Punk rockers No Brain perform as part of Hongdaefest at Soundholic City in western Seoul, Sunday. / Courtesy of Soundholic
Hongdae festival showcases hottest ‘indie' bands
By Kim Young-jin
In the Korean music scene, it's slickly-produced "K-pop" bands that draw the most attention. But beyond the hit factories there's a vibrant scene of independent-minded musicians who are raising eyebrows.
Many such performers are converging this month in western Seoul for "Hongdaefest," an ongoing event in the university enclave of Hongdae.
Showcasing well-known bands such as acoustic crooners 10cm and garage-rockers Galaxy Express, as well as up-and-coming acts, the festival finds a niche between the K-pop doldrums and blockbuster summer festival season.
Now in its second year, it seeks to draw attention to the area surrounding the artsy Hongdae University. Once known as an incubator for indie bands such as Crying Nut and Rumblefish, the district has gentrified in recent years and become better known for nightclubs than rock shows.
Galaxy Express will perform at the Hongdaefest on March 23.
"It's about letting people know about the Hongdae music scene," said Kang Yeo-jeong of record label Soundholic, which is organizing the event.
The festivities got underway on March 2 with a show featuring hot bands Love X Stereo, Glen Check and Rock N Roll Radio, which doubled as a kick-off for their upcoming U.S. tour. Punk legends No Brain made a special appearance.
The rest of the festival runs between March 13 and April 5, grouped into a number of "themes." Most of the performances will be held at Soundholic City, though other venues such as Club TA and KT&G SangsangMadang will hold shows.
There will be two "Mellow Breeze" shows, on March 14 and 22, showcasing acts with a laidback, acoustic vibe.
The highlight of these will be 10cm. Comprised of Kwon Jung-yeol and Yoon Cheol-jong, the duo has won a strong following with their spare instrumentation and humorous lyrics, and on the strength of the ubiquitous 2010 single "Americano."
The two "Today Express" shows, on March 15 and 22, feature upbeat, danceable bands. The second of these promises to be a frenzied affair, featuring some of the hippest bands around including Daybreak, Gogoboys, and Royal Pilots.
Others will play under the theme "Alive."
Up first is Galaxy Express on March 23. Formed in 2006, the band is well-known here for its no-holds-barred performances that feature nifty, driving guitar work. They have garnered international attention as well, twice playing at the South by Southwest festival in Texas.
The March 29 performance of Yamagata Tweakster is worth marking on the calendar. He's known for his infectious disco-funk, but perhaps more so for his onstage antics: he's been known to cook instant noodles onstage or abruptly walk outside and perform on the street.
Smacksoft, a band with a penchant for avant-garde led by indie stalwart Whang Bo-ryung will also play on March 29. The music ranges from ambient to electro-synth, and Whang's husky voice reminds of Cat Power.
The lineup is rounded out by dozens of other acts and events. With this kind of variety it'll be increasingly difficult to pigeonhole Korean music as beginning and ending with K-pop.
For information visit facebook.com/Hongdaefest. Tickets are available at ticket.interpark.com.