Been listening to 밤섬해적단 of late – more accurately, viewing their performances on YouTube, as I consider them performance art rather than the “grindcore” or “noise” labels attached to them. I think they’re awesome, but I find it hard to explain their awesomeness to people who haven’t grown up in Korea. It starts with the lead singer’s helmet, with “멸공” (“death to communism”) scrawled on it, then the PowerPoint presentations accompanying their songs, and the songs themselves – their first album 서울불바다 (“Seoul Sea of Fire”), released in July of 2010, has 42 songs crammed into 53 minutes, full of sharp satire and humor. The title refers to the periodic threat from North Koreans to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.”
Just as I was listening to Mongoose’s “Cosmic Dancer” from their latest album, I found this 10 Asia interview of Mongoose. Particularly striking were these lines from the lyrics: “뒤돌아보지 않는 용기, 후회하지 않을 젊음” (“the bravery to not look back / the youth to not be regretful”).
Mongoose (몽구스) – Cosmic Dancer
Lead singer Mongu also has a solo project called Neons (네온스).
Neons (네온스) – 첫눈에 반한다는 그런 말을 나는 믿어 (“I believe in the saying ‘love at first sight'”)
It’s hard to talk about Sultan of the Disco (술탄 오브 더 디스코) without mentioning their label, Boonga Boonga Record (by the way, I suggest caution when entering the label name, 붕가붕가 레코드, into Korean search engines, as it contains a phrase that will get flagged). Boonga Boonga, or BGBG, as I will refer to them hence, is also the home of indie breakout Chang Kiha & The Faces (장기하와 얼굴들). Other labelmates include 눈뜨고 코베인, for which Chang Kiha was the original drummer, the now-disbanded 불나방스타소세지클럽, and for a time another indie breakout, Broccoli You Too (브로콜리 너마저), which has moved to their own label. In general the bands have rather untranslatable Korean names, in that they lose much of their humor and appeal in the translation, and this should give an indication of the BGBG house flavor.
Now back to Sultan of the Disco – consider this a pet project of various people involved with BGBG. The lead singer is actually BGBG’s main recording engineer, the second vocal is the lead singer of 브로콜리 너마저, and there is a rotating cast of other participants, such as BGBG’s label head, their graphic designer, Chang Kiha, etc. They all perform under stage names, such as Abdullah Nahzam or Mustafa Dogo. It’s been claimed that all leaders of BGBG acts have to make an appearance on Sultan of the Disco.
As with much of the BGBG oeuvre, fully appreciating Sultan of the Disco requires some familiarity with Korean popular music and culture. As their official (and mostly fictional) bio indicates, they are satirizing idol groups, but at the same time producing some fun, compelling music. The video below is the single from their 2010 EP, Groove Official (this and their 2008 EP, I’ve Got a Hottie Little Sister / 여동생이 생겼어요 are both available through iTunes – in fact, much of the BGBG output is available through iTunes, a welcome move more Korean indie labels should emulate). Despite the humorous outfits and presentation, the lyrics are rather melancholy, speaking of another weekend frittered away with drink and watching TV, and the dread of facing Monday and an annoying boss.
Glen Check are a duo or trio, depending on which article you read. The confusion probably stems from two of the band members having previously performed as a duo called The Closure, and only these two typically being interviewed. They are young, all in their early 20’s, and perform entirely in English, including their concert banter. Two of the members, June One Kim (김준원, vocals, guitar, songwriting) and Hyuk Jun Kang (강혁준, synthesizers, electronics) both spent their childhoods in English-speaking countries (the UK and the US) and later attended an international school in Korea. In interviews they have admitted to being more comfortable with English, hence their performing entirely in English.
They have a YouTube channel, glencheckism, where you can check out their EP, Disco Elevator.
I like their songs for being sweet and energetic, in contrast to a lot of Korean indie and electronica that tends to be rather listless.
Glen Check – Metro
Glen Check – Dressing Room
Glen Check – Addicted
Glen Check live performance May 28, 2011 (around the 4:00 mark you can hear their cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday”)
Their music can be purchased at iTunes stores outside the U.S., or if you are in the U.S through Soribada.
Recently I saw the name 에니악(eniac) flit by in the music credits of some show I was watching. A YouTube search yielded this:
According to the Evans Music site, eniac is the first electronica artist signed to the label. An examination of their roster indicates they lean towards folk and jazz. Perhaps because of this, eniac makes me think a bit of The Blue Nile. The Blue Nile’s first album was released through a label established just for them by hi-fi equipment manufacturer Linn. This label, Linn Records, now specializes in classical, jazz, and Scottish music, and The Blue Nile have long departed the label.
Unlike that first The Blue Nile album, this eniac track (the title translates to “The Boy Keeps Running” or “The Boy Still Runs”) is full of youthful energy and hope – “even if my chest is about to burst, I am running towards you, dreaming of a sea for just the two of us, I run towards you …” I could find very little information about eniac, other than he had previously contributed to the soundtrack for the 2006 k-drama Soulmate. His Korean-language blog shows him to be youthful and engaging. Perhaps it’s the city and the times shaping the music? Seoul in the 2010’s and Glasgow of the 1980’s – despite the economic ups and downs Seoul remains vibrant and the center of South Korean life, and has never experienced Glasgow’s long industrial decline. eniac would be the soundtrack to running through city streets for the sheer joy of it. The Blue Nile would be the music for wondering why I did that, while nursing a drink alone.