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K-indie can range from indie bands to hip hop and R&B artists in the underground scene. With an appetite for different music styles, Aaron and Janine discuss the indie artists that have caught their eye in the past half a year.

Aaron: With no overlapping picks, we’ll be able to have a great back and forth. We do have a strong female presence in our picks this year, so let us start there! How did you find your picks, and what drew you to an artist like Youra? (I love her song “Pink!”)

Janine: The range and quality of the music in the K-indie scene are usually excellent, and this year is no exception. I also noticed the strength of the female artists in this category, and of course, the wealth of options to choose from! It’s an amazing thing that somehow, despite everything happening in the world, people manage to continue creating good music. 

I found a lot of my picks through YouTube recommendations! Following the accounts of artists I enjoy means there’s a whole world of new music just a click away. Tumblr, Soundcloud, and Mixcloud are all still thriving resources for discovering new releases too. I found Youra while procrastinating on Tumblr, about a year ago, around the time of her Dingo Freestyle performance and I’ve followed her closely ever since. 

I really enjoy her voice, her experimental approach to genre and instrumentation, as well as the visual aspects of her projects. The immersive arthouse MVs are a great complement to the songs. Her 2022 release “best regards” sonically gave me shades of shimmery surf rock and vaporwave. The lyrics and MV complete the wistful, beautiful atmospheric project that really drew me in.

What brought you to the choices on your list? I’m always curious about how other people find the independent art they enjoy. And did you happen to see jerd’s Onstage performance of “dirty face”? I am as captivated by her sunset ombre hair colour as the vibe of the song.

Aaron: My picks each came to me in their own way. C-Jamm is a controversial figure, but he continues to amaze with his music, so I was never going to miss his release. Orange Flavoured Cigarettes I found by way of the label Poclanos. The YouTube channel of Poclanos is really active–they have weekly releases–and it is the epicentre of indie music right now! Just a look at their himalayan roster of artists.

jerd sprung up on my feed after her multiple nominations at the end of 2021. Why hadn’t I heard of her? I checked her out and was amazed. Her MV in particular serves as a complete run-through of her debut album and it’s just… insert a chef’s kiss here. Her brand of R&B is similar to that of EXN: a new wave of R&B spray-painted in hip-hop conventions.

Her record A.M.P. is caught in a pandemic state of mind. It is layered with anxieties and mood swings attached to being stuck in a room for far too long. Her Onstage performances are also awe-inspiring. In 2022, her latest single entitled, “CG”, came out on (5 points if you guessed it) the Poclanos YouTube channel. She is the R&B artist I’m most excited about in 2022.

Keumbee is your second pick. What is it about her that you love? I remember checking out the single album she released with Sogumm but never investigated further. What have I missed?

Janine: Yes! Keumbee’s three-track collaboration with Sogumm, produced by Alfie Hole, was a big part of my 2022 regular playlist. It should not be hard to have an unskippable project when it’s only three songs, but it’s not very common. Salt Rain is a record I’ve kept returning to as a very strong entry into the chill music space. 

The title track is pretty and reassuring. The lyrics that hint at a relationship between a caregiver and baby where both need comfort are effectively emotional, and the MV full of unsettling, alien visuals give the song an otherworldly mood. 

Once I heard the Keumgee’s cover of the Brazilian bossa nova standard “Waters of March”, I was very charmed. Her naturalistic but inventive vocal style with minimal processing reminds me of jazz stylistic choices. Her act of paying homage to genre greats like Antônio Carlos Jobim seriously impressed me. The meta choice of including it with a song like “Salt Rain” which is clearly influenced by this style of songwriting was a hidden treat. People who listen to a variety of music from across the world will notice artistic influences of bossa nova in K-pop and indie tracks. I think the inclusion of the cover is a wonderful way of acknowledging these connections. 

Your number two pick was Orange Flavored Cigarettes. “Te Amo” is a wonderful entry into the pantheon of unabashedly sensual love songs. What made you rank them so high?

Aaron: Oh wow, I had no clue about its cover and the nuances found within! I’ll be returning to the record for sure!

Orange Flavored Cigarettes is the indie band I keep wanting more from, as they have released less than 10 songs. “Te Amo” is quite sensual, yes, but what I loved about that song is the outro and its “I need it” refrain. The whole band sings along. It is just so wholesome and I smile every time.

Outside of this band, I’ve struggled to connect with new indie bands this year–Josee and Hathaw9y are the only other bands that caught my attention. Have you felt the same? I see you have Jannabi, a heavily established indie act, as your top pick. How have they climbed your list and what are your thoughts on indie rock in Korea as a whole? I’m quite curious, since I know your love for Korean indie rock runs deep.

Janine: I’m trying not to hold popular acts’ success against them. Jannabi’s contribution to the indie scene in Korea is notable! As someone who loves novelty and finding new acts, it’s always tough for me to give established groups a lot of airtime. So I play a little game to keep myself on my toes: I’ll shuffle new music to play in the background while I work. If my attention is diverted while I work, I make a note of the song. Jannabi’s small pieces ll : Grippin’ The Green EP had me in a vice. 

Gentle, lilting, romantic, quirky, and atmospheric are all words that could be descriptors of this four-track project. The album sounds like an accompaniment to a movie or a drama about wistfully resolving ennui. The fact that only one of the regular band mates have participated in this album whilst the rest remain on hiatus does not diminish the quality of the record. Fans and casual listeners alike will be satisfied. 

While cross-genre appeal is not always a factor in my decision-making about my favourite projects, in this case, I have found this EP very useful. It’s appropriate for an afternoon drive, a picnic of friends, or the soundtrack to a solo activity. I like how easy it is to listen to while still doing some interesting things with production.

Tell me about your top pick. C-Jamm has been making moves lately – I’ve seen his collab with ASAP TYY and Bewhy recently. What did you like about his newest project Ghenn?

Aaron: Oh, that MV came out a while ago! I don’t blame you for thinking it was recent though. Trying to keep track of C-Jamm’s releases is a head-spinning mess. He recently left his label and mostly posts on Instagram, though even that is a confusing state of affairs, as it’s often inactive. C-Jamm is an elusive figure but due to his chaotic public persona (a rarity in South Korea), he draws attention even when he has no intention of doing so. His last record Keung won best hip-hop album of the year so his ability is undisputed. Let’s just say he doesn’t follow a clock.

That’s what made Ghenn (which translates to “he is”) such a thrilling surprise. It was his goodbye EP after leaving his label and at nine tracks, there isn’t a single miss on it! Many fans have been waiting for C-Jamm to release a plethora of unreleased music (seeing a chaotic trend?) but this is not that. Ghenn is a completely new direction in his sound and it suits his delivery even more than everything that came before. It is also completely Korean; there’s not a single word in English, yet I adore it without any translation needed.

To me, that’s a special artist and C-Jamm is exemplary in his ability to do what he wants while maintaining a noteworthy career. The way he and BewhY owned Show Me the Money 5 is my favourite moment of his career. Considering the two are childhood friends, and C-Jamm gave BewhY his stage name, for them to go on the show together and win 1st and 2nd place is bestie goals.

Ghenn is the best thing I’ve heard from the Korean Hip-hop scene (KHH) this year so far. What impresses me is that the album has one producer, Jaykidman. By making the record a two man project, the record becomes so insular. Something you’re not going to hear from anyone other than C-Jamm. Honestly this EP sits alongside Jjangyou’s Wave as the most creative records I’ve heard coming out of the KHH scene ever. 

Janine: I am always impressed by the range of influences present in the K-indie scene. My challenge is usually that there are too many choices to pick from! I have found myself listening to a lot of rock lately. I guess I’ve been caught up in the current resurgence of mainstream music paying attention to guitars. While K-pop acts are revisiting the ‘00s and ‘10s emo and pop punk sounds, the independent acts who are making waves with me have other reference points. It makes me very happy to hear the surf rock, shoegaze, and industrial sounds that are creeping in.  

I often say, “There is always new music,” and I sincerely believe that. There is always new art somewhere that is interesting and has some value. There are times when it’s more difficult to find something you connect with and, of course, real-world challenges have an effect. We’re still living through times of great upheaval. Art is a refuge as much as a form of expression, so when the world becomes more uncertain, it’s tougher to find in the open. But it’s always there.

(Youtube [1],[2],[3],[4],[5], Images courtesy of Pepino Music, Mun Hwa In)