[Weekender] Korean indie bands to rock North America
It’s the ultimate band roadtrip. Except this isn’t your typical, Americana garage-band straight from Smalltown, U.S.A., it’s post-rock indie group Apollo 18 from the capital of South Korea.
“We’re nervous in general about going to the U.S., playing at South by Southwest (SXSW), the clubs, the venue ambiance and the people inside those venues,” bassist Kim Dae-inn laughed. It will be the first time any of the band members have stepped foot on North American soil.
This spring, Apollo 18 and four of the country’s most-buzzed underground names will enter the American scene by touring some of the most prestigious festivals this March and April, shattering the idea that Korean music holds a mere wisp of a presence worldwide.
Kim and his bandmates, Galaxy Express, Vidulgi OoyoO, Idiotape and EE will go west to make a stand for Korean music either by DIY or with corporate backing. The move records both the marked increase of local bands at SXSW (March 16-20) and the official debut of Korean music at Coachella (April 15-17).
“This (rock) sound is originally from the U.S., so if you’re in a band, it feels right to go to America and experience it firsthand, be inspired by it,” Choi Hyun-seok, the guitarist for Apollo 18, said. The three-man group managed to expand their initial festival performance into a five-state, 14 gig roadshow using only their knowhow, Googling skills and an abundance of e-mail.
Previous years have seen one or two Korean mainstream bands play at the acclaimed Texas music event, one of the largest in the country with nearly 2,000 acts. This year, a total of four indie bands will play SXSW out of the 13 Korean groups that applied.
“This will take a lot of money, so if we go, we want to go for more than just the festival,” Kim said, referring to their decision to turn the showcase into a tour. Apollo 18, ever the hard rockers, took the grassroots approach so they could customize their own schedule independently. A rental van is in the works.
Though the group was originally invited to the 2010 showcase, a lack of funds and preparation delayed the band for a year. But their determination saw a rapid comeback as fundraising and money out of their own pockets will send them on their first overseas trip.
Art performance duo EE, who will debut at the legendary Coachella, was brought to the attention of the Western industry through Seoulsonic, a now-defunct concert series that was transformed into a multi-faceted music organization that aims to be the Korean Pitchfork Media.
Parent company DFSB Kollective refurbished Seoulsonic to focus on both local and international activities through “packaged” band tours, and Galaxy Express, Vidulgi OoyoO and Idiotape will comprise its first North American venture.
The trio of bands will hit up Canadian Music Week, SXSW and hold a variety of shows from New York (The Knitting Factory) to Los Angeles (The Roxy).
“During the day, we would speak about and hear about how hip and how hot the Korean music scene was perceived overseas. But at night, perception and reality didn’t really mix too well at cocktail parties,” said Bernie Cho, president of the DFSB Kollective, a digital music distributor and promoter.
“Whenever we attended showcases sponsored and hosted by different countries’ governments, we were amazed by the live performances of international artists hailing from music markets comparable to and far smaller than Korea. Time and time again, we kept asking and were being asked the same questions. ‘Why is there no Korean night? Why are there no Korean bands here? Where is this cool Korean music people are talking about?”’
DFSB decided to take the matter into its own hands and, after studying other music promotion methods, decided to take Seoulsonic into the direction of group tours.
“Rather than have each act play on its own and get lost in the shuffle, we felt there would be strength and safety in numbers by bundling the bands together under the Seoulsonic brand,” Cho said. “All the bands represent a distinct style and flavor that show the diversity and dynamism of the AltROK scene.”
"It was never a matter of ‘if’ but more of a matter of ‘when’ Korean music acts would step onto the biggest music stages worldwide,” Cho said. “Spring 2011 seems to now answer the ‘when.’”
Previous Korean guests at the Texas festival are less optimistic about Western acknowledgement.
“Actually, there’s still not that much interest about Korea,” said Song Kyoung-kun of Gong Myoung, who performed at SXSW in 2009.
The group, who entered in the fest’s world music category, was featured on prevalent national radio network PRI during their stay in Austin, and regularly attends art markets in Europe to garner international recognition.
Though they often play abroad, Song said that many people still believe Korea to be somewhere between Japan and China, culturally. Indeed, this year’s SXSW will see nearly 20 bands from Japan and eight from Taiwan.
But whether it’s this year or not that Korea will rise from the trenches of the unknown, the experience for the collective bands touring will prove to be a learning one — particularly for other musicians here.
Lee Sang-yun, the drummer for Apollo 18 and the quietest of the three, said: “We want to go and show others that ‘Hey, we did it, so you can do it too.’”
Seoulsonic will hold a pre-tour party today at Club Mansion with Crying Nut, Rock Tigers, Telepathy and more. Visit www.seoulsonic.kr.
Apollo 18 will be holding a fundraiser concert at Live Club Ssam Feb. 26. To support their upcoming tour and catch guest performances by Art of Parties, Vassline, Smacksoft and others, visit www.ssamnet.com. Tickets cost 20,000 won.
For more information on EE’s upcoming show at Coachella, visit www.coachella.com.
Meet the bands
Apollo 18: The three-piece post-rock group will make you sweat, roar and jump in their intense live performances. Their DIY tour carries all the makings of a true band road trip, down to the scouring of Craigslist for empty beds and their enthusiasm for good eats while traveling the American South.
Galaxy Express: Arguably one of the more well-known indie rock groups in Korea, Galaxy Express has done it all: leave their record label, perform to thousands of fans at both Jisan Rock Valley Festival and Pentaport and, of course, won the 2009 Rock Album of the Year at the Korean Music Awards.
Vidulgi OoyoO: Literally translated into “Pigeon Milk,” Vidulgi OoyoO’s ambient, shoegaze rock will slip you into a rhythmic trance by the time you’re halfway done with your first drink. With such track titles as “Mosquito Incognito,” who wouldn’t be taken?
Idiotape: The pulsing electronics of Idiotape are irresistibly grabbing, with slow builds that reach a climactic intensity before falling back into a simplistic lull. Hints of disco funk add to the entertainment, resulting in an all out dance party.
EE: This art performance duo will not only don skintight costumes and sing in your face during their shows, they’ll make you love them. From residencies at the alternative culture space Platoon Kunsthalle to hitting up this year’s Coachella, this pair is not one to miss.