Another year, another slew of raw and unfettered talent from South Korea’s indie scene. While 2017 was certainly a tumultuous year for everyone around the world in more ways than one, it’s a blessing to know we can all still fall back on music. What Korea has offered this year was nothing short of incredible, a cavalcade of artists whose skills, passion, and prowess have impressed and delighted music lovers around the globe. Cy and Karen both have a diverse list of artists and bands who have, in their minds, gone above and beyond even some of the most exceptional acts.
|2||G.Soul||Sons of Tiger|
|3||Hippy Was Gipsy||Bad Romance|
Cy: We both have G.Soul on our list. I have some very emotional thoughts about Circles, but let’s hear what about his music this year touched you enough to put him on your list, Karen.
Karen: G.Soul’s voice caught my attention when I heard him on Zico‘s “Anti.” The tone of his voice is really something to fall into, especially in Circles. I wrote the album review for Circles, so I will avoid repeating myself here. I am really glad he has found a style of music that allows his voice to stand out. The tracks he released while he was still with JYP Entertainment failed to give him the unique colour he has now. He used to veer towards pop with his music. These days, he clearly sounds less factory-produced or cookie-cutter. His tracks have a laid-back vibe to them but are still so addictive to listen to. I was especially enthralled by “Circles.” I was thinking his unique sound would probably make him a popular choice as a featuring artist. I’m looking forward to seeing more of his name around in the near future. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on G.Soul, and on his album, Circles.
C: I’ve been following G.Soul since his debut back in 2015. While I do see some of your point regarding his style, his voice has always been unique as regards music coming out of South Korea. A look at his actual debut album in its entirety will show just how versatile of an artist he is. Sifting through his short discography with JYP, he also has a strong affinity for house music and classic R&B from the likes of Sade and even Tevin Campbell (in vocal styling and execution). The reason he made my list is because Circles was by far and away his most personal, most introspective, most poignant work to date. I was reluctant to put him on this list only because I wasn’t sure if we’d classify him as indie, but H1GHR Music is an independent label (a recent one at that), so I was ecstatic to be able to showcase my adoration of him. I also wrote a review of the album for another publication. I was floored by the amount of emotion he put into it, the amount of stripped-bare soul and honesty he infused each and every one of the lyrics and his vocal delivery. “Circles” is actually my favorite song of the year coming out of South Korea — that’s how much it touched me.
However, my second favorite song of the year goes to the band who is first on my list. Decadent is a neo-blues/rock outfit that has some of the most heart-wrenching, sensual blues music coming out of the country, or anywhere if I’m being honest. I first heard of them when looking at artists going to Zandari Festa this year. When I tell you I almost lost my life! The song that absolutely laid me flat, “A,” is perhaps the most erotic song I’ve heard from a South Korean artist this year. The emotion, the pain, the need…. It was everything I wanted in a song. Their entire debut EP,ㅔ (É), was pure magic. I played it constantly when I first heard it.
Obviously the only artist we have in common is G.Soul, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve not listened to any of the artists you’ve got on your list (though I’ve heard of at least two of them). Your #1 artist is band Wetter. What about them touched you so much to give them the #1 spot?
K: Wetter really captures my heart because their music has a really unique soundscape. They make tracks that shift between an alternative rock sound and more pensive tunes. I really enjoyed the grunge rock style of “Lucy,” the cheekiness of “Romance In A Weird World,” but also the simplicity in “Who.” Even though they are a band with only a couple of tracks under their name, they manage to demonstrate a matured understanding of music, while still being experimental. I had the opportunity to watch them do an acoustic live performance. It took my breath away, especially when they performed “You.” If I had to pick a favourite song of the year, it has to be “You,” which is actually an acoustic remake of “Who.” It is a song that relies only on a single electric guitar and the rare vocal harmonisations of the band during the chorus to make up the melody.
Watching it live was crazily mesmerising. The song really defines raw emotion. They recently released a new track, “You n Me Us,”which has a carefree pensiveness to it. I was also surprised when I heard their songs being used on Playlist Studio’s recent web drama Yellow.
Speaking of this year’s Zandari Festa, it was where I discovered Sons of Tiger. By complete chance, I walked in on their performance at Rolling Hall. During their showcase of “The bottom of heart,” they delivered an excellent bass solo. I fell for their music because of this very bass solo. Despite sounding slightly rough around the edges, they found their own colour. They are also surprisingly charismatic on stage, and entertaining as well. They run with a heavier rock sound, which might either really appeal or put off depending on your music taste.
Sad to say, I only know Dumbfoundead from your list, though I did check out some tunes from SOMA, Hippy Was Gipsy, and Decadent. I’ve got to say, the vocals for Decadent are insanely smooth. As for Dumbfoundead, though I’m an avid fan of Korean hip-hop, I have yet to really look into his music. What did you find appealing about Dumbfoundead and the music he makes?
C: I’ve been a fan of Dummy for several years now, since his underground days with King of the Dot (KOTD). He’s been steadily dropping amazing work for years now. Last year’s We Might Die was phenomenal. But Foreigner…? I mean, he basically bodied every rapper in South Korea with a five-song EP. And he didn’t stop there. He’s released several noteworthy pieces of hip-hop genius throughout the year. As this was his first major body of work recorded in Korea (though not his first working with Korean artists), I think it’s safe to say that he’s stamped himself as probably the most powerful MC with ties to the country. He continues to raise the bar not only with himself, but for every rapper out there who’s getting by on the semi-freshness of hip-hop in the country (though hip-hop has been around for 20 years in SK, it still has a relative air of mystery about it).
I have a tendency to gravitate toward artists who manage to take something that’s been around for a while and give it something extra — either vocally or through musical vision. Both SOMA and Hippy just did some magical things this year. And while SOMA has released two EPs and has collaborated with quite a few people, Hippy is a brand-spankin’ new duo comprised of singer Sep and a member of another group who was just outside my Top 5 (Jjang-you‘s latest project WAVISABIROOM), Jflow. They released a single body of work this year, and it completely swept me off my feet. There was so much emotional levity in that album, not to mention they had the gall to sample a classic performance from the magnanimous Nina Simone for track “Let’s Go.” They edged out WAVISABIROOM because of the emotional effect the album had on me.
Is there an artist on your list who had the same sort of emotional effect for you?
K: I stumbled upon Bad Romance while watching some other indie bands on YouTube. Rather than being completely swept off my feet, their music grew on me. “Leave A Trace” caught my attention because it condensed the modern rock sound that seems to be growing in popularity these days. With bands like The Rose and Day6 running in the mainstream spotlight, I’m glad to have the chance to give some attention to a band like Bad Romance. Mixing both electric and acoustic guitars, their tracks manage a fine balance between force and nuance. I had the luck of attending their spontaneous live acoustic performance just this week, and it was magical. It is always easier to sound good on a recorded EP, but they were brilliant live. Acoustic sets are often a test of vocal abilities, and it’s safe to say they delivered a comforting and mesmerising performance. With their newest song, “I’ll Love Her,” released the week after Christmas, it is truly a joy to continue receiving new music from them.
On the other end of the spectrum is PERC%NT, who works with groovy electronic beats. He was part of Mystic Entertainment’s “Listen” initiative, where he released “Weekend” and “Snowball.” I fell in love with “Weekend” because of both its melody and charming lyrics. “Snowball” takes a different take on R&B. Unlike “Weekend” that has a soothing backdrop, “Snowball” is more upbeat and playful. If “Weekend” is a demonstration of his vocal skill, “Snowball” embodies a lot more personality. Without having to listen more than a couple of times, I found that PERC%NT’s vocals are simply irresistible. It is such a pity he has so little tracks at the moment.
C: It seems like our lists definitely vary in terms of styles and emotional weight. Do you have any final thoughts about indie this year or your top five in particular?
K: The thing about South Korea’s indie scene is the sheer volume of talent. Every year, I get to know and fall in love with so many new acts. I think it’s great that both our lists are so diverse in music styles. I always drift towards rock indie more than anything else, which is evident from my list. But thanks to you, Cy, I have an expanded list of indie artists to explore. 2017 has been a great year discovering new artist for me, and being able to watch a number of them live has been a wonderful bonus. I really look forward to more releases from my favourite acts in the coming year, and of course to uncover even more gems.
C: 2017 has been a year of incredible uncertainty, that’s far more reaching than just music. What’s so heartening is knowing that in all that unrest, there is a steadfast truth that South Korea will continue to release brilliant music from brilliant musicians. The indie scene never disappoints, no matter what the musical landscape. There are always going to be musicians hungry to get their art out to the world, and that’s for the benefit of everyone, I think.[YouTube , Apple Music, MNET, Popnable.)