Another Korean fall and I found myself back in Hongdae, experiencing the Zandari Festa for the second year in a row. The Zandari Festa has undergone several changes since my foray into the many basements of Hongdae last year at the 2015 Festa. This year, the Zandari Festa not only relocated a few blocks further East in Hongdae, it also focused much more heavily on international music. This year’s Festa brought in artists from numerous different countries, and even hosted both a Brit and French night. It was a truly international affair.
The theme of the Festa this year was respect — a sentiment that was only enhanced with the multiple languages, nationalities, genres and fans that converged on Hongdae over the weekend of September 30th. Everyone was meeting with a common goal: to share their music and also discover new artists. The Festa — like last year — was loaded with 163 acts from all over the world. While that is a smaller number than last year, the Festa took place over a holiday weekend and, in turn, there were more opportunities to see as much as possible over the course of three days.
Taking the stage over the weekend were some of our Indie Gem favorites here at Seoulbeats: Wasted Johnny’s, Asian Chairshot, … Whatever that Means, Room306, Victim Mentality, Telefly, Diealright, Love X Stereo, Crying Nut, PATiENTS, and many more. Really, if you’ve ever wanted to explore what the South Korean indie scene has to offer, then you needn’t look any further than the Zandari Festa. In one weekend, they managed to pack in so much of what makes the scene great; all the diverse genres, venues, and cultures that make up the independent scene not only in Hongdae but also around the world.
With so many groups participating in venues all across Hongdae, narrowing down which sets you’ll watch can be a daunting task. So this year, I went into the festival with the goal to see groups I haven’t seen before. I’m fortunate enough to experience the Hongdae music scene quite often; but, with the power of an all-access wrist band, I wanted to take the opportunity to make some new discoveries. And I definitely wasn’t disappointed with what I found.
Keeping with the goal of new experiences, the first show I made it to was located in the MUV Lounge — a venue I’ve never visited before. Like most of its peers, it’s a basement venue. What sets MUV lounge apart is its high ceilings, ample floor space, and BYOB policy — which I am always a fan of.
Hailing from Daejeon, South Korea, Burninghepburn took the stage early Saturday evening with their take on Ska Punk. As soon as the sound check began, fans started to trickle in. Being mainly active in Daejeon, Burninghepburn pulled in a surprising crowd of hard-core fans: some who traveled to Seoul from Daejeon, others who were excited to see the group live on their home turf. As soon as the set kicked off, it became widely apparent why their fanbase was made up of mostly teenage boys: their songs, and stylings, all speak to the memories of youth.
Burninghepburn have risen to become one of the most well known, and enjoyed, ska bands in the Korean Indie scene, and I was excited to finally see them live and to be part of the atmosphere I’ve heard such wonderful things about. Tracks like “Life Goes On” and “Let Me Home” had a way of speaking to the uneasiness of youth, while also offering hope. Throughout their set, fans were skanking, shouting, and singing along. It was a big, welcoming party, and the perfect way to kick off a weekend of live music.
Moving away from MUV Lounge, my next stop was one of my favorite venues, Club Freebird. I’d never heard of Tirikilatops before I stumbled down the stairs into the venue, and nothing could have prepared me for what I walked into. Eccentric would be a euphemism to describe the musical and visual stylings of the troupe — made up of vocalists Bom Carrot and Spider Bodreong, as well as performer, Grassface Wilson. The members were dressed in neon green body suits, tiki masks and other ornamentation I can’t quite describe, while electro beats blasted around them and Bom Carrot attempted to lead the audience in some sort of dance routine.
Forming as an artistic “cross cultural collaboration” between South Korea and the United Kingdom, Tirikilatops label themselves as “Avante Garde K-pop.” Their routine message of “don’t take us seriously” is pretty easily done, but that’s half the performance. It seemed, watching them navigate their way through tales of “Spy Dolphins,” “Wasabi Nuts,” and “Snail Parties,” that they weren’t just asking us to not take them seriously, but to not take ourselves too seriously either.
Throughout their trippy electro set, they danced, waved signs on sticks, and engaged the audience. Not going to lie, half the time I was asking myself what the hell I was watching, but that didn’t make it any less fun. Because, seemingly, that’s their only agenda. They want their performances to be goofy, they want to dress up, toss balloons, and play all while blending the musical influences of their two countries. There was artistry behind their performance that I respect, and there was also a playfulness that I don’t think could ever be replicated so genuinely.
Diealright have been on my radar since we profiled them here at Seoulbeats. Excitingly, they were playing a show at the first non-basement venue I’ve visited in Hongdae, Club Steelface. Owned and operated by PATiENT’s vocalist Sumin Jo, the venue is a recent addition to his rooftop lounge, Steel Face Rooftop. Formerly a bar, the venue is tiny and only offers standing floor space that is also shared with the performing band. It felt a lot like a house party — only with a fully stocked bar.
The tight space, and lack of seating wasn’t an issue though, because lead singer Chae Sung-hwa was simply mesmerizing as she rasped out her vocals and strutted around the audience. I’ve never been a huge fan of distorted vocals — especially at a live show — but Chae Sung-hwa has a way of making it work. She growled, moaned, and rasped into the microphone and I couldn’t help but be pulled into her apathetic gaze.
As Camiele discussed in her Indie Gem profile, there is something so spectacular about the way the Diealright bring rock n roll, sex, and grit into not only their melodies, but also their performances. Their take on garage punk is raw, intimidating and filled with tension — but that unique blend of discomfort and fascination was what kept me drawn in the entire set.
Following Diealright was …Whatever that Means, another cross-cultural band brought together by couple Trash Yang Moses and Jeff Moses, who play guitar and base, respectively in the four-member group. … Whatever That Means is the kind of punk band you stumble across every once in a while that genuinely just love making music together. They exchange banter between tracks, make faces at one another while playing, and rock hard. Trash and Jeff and alternated the majority of the vocals while guitarist Bialy offered occasional support. Every member had their moment to rock out, and major props are in order for drummer, Pyodon who learned all of the band’s tracks in the two weeks leading up to the Festa.
It’s pretty clear where their influences draw from, and they manage to pay homage while also forging their own musical path. They hit on personal subjects in tracks like “Asian Prodigy” and “Punk Rock Tourist” while also promoting an aura of fun and acceptance. Doesn’t get much more punk rock than that.
More impressive than their performance, is the band’s continued dedication to spreading South Korean punk music. They’ve founded their own label, World Domination, Inc, which released Us and Them: Korea’s Punks at Club Spot a compilation album that samples some of Korea’s punk scene. They’ve also toured the US and plan to do so again soon.
I began my Sunday afternoon back at MUV Lounge, where I made perhaps my favorite discovery of the festa: Japanese jazz funk group, Natural Killers. I’ll admit, aside from a casual appreciation for Miles Davis and Kenny G‘s breathing technique, I’m not much of a jazz aficionado. In the beginning, nothing particularly drew me to the show other than the fact that it was a rainy Sunday and jazz seemed like an appropriate course of action. Going in with no expectations made it all the more great when the group blew me away.
Natural Killers is made up of five members: Motose Chanoki (keyboard), Junki Kaseya (guitar), Kazuki Zaima A. (saxophone), Tetsuya Matsukawa (bass), and Kioaki Suzuki (drums). What impressed me most about their set was the way the five members, and their five respective instruments played so well off of one another. Guitarist Junki Kaseya brought in some solid rock guitar solos that would make Prince proud, while Kazuki Zaima A. was able to riff away on the sax for minutes on end. All the while, Motose Chonoke chanted encouragements over her keyboard, and drummer Kioaki Suzuki kept the rhythm steady. Each track built and built until you didn’t think it could get anymore energized, and then they’d still find a way to one up themselves — be it with a guitar solo out of left field or a funky keyboard breakdown.
Given that there were little to no vocals, I don’t know how much of their performance was improvised and how much was rehearsed, and honestly I’d rather not know. There was such a natural synergy on stage, a flow of the music from one genre to another that was engaging and captivating in a way that only musicians who are genuinely having a great time are able to create.
It’s a shame that the group doesn’t have much of a YouTube presence, making it hard to re-live and share their music. On the bright side for me, Natural Killers are active in both Japan and South Korea, and I’m going to make it a point to see them again.
Riding the high of my Natural Killers experience, I moved over to Club Ta to catch Telefly. The three member group has built themselves quite a domestic and international fanbase with their nostalgic and hypnotic melodies. Given their take on psychedelic rock, the basement of Club Ta was a perfect fit for their early evening set, with its dim lighting and staged seating area in the back.
What I appreciate most about Telefly is the way that they take very recognizable elements of psychedelic and blues rock and infuse them with their own East Asian and Korean influences. They keep the vocals distant, and allow for the instrumentation to lead you through the track. Telefly is also only a three piece band, and yet their tracks feel full, the instrumentation diverse.
Nothing about their set ever felt too heavy, from Kim In-hoo‘s guitar and vocals to Oh Hyung-suk‘s drums. The music was smooth and ambient, lulling and calming in every way. As such, the energy wasn’t the highest during the set, but it didn’t feel entirely inappropriate either. Audience interaction was also minimal, the members focusing more on being pulled into their own music. It was nice to experience the band live, but overall I think Telefly are one of those rare groups who have a better energy when you’re just listening, and not standing watching.
Unfortunately, my schedule didn’t leave room for me to experience the Festa on Monday, but I sorely wish I had. The 2016 Zandari Festa managed to bring in so many diverse genres, venues and bands, and I was truly impressed with the line-up this year — even if I only saw a small portion of it. While the Brit and French nights don’t necessarily apply to the music we cover on this site, they also were filled with great music and gave everyone participating in the Festa a chance to come together after all the music they’d made and listened to that day.
Despite the rain, and all the walking, the Zandari Festa 2016 boasted a great atmosphere. Compared to last year, it seemed the artists and bands this year were much more interactive, and much more welcoming to one another. It really did feel like a huge community made up of musicians, delegates and fans who were all out to have a good time. The international angle of the Festa certainly played a part in promoting the theme of respect, reminding everyone participating that music is able to connect despite linguistic and cultural barriers.
So, thank you Zandari Festa for another wonderful weekend in Hongdae. To the readers, I highly encourage you to check out the full line-up and make a few musical discoveries of your own.