Seoulbeats‘ series K-pop Indie Gem is celebrating its 100th post. From its humble beginnings introducing K-hip hop legend The Quiett back in 2010 to fans of mainstream K-pop, the series has showcased a diverse number of Korean independent musicians in the hopes of sharing the music of Korea’s talented indie artists.
To celebrate 100 posts of Korea’s indie artists, our team of indie music lovers reminisce about their favorite indie music, K-pop Indie Gem posts, and interactions with Korean indie artists.
Camiele: The thing that’s always so brilliant about indie music, especially in Korea, is that the genre by its very nature allows artists to do what they want. It’s an expansive home for any genre and for some true artistry. The artists and albums that have actually appealed to me the most all come from very different genres or interpretations of genres.
Just recently I listened to 22 by Hyukoh. One of the songs on the album, “Mer,” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in the last five years. On the other hand and on a completely different end of the spectrum, punk band DIEALRIGHT‘s first EP is so ferocious and so powerful I got reacquainted with punk music. Of course, I’ve already sung my praises for hip-hop duo ILLAP and their self-titled debut, and folk rock bands like small-o and Hanumpa.
I’ll admit that I knew almost nothing about Korean music when I first joined SB, but being here has introduced me to some of my favorite artists period. I have a particular soft spot for artists Sima Kim and Big Phony, who had unquestionably one of the most beautiful albums last year with his self-titled album Bobby. Those two artists in particular formed a bond in my heart because they’re so open and, dare I say, human. They interact with people.
That’s another aspect that you won’t get from big companies: that personal touch with the people who listen to their music. These artists are on their own much of the time. Bobby, for instance, was still making music from his bathroom up until very recently. These artists never lose their sense of being just as anybody else, but they had the balls to actually go after their dream, no matter what they may have had and continue to sacrifice. This allows people to get to know them not only through their music, but even on social media–even if it is from a distance.
I recently got to help transcribe interviews with The Barberettes, From the Airport, and Eastern Side Kick. They’re so passionate about what they do, so hungry, and love the musical freedom they have so much you feel it in their music and the way they interact with you. There’s no pretense. It’s just people talking about their passion and sharing it with the world. That’s what I love about this genre known as “indie”: the passion the artists express completely inhabits the air around them until the atmosphere is thick with this energy that’s just waiting to burst as soon as they start to perform. It’s exhilarating!
Miyoko: The first K-indie artist I listened to — and promptly fell in love with — was Guckkasten. It happened when I was still “discovering” K-pop, so everything from that time is a blurry haze and I don’t even remember how I found them, but I do remember listening to “Mirror” and being really excited.
I actually didn’t listen to much pop music before K-pop, and tended much more toward rock/punk, so it was nice to hear something fresh in a genre I was more familiar with. Guckkasten started me exploring both Korean indie and hip-hop music, though I do have to credit K-pop with opening that door, so to speak.
There are so many bands that stand out in my mind, which definitely shows how vibrant the indie music scene is in Korea. However, the two that pop into my head immediately are LOVE X STEREO and Jambinai. I had so much fun writing both of their indie gems. LOVE X STEREO started me on my electronic music kick, and I’ve luckily gotten to see them live twice. They are amazing not only in performance, but also in how they pay such careful attention to their set-up because the electronics are such a vital part of their music; truly an integration of sounds. Jambinai stands out because I’ve honestly never heard anyone like them, from anywhere, before or after writing that indie gem.
A favorite indie gem moment of mine was the year-end review from 2014, because all of our picks were different. All are great bands/artists, and they really showcase a diversity of talent.
Irteqa: For me, K-indie was a side endeavour while I got really immersed in K-pop. I was just so fascinated by the bright and sometimes generic melodies of K-pop that I wasn’t quite in the mood for breaking my chain of I-absolutely-need-to-find-out-who-this-idol-group-is by getting engrossed in the more serene, slow-paced, and subdued world of K-indie. I am now convinced that I was wrong at that time and that K-indie is to K-pop what the shore is to the sea, two separate bodies with strengths that should be acknowledged as individual and unique in their own right.
I actually fully began my journey with K-indie by accident, a K-drama OST or K-pop collaboration led me to the softer and carefree side of Korean music and in a succession introduced me to Aquibird, Epitone Project, and then to Lucia. As soon as my ears heard the feathery and crystalline melody of Lady Jane’s voice, I found myself in yet another never-ending labyrinth.
What happened next was that I never truly stuck to that one group and took the time to explore anyone whose vocal color matched or was related to Aquibird. Then I heard “Sakura Moment” by Lucia with Epitone project, which plunged me further into the fluid beauty of K-indie. Lucia’s vocals are especially stunning in “That Season” and accentuate the heartbreakingly delicate MV. I look forward to writing an Indie Gem on her visionary music!
Like Miyoko, my favourite Indie Gem moment was 2014’s year end review simply because I was excitingly overwhelmed by all of the different K-indie artists and groups that were analyzed. I got engrossed in music so diverse and wanted more, so much that I still look back to that review for reference!
Johnelle: Being the dinosaur around Seoulbeats in more ways than one, I was actually already with the site when the segment was begun by one of our writers. Back then I was strictly into K-pop, but as my interest grew in Korean entertainment I started to get more interested in other areas–different genres of K-dramas, more K-varieties and definitely a wider range of Korean music.
Through the series I discovered and became a fan of the likes of Standing Egg, Mate and Nell. The great thing about Nell is that their songs are so relatable to life–they always tell a story. The song “Run” that they contributed to the OST for the K-drama Two Weeks was so poignant that every time I hear it, it brings back such vivid memories of the drama for me. Nell’s MVs are also almost always as great as their songs–my faves were the MVs for “The Day Before,” “Ocean of Light,” “Four Times Around the Sun.”
One of my favorite memories of K-pop Indie Gem was in discovering the music of Tearliner. I had been writing an article about the OST for the K-drama SungKyunKwan Scandal and had mentioned that my favorite music from the drama was an instrumental piece that wasn’t included in the OST. One of our readers pointed out to me that the song was called “Nabilera” written by an indie musician named Tearliner.
I had to learn more about him and found out that he was considered one of the pioneers in bringing Korean indie music to the masses through the resounding success of his work coordinating the OST of the K-drama The 1st Shop of the Coffeee Prince. Of course I had to write more about Tearliner and ended up doing a K-pop Indie Gem on him back in March of 2013. The icing on the cake though, was that Tearliner himself saw the article, retweeted the tweet about the gem, and sent us a note thanking us for writing about him and that it ‘motivated’ him.
The payoff for all the work done on a site like Seoulbeats has always been the opportunity to share your voice with others about a topic that you love. It’s an added bonus when readers and the artists themselves appreciate your efforts which many indie artists that we have featured or interviewed have. The K-pop Indie Gem segment was begun to share our writers’ love of Korean indie music with our readers and we hope that through this series some of you have been able to find some new favorite artists that are not mainstream, but no less deserving of the spotlight. Here’s to a hundred more posts of K-pop Indie Gem love!