This month’s K-SPOTLIGHT special interview is with Annie Ko from electronic duo Love X Stereo! We caught up with her following the release of the 2nd album for the ‘37’ project, named 37B. At that time, Love X Stereo (consisting of Annie Ko and Toby Hwang) were also at the initial stages of a crowdfunded collaborative album to be made in conjunction with 7 other indie bands. Titled ‘Winter Dreams’, it was inspired by the Winter Olympics taking place in Pyeongchang during February 2018. Other than Love X Stereo themselves, the album will feature music from: Land of Peace, Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio, Beautiful Jin, AKUA, WYM, JNVR, and HEO. Look out for the Winter Dreams album which will be available in February!
We’ve featured Love X Stereo before on the K-SPOTLIGHT, and reviewed 37B (rating it highly), so what an opportunity it was to secure an up-to-date interview at last! We hope you enjoy this one, here are the highlights of our conversation with Annie Ko. We covered a lot of topics and it was eye-opening to hear the stark realities of life as a band in South Korea. This makes it ever more important to lend your support where you can. Many thanks to Annie for talking at length about so many interesting things!
To buy music from Love X Stereo, you can check out their Bandcamp page, purchase digital downloads from iTunes and Google Play, or stream from apple music, Spotify and Soundcloud. If you want to become a regular supporter, you can pledge a certain amount monthly via Patreon and contribute to their 37 project. Keep a look out for Winter Dreams too.
Hi Annie! Can you introduce Love X Stereo to our readers?
My name is Annie Ko and I’m in a band called Love X Stereo – an electro duo. Our music is very much inspired by the 90s. We like alternative music and have punk rock roots. We try to do something different with different synthesizers!
What is the Korean indie scene like at the moment?
Right now, the Korean indie music scene is dying really fast… Not in terms of the musicians but the scene itself. The Hongdae area is getting too expensive so clubs are closing. In the past, fans were into rock bands but these days everything is heading towards hiphop right now – I think it’s a global phenomenon that includes Korea too – so all these fans we used to have are older now, and the younger generation are more into K-pop or hiphop. This means that we don’t have that many interactions with K-indie music fans, and it’s deteriorating a little.
Not only that, but there are a lot of social media issues as well. If you are a band, you react with an audience fairly directly, but if you do something a little bit wrong, then you easily get targeted on twitter, and other social media. Musicians are very sensitive in that way…it can be very hurtful if you are targeted online. There aren’t that many people there (at shows) and it’s not like you are earning a lot of money. It’s just doing music purely for fun. If the fun goes out of the way, then you don’t want to do music at all. That’s what is happening in Korea right now.
In Korea, people associate rock music as being indie music, and so they don’t think rock music can be major music. It is a very weird thing. There are only a small pool of people (so everybody knows everybody in a way) who tend to listen to indie music and go to clubs to see shows.
How did the idea for the ‘Winter Dreams’ compilation album come about?
I was talking to Toby, and it’s not just us but all these other bands, because of the decrease in people buying CDs – they listen to streaming services and tickets/merch don’t sell so it’s hard for us to survive. Even though that happens, we still do music for fun and still enjoy doing what we do. All these musicians that I’ve known for years are having the same conversations; that it’s not fun anymore.
They are giving up hope. It’s really hard to maintain a strong mentality that some day it’s gonna be okay. To us, that was the first inspiration to make a compilation album. We did it often in the 90s when the indie music scene in Korea was very vibrant. Back then, there were a lot of compilation albums, and people wouldn’t think about the money and it was more about the fun.
We wanted to make something fun with other artists that we love. We also have the Pyeongchang Olympics next year, so we thought that it would be interesting to maybe do something Olympics-related. That’s why we decided to do ‘Winter dreams’. I asked all the artists and many of them said yes.
We have decided to make the album a little different, not just a traditional jewel case but like a book so people can enjoy having it.
Are compilation albums common in Korea?
Well, they are and they’re not. If there is a label involved, those types of compilation albums are more common here. If there is a certain label, all the artists under that label will often be on a compilation album. All the artists that we contacted for this (Winter Dreams) album aren’t associated with a label at all. So it’s all on us, we are in charge and we are dividing everything equally. And everyone is allowed to make their own interpretation for their track.
Do you think your own track for the compilation album will be ‘dream-like’ in sound?
I’m hoping, but I really don’t know!
Is crowdfunding working to raise funds for making the album?
I expected more, but like I told you people don’t really buy merch enough these days, and I kind of miscalculated that. But, I think it’s going to be okay, I’m very positive!
Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio feature on the Winter Dreams compilation album!
Do you follow sports yourself?
I like sports myself, I’m a sports junkie. My favourite sport is actually wrestling! 🙂
I thought that Olympics albums or World cup albums here in Korea usually have punk rock groups or feature hard rock stuff. We wanted to do something very different to that. All of these bands (on ‘Winter Dreams’) do dreamy, synthy stuff and it seemed quite interesting for winter.
Since you’ve been active in the music industry for a number of years, what are your thoughts on being an artist throughout that period and transition through various popular media formats? Are these changes better for indie artists?
Around 2001-2002, when mp3 hit the market for the first time, I remember those days. Back then, I was trying to be a singer (I think I was 21). I was signed to a label and it was kind of related to a K-pop company. So I was supposed to be an R&B ballad singer and I recorded an album but it didn’t come out. Back then, there was a crisis, everyone didn’t know what to do about mp3 downloading and it was a huge deal so no-one in the music business would invest any money on a newcomer.
Now, 10-15 years later, we are in a streaming world, I think it is way more positive for an indie artist to do their type of music on their own. So it’s a great era to do music on your own. Maybe it kind of sucks because the unit profit you get is really, really small, but on the other hand if you think of it like a pension, if you have enough fans, you will earn a certain amount of money and you won’t have to worry about funds for your life.
Back then it was more like, if you had success then you would go all the way, and then you were done. But these days, it’s more like looking at things in the long-run, like a long-term plan to get people interested in your music.
What are your thoughts on how social media helps artists and your feelings about making music at present?
You never know with social media, how it works. I was especially interested in BTS because I never thought that kind of Korean artist would become like the Beatles in my lifetime. It happened way faster than I’d ever imagined. You just never know what people like or dislike, or who/what they will root for. You never know because of social media. If there is a hype, and people talk about it, then you climb up. It’s not like the old days, where you needed to have a label, a publicist, a radio-plugger. It still kind of matters, but it’s not that important anymore. I think it’s much more interesting these days, but maybe that’s just me!
I’m very positive about how things are working right now. And I really do believe that artists need to unite. ‘Divide and conquer’ is just not a good thing, which happens a lot in Korea, all the jealousy and that stuff…I just don’t believe in those things. We wanted to make a compilation album because of that. We wanted to make something interesting altogether and just have fun and see how it goes.
Did you self-learn or did you have any kind of mentor at the beginning?
Emm….I wouldn’t say I didn’t have any mentors, but with the digital era, it became much easier to record, mix and master on your own. These days, people can even make music on an iPhone. If you have a good sense of making music, then it’s really for everybody I guess. I’m kinda lucky because I have Toby. We listen to different frequencies and we have very different opinions about music, so whenever we try to make something, those kinds of combinations create something really interesting. If it was just me or just Toby, this type of music would never come out and that is the beauty of being in a band. And so far I like it, I’m kind of lucky that way I guess.
We see that you allow other bands to use your studio, did you always want to help them out in this way?
We never thought we would have a running studio like this – I mean it’s not technically like a proper studio, but we have equipment and we can provide things. It’s not like we want to make money or a business out of it. Actually, Toby is great at buying and selling gears! I remember when I first met him in 2005, he only had a bass guitar. I was the one that had a computer (not a good one) and audio interface. Back then, we would make demos at my home. I was quite interested in Toby’s obsessiveness over gears. Once he made a transition to guitarist (I made him transition because we couldn’t find a good guitarist and he could play well), he soon wanted to get another guitar, a new pedal, an amp…and 12 years later, we have so much gear right now!
He’s still obsessive. I’m kinda cool with everything – if I buy stuff I will keep it. But he will buy stuff and if you don’t use it, he can’t just keep it. He has to sell it and buy something new! Because of that obsessiveness, we have a lot of gear to record as much as a recording studio. So all the bands who don’t have a lot of money would come to us and now we can do something about that. It’s kinda cool.
You must get to hear lots of music in advance! Any recommendations so far about who we should look out for?
Of course, it’s really cool. I think…Land of Peace – they are a newcomer and they are pretty cool. Four of the members were from the Philippines and their music is very, very chilled. All the bands who are on this compilation album have recorded in our studio once or twice before.
Congratulations on the release of 37B, are you busy doing promotions for it?
I am making videos and trying to do a lot of promotions myself because we don’t have any publicist or anything. It’s just all on us.
37B is the 2nd LP from our project 37, which is a Patreon project. We decided to make 37 songs and music videos in one year, which is delayed a little! We’re kinda catching up, but it takes time I guess. I am very, very grateful that our fans are very chilled about the time schedule. We are trying our best! You can find 37B on all the streaming sites and we uploaded all the music videos onto YouTube.
Global warming is a thing. We wrote a song about it in 37B, called ‘Slipping Away’. There was this painting that we really liked, created by an artist called Diren Lee and we made a lyric video with it. There are two polar bears with red faces. It’s a picture of them when they are fully stuffed and happy in the morning with their bloody faces. We were really inspired to make that song.
How are you finding the 37 project so far?
It’s very challenging but also very satisfying at the same time. We’ve never done anything crazy like this, making songs (2-3 of them) every month is very challenging. We became very skilled and now we are faster than ever. I think it was a crazy plan but it worked in a good way. It will help us later on.
Before that we wanted to make stuff really perfect and wanted to spend time and money on it, but what we realised is that it all relates to the digital era and streaming services these days. The more you have, you win…period. It’s not that fun in the creative sense in a certain way, because if you have enough budget, you can devote time and put a lot of thought into how you want the CD and whatever, and that mattered in those days but not in this era. If there is enough quality to get you to a certain point, then people will share the music very easily. So it’s interesting.
I was inspired by the hiphop artists and how they utilised streaming services and SoundCloud. They would make a mixtape, upload it for free and people would then have opinions about it and generate hype. I think they were very smart to get that culture embedded in the streaming era. We as musicians and producers have to learn from that. That is why we decided not to think too much about the album itself. More like the songs are put out there for the fans.
Needing to create an immediate impact with the beginning of a song – does that ever cross your mind?
I don’t think that much about that, but we do think it’s kind of sad that we might not have a song like Bohemian Rhapsody. Those types of songs last for 6 minutes. Even a lot of Michael Jackson songs last 4-5 minutes. Right now timing really does matter. If you are in this business-especially if you are in a major music business-if you don’t have the drums until 40 seconds, then they wouldn’t listen to your music. I think it’s crazy! Personally, we don’t really think a lot about that, because we are not a major artist, but it’s sad that we won’t have those kinds of breakthrough artists that we had in the 70’s and 80’s.
Are there any other causes you are passionate about?
We have a dog called DeeJay. He was rescued from a dog meat farm in 2015. I was translating for HSI (Humane Society International) at the time. It was the 5th farm in Gwangju when I first saw Deejay. He was really small at the time but huge right now, shedding hair all over the place! I never thought I’d have a dog in my life right now, I’d never had one before and I just didn’t think of myself as a dog person, but to see all the wrongdoings on the farms and the dog meat trade, I had no idea about dog meat whatsoever. When I saw the reality, it changes you. It’s nice to be supportive to those kind of animal activist groups. So I’m involved in a certain way to oppose the dog meat trade and will try to save as many dogs as possible!
DeeJay striking up a perfect pose! (Image source: DeeJay’s Instagram)
What made you think to start the Instagram for DeeJay?
Because he was growing so fast! It’s really for my joy actually. I like that DeeJay is a celebrity dog, but actually it’s purely for me to have a laugh! (You can check out his Instagram here!)
How do you feel audiences are nowadays?
There aren’t that many audiences these days. The people that we see are the same crowd but numbers are getting lesser and lesser. I can feel that, so I really don’t know. I think at some point, the indie scene in Korea needs to change and shake things up. Maybe it’s gotten too boring for a lot of people and I guess we need to change that.
A snapshot of AKUA playing a show
Should change be brought about by artists themselves or elsewhere?
That’s a hard question. Of course there has to be a mindset change from the artists, and…I really don’t know because it’s pretty hard to survive as an indie musician itself in Korea. Nobody really cares that much about our music here.
The public like a genre that has a folky element with the lyrics and presentation being in a cute way – like Bolbbalgan4, Yozoh…that type of music is popular indie music that people care about. Otherwise they are not interested at all. It’s hard enough to survive.
I don’t wanna do music like that because I feel like I have to, so I think change needs to happen within ourselves for sure, and it also needs to have a certain push from society as well.
Anything else you want to try?
We are still finding our identity music-wise. We are just experimenting right now. I feel like we have to experiment more to make something extraordinary. Until that happens, we are gonna keep on pushing.
What is your main motivation to continue to do music, regardless of the obstacles?
When we started Love X Stereo, our goal was very clear, and it still is. We want to be an international act, like the bands we know, for example Chvrches and Phantogram. They are known, not because they are American or Scottish. They are simply international acts. We still have a long way to go but I’m positive!
(Interview responses have been partially edited for clarity)
Thanks again to Annie for speaking to us and letting our readers know more about the inner workings of the indie scene and the new projects! Remember to check out Winter Dreams and we hope you enjoyed this interview!
Featured image source: © Love X Stereo. 01.12.2017. All rights reserved. Image was provided by the artist for use in this article.
In-article image source: © Love X Stereo and the featured bands participating in the Winter Dreams project. 01.12.2017. All rights remain with the original band/artist. Images were provided by Love X Stereo for use in this article.