I have a few days left in Seoul, but was fortunate enough to meet up with the band Phonebooth at Club Ta in the Hongdae area on Saturday (side note: This area is cool as shit. Highly recommended if you visit Seoul).
I found the place around 9 pm assuming I’d be early. I walked in and the club was dead except for a bunch of guys sitting around a table. It had to be them. I walked over, introduced myself, and asked when they play.
They already did.
I didn’t get it, but apparently there was some function on and they had to play early. Who knew?
Ian, the drummer, seemed to be the only one who knew enough English to answer most of the questions and translate for the rest of the guys. I didn’t know what to expect from the interview except to get an idea of what the South Korean indie scene is like.
Here’s a summary of what I found out:
1. Phonebooth have been a band for 5 years and have been able to tour Japan, China, Taiwan, and Thailand.
2. They record and perform their music in the Korean language as that’s the only way to build a local following. Their heroes are Oasis and the Beatles and they want to record in English to gain fans in the U.S/Canada, but to build a base-they have to stick with Korean.
3. The frustration of being an indie rock band in a country where the only real place to play is in the Hongdae area of Seoul, was ever so clear. Everyone would rather go to the dance clubs than see a local rock band even though more and more big bands like Muse, Oasis, and Metallica are coming here to play. I informed/reminded them this is a frustration of many indie bands all over, regardless of where they are from.
4. The majority of kids here torrent music (just like everywhere else).
5. They only hear about non-Korean music through the internet. There are very few traditional outlets for it.
6. When asked about their plans for the next 2 years, they all let out moans of frustration. Every South Korean male has to serve in the military for 2 years and you can only put it off for so long. They’ve all put it off as long as they can and they all are heading to the army next year. That’s a shite deal, but makes you thankful if you’re living in a place where you have more freedom.
7. I had to ask about North Korea. Their response: In Seoul, nobody cares and the supposed threat of North Korea is clearly not evident-but you still have to serve in the military.
Even though the band’s future is uncertain, there is growing hope for Korean indie music as more and more bands start playing and more and more people start paying attention. It’s slow growth, but they’ve noticed definite positive change since 2005.
Check out their video for the song “Got A Chance.” Don’t be fooled by the title, the song minus one line in the chorus is in Korean. Catchy tune.
And if you were curious about Korean mainstream music, take a look at this video.