Another year, another journey to Hongdae to experience the best of what the Korean and international music scenes have to offer. For four days, the Zandari Festa dominates Hongdae venues every year, bringing with it some of the most iconic veterans of Korean punk and indie, and lots of new faces — all out to have a good time and share their music with an international audience of delegates and music lovers.
With 110 acts taking the stage from October 4 to 7, saying it was a tough task to choose who to see is an understatement. As such, I tried to sample the best of artists we’ve hyped here on Indie Gem, some of my known favorites, and a few new groups who caught my eye. Safe to say, I was not disappointed with the variety or quality of the performances this year. My only regret is not being able to see more sets. So without further ado, here are some artists you should be keeping an eye on. Be sure to check out the gallery at the end of the article!
Dabda, KT&G Samsangmadang Live Hall
Dabda were the four member Seoul-based band that kicked off my Zandari weekend at KT&G Samsangmadang Live Hall. Female fronted is decidedly not a genre of music, but it’s always exciting to see bands from all genres with females at the helm. This — combined with their self label of ‘Pastel Psychedelic’ — was part of the reason I chose to catch their show despite not having heard of them beforehand. Living up to their genre, everything about the set was pensive and tranquil.
Vocalist and guitarist Kim Jiea made great use of her pedals to set repeating guitar loops in the intro of the tracks that she and her other members then layered on to create a dream-like atmosphere. The resulting sound was soothing, but avoided being too repetitive thanks to some quirky bass and guitar solos from Bae Sangeon and Lee Joseph that added just the right amount of build to each track. Drummer Lee Seunghyun at one point lost a drumstick mid-track, and managed to continue to play with one stick and his hand for the remainder of the song, which was impressive to say the least. The instrumentation kept a fine balance of ease and tension, keeping things interesting but never chaotic.
Overall, the set was mellow, which was ideal for a 5:40pm show on a Saturday. They’re definitely a band I’ve come back to since Zandari when I need a good dose of mellow relaxation and poetic lyrics.
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, Club Steel Face
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir are young skater punks from Daegu who aren’t afraid to just play. Crammed in the tiny venue of Club Steel Face, they were friendly performers who seemed to feel quite at home with fans packed around them at floor level. While a clean set may be ideal for some, there’s something refreshing about watching a group perform so loosely. It was clear that they’re just out to rock, rant against the man, the police, and even McDonalds, all while having a good time together. Every member sang, every member danced — Seo Bondu even danced through the crowd with his guitar — and together they managed to take me back to the house punk shows I went to in college.
If you’re in the market for high energy garage punk with a hint of rebellion, then Drinking Boys and Girls Choir is definitely a group to keep your eye on as they expand their discography.
Laybricks, KT&G Samsangmadang Live Hall
I’ve been a fan of Laybricks for a while now, though I never managed to catch them live before this year’s Zandari Festa. When you’ve been such a fan of a group only through digital releases, seeing them live can either be a major moment, or a major let down. With Laybricks, thankfully, it was the former. I can’t think of many two-member groups that manage to bring this much energy and chemistry to a stage. Not only did they play off each other so well — never falling out of sync — but they both connected with the audience. Every beat, every note, was communicated so clearly, and the energy only built and built through every song. The tracks felt bigger, the instrumentation fuller, and that was a joy to experience.
Having toured extensively these past couple of years, it’s clear that the duo have mastered the art of stage presence. They were expressive, cheeky, and plain fun to watch; Seo Kwangmin jumped off the drum set after a guitar solo, and Yu Hyejin twirled her drumsticks so effortlessly and winked at key points in the lyrics. They managed to really fill the stage, which can be difficult even for a five member band to do. Laybricks stage at this year’s Zandari was definitely a stand-out, and I won’t hesitate to see them live in the future.
Se So Neon, KT&G Samsangmadang Live Hall
Se So Neon have had a break-out year of sorts in 2018. Lead guitarist Hwang So-yoon did the guitar work for Dean‘s “Instagram,” and collaborated with PREP and Monsta X‘s Shownu for “Don’t Look Back.” The group also appeared on Hyena on the Keyboard back in April. With all that buzz going into their stage, the venue was understandably packed, and even though I arrived early I was still stuck near the back for most of the set.
Se So Neon definitely live up to hype. Not only influenced by the fashion of the 70’s, Se So Neon also draw inspiration from the best musicians of that decade, like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin. What keeps them from being just another knock off 70’s band is that they manage to combine old school rock n’ roll with a twist of modern pop and jazz that is as soothing as it was invigorating to see live. Se So Neon are doing exciting things for the Korean indie scene, bringing older sounds of classic rock and combining them with more modern elements to make for a great set. Not to mention, the confidence of the members with their instruments be they bass, drums, keyboard or guitar, presented the sort of precision that is a token of great musicianship.
Burning Hepburn, KT&G Samsangmadang Live Hall
Representing Daejeon’s punk scene was Burning Hepburn, who have been active in Korean indie for over seventeen years. In that time, they’ve explored a variety of ska punk and rock genres, and managed to make something of an anthem of the track, “Life Goes On” — which of course was a signature point of their set. Having such a discography can make putting together a forty minute set a bit of challenge, but Burning Hepburn managed to hit all the right notes with their loyal fans in the audience — including myself. Having first seen them live in 2016, it was nice to see how they incorporated tracks from their latest album She is Seventeen like “4619,” into a set of now familiar classics.
As with every Burning Hepburn set, fans — and Insoo of Crying Nut — did everything from shout to dance, even mosh a bit in the audience, raising the energy through the entire set. In small venues, audiences can make or break a performance, and Burning Hepburn’s fans have a kind of contagious enthusiasm that almost had me attempt skanking on the sidelines. Almost.
Crying Nut, KT&G Samsangmadang Live Hall
It’s just not a Zandari Festa without a stage from Crying Nut. These trailblazers of the Korean punk scene have been playing Hongdae venues since the 90’s and still perform with as much genuine passion and eccentricity as ever. Of course, their stage at Zandari was complimented by a dedicated fanbase that skanked along to every classic, picked drunken fights with stage security, and bantered with the members in between songs. Because, hey, it’s punk rock and after the Burning Hepburn set, they were pretty fired up.
Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of Crying Nut, and I never miss an opportunity to see them live. What makes Crying Nut so special to watch is the variety of their set. They transition flawlessly from hard core punk, to ska, to pirate metal and everything in between. Each member has a moment to shine, and it’s obvious how much they still enjoy performing together. Of course, Kim In-soo did his signature microphone swallow, and Park Yoon-shik lead the audience through all the signature call and responses. Really, they’re always a joy to watch — and if you ever have a chance to see Crying Nut live: take it.
Did any of our readers make it to Zandari this year? Which acts caught your eye?