[Monocle 24 Radio] Hongdae: Seoul’s Indie Music Scene (2013.7.1)
South Korean music isn’t limited to K-Pop only. There’s a thriving indie scene centered around Seoul’s Hongik Univeristy, known as Hongdae for short. But some observers say the neighborhood has become a victim of its own popularity.
Original link – http://monocle.com/radio/shows/culture/
Is Korea’s Indie Epicenter Too Small For Musicians?
- Written by Jason Strother
- Wed,23 October 2013 | 08:00
Much of the music we hear coming out of South Korea these days is of the K-pop variety. Acts like the Wonder Girls, Girl’s Generation and of course Psy have drawn global attention.
But back home there is an indie music scene.
It’s not big – in fact it’s almost entirely centered in one neighborhood.
Love X Stereo is an indie band that’s been playing the bars and clubs around Honggik University for the past seven years.
Lead singer Annie Ko tells me her band takes inspiration from 1990s alternative music, but puts their own twist on it.
“We wanted to make it a bit more 21st century.”
She’s doing that by using synthesizers. “We didn’t want to make it obvious dance type music.”
So it’s definitely not K-pop, I asked.
“Yes it’s not K Pop,” she says and laughs.
Love X Stereo is a staple of the music scene in this neighborhood, known as Hongdae for short.
Outside, the sound of guitars and drums echoes down the alleys. A small park is packed with a young crowd checking out a live performance.
If you’re an indie band in South Korea, Hongdea is the place where you get your start.
Observers say it’s no coincidence that this neighborhood is the epicentre of the country’s independent music scene, or any other art form for that matter.
“Hongdae is without a doubt Korea’s number 1 art university. As a result it’s where all the artists would study, but more importantly, play,” says Bernie Cho, CEO of DSFB Collective, an agency that promotes Korean music overseas.
“So during the early 90s, Hongdae really started out as a hangout with these artists. Pretty much any Korean music act that wants to be considered credible and legit, they need that mark, they need that tag, that bragging right, that they cut their teeth and were a product of the Hongdae scene or the Hongdae system.”
How bands in the Hongdae system get their start is a lot different from how K-Pop acts get their start, says Cho.
Huge entertainment companies south of Seoul’s ritzy Gangnam assemble those groups, give them a style and write their music.
Hongdae is more of a do-it-yourself environment.
The group 3rd Line Butterfly started playing the Hongdae scene about 15 years ago.
They recently won album of the year at the Korean Music Awards.
Guitarist Song Ki-won and singer Nam Sang-ah say Hongdae has gone through some big changes since when they first started performing there.
“We were a part of this very, very sincere musical scene. The bands we know are friends. They don’t lie with their music. It’s true; we are true to the music. I feel proud to be a part of that scene. That’s the most important thing that makes us keep going on.”
I asked singer Nam, if she thinks the scene is still as warm as it used to be.
“I think its warmer. I think the audience is more open minded than before. The number of the audience has increased too. You can see on their faces they are enjoying themselves more.”
But some venue owners in Hongdae say it’s getting tougher to stay in business.
“People come more, more more, prices go up, up. Many artists can’t work in Hongdae, it’s too expensive,” says Eddie Hwang who manages the live music bar F-F.
Bernie Cho of the DSFB Collective says Hongdae’s growing popularity has come with a price.
“Now you have all these franchises that want to get in and cash in on this hip, cool street cred factor. And what’s happening is that is driving some of the smaller clubs out of the neighborhood. It has in some ways it’s become a victim of its own success.”
For Annie Ko, Love X Stereo’s lead singer, finding new venues outside of Hongdae doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. She says her band hopes to broaden its horizons.
“It would nice to know that there is somewhere else where we can perform.”
“Hongdae is a very small pool,” she adds, “Even if you get famous, it’s hard to expect a lot. Our goal is to get out of here.”
Love X Stereo recently took off on their first overseas tour to the United States. It seems like her wish came true.