Posted on September 19, 2016
Before you read this article I want you to know that selecting the Top 7 punk bands in Korea was a really tough thing to do. The fact is when you are talking about what we like to call ‘indie’ or ‘underground’ music, whether it be in England, America, Korea (or anywhere else for that matter), then you can probably trace its heritage right back to the punk scene. Punk is not a specific genre of music, but rather an attitude that you must do it yourself. So with this in mind, it would seem a little ridiculous to pick a top 7 in the Korean Punk scene. However, this article is not discussing which band is the best among Korean Punk scene, but to show my respect to the Korean Punk scene that lit a fire within the whole of Hongdae’s independent music culture. I hope this article can act as a short guide for new listeners who are both curious and willing to understand the Korean Punk scene. That being said, and to circumvent understandable criticism, I would like to say I am aware of the fact that there are numerous sub-genres in punk and that every sub-genre has different fans and styles. If you are one of those passionate punk people, please do not get upset over this article.
Many eyebrows were raised by listeners when the Veggers were announced as candidates for the ‘heaviness’ prize at the 2016 Korean Music Awards. The music the Veggers produce differs from our existing preconceptions of punk music because, well... the Veggers’ music is not really all that loud. However, it would be too harsh to say that they are not a true punk band. Listening to the Veggers’ music might remind you of the early 70s, before a certain turning point when there was no distinct division between rock and punk. The band’s tightly honed playing skills and musical tone might not please the pure punk connoisseurs, but there is no doubting that the Veggers are a great band who are making a big contribution to help broaden the appeal of the punk scene here in Korea.
There is something I need to confess to the readers of this article; honestly, the reason I wanted to write a Top 7 punk article was so I could write about the Green Flame Boys. In 2015 when their single ‘그저 귀여운 츠보미였는 걸’ came out, I was really taken aback by how incredibly good it was. There were two completely opposite reactions from the public to this single, either people were saying that the band was the best newcomer band to the Hongdae punk scene this year, or they thought the music was a joke. However, if you see Green Flame Boys live, even just once, I guarantee it will be impossible to say anything negative things about their music again. There is nothing fake about these guys; they are the real deal. They have no filter with regards to the things they say and they always give it everything they’ve got. I’m afraid to say it for fear of being accused of overstating my point but I hold that during live performances the charisma of the band’s lead vocalist, Cho Ki-chul , is nothing short of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis or Iggy Pop. Go and see them live as soon as you can, for wherever you see them, the band will blow you away.
I think I really need to include a hardcore punk band in this list as well. Most people have a certain image in mind when they think of the word ‘punk’, and it’s usually the image of hard core punk culture, though this makes sense as hardcore punk is indeed one of the veins that runs through the heart of most punk scenes. The name of band, Gukdo(which means 'A way to real pain') is pretty much explains their musical style. You can feel the rawness from their name and understand that Gukdo is driving hard all the way to the end. If you listen to Gukdo, you will notice that they are influenced by the Crust Punk genre and you’ll find yourself screaming in anger with no reason. Which is not necessarily a bad thing at a Gukdo gig.
Billy Carter receive a lot of praise from critics and their popularity shows no sign of slipping. Several years ago when the Black Keys won loads of grammys for their album El Camino, bluesy garage music bands seemed to be springing up all over the place. Some people might have worried that when a new fashionable type of music replaced blues garage rock the band might just disappear, but those concerns have been quashed as the band continue to make awesome music. It cannot be denied that the core of their music is based on garage rock and blues, but they also have an undeniable punk spirit. Especially when it comes to their live gigs, the listener will definitely understand that they are not trying to follow 'hip' trends in the current music scene but rather Billy Carter will show you a true and pure punk attitude.
I don’t think there is anyone with any level of interest in the Hongdae scene who has not heard of Delta Sequence by now. There cannot be anyone left who has not seen one of their stickers somewhere around town, as they are literally everywhere you go. I think that one of the best things about DTSQ’s music is that through their sound, you can see clearly how punk is changing. Recently punk music around the world kind of broke out of the traditional punk framework and is starting to become a bit more danceable by incorporating more of a synthesiser sound with an almost psychedelic feel. However, that turned out to be a bit of a temporary fad that didn’t really catch on with traditional punk lovers. DTSQ though have gone from strength to strength. That's because they are able to keep straightforwardness, which is the most significant characteristic in Punk music, in their music. DTSQ is successfully pulling out simple guitar riffs and simple arrangements to create true punk.
Full Garage is a funny band, and I mean this in a good way. They are like funny dudes from your high school who refuse to be serious and all they want is just to have a fun. To be honest with you, their music is Pop Punk and we all understand what Pop Punk is supposed to sound like. However, if you ever had a chance to listen to Full Garage’s music, I don’t think anyone can simply dismiss them as just another Pop Punk band. The way they play is too solid for the listener to fail to note how skilled and experienced the members of Full Garage are. So don’t try to be a music critic with Full Garage. If you do, they will probably just laugh at you.
I think the golden age for punk in Korea so far was the 90s and early 2000s. Melodic Punk music from that era made it possible for everyone to dance to Punk music and functioned as a guideline for Punk beginners. At the same time, melodic punk was becoming a major player in the Japanese scene, and so naturally it started to make its way over to Korea as well. ...Whatever That Means make honest melodic punk that sounds like it could have come out of that era. When ...Whatever That Means get up on stage the venue takes on a real harmonised party feel where everyone is dancing around like madmen, embracing one another, and having a great time. Most of the band’s lyrics are in English, but one of the band’s strengths is that the songs are easy enough to pick up and sing along to after a few listens.
Written By: J-Myon Kim
English Translation: J-Myon Kim
Editing: Alex Ameter