2022 has shown the return of normalcy in the Korean independent scene. Concerts and festivals have returned and so independent artists can once again flourish independently. Join writers Cheska, Zuza, and Aaron as they discuss the strong presence of K-rock at the end of this year and the persistence of new, innovative acts emerging from the indie scene. Do you recognize any of their picks?

Aaron: It is great to see the Korean independent scene so well represented by our collective picks! There’s a lot of indie rock, hip hop, R&B, and even some dance. Admittedly, I haven’t heard of Budung and had no clue Glen Check had made a comeback! So, I’d love to start with our respective top picks. What made these artists stand out above everyone else this year for you two?

Zuza: I agree, the selection is very versatile! I’m happy to see that Tabber and Glen Check showed up on your radars this year.

Budung is my favorite indie find of 2022. I heard her song “Lovers” on YouTube and immediately fell in love. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel like a main character in a coming-of-age indie movie, which I think we can all agree is one of the best feelings to have. I was happy to see that she continues with this poetic, mystifying sound in her newest album.

Aaron, from your picks I find Kaiavant to be quite intriguing. How did you find her and what first drew you to her music?

Cheska: Boy, oh boy, you had no idea how much I struggled narrowing down my list! Rock-infused sounds have been apparent in the K-pop scene this year, but I guess it’s safe to say that 2022 is a great year for rock overall (I see that you have The Black Skirts, Zuza!). The indie scene just exploded with great K-rock acts!

I have to admit though, I only found out about Glen Check when I found out that June One is credited as the composer of Dreamcatcher’s “Vision”. I listened to their album released early this year and I am immediately hooked.

I know it’s quite different from their magnum opus, Haute Couture,” but what I love about it is that it screams, “There’s a Glen Check track for everybody.” While they’re mainly known for synth and electro-pop sounds, I love their growing fusion of other genres such as hip hop, alternative rock, and R&B. I recommend “Sins”, but I have to warn you, it’s so addictive!

I am equally intrigued with Kaiavant as she has some semblance with Bibi. What makes her your top pick, Aaron?

Aaron:  I came across Kaiavant’s music the day she dropped her debut album! Kid Milli posted the MV for the track “Woo Hoo” (which he features in) on his Instagram. This was the best introduction to her sound as the MV portrays a ride through a kaleidoscope of Kaiavant’s dreams. I’d describe her sound similarly.

Her debut album Piece of Space is this hallucinatory blend of Korean trip-hop, R&B, and jazz. It is unlike anything I’ve heard in the Korean music scene this year thus it had to be atop my list. It is an album that makes you feel like you’re moving through an old memory and I hope she receives the recognition she deserves come the R&B award season.

Zuza, you chose indie darling The Black Skirts. Tell us what made the band so good this year!

Zuza: You’re right about Kaiavant, her sound is very unique! I’m really excited to see what she does next.

And yes, my darling rock legend The Black Skirts blessed us with what I think is one of the most elaborate comebacks of this year. Jo Hyu-il took his artistic vision to the next level with the new album, seamlessly blending real life and fiction in his storytelling.

All of that is wrapped in a perfect blend of indie, rock, and pop. I was lucky enough to be in Seoul when he released the album and let me tell you, the days leading up to the release of “Teen Troubles” felt like a week-long treasure hunt, with pop-up stores, secret events, and special missions for the fans to complete. What’s not to love here!

The K-rock scene definitely flourished in 2022. I must admit that I was seriously considering adding another indie rock band TRPP to my top 3. Cheska, with all the great releases this year, what made Bigone stand out to you?

Cheska: If there’s one word to describe Bigone, it’s “surprise.” If I didn’t listen to his previous works, I wouldn’t know that he’s actually a rapper! His album Bigoneisthename is pure punk rock goodness, oozing with teenage rock influences such as Avril Lavigne and Green Day, so I really thought he was a rock artist to begin with. I mean if you’re gonna go rock, then go home or go hard, right?

As a bonus, it was a treat to hear Jay B of Got7 featured in one of his tracks. They have been friends for a long time, and I have been wanting Jay B to try out a different genre from the usual. “Windy Day” is the closest I can probably get to hearing him do rock.

From rock to K-hip hop, I see that both of you have your share of K-hip hop artists. I admit to being out of the loop when it comes to the hip hop scene, so I would love to hear your thoughts on your picks!  

Aaron: Oh, then I’d point you towards Huh, his sound has a mix of hip hop, R&B, and alternative. I remember really liking his single “Blah Blah” featuring Khundi Panda last year, so I kept an eye out for him. What an artist he has become in the few months since then.

What makes Huh stand out from this year’s batch of rappers is his unique vocal tone. It is hard to describe someone’s tone with just words but! Thankfully, his appearance on SMTM has become the visual aid to the curiosity around his voice. I had thought maybe he was using a type of voice manipulation, but no, that’s his natural singing voice. The result is an artist who raps and sings at a very high level, something like Penomeco. It is no surprise to me that he has made it to the finals of SMTM

So, while C-Jamm‘s Ghenn is still the hip hop album of the year, Huh is my favorite thing to happen to the Korean hip hop scene in 2022.

Zuza: Just as 2021 was definitely the peak of my K-hip hop obsession, I confess that I haven’t listened to it as much this year. C-Jamm’s album was a pleasant surprise, and I really enjoyed the few Giriboy releases we got this year, but I couldn’t really find many new artists to fall in love with. I’m hoping to return to my K-hip hop roots soon, so I will definitely check out Huh!

While living through my personal 2022 hip hop drought, it was the indie R&B producer Dept who caught my attention. 2022 was definitely his year. His popularity skyrocketed in January, after Jungkook shared one of his songs on Instagram (what better recommendation do we need?).

He produces cosy R&B tracks with lovely melodies, putting a lot of emphasis on production quality. The result is a unique blend of indie and mainstream sound. When it comes to indie music, I’m usually a fan of the messier, bedroom-pop/garage-rock kind of production, so I was surprised to find myself enjoying the almost flawless sound of his tracks. 

Cheska, thanks to you, I’ve had the chance to check out Kardi’s music for the first time and I absolutely fell in love with their sound! How did you find such a gem?

Cheska: I was on a Superband 2 high last year, thanks to finally becoming available on the international OTT platform, and Kardi was born out of that show. Since the second season’s intention was to form a global K-band, I thought that they would be crowned as the winners. They still had rough edges during the competition, but I am so happy to hear how polished they sound when they put out their debut EP.

Glen Check and Bigone evoke some sort of nostalgia for me, but when it comes to Kardi, they make me excited for the future of K-indie band music. The geomungo plus Kim Yeji’s outstanding vocals are what make Kardi’s sound so distinct. I would love to hear more rock bands experiment with the use of Korean traditional instruments. Their title track, “WatchOut,” is a great example of putting the geomungo front and center, while also making the band sound cohesive.

So, Aaron, I learned Tabber was a contestant from last year’s Show Me the Money, and had already an impressive mixtape back in 2020. I love the mix of genres in “007,” but what about him that made it to your Top 3?    

Aaron: According to AppleMusic, Tabber is my artist of the year (above Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar). This took me by surprise since almost everyone under the You.Will.Knovv label dropped albums this year besides Tabber and… Dean. Had you told me it was Rad Museum, Miso, or Mardln, I would have perfectly understood since all of their new albums are amazing! 

Tabber’s output this year has primarily been releasing singles and reworks of his music. “007” is the big single for him this year, but it’s “Can Not Sleep” that I’ve left on repeat all year long. The song was created as a challenge for Tabber, Rad Museum, Marldn, and Daehee, with each of them having only 25 minutes to work on the track. It’s quite something watching each of them build upon the song.

Tabber also went on EBS Space and reworked his entire discography for a live setting. The results are songs with a more rock-orientated sound than their studio counterparts. I didn’t notice that Tabber has recontextualized his sound and carved out his own place in the Korean scene away from the tag of “Dean’s protégé”. He is hip hop enough to flourish on SMTM, R&B enough to be on You.Will.Knovv, all while having a sound tethered to a rock core. “007” as mentioned by Cheska is a great example of his marriage of all these sounds this year.

It is always incredible to see the unique places independent artists make for themselves in the Korean music scene. So!YoON! has become the biggest artist to have featured on an album while fronting Se So NeonDPR Ian has become the biggest name in K-R&B while being the MV director behind acts like DPR Live, Loco, and Mino.

Glen Check went from winning back-to-back Korean Music Awards in the Electronic & Dance category to becoming a genre-bending band of hip hop and indie rock. Yes, it is tough to survive in the independent scene but one gets to change the scene just by succeeding and creating a new path for all future artists to follow, wow!

These are our picks for the top indie acts of this year. It was quite the task for us as writers to slim down our choices as the indie scene always releases albums in the latter half of the year. The indie rock scene is the perfect example.

Leaving acts such as TRPP, SunwoojungaBabylon, Della Zyr, JJK, and Giriboy hurts but indicates that our list is only a jumping-off point for you to find all the indie gems that dropped this year. Here’s to 2023!

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10], AppleMusic, Bugs!. Images via VMC)