The always growing global indie music festival that takes over the Hongik University area of Seoul, Korea once again put on an incredible weekend of music in the fall of 2019, from September 26th through September 30th. We had the pleasure of seeing well over 20 bands rocking at many clubs around the area during the festivities and have found a whole new set of favorite bands all over the world. We would travel to this festival just to see some of our favorite Korean bands playing to these bigger crowds with all of the energy that comes with a festival, such as the eclectic DTSQ, the supremely passionate and entertaining Ego Function Error, one of the coolest punk bands Drinking Boys and Girls Choir out of Daegu, the powerful Lowdown 30 with rapper JTONG, our good friends and brilliant songwriters Adios Audio, and so many more.
But the surprises are what makes this weekend unlike any other in Seoul. Seeing the wildly entertaining Hungarian bands Mary PopKids and Bohemian Betyars rocking the big stage at Muv Hall remains forever memorable for all still awake and sober enough to catch them.
Also, impressively unique bands like Hong Kong's Sam Ding Muk (listen till the end, and then tell me you expected that power) that played the early afternoon hours of Sunday when most of the festival goers were still asleep, left indelible impressions on the fans who did get to see them:
Add to these the always impressive "indie" rock (I say that because some of these bands have been playing since the early 90's and are well-known establishments at home) that comes from Japan, such as the extremely exciting Guess Band and the legendary Zoobombs, and you've got the recipe for a truly world-class music festival. It isn't all sunshine and daisies of course, with some bands that missed the mark, and far too many amazing acts saddled with conflicting time slots, not to mention the copious amounts of free-flowing alcohol that make it hard to keep track of your days, but truthfully, with so much talent roaming the streets of Hongdae, no attendee would trade it for anything.
Anyone could easily write 500+ glowing words about any of the bands I've mentioned already, and others like the beautifully formed Nick Faye & the Deputies out of Canada, or the almost split-personalities that make up the hard rocking Nobuna from Thailand, but these were not the things that lit a fire under my keyboard. For that, we have to go to the bands that it seemed no one expected to blow their minds. The ones that never played one of the special, big stage nights. Some that only a handful of us got to see. These bands who left a mark on my soul, a beautiful ringing in my ears, a fire in my heart that lingers today and certainly for years to come. These four bands truly blew me away and I not only feel compelled to briefly introduce them to you, but I also reached out with a few questions to get a feeling for their tour a bit more.
And so, in case you missed it, these were the four best bands I saw for the very first time this weekend, and am forever grateful that they were a part of this fantastic festival:
From Bristol, UK, my favorite ("new") band - IDestroy (5:47)
From Hong Kong, the extremely fun to watch - Shumking Mansion (3:40)
From France, the incredibly powerful garage blues rockers - Livingstone (0:08)
The only Korean band I'd never seen before, who floored me with their beautiful songwriting and stellar musicianship - xeuda.sun (쓰다선) (2:09)
Watch all 4 bands here (see above for each of their timestamps):
So let’s get to know them, and check out some of their performances during the festival!
IDestroy (5:47 above)
I cannot gush enough about this trio. Off stage, they are some of the nicest people you're ever likely to meet - all smiles, all love, and big indie fans. On stage, they have a raw energy, a power like I haven't seen in a long time. Tight rhythms, big vocals, bone-shaking drums, a bassist that seems pained to ever have to stand still, a guitarist who only spends time on stage when the mic must be near, and so, so much more. That's the best I can do in one sentence for this band. That, and when will someone figure out how to make drummers more mobile? Because I'm damn sure the drummer was just as anxious to jump off the seat and melt our faces off from right in the midst of the crowd like the rest of the band.
I bought everything they brought with them and have been rocking hard to the 7 songs that make up their two EPs ever since, and while I have my favorites among them (Annie... is right near the top), Death Party and Swim were immediate favorites of mine during the two shows I saw. In other words, buy the EPs NOW, if you can, but also, get yourself on a wait list, or back them online, or do whatever you have to in order to get their first LP the moment it is released very soon (spring 2020). Have a listen below, check the links, and if you're not convinced already, then try imagining what you'd be listening to if Sleater-Kinney started right now. Under Brexit. Under Trump. Nothing but passion and talent fueling them. That is IDestroy for me.
In addition to their official showcase, (with huge) thanks to the incredible World Domination Inc. (who hosted them as well), IDestroy also played what turned out to be one of the best shows of the weekend - a special post-Zandari punk show at Convent in Hongdae.
So what did they think of the festival, and Korea, and what's coming in the future?
RGY: What did you think of Zandari?
IDestroy: Zandari was an incredible experience for us. We really didn't know what to expect, this was our first 'showcase' type event and our first time in South Korea. Zandari had such a welcoming and friendly atmosphere throughout the whole of the event. It was well organised and there was such a huge spectrum of talent. We really felt like we made many new friends here both with the other bands, fans and industry delegates. It was a comfortable place to have some beers and speak with new people.
RGY: How was your showcase?
IDestroy: The showcase was great! We packed the venue (Club FF) and the crowd were enthusiastic and really up for a party. Afterwards I'd heard from Zandari regulars that they'd never seen Club FF that full so early on in the day. The flyering and promotion we did definitely paid off.
RGY: How was your extra show at Convent?
IDestroy: The Convent was cool, we'd checked the venue out a few times during Zandari and we were excited to be playing there on the Monday. The drum riser was super high up, it was kinda strange being so far away from Jenn! Lots of people showed up, people we recognised from the Zandari Showcase and even the famous movie star Han Ye Seul was watching our show! Which was pretty cool.
We played with some awesome Korean bands and our new favourites ZOOBOMBS from Japan.
RGY: What was the best show you watched during the festival?
IDestroy: Billy Carter, Nick Faye and The Deputies, ...Whatever That Means, Lofibaby all get shout outs for being ace! Although we saw so many amazing acts across the three days.
RGY: What did you think of Korea?
IDestroy: We loved it and we were happy to call Seoul home for a week. We struggled a bit with finding vegetarian and vegan food, but apart from that, it felt like a safe and unique place to wander. We'd love to return.
RGY: What are your plans for future tours?
IDestroy: Our debut album will be released next year (editor note, it will be out any minute) and we will be touring as much as possible. Definitely all across the UK and Europe and it's now our mission to return to Korea and maybe even some other Asian countries too. Fingers crossed!
Fingers crossed indeed! Rest assured, we at RoK Gi Yeon will be trying to find them new countries to visit, new cities to tour, new fests to destroy, and more, to find new fans across the world!
Shumking Mansion (3:40 above)
Next up, a band I was just lucky enough to catch because I was chatting with friends when they started down the street from the show I was planning to attend. I haven't been this lucky in music since falling into the vibrant rock scene hiding in Lima, Peru, and now, I got to taste a bit of what Hong Kong has to offer with the just awesome, Shumking Mansion. Their songs are clean, powerful, catchy and more, and their members are true music lovers who seem to have permanent smiles on their faces. That's enough reason to catch the next show you can, but add to that one more bassist that refuses to be tied down, and you’ve got stars in the making. They played late, and only once, and to a rowdy and beer-filled crowd, but even in that chaos, they dominated. A fantastic representation of psychedelic rock, Shumking Mansion fuels their hard-rocking techno sound with infectious energy on stage, complete with a top hat-wearing keytarist. Add them to your list of must-see bands and find out when they're headed your way!
For now, Zaid (vocals/guitar) was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the tour and their return visit to Korea:
RGY: What did you think of Zandari?
Z: It was an amazing weekend - can't thank the festival enough for giving us this experience of playing alongside some of the best emerging musicians from around the world.
RGY: How was your showcase at Convent?
Z: It was one of our most memorable shows - we loved the stage layout with the drums on the second floor and the audience's response and interaction with us was pretty special.
RGY: What was the best show you watched during the festival?
Z: Fleche Love - her set was a mesmerizing combination of music, theater and dance. Very special.
RGY: What did you think of Korea this time around?
Z: It is our 3rd time in Korea, 2nd in Seoul. It's always a pleasure playing here because the audience is very expressive and the nightlife seems unending.
Bottom line? Do yourself a favor and check them out on stage when they're next in your neck of the woods!
Livingstone (First band in above video)
As often happens at a crowded festival like this, there are some bands that just blow you away, but when you look around the club, you realize you've nearly stumbled onto a private show. Such is the case with pre-6pm shows during Zandari, and so it was with the supremely talented blues-rockers, Livingstone. In those earlier hours of Zandari nights, I try to run from club to club to see what's out there that I've never heard of before, and I was wonderfully surprised when I ventured into Club FF's basement and saw this trio rocking the stage. Their garage blues rhythms are dirgy, electric, and filled with all of that hip-swaying, hard-rocking power that we often crave in this brave new world of EDM and the like. People often say to me that "club music is great because you can dance...I love dance music," to which I respond, "here, listen to this. THIS is dance music." That's how these three hit me. Hard in the chest. Moved to the point that I forgot where I was supposed to go next. Aside from the fantastic guitars, powerful drums, and addictive rhythms, the vocals have that beautiful blend of grunge and falsetto anger with a hook, everything you could want and more. They have been busy continuing their touring, up from Busan to Seoul for Zandari, then off to Japan for another international tour before returning to France for more "back home" gigs, so we couldn't connect to hear their thoughts on this tour. That being said, I'll tell you what I told everyone who asked me during the festival: they fucking rock. And it's a damn shame only a handful of us caught their showcase in Seoul, thanks to a time slot they are too talented to have to deal with. As with all of the bands mentioned in this article, add them to your list. Now.
쓰다선 - xeuda.sun (2:09)
Being intimately familiar with the Korean indie scene means it's hard for me to be surprised by a local band at Zandari. But thanks to another wander around to a handful of clubs in the earlier part of the day, I ended up at one of the newer clubs, Red Big Space, to see what xeuda.sun (쓰다선) was all about. A project of a singer-songwriter and violinist, they added to that beautiful sound a practiced drummer who even had sound-proofing glass around him to perfect the sound. And perfect they all were. One of my favorite singer-songwriters, in the world, is also a Seoul-based talent known simply as Drain, and while I was a little bereft at not having her on the bill for this fest, xeuda.sun gave me that same heartfelt passion and absolutely gorgeous lyrics that I have so deeply missed. The addition of such a wonderful violinist gave a powerful depth to the songs and while being gone for so long has taken a toll on my Korean, I honestly didn't need to understand anything for my heart to be touched by these artists. Like IDestroy above, I bought their CD the moment I could and am loving the playful guitar work, beautiful melodies, and violin harmonies that make them an easy choice for anyone who also loves the softer side of indie.
Zandari always has something for everyone, but in case you missed it, these are the bands I promise you should not miss again, if you’re lucky enough to have the chance.
~Keep RoKing my friends!~