Hot on the heels of SXSW’s K-pop Night Out came Seoulsonic. This show did not have the same magnetic attraction for a huge audience as headliners Crayon Pop and Epik High had at K-pop Night Out with their collectively massive international fandom, but that didn’t affect the performances at all as these artists were just as energetic, and the crowd was just as excited, if not more, for this lineup.
While that claim may seem odd, think of the fact that the majority of these acts were plucked straight from the Korean indie music scene. With the exception of legendary rock band and headliner of the night’s showcase YB, all of the artists remain under the radar to many international K-entertainment fans, particularly the new ones, who remain in a Hallyu bubble replete with K-pop, dramas and little else.
That’s not to say that such interests are bad or anything of the sort, as it would behoove me to do so since I myself love such things. Rather, these remain the focus of Hallyu and, thus, are more easily accessible to international fans. On the flip side, the fans at Seoulsonic — fans of indie music — typically have no choice other than persistence to get their hands on the content of these artists. We in the K-pop fandom complain about the lack of access to fan signs, no membership to fan clubs, et al, while those who adore artists such as HEO just want to see them in concert or find lyric translations, the difficulty of which I’m sure our K-pop Indie Gem team can attest. Thankfully, SXSW is changing that by shining the spotlight on these artists.
The showcase opened with From the Airport and their take on electro-rock. This duo, whom we interviewed a couple of months ago, set the mood with their upbeat, airy music, drawing frequent comparisons to Two Door Cinema Club. While the audience was a bit calm for their set, they were obviously into the music with plenty of cheering and head-bobbing to From the Airport’s driving guitar riffs and winding synth hooks. The duo too was clearly lost in their own songs, Milo closing his eyes and strumming his guitar with zeal and Zee lost in a flurry of headbanging behind his keys and mixing set-up with such enthusiasm that it even resulted in his laptop tumbling to the stage — no damage to it thankfully.
While their debut of a live performance of “Hit My Cash,” specially planned for SXSW, was awesome, I have to say that it was “Flying Walls” that was absolutely wonderful. Even though I’d previously heard the track, it just didn’t compare to all the energy of a live rendition. The steady beat, the pulsing guitar, the verses of staccato vocals, just everything seemed to hit harder.
But it was The Solutions who stole the night with their music that is a perfect blend of alternative rock, Japanese pop of the ’90s and aughts and a smidge of punk. It only took a few minutes for the audience to get sucked into the dynamic charisma of the band, whom we’ve mentioned on K-pop Indie Gem, so that the crowd was jumping around with them through their performance of “Jungle in Your Mind.”
Their set was so great that I honestly had a lot of trouble deciding on a favorite, but I ended up deciding the highlight was toward the end with “Otherside.” The audience jumped, clapped and screamed, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven!” Everyone was hooked, and before the end of the night, by the end of the next band’s set actually, The Solutions had already sold out every copy of both of the albums had available at the merchandise stand in the back of the venue.
HEO switched gears with their mesmerizing electro-rock sound. Unlike From the Airport, who favor a lighter pop influence, HEO revels in detailed synth and electronica with layered compositions that are easy to get lost in. My favorite performance of their set was undoubtedly “Word of Silence,” which brought in bassist Kim Bo-young’s vocals in addition to those of HEO, lead guitarist, composer, producer and vocalist after whom the band is named. The mix of male and female vocals works so well here, especially with the change in tempo that is pure rubato in its atmospheric expressiveness and energy.
Acoustic guitarist Big Phony, also mentioned previously on our Indie Gem segment, slowed things down with his “sad music,” as he described it. Definitely the most recognized artist, Big Phony’s set sadly suffered from some technical issues through the beginning acoustic portion, which unfortunately detracted from his performances of such tracks as “I Love Lucy.”
Thankfully, the venue techs managed to get things settled for the second half when he brought VOVO and Hyoonga (of punk band No Brain) and Howon (of electro-rock band TV Yellow) on stage with him for the electronic portion of his performance. While the crowd liked Big Phony’s acoustic music, I found his electronic music engaged them better, and I really enjoyed hearing all the music he performed off Long Live the Lie live.
Bringing the energy back up was the resurrection of ’80s hair metal through band Victim Mentality. Complete with teased hair, tight animal print outfits and even underwear on their microphone stands, the members of Victim Mentality definitely embody the era of their music, which visually is enough for a great show. Throw in the fact that they have so much — almost too much — fun putting on a show and have the technical prowess to back it up, and it’s no surprise that the audience loved them.
Lead vocalist Krocodile waved a light saber around and hit high notes like there was no tomorrow, and guitarist Kyungho Sohn basked in the spotlight tongue out during each of his solos. The band laughed and joked with one another and the audience, even bringing their manager on stage to accuse him of not allowing them to have enough sex — ’cause rockstars have to get some nightly. They definitely entertained the audience throughout their entire set with the audience most energized during their last two songs “Don’t Spit on Me” and “Heavy Metal Is Back.”
Rounding out the night was YB, who brought the crowd to a high only they could manage. They were not only energetic but also incredibly deft in their performance — their experience definitely showed. Frontman Yoon Do-hyun seemed subdued at first, hands in his pockets during the first song, but it didn’t take long before he was laughing, shouting, jumping and obviously enjoying himself on stage. The rest of the band matched his enthusiasm with plenty of interaction with the audience, going hard with every note.
Their performance was nothing short of amazing, and I was blown away by them. While I was aware of the band’s extensive history, nothing could have prepared me for seeing them live. I wasn’t the only one that enjoyed their set, as many in the audience were screaming, chanting and doing their utmost to take pictures on their phones despite the poor lighting of the venue.
Overall, Seoulsonic was a great follow-up to K-pop Night Out but this time putting Korea’s indie scene on full display. With great energy from both the bands and the crowd and fantastic music from beginning to end, it was definitely an experience I’d love to repeat over and over again.
Highlights from K-pop Night Out:
Highlights from Seoulsonic:
Check out our Tumblr for more pictures from both K-pop Night Out and Seoulsonic.