DAEGU - While a growing independent music scene gives more exposure to both Korea-based expat artists and Korean bands alike, audiences around the country are increasingly being exposed to some of the incredibly talented groups that are active in Korea today.
At a glance, it`s not entirely unfair to assume that there has been a lacking middle ground in the Korean music scene: there`s K-pop stars, most recently typified as boy/girl bands assembled by intensive audition processes, who dispense bubble-gum pop written by someone else, delivered in heavily choreographed performances, all overseen by one of goliath management agencies.
At the other end of the spectrum are the niche independent artists and bands who operate out of the small scenes in each city, the strongest being the Hongdae scene in Seoul. While there is a whole range of amazing acts both foreign and Korean - including Gogo Star, Galaxy Express, Apollo 18, We Need Surgery and Mirror House - for the most part they are confined to a circuit of a handful of clubs. With the power that the management agencies exert and K-pop`s domination of the media, it`s difficult for independent bands to get exposure, expand their fan base and most pertinently, play in another city.
Put simply, Korea just doesn`t seem to have had an established touring route for up and coming independent bands.
As a knock effect, foreign artists have rarely come to Korea unless they happen to already be a huge act, in which case they will play a single stadium/festival show. It`s almost unheard of for smaller groups to tour through Korea, while in contrast Japan has a frequently trodden tour path.
But times are a changing.
From Nov. 5 two foreign bands are set to play a series of shows throughout Korea and then Japan on a tour dubbed Youth In Asia. The motivation behind these shows is the release of "In Transit," the debut album from Swingset Committee, stalwarts of the Hongdae club scene, who are being joined by American-label mates Dairyland Youth, for their final Asian shows before returning to the United States.
The Youth In Asia tour is a unique event: A tour through Korea by a foreign band based out of Seoul, along with an off the radar punk band from the United States.
Swingset Committee are an electronic duo who have been compared to MGMT, The Postal Service and Modest Mouse. The pair, David Dahlquist and Andrew Belinsky, Arrived in Korea in October 2008 and played their first live show within a month.
Their hard work has now paid off.
The duo released their debut, signing to the small Minneapolis-based label Catlick Records. The Youth In Asia tour will act as a warm up for their upcoming tour in the United States, before finally relocating in New York.
Swingset Committee`s label mates and touring cohorts, Dairyland Youth, are a Wisconsin-based punk band that have been performing around the American Midwest since 1988. While having been compared to Green Day and NOFX, their most recent accomplishment is the release of their 20th anniversary CD "Re?Volting." The Youth in Asia tour serendipitously also fulfills their long-term dream of touring Japan.
You may well ask why this is of any particular interest. After all, don`t bands tour through Korea all the time? Well, actually they don`t, which makes this tour a pretty momentous occasion, not only for Swingset Committee, whose future is looking very bright, and Dairyland Youth, whose dream of making it big in Japan may come true, but also for the whole independent music scene in Korea. Korea`s DIY concert and tour scene is becoming stronger and the Youth In Asia tour is proof of this growing momentum.
Yet while this tour is important, it is not the first of its kind.
In fact it is another step, a more markedly visible one, too, in a tour circuit becoming slowly more established. Take the case of Ssighborggggg, another electronic duo (of a more avante garde variety). This band in particular is playing an important part in improving the infrastructure for live music in Korea with their booking agency Super Color Super, their aim being to build up a network of DIY concert venues across the nation and bring exposure for under the radar talent, consequently reducing the expenses for both bands and concert goers.
And aside from aforementioned Gogo Star, Galaxy Express, Apollo 18, We Need Surgery and Mirror House, the leap from popular independent band to something more visible nationally, is extremely difficult.
Another mission of theirs is to link the Korean scene in with the rest of Asia and the world. So far, Super Color Super have orchestrated a successful Korea/Japan tour for the Korean-American alternative hip hop artist Nosaj Thing in June and July, and a short Korean tour for Japanese artist Henna Dress in September. Meanwhile Ssighborggggg themselves have been touring through China throughout this month.
There are more and more talented and hard working people putting blood, sweat and tears into making Korea and legitimate touring route, while giving bands and audiences a better scene to thrive in. Maybe the Youth In Asia tour will set an example for other groups to follow, in turn making use of the infrastructure Super Color Super are laying down. With any luck, Swingset Committee`s imminent string of live shows will become just a few of many tours that will take place in Korea over the next few years, bringing live music to the masses.
By Dann Gaymer