As attested by out recently published 100th post for our long-running K-pop Indie Gem segment, K-indie is an important part of Seoulbeats’ history, and a part our writers especially love. This time, K-indie fans Camiele and Irteqa are joined by Gaya to look at the acts that have stood out so far this year.
|Love X Stereo
|From The Airport
|From The Airport
Camiele: Obviously Hyukoh left an impact this year. What about the band’s album affected you ladies? For me, one word: “Mer.” That song did such a number on my soul. It’s literally the most magical song I’ve heard in the last five years. No exaggeration. In my review of 22 I wrote, “I saw stars when I listened to this song.” And that pretty much defines my overall feeling of that album and of the band.
Irteqa: Personally, I find there to be something supremely ethereal about Hyukoh’s vocal color. I can’t even put into words the degree to which I was emotionally moved after listening to “Ohio,” it is an absolutely beautiful composition drowning in long and glossy planes of cerulean, soft beats, and continuity.
Let me also say that 22 is a collection of songs descended straight from some heavenly sphere, with each song swathed in it’s own magnificent silks. “Gondry” appealed to me particularly because of its almost austere approach to enlivening sound; the limited instrumentals and emphasized focus on Oh Hyuk‘s vocals make way for an overarching melody that is powerfully potent. Hyukoh’s sound is soaked in nostalgia, euphony, and a sort of bronzed lethargy — I love it![youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3RAU0T2RC4]
Gaya: Hyukoh feels like a bit of an anomoly on my list; but like Irteqa, I could not deny the beauty of Oh Hyuk’s voice. It’s raspy, it’s sweet, it’s calm, it’s soulful… It’s just amazing to listen to, as it takes the listener on a journey through Hyukoh’s music. I absolutely adored “Gondry,” as well as the quietly sublime “Comes and Goes.” The lament of “Hooka,” however, is probably my favourite track from 22. Aside from the way Oh’s voice rasps during the chorus, the backing vocals and haunting guitar melody always draw me in.
Camiele: It’s true. There’s something subtly sublime about Oh Hyuk’s voice. It’s simple, yet there’s a soul there that speaks to something deep, something magical, even. It’s very rare that something that ethereal manages to sneak into music (Korean or otherwise). We were blessed to experience it with 22.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got the piss and vinegar of DIEALRIGHT! Punk in its absolute purest form, and a mostly female band to boot. Though we only got a couple singles from them thus far this year, this band has made its presence known, and lead singer and guitarist Chae Sung-hwa has a growl and spit that’s so vicious I don’t even know where it comes from. She reminds me a bit of Siouxsie Sioux. Sexual, raw, unapologetic, all woman and no BS. Tell me, ladies, do you think South Korea’s ready for a band like DIEALRIGHT?[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RrP26cl4E8]
Irteqa: DIEALRIGHT is a band beyond me, a melodious cacophony so noir and clangorous that I was physically transferred to a dark and humanistic sphere right beside Hyukoh’s bright and heavenly sphere. I admire this band because they deliver a powerful and defiant musicality that shrugs off the fetters of tradition and conformity, while beating that very conformity into a grotesque and formless anomaly capable of enlightening all through it’s magnificent sound and standpoint.
DIEALRIGHT’s vocal color is indicative of a resonant world without boundaries where women, rock, and individuality reign. I think that even though indie is classified as music stemming from independence and self-sufficiency, people still have expectations and moulds they would like it to fit into. “Indie” is soft, romantic, breathy, and cool, not raw, turbulent, spiky, and powerful. The prevalence of this perception is something unavoidable but I think that DIEALRIGHT has a potential to thrive with more exposure, and if they continue to foster such a unique and unburdened sound. I’m definitely a fan!
Camiele: You make a very good point, one I’ve argued with people before, as a matter of fact. The only, only, thing that separates what we would deem “mainstream” music from “indie” is the lack of major backing: a band or artist who is basically left to create and distribute on his/her/their own or at least with fewer resources than those with the backing of a label with not only the money but the industry pull. In that way, the sound itself is not definable. It’s music for the sake of music, and the genre is left up to the whims of the artist.
What I love about DIEALRIGHT is that it’s pure punk, straight from ’60s. A sound that’s every bit as raw, emotional, and honest as anything could be. It’s music pulled right out of the the human jungle, the wastelands, and desperation to be heard and acknowledged. That’s what drew me to the band the instant I heard their music. That a sound like that comes from a female-fronted band (in which the lead singer/guitarist and the drummer are female) pulls me in more than I think a mostly male band would.
And yes, it is because the band is mostly female. Think about it: as much as “indie” has been basically turned into a genre with certain perimeters, so have women in South Korean music. Even with those who do rock, it’s with more aegyo or preconceived feminine softness than the urge to kick and scream, as if to appease some sort of image of femininity fitting a male gaze and the male desire to both hypersexualize and infantilize their women.
Even groups where we get a little bit of rock (like YERY Band, which is mostly male but female-fronted, and BEBOP), there may be flashes of hardcore punk edge (“Romeo Mannequin,” for example), but then we’re right back into softer territory (more pop-ska than punk) in order to perhaps appeal to an audience that expects their women dainty and radio friendly. DIEALRIGHT is a very stiff middle finger to that institution.
Gaya: I’m embarassed to say I missed DIEALRIGHT; I didn’t even know they released anything this year! Thank god for your Indie Gem on them, Camiele. I kind of fell in love with punk all over again after watching this live performance of “Mad Queen” and “Satellite” (check Ronald McDonald rocking out!)
And while I enjoy Sung-hwa’s focused energy, I am a total fangirl for drummer Soo-jung. She definitely doesn’t look it, but she runs the show. She creates the energy that Sung-hwa focuses as frontwoman.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU6PcAe6UX0]
I see Camiele and I have From The Airport on our lists. For me, I hadn’t heard of the group before Leslie interviewed them (twice), but I have to say I like their brand of electronic rock. It has a deeper sound than I’m usually used to, but that made me take more notice of the duo. But at the same time, there is a lightness in tracks like “Hit My Cash” that I don’t often crave, but it pairs so well with the band’s sound that I find myself really enjoying it.
It’s changed the way I listen to certain genres of music a bit: I tend to like things to sound a certain way and will seek out that particular sound (which goes a way to explaining my love for Shinee), but From The Airport has given me the chance to change things up a bit, and I am thankful for that.
Irteqa: I can see that the rock genre is resting in its own secure niche at the top of the shelf for all of us! Personally, I have found that my preference deviates instantaneously whenever I come across a genre I enjoy; although I have stumbled on a wide array of K-indie genres, in the past I was steadfast towards the folk genre and songs that emulated the wistfulness of ballads.
I really adore the lacy nostalgia and the bed-of-roses romance of Sugarbowl‘s music, songs like “Miss” are inimitable in their conveyance of idyllic love and the fanciful musings of youth.These days I have found myself veering towards the eccentric and inexhaustible promises of the rock genre.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWDSAmFWzyw]
Romantic Punch‘s take on rock is more generic than the purity of DIEALRIGHT’s, but I find the band amazing because of how masterfully they integrate sub-genres into their songs. “Glam Slam” is one of my favourite songs because of the fusion of glitter rock and evocative elements of pop that it establishes, and “I Belong To You” is another one of my favourites because of its heavenly mingling of soft ballad and fluid rock.
Have you ladies found yourself treading between two completely different genres, and do you prefer one over the other?
Camiele: I have to say, I’ve never limited myself to one or two specific genres. Music is music, and it means so much to me that any genre is important and beautiful in its own right. There are certainly those I listen to more than others, but my only real requisite for what I’ll listen to is if it has soul. Granted, soul is very much its own genre, any artist can have soul. The soul in DIEALRIGHT is noticeable from the moment you listen to one of their songs. The soul in From the Airport, the passion they put into their creations, is also very apparent.
As far as indie goes, I most certainly don’t prescribe to a certain genre. After all, indie in and of itself isn’t a type of music/musical construction so much as it’s a state of being for the band or artist. “Indie” simply gives any artist the freedom to do whatever they want without the constraints of a label. Especially if we’re talking about the bigger ones, they have a certain “theme,” shall we say, that they adhere to with all their artists.
That’s why MFBTY is on the list for me. They’re probably the most indie group on here if we’re talking about who they are as a group. The label is theirs: it’s their business, their livelihood. The music they make is strictly theirs. How they promote, who they ask to join them, it’s all in their hands. They quite literally eat and breathe their music because it’s what they need and have to survive. Tiger JK and Tasha live in an apartment raising their child, and their studio is in the basement.
This, along with the label “indie,” gives them the freedom to redefine and bend genres to what they want and what they feel at that moment. Though some may think it’s too pop to be hip-hop and too hip-hop to be mainstream, that’s almost the point, isn’t it? To not have to prove a point? To be able to make the music that makes you happy and that comes honestly from the depths of who you are?
I suppose to better answer your question, Irteqa, I don’t tread between two genres; I tread in them all. And that’s what I love about indie: I have the freedom to do just that.
Gaya: I usually don’t bother with genre labels — mostly because I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of Western music, so I’m still playing catch up –, but I admit that I always find myself drawn to electronica. It’s usually more pop-influenced stuff that makes my playlist, but the rock-infused music in that genre has been appealing to me as well.
Pop, funk and disco sounds are still my poison, though, which explains why Risso is at the top of my list. I love her peppy songs like “OMG” and “Feels Like You,” as well as her more sensual tracks, like “Finger Magic” with Humming Urban Stereo and “Blue Knight.” Even the eerie “Bad Boy” is a delight to listen to: Risso manages to bring a different feel to each of her songs while still maintaining a cohesive sound.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpCkXfTxUUo]
Her voice is also the kind I tend to gravitate towards, a kind which can be simply described as ‘high pitched and somewhat nasal’ (though the nasal quality isn’t immediately apparent in Risso’s singing). Do either of you have a certain vocal type you prefer, and is anyone on your lists not of that sound? For me, it has to be Hyukoh, though I don’t know of many singers with that kind of voice.
Camiele: It’s hard to say what kind of voice I gravitate to. “Unique,” I guess. Though I’m not sure what that means. I’m in love with Oh Hyuk’s voice, but I also raged hard for Chae Sung-hwa’s growl. For me, it’s got have soul, got to have emotion, and it’s got to be a voice that’s not trying to be something else.
I’m not looking for another Beyonce or another Whitney, for instance. I’m looking for a voice that is proud in being its own, if that makes any sense. I’m also a sucker for harmonization and interesting vocal arrangement. That’s part of the reason why “Mer” got to me so much. The way the vocals on that song are arranged is just… cosmic, ethereal.
Irteqa: Generally I try to enjoy the strengths and specialties of all vocal types, but the slightly throaty, almost wispy vocal type never fails to plunge me into a musical phantasmagoria each time I listen to a song that showcases it masterfully.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5Sh2DgonmU]
Like Gaya, I enjoy electronica greatly; the flawless union of my favourite vocal type with one of my favourite genres led me to select Wym as my top K-indie act. Every time I listen to “Trying” I find Wym’s vocals sweeping me into an extraterrestrial expanse of repetition, rhythm, and pure revelry. I love the otherworldliness of his electronica and the fact that his songs unfurl so thematically, each enhancing that silken and alien flair of his voice. In hindsight, Oh hyuk’s vocals are the epitome of a primrose-laden path; tranquil, subliminal, and sweet.