Korean rock bands are shaking up the status quo

While the country is best known for its clean, meticulous pop, these bands are leading a renaissance of rawer music. guitar music

South Korea’s meticulous and sophisticated pop music is its greatest cultural export, having found its way not only to international music charts, but also to Olympic sporting events, political delegations, and since yesterday, Soccer. The dominance of K-pop makes it hard to imagine that a genre like rock, which eschews the slick beats and slicker idol groups of K-pop for something more raw and wild , could ever thrive in the country’s music industry.

In fact, long before the birth of modern K-pop in the early 1990s, one of South Korea’s earliest musical revolutions was led by guitarist and singer-songwriter Shin Joong-hyun. After the armistice that unofficially ended the Korean War in 1953, the many US military bases dotted across South Korea – which housed soldiers who had decided to stay in the country – turned into performance spaces for local bands and artists, holding auditions every six months for their local clubs and offering regular concerts for musicians. Influenced by American jazz and psychedelic rock tunes he’d heard on the radio, 19-year-old Shin Joong-hyun auditioned in hopes of finding steady work. soon enough, however, he was performing up to 40 times a month. Shin is often referred to as South Korea’s “godfather of rock”, and in 1962 he formed the country’s first rock band, Add4, which led to an increase in the number of “band musicians” performing in front of audiences. . When former President Park Chung-hee’s regime crack down on musicians across the country, Shin was one of the first to be censored and blacklisted.

When South Korea finally opened its borders to the world in the mid-1980s, there were almost 40 years of music to catch up on, leading to a resurgence in rock. Bands like Crying Nut and No Brain effectively introduced Korea to punk rock, but by this time pop was already on its way to becoming the country’s defining sound, and rock moved to indie scenes, clubs , bars and buskers. There were enough bands in the mainstream media to keep the genre alive, but the most exciting things were happening in the indie and underground spheres, with bands like Rux, Skasucks and Sanulrim. Today, the genre is enjoying a creative revival – and the artists below, who started out as products of the movement, are now on their way to pioneering the South Korean rock renaissance.


Seeing a quintessential indie band like Hyukoh top the charts in the polished and meticulously planned arena of the Korean music industry is unparalleled, but Hyukoh – who appeared on this year’s Dazed 100 – will surprise you with everything they do. Maybe it’s their rough, simple sound that comes through in the guitar riffs and catchy solos, maybe it’s leader Oh Hyuk’s deep, throaty voice that blends into the music, or maybe it’s being that’s how the group deals with fame, but Hyukoh is a breath of fresh air. The group has become the face of a generation collapsing under societal and personal expectations, referencing South Korea’s strict academic structures, broken job market and alarming suicide rates in their lyrics.

Hyukoh’s adamant refusal to pander to the perfectionist mindset of the Korean music industry is what set them apart and ultimately landed them on the Billboard World Albums Chart. In July 2015, they became the first act to sign with HIGHGRND, a subsidiary of the highly influential YG Entertainment. Despite their association with a “Big 3” label, the group has no intention of changing. “At the end of the day, when it comes to music, if you can’t show that you’re capable of contributing something more, you become obsolete,” guitarist Hyun-jae said in an interview with sense.


It’s been less than a year since The Rose officially debuted with “Sorry”, but longtime fans of the band will recognize them for their years on Korea’s bustling street scene. Vocalist Dojoon and bassist Jaehyeong met while strolling through bustling Hongdae, initially planning to play as a duo before forming band Windfall with a third member, Hajoon, and eventually becoming the quartet. The Rose when their current leader and vocalist Woosung joined the band. . Although The Rose has a distinctly pop rock sound, their lyrics are too introspective to be paired with uplifting guitars and light drums – they’re about loneliness, unfulfilling relationships and debilitating guilt, and they make it work.


It’s impossible to talk about the Korean indie rock scene without mentioning Nell. Having cited Radiohead as an influence and collaborating with rap stars like G-Dragon and Epik High, critics have credited Nell as one of the most important architects of the rock genre in the country. For the most part, you have lead singer Kim Jong-wan to thank for that – he writes, produces, and composes almost all of the band’s songs. Nell’s success, however, was unprecedented in more ways than one, mainly because the band never went in the same pop direction as similar bands of the time. Over the years, their depressive and dark songwriting, coupled with their psychedelic roots, has become their trademark – as well as the reason why they are still considered a niche proposition. Their music helped usher in a new creative era for rock in South Korea and helped put the genre on the international map when they became one of Billboard‘s best South Korean acts of 2014.


The wettest are young, both figuratively and literally. They debuted in November 2016 with the single “Who” and followed up with their debut album. Romance in a strange world some months later. These two records established Wetter as a band open to interpretation and experimentation – while “Who” is an upbeat track looping simple guitar sounds and backed by calm drums, the album track ” Lucy” is darker, slower and more complex. Wetter uses his music to express his anger and indifference, but doesn’t take himself too seriously. In “Who”, for example, they simply put their feelings: “Buddy, you should let go of my soul/my body, my music/my taxes, my love/fuck you.”


It’s not just Julia Dream’s name that refers pink floyd – listen to their single “Lay It Down On Me” and you can easily hear the band’s influences. The track is divided into four parts: the first sees a haunting, disembodied voice asking “Do you want to sleep?” while vocalist Joon-hyung’s voice sings in the background, before bleeding into three more parts, each alternating between vocals, guitar and distortion that turns those sounds into a looping electrical residue. The group consciously affixes its identity to every song it produces while acknowledging its own inspirations: “The fans there (in America) have a very good idea of ​​the artists who have influenced other musicians,” said leader Joon. -hyung. DO Indie. “Apart from other musicians, most Koreans don’t know much about this stuff.”

In the same interview, Joon-hyung talks about the need for Korean music to diversify while retaining its Korean specificity: “Koreans tend to think it’s okay to just do reinterpretations of music that influences them, that in America they’re I don’t really care about your playing skills, but don’t like it to feel like you’re ripping off another band.

About Joan J. Hernandez

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