About K-Pop in Europe (an interpretation)


As it may not be common knowledge yet, I was teaching Italian secondary school students in Ireland for a month for pocket money while spending the summer here with Herself and +1. It has been fun.

Of course I explained to them that I did not actually live in Ireland, and that I was a resident of Korea (no not North, South). This got a reaction sometimes, and other times it didn’t. The students I was teaching were nice, with a decent standard of English, but I was lucky to have the higher levels, as there were other teachers who were considerably less fortunate. But anyway.

With one class the students were mostly around 17, they liked music, boys/girls, fashion, and having a good time, like most people their age. They were, for want of a better word, normal. At the end of an early class, some students came to me and asked me if I listened to K-Pop (note: they didn’t ask if I knew it), but they gave me an appropriately skeptical look as they asked me. In their defence I think they were looking for a way to start a conversation.

Well, anyway, it turns out they were familiar with all the hit makers, and they were particularly fond of Shinee (or however the fuck you spell it). I wretched, naturally. “No, you don’t like it?” they asked. I shook my head with pursed lips and explained about the noise pollution and saturation in Korea. They looked like they understood.

“Well”, said one, “I like it. It’s fun. I mean I don’t love it. It’s fun. It’s something to listen to. But, like my favourite band is Muse, so… “. I think she was hoping I wouldn’t judge her too harshly. And we left it at that.

I suppose because I am not left with K-Pop burnt ears that I can approach this subject with a mature outlook. What I got from this exchange was that, yeah we know it’s poppy manufactured crap but it’s got a certain amount of quirkiness to it that makes it different from the usual manufactured pop crap. Which I can recognise from a musical perspective.

What’s also emerged from this thought process was that, you know the way you see those programmes in Korea showing millions and millions of European kids going to a K-Pop showcase in Paris or wherever, the reason why people are excited is because they’re at a concert and concerts are exciting, and people will say anything when a camera is put in their face when they’re excited.

Anyway, maybe I’ll look a little more favourably on the K-Pop in Europe thing as something musically different, and that’s why people listen to it, for a change, and because it’s fun. Which I suppose it is when you aren’t subjected to listening to it all the fucking time.

From this lesson maybe I’ll try to be less of a cynic. Actually that won’t happen. Maybe I’ll be more mature in my cynicism. Perhaps.

HBC Fest – A grainy and blurred photographic reflection on the musical event of the summer!


Yesterday was, of course, the HBC Fest. It was very colourful, especially if you consider the busfuls of cops that turned up to help us out with crowd control. It’s good to see that our taxes are eventually getting their money’s worth, especially when it comes to the 5-O. Anyway, I’m sure that the prominence of the cops has well advertised on the Korean blogosphere. This suits this post perfectly as I don’t intend on sharing any pictures of the cops – although I did see one great picture of some guy standing in and helping out the cops as crowd control which was hilarious… Anyway more about the cops later…

In my Groove article about the HBC Fest I advocated for people to go into the venues and enjoy the music, and for some reason everyone – or at least a lot of ones – did so. All the venues were packed and the music benefited and rose to the occasion! At the start of the day it pissed rain and I think this encouraged a lot of people inside where they found that it was a lot cooler than the previous May Fest and also that the standard of music, entertainment and good vibes was of a high standard. Kudos to everyone who took part in the festival; musicians, bar owners, bar staff, restaurant workers, Kobawoo supermarket, Lance, and of course all the wonderful people who turned up on the day to drink and be merry, and of course spend enough money to make all the hassle from the cops – if there was any – worth it in the end for the organisers.

Here are some of the photos that I took yesterday with my iPhone and shared on twitter throughout the day.

Phillies at the onset

My good friend - Mississippi Dave ... who's actually from Winnipeg but that's beside the point, he's a wonderful performer and I'll miss him when he returns to Canada after fifteen years in Korea this September.

Yes they are jello shots and yes they were all gone the next time I looked at the tray!

These guys were called Language of Shapes (I think), very cool sounding group.

Unfortunately I can't remember the name of this guy 😦 But it's nice photo, right???

Mikey from the VFW mopping the floor before the Fest started. Why did he bother???

Great festival weather - actually made me a little homesick. That crowd is gathered around the Frills and Thrills Burlesque Show which nearly caused more car accidents than the entire festival!

Magna Fall! Good band and worth checking out in the future!

The always spell-bindingly wonderful Mia Zepeda!

Mikey in the VFW still shouting for everyone to get fucked up - as if they needed any encouragment!

Two guys playing The Local - I think they were called Backus. Good stuff!

The Drunk Democracy - I'm not sure if this was before or after the 30 other Irish people had to be pulled down from the lights (myself included) when they started playing Horse Outside - if you haven't heard of this song just look for it on YouTube.

Johnny Red in Le Vert

LRD and a strange bald ex-editor or Groove trying to steal his guitar...I think

Angelic me

The Two Guitars in The Orange Tree well past my bedtime...

...and also this fella's!

Photos are, admittedly, a bit grainy. Oh well.

When I was coming back through Haebangchon the next morning in a taxi there was someone passed out in front of the Family Mart – unfortunately it was only hindsight that had the good idea to stop the cab and take a picture. Maybe next time!

I didn’t take many pictures of the police presence at the festival. For me, this was probably the most significant thing that you can interpret as you will. It was certainly unique. However, as far as I could work out everything went well. There didn’t seem to be any problems and all the interactions seemed to be good natured and respectful. Most people realised they weren’t there to break up the party and people just go on with having a good time. The guys forming the line along the street were all young military service aged kids who didn’t want to be there any more than any of us would have liked to be there, but I could see that they were taking it in their stride and enjoying the madness of the situation, while a few were even taking the opportunity to practice their English. I’m pretty sure no hagwon or text book in the world will have a lesson on ‘drunk at a music festival’, so they can be happy about that. While their may have been some bad things that happened, all in all, I think it passed off – for want of a better word – trouble free.

Thanks to everyone who came out, performed, drank, smiled, danced, ate, kissed, and/or held hands. This was certainly a HBC Fest worth remembering!

I should have more less grainy photos up somewhere soon!

Being a Rock Star in Korea


For a while now I have been musing with writing a very accusatory article about musicians in Korea, in particular western English teachers who come here and find out that they can also be rockstars whilst filling in their 30 hours a week in a hagwon – I was one of these two. So instead of actually losing a lot of friends, I’m going to try and raise awareness and encourage people that music in Korea is a great opportunity to become something else, to build talent, to learn mistakes, and of course to just make the music scene better.

Of course, problems with the music scene in Korea don’t just start with westerners who are trying to have a bit of fun, they go much deeper than that. I’ve reposted an article from Yonhap News, the Korean news service, that highlights the significant problems that Korean bands suffer from in an industry that is full of publicity for one particular kind of music, pop music or K-pop, and leaves all others struggling to find their own way of publicity. By ignoring other genres of music, the media (not in this case obviously, I meant the broader scheme) creates the impression that Korean people only listen to K-pop! Which is like say that Irish people only eat potatoes – which is ridiculous because I remember having rice once when I was nine.

Hardships of being an indie musician in Korea

By Niels Footman
SEOUL, Dec. 10 

When singer Song Eun-jie made a shock admission about her life as a musician in Korea, it was sadly unsurprising to people familiar with Korea’s indie scene. “I’m 30 and I make around 600,000 won (US$520) a month, which leaves me just enough to buy a little make-up. My parents say I should get married, or tell me to find a proper job,” she said.

   Speaking in a cable TV documentary in January about Sogyumo Acacia Band, for whom she is the lead singer, Song provided a stark reminder that however vibrant Korea’s TV shows and pop culture have become in recent years, life for the country’s indie musicians remains extremely onerous.

   Nor was hers the only tale of hardship among Korea’s indie musicians to make news this year. Following the death of Lee Jin-won, the singer with indie band Moonlight Nymph, from a heart attack in early November, stories soon emerged of the serious financial difficulties he had reportedly faced toward the end of his life.

Perhaps you will hear more from me on this subject in the future.

HBC Fest: The Beauty of Hatred


Today’s post comes directly from the good people down at The Three Wise Monkeys webzine (I am not a wise monkey, nor a monkey, nor am I wise although I aspire to the status).

Why I Hate the HBC Fest.

by Me.

The HBC Fest, which apparently stands for Hae-bang-chon (how creative), is being unofficially renamed by me as the Hardly Bothered Coming Festival®, and I am going to tell you why!

Before I start complaining about it, I just want to let you know that I’m sick of it already! You’d think that after four years people would know about it and I’d have the freedom to spend my time looking for something better to do when the time comes around. It makes me feel like I have a stutter every October and May and I end up having to repeat myself in a different way. Well it’s not my fault; I know everything about it already. Continue reading

Born from Hellfire: The History of the HBC Fest From Then until Now.


The HBC Fest, being from Haebangchon, was born in the manner that is expected of it. Leaning on the bar in the Orange Tree (the old one that is, not the newer green one) Jim Gaynor listened as it was some how injected into his consciousness that he had the potential to organise and run a music festival in Haebangchon.

While no one (except Jim) will ever know what the shy and philosophical Australian with more gold teeth than real teeth dreamed off, this incident, a drunken conversation in a late-night venue, has gone on to be one of the most diverse and popular events on the waeguk scene in Korea. In fact I would argue that two events, the Seoul International DJ Festival and the Boryeong Mud Festival (both International festivals with major corporate and government support) are larger. The HBC Fest has grown and mutated and regrown and shrunk and mutated again into an orgasmic organic festival of Music, Art and Life. Continue reading