “we can do the hotel” so I said “cool, I’ll come out”, but I didn’t know who was going to be on the panel with me. That’s what was worrying me, because it was getting close to K-CON, so we had the panel time and location but no actual panelists, so I got really worried “oh fuck, what kind of panel is this going to be?”, and then I saw the other people. We had a pair who are like producers for k-pop so I thought “alright that’s weird”, there was a girl who was on the panel last year so I thought “that’s cool, at least I’ll know someone”, there was a blogger who when I went onto her social network stuff I was expecting a couple thousand likes on her Facebook page and a few thousand followers on Twitter, but it was like in the double digits so I thought that was kinda weird. I have no disrespect for these people, I just feel like they were kind of latched onto it because there weren’t enough panelists. The moderator was a guy who was from somewhere east coast, and he helped some Korean-American independent artists so I thought “that’s cool”. The main issue I had with the panel was that a lot of people were basically trying to sell themselves and not the music. We’re not here to be like “I do this, and this is what I love”, in my head I was like “I don’t give a shit what you do and why you love what you do, we’re not here to talk about you, we’re here to talk about indie bands”. Another thing was people made playlists of videos which is fine but I don’t see the point of putting up a playlist and playing clips of bands, it doesn’t really teach someone anything, it just shows “oh you might want to know about this band and/or this band”, that’s cool, but what information are you gleaning from that? You have to quickly write down this band’s name and then you have to physically go out and try to find them on YouTube or iTunes or whatever. Also one of them was like “I love this band called Dirty Buttons” and I was like “who the fuck are Dirty Buttons? Does this guy know more than I do? I’ve been listening to this music for a long time, who the fuck are Dirty Buttons?” It was funny because my brother was in the audience, he was like “I want to see what kind of bullshit you do on stage” so he came out to visit and come to this with me, I said “alright, if you want to see me be awkward as fuck that’s fine”. So throughout the whole panel he kept saying “Dirty Buttons” and someone asked “what type of music do they play?” and they were like “garage rock” and I thought “this motherfucker, their name is not Dirty Buttons, it’s Dead Buttons, you say you love this band and their style of music and you can’t even get their fuckin’ name right? And even saying this for the whole hour of the panel? What the fuck? Come on, you’re a professional, you can’t do shit like that.”
So after the panel, someone asked me a question like what was one of the biggest issues with Korean music if they get offered dramas. You asked me that question too, and at the time I wasn’t comfortable saying it to a group like that, because I don’t know if they’re little bloggers or from Mnet or not, so I told them “I’ll tell you off the record, if you want to know just find me afterwards, I’ll tell you the real reason”, and I told them they get shitty deals. Afterwards my brother asked “what did you think of the panel?” and I was like “at least I got a free hotel room”. I was actually talking to another one of the panelists, the one I’d met the year before and I asked her what she thought and she said “ahh, it was alright, what did you think?” and I said ” it was a fuckin’ waste of time, man, the panel we did last year was much better and much more informative” so if Mnet ever invites me out again – which I don’t know will happen if they ever read this! – I probably figure I’ll demand to be the moderator and get like-minded people who love indie music and just do a quick intro to who we are, what we do, and just have a Q&A. I feel like you get more information by asking someone’s opinion or their experiences, than by me playing a fucking YouTube video, because you just don’t get enough information. People ask me “what’s your greatest experience in Korea?” and I said “fucking drinking all night until the sun came up and I started at 8 o’clock”. They asked “hul, you can do that?” and I’m like “yeah, you know why? Because Korea doesn’t fucking close.” So I sound like an alcoholic saying that to someone, but I was like “your experiences going to shows in the US compared to going to shows in Korea is much different, musicians generally have smaller shows. If you go and see Crying Nut or No Brain it’s really difficult to talk to them afterwards because they’re really busy, but at a smaller show you can actually talk to the bands and on occasion go out and have a drink with them, and just shoot the shit.”
A lot of the stories I can’t tell, which is bad, because I’ve been told a lot of stuff off the record, but that’s what I like about the panels, because there are young kids who have no idea, and you can teach them a lot of things and they’re very receptive, you just need to have a good group around it, which unfortunately last year there wasn’t, even though I have respect for all the people who were on the panel, it was the wrong group of people.
That’s all for this edition of Kpopalypse Interview! Are you or do you know someone who would make a great interview subject and would be willing to traverse the minefield of Kpopalypse’s interview questions? If so, get in touch!