It’s no secret that the Zandari Festa is one of the best opportunities to discover new Korean acts every year. Taking place over four days in Hongdae every fall, the Festa is a truly international affair, with 119 artists from 20 countries participating this year. However, here at Seoulbeats, our focus is always on the best of the Korean scene — and this year definitely provided a good sampling of all indie sub-genres from hard-core to world instrumental.
The 2019 Zandari Festa brought back to the stage some of our favorite acts from past years like Dabda, Laybricks, Burning Hepburn, and Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, while also introducing us to some new favorites. It’s been a while since Seoulbeats’ last Indie Gem, and to make up for it, here are some new picks from this years Festa for you to keep an eye out for. Check out the gallery at the end of the article for all the acts I caught!
If you’re a fan of heavier sounds, a Friday night stand out was PAKK, a hard-core, psychedelic leaning trio established in 2014. As I began to descend the stairs into Prism Hall, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into with PAKK. The guitars were already defining, drums banging, and there was no chance that I would leave the venue without minor hearing damage.
That aside, the members of PAKK know how to command a stage, even without vocals. It was clear how much the three simply enjoy playing together. Yet, there was a clear precision to their sound that elevated it beyond a simple jam session. I was particularly struck by the play between the bassist Park Hyun-seok and the lead guitarist Kim Dae-inn who riffed off each other so well, but took their moments to shift the sound of each song, bringing dynamics that kept me guessing where the song would go.
One of the my most anticipated sets of Friday evening was Nine9. Being familiar with her work with DearCloud, it’s safe to say I had expectations for the artist who released her first solo album Tonight Comfort Me in April of this year. However, nothing could have prepared me for the simple eloquence, and power of that her set at Evans Lounge presented.
She took the stage with all the comfort of a woman meeting old friends, casually sitting down with a guitar perched on her lap. Friendly greetings, a few self deprecating remarks, and then her set began with the help of guitarist Jeong In-sung, drummer Sin Dong-hoon, bassist Yang Si-on and keyboardist Kim Seo-jung. Instantly, the mood of the room shifted. Nine9 has one of the purest voices in indie, with a capability to express vulnerability and confidence in the same note. Her lyrics reflect but also uplift, and everyone in the room was captivated, hanging on to her every note. She was truly a joy to watch — even sneaking in a DearCloud track for her fans to enjoy.
Saturday brought perhaps my favorite discovery of the Festa in the form of Bosudong Cooler, a four member group hailing from Busan. Quirky and eccentric only begin to describe the joy of watching this band live. Self-labeled as “Jangle Pop,” Bosudong Cooler are the best of the jam, surfer, and retro genres — with an undertone of melancholy that really pulls you in.
Beyond the great sound, came the fun of the members. Bassist Lee Sang-won is perhaps one of the smiliest bassists I’ve ever seen on a stage, and guitar/vocalist Gu Seul-han took on the burden of English translation, making sure everyone in audience felt like they were a part of the set. Of course, guitarist and lead vocalist Jung Ju-ri charmed both the audience and her fellow members, leading drummer Choi Ung-gyu and the audience along in gimmicks and chants that lit up the whole venue. Bosundong Cooler are definitely rising stars on the K-indie scene, and I’ll be keeping my eyes on them.
Another rising group to keep your eye on is Band Nah, whose catchy melodies had the entire audience at Prism Hall grooving along within the first few measures. Compared to simply listening to their discography, the joy of seeing the band live was seeing each member’s individual personality on stage. Vocalist/guitarist Lee Jon-woo and guitarist Sang-hyun Nah did their best to charm the audience, while bassist PAIIEK adopted the signature blase bassist pose. Meanwhile, drummer Min-wook Son kept the set on track, supporting each member through their solos while throwing in a few playful combos of his own. Together, they made for a great team and a very enjoyable set.
Taking a break from rock, I decided to check out a Gyepi Sisters set. I’d never heard a hurdy-gurdy live before, and boy was I in for a surprise. Kang Hee-su and Sung Hyun-goo are remarkably versatile musicians, who draw inspiration from something as simple as waiting in Seoul Station for a train back to their home town. They adopt formal — yet unconventional in K-indie — instruments like the hang drum, hurdy-gurdy, pipe flute, and bongo and combine them with more eccentric materials like bottle caps, bells, and wind chimes to create a truly unique and soothing sound. Often, they play with the support of other musicians, but for the Zandari Festa they took the stage alone. Yet, they managed to fill the room with their soundscape.
Simply put, the music they create is breathtaking. During the set, there were moments of complete peace, of playfulness, and even sorrow. I admit, I teared up during Hee-su’s flute solo because of the emotion that was conveyed through such a simple instrument. Their ability to use every material available and convert it into song — into emotion — is truly astounding. With a clear bond between the two members, each song felt like a moment of meditation. Through their ability to connect with one another, they produce music that captures the listener and pulls them into the Gyepi Sisters’ world — and that is a truly beautiful world to be a part of.
If you’re looking for a jam band that doesn’t follow any conventions, look no further than Cadejo who took the stage Sunday and Veloso. Individually, each member of the trio is more than competent with their instrument, but together they manage to jam in a way I’d never seen live before. During a solo by guitarist/vocalist Tae-hun Lee, I heard another audience member remark “this is f*cking filthy,” and he meant that in all the right ways. Cadejo don’t play by any rules, they just play and play well. Then, to top it all off, Lee began to sing in a voice reminiscent of John Mayer — with a hint more soul. Several audience members actually gasped.
There’s a remarkable dichotomy in practice when Cadejo perform: each member entirely in their world, yet completely in sync with his band-mates. Chords clash, beats come out of nowhere, but it’s all born of a blues-jazz influence that knows how to pull disparate parts together. In the end, Cadejo are just three men, all exceptional with their chosen instrument, who managed to come together and groove for the benefit of a live audience.
For a good dose of groovy pop punk, April 2nd took the stage at Flex.Lounge. Even though it was a Sunday evening performance, they managed to draw quite a crowd and keep the energy high.
You may have heard them before on the Don’t Dare to Dream OST, which helped to put them on the map. They’re a fashionable five-piece group, who managed to set a unique atmosphere for each track they performed. Lead vocalist Kyung-he Kim had enough charisma to fill the entire venue, and the enjoyment of fellow members Dae-kwang Moon (guitar), and Woo-gun Moon (bass) helped bring the stage to life. Musically, I was impressed by the funk influences they incorporated into their pop-punk soundscape. It was the kind of set that was easy to dance along to, and helped me to forget the existential dread of an impending Monday morning.
Ending my list on a high note is Ego Function Error, who played Con-vent Sunday evening. While their sound is psychedelic, their delivery and personality are purely punk. Lead vocalist Kim Min-jung is the playful kind of rebel any audience member can be captivated by. She’s backed by bassist Lee Seung-heyon, guitarist Kim Kook-kook and drummer Kwak Won-ji. Their set jumped from moments of complete ridiculousness — haphazard discussions of ‘money bags’ and snacks — to moments of heavy rock. They were a fun way to wrap up a weekend of music, beer, and friends.
Check out our Zandari gallery below, and look forward to seeing some of the acts in future Indie Gems!
In addition to our regular Indie Gem coverage, you might also enjoy these highlights from past Zandari Festas:
- Acts to Watch from the 2018 Zandari Festa
- Zandari Festa 2017: A Global Collaboration
- Zandari Festa 2016: An International Affair
- Discovering New Artists at Zandari Festa 2015