Korean rock groups shake up the status quo

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

South Korea’s meticulous and sophisticated pop music is its biggest cultural export, having found its place not only in the international music charts, but also in Olympic sporting events, political delegations and, as of yesterday, football. The dominance of K-pop makes it hard to imagine that a genre like rock, which eschews the flowing beats and smoother idol groups of K-pop for something more raw and wild, could ever flourish. 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 first 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 scattered across South Korea – where the soldiers who decided to stay in the country lived – were transformed into performance spaces. for local bands and artists, organize auditions every six months for their local clubs and offer regular concerts to musicians. Influenced by the tunes of American jazz and psychedelic rock he had heard on the radio, Shin Joong-hyun, 19, auditioned in hopes of finding a regular job; early enough, however, it was occurring 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 resulted in an increase in the number of “band musicians” performing in front of the band. the public. When the regime of former President Park Chung-hee cracked 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, leading to a resurgence of rock. Bands like Crying Nut and No Brain did indeed introduce Korea to punk rock, but by then pop was already fast becoming the defining sound of the country, and rock moved to independent stages, clubs, bars and buskers. There were enough bands in the mainstream media to keep the genre alive, but the most exciting things have happened in the independent and underground spheres, with bands like Rux, Skasucks, and Sanulrim. Today, the genre is experiencing a creative revival – and the bands below, which started out as products of the movement, are now poised to be the pioneers of the rock renaissance in South Korea.

HYUKOH

Seeing a quintessential indie band like Hyukoh topping the charts in the refined and meticulously planned arena of the Korean music industry is unprecedented, but Hyukoh – who appeared on Dazed 100 this year – surprises you with all it takes. do. Maybe it’s their rough, simple sound that comes through in guitar riffs and catchy solos, maybe it’s frontman Oh Hyuk’s deep, rough vocals blending into the music, or maybe being that’s how the band treats stardom, but Hyukoh is a breath of fresh air. The group has become the face of a generation crumbling under societal and personal expectations, referencing South Korea’s strict academic structures, shattered job market, and alarming suicide rates in their lyrics.

Hyukoh’s categorical refusal to bow to the perfectionist mindset of the Korean music industry is what sets them apart and ultimately puts them on the Billboard World Albums Chart. In July 2015, they became the first act to sign with HIGHGRND, a subsidiary of the very influential YG Entertainment. Despite their association with a ‘Big 3’ label, the band has no plans to change. “At the end of the day, when it comes to music, if you can’t show that you’re capable of bringing something more to the table, you become stale,” guitarist Hyun-jae said in an interview. with Sense.

THE ROSE

It’s been less than a year since The Rose officially debuted with “Sorry,” but longtime fans of the group will recognize them for their years on Korea’s vibrant street scene. Vocalist Dojoon and bassist Jaehyeong met while they were taking the streets in bustling Hongdae, initially planning to perform as a duo before forming the band Windfall with a third member, Hajoon, and eventually becoming the quartet The Rose when their current frontman and singer Woosung joined the group. While The Rose has a distinctly pop rock sound, their lyrics are too introspective to pair with heartwarming guitars and light drums – they’re about loneliness, unsatisfying relationships, and debilitating guilt, and they make it work.

NELL

It’s impossible to talk about the independent Korean rock scene without mentioning Nell. After citing 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 to thank singer Kim Jong-wan 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-friendly direction as similar acts of the time. Over the years, their dark, depressive writing, coupled with their psychedelic roots, has become their hallmark – as well as the reason they’re 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 the Billboardbest South Korean artists in 2014.

MORE WET

The wettest are young, both literally and figuratively. They made their debut in November 2016 with the single “Who” and followed it 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 that loops simple guitar sounds and backed by calm drums, the track from the album “ 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 express their feelings: “Buddy, you should get rid of my soul / my body, my music / my tax, my love / just fuck yourself.” “

JULIA’S DREAM

It’s not just Julia Dream’s name that makes reference to 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 singer Joon-hyung’s voice hums in the background, before bleeding into three more parts, each alternating between voice, guitar, and the distortion that turns these sounds into a looping electric residue. The group consciously marks their identity on every song they produce while recognizing their own inspirations: “The fans out there (in America) have a very good understanding of the artists who have influenced other musicians,” the frontman said. Joon-hyung. MAKE Indie. “Other than other musicians, most people in Korea 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 distinctive Korean character: not all you have to do about your playing skills, but don’t like it if you seem to rip off another group.

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