Eastern Sidekick has already been well established in the Korean music industry, the band winning rookie awards in 2011, being featured at several renowned Korean music festivals as well as a recent stint at this year’s SXSW, and even being featured as the background music for commercials.
These five musicians (Go Han-kyul on lead guitar, Ryu In-hyuk on rhythm guitar, Bae Saeng-hwan on bass, Ko Myung-chul on drums, Oh Joo-hwan on vocals) from Hongdae came together with one goal: to rock. As part of label Fluxus Music’s roster, they join the ranks with some of the most well-respected groups in the industry, including Urban Zakapa and Clazziquai Project. However, their sound couldn’t be more disparate from their labelmates, being unapologetically hard hitting and full of radiant energy.
Identifiable as garage punk, the band’s sound is guttural, hard. It’s music that takes you back to simpler times yet has a sophistication about it that speaks to a well-traveled journey into something fantastic. Their first EP, 2010’s The City of Black and White, was made of the sort of raw stuff that reaches into your gut and yanks. It’s a powerful piece of punk that’s both unbridled and oddly calming on the nerves. The reminiscent whispers to bands like The Ramones and the Foo Fighters is evident in the curve and twist of the guitar and the brashness of the drums. The vocal is open and alive, vocalist Joo-hwan expressing a sort of gritty desire to break free from the body.
Once the music is actually let loose on an audience, it explodes and doesn’t stop buzzing until the last note dribbles from the amps. The title track chugs and charges into the listener’s ears, creating a melodic heartbeat that pervades the entire album from the first note. The Eastern Sidekick sound is full-formed and unleashed, debuting the band fearlessly and with a challenge in their hearts. It was a bold statement, one that would follow in their subsequent releases.
Their first full-length studio album, aptly titled The First, opens with a more melodic air, a softer tone to soothe the crack and snarl of Joo-hwan’s vocal. No one would accuse the band of losing its edge. However, there’s a finer polish that comes with experience, and The First displays that in a way that not only intends to embrace the audience, but invites them over for a drink to talk about their day. It’s welcoming but honest and unpretentious. Certainly after the year they had in 2011 they could’ve given fans of their sound a watered-down version of themselves.
But they took the space a full-length album affords and decided to expand on a sound that can become one dimensional if the artist refuses to grow. Eastern Sidekick is ever in a state of evolution–the sound fuller bodied and bolder. There’s certainly nothing shy or delicate about the music. Single “Fight for Rainbow” is testament to that. It’s the same sort of thrushing punk rock that saw their debut EP and by extension the band become so successful.
The magic of the lead and rhythm guitars (compliments of the prowess of Han-kyul and In-hyuk, respectively) married with the throbbing bottom of Saeng-hwan’s bass and the wildly beating heart of founding member Myung-chul’s drum is enough to spark an unending love for the band.
The music is so intensely open. There’s a tender honesty here that speaks to the earliest days of punk rock, when it genuinely was just kids in a garage who needed to get away from parents, school, and society and scream for a few hours. You feel that energy crackling around the edges of the Eastern Sidekick sound. There isn’t anything petty about this brand of punk, being at once nuanced with the tight slides up and down the guitar and the rounded structure of band and vocal, and good old-fashioned punk at its very core.
Instead of cowering from the challenge of producing an album of eleven tracks, Eastern Sidekick revelled in the freedom all that space and time afforded them. The songs are still full of the snarl and pop of their debut, but there’s so much grandness here. It’s like they were kids in the proverbial candy store, snatching any and everything they could get their hands on and mixing it together in a sugar rush of color and sound. Track “Mustang” hits a high that crests and breaks over and over again, taking their punk far from the confines of the garage and letting it soak in the ever-rolling waves of the beaches of Busan.
Picking up where their debut full-length left off, 2013’s Hammer Lane gave fans more of that molded and matured sound. They’ve effectively left the carport. The sound is just too big, too explosive to be relegated to the confines of daddy’s garage. As with most punk kids, Eastern Sidekick has grown up and found that even the hardest punk can refine into something far beyond their wildest dreams. “Sloppy Night” goes for grandiose from the very first note, setting a very breath-heavy pace from the word go.
That being said, every once in a while they go back to the garage to pick up a few things they may have left behind. “Teeth and Sweat” is a peek into one of the boxes stored away in the back, finding a piece of punk brilliance that’s as exciting and gritty as anything they’ve ever conceived. The title is fitting: all bared teeth and hard sweat the likes of which rebellion are made.
Eastern Sidekick certainly deserves the accolades and recognition. They’re a group of men who’ve taken punk on a ride in a luxury car and allowed it to smash the damn thing from the inside. It’s glorious rock that’s neither soft nor coy. It’s brash, honest, loud punk that screams, cries, and accosts sound, bending it over a table and demanding it to hang on for dear life. All that grit and an unfettered beauty that comes with age and experience to perhaps put a little gloss on the genre, but never take it away from its roots.
They came onto the scene in 2010 demanding attention. It’s clear from the successes they’ve had everyone in the industry obeyed. With new music on the horizon, Eastern Sidekick is going to be a force in South Korean rock music for a mighty long time.