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Australian quintet dream of K-pop fame

A cappella group Suade perform Korean pop songs with an Aussie twist


When a group of five burly Australian males take the stage at a music show, the last thing you anticipate is a classic Korean pop song performed in perfect harmony.

But that is exactly the type of unexpected performance Australian a cappella group Suade hope will get them noticed on the Korean music scene.

Suade completed their third trip to Korea last week with performances on KBS television and at the Grand Hyatt Hotel for a large Australia Day function, and already have plans to return for a longer tour in October.

Suade formed 10 years ago in Melbourne. The current line-up features brothers Chris and Laurence Blain singing tenor and baritone, respectively, Rory Osman singing bass, Ian Nisbet as tenor and countertenor, and Rob Latham covering all vocal ranges.
A cappella group Suade — (from left) Ian Nisbet, Rob Latham, Chris Blain, Laurence Blain and Rory Osman — sing a medley at an Australia Day function at the Grand Hyatt Seoul on Wednesday.
A cappella group Suade — (from left) Ian Nisbet, Rob Latham, Chris Blain, Laurence Blain and Rory Osman — sing a medley at an Australia Day function at the Grand Hyatt Seoul on Wednesday.

Their first tour to Korea in 2009 happened by mistake, after a festival they were supposed to attend was cancelled. Having already booked tickets, the group decided to come anyway and explore the local Korean music scene.

“We got here and we were just absolutely blown away,” said Laurence (Loz) Blain. “It’s absolutely amazing, I don’t think there’s anything like it anywhere else in the world ... You can see music constantly, the arts is just flourishing here.”

With their eyes opened to the thriving world of K-pop, Suade quickly discovered that although they struggled to compete vocally with the superior Korean a cappella groups, their advantage was their uniqueness.

“The difference that we bring is that we’re just all about going crazy and having fun and tripping each other up on stage. It’s a kind of loose, and slightly manic and crazy vibe that I think is really uncommon over here,” said Loz. “We tend to act a bit more like we’re at the pub than we’re on a big stage.”

Trading off their cheeky Australian character, Suade mix strong vocals with a theatrical, comedic performance that includes slapstick humor, musical parodies and melodies of popular songs in both English and Korean, including the classic Korean pop hit “Magic Castle.”

“The music’s just gorgeous and we really like the song,” said Loz. “But then somehow we had the idea that it might be really fun to mix that up with the Wonder Girls tune ‘Nobody’ and bust out all the K-pop dance moves and stuff like that. And that’s a riot.”

“The nice thing about Suade is that it’s really varied,” said Chris Blain, who also serves as the group’s musical director. “Even within one show we can have 10 different genres of music and be really comfortable stepping into the different shoes.”

The five men have toured together through Australia and many parts of Asia, but are enamored with the amount of support for pop music in Korea and recognize the unique opportunities that exist here.

“Korea is sort of becoming our home abroad. We’re touring lots of places but we always seem to come back to Korea in a middle,” said Loz, adding that Suade have considered making a more permanent base for themselves in Seoul. “It’s definitely something that we’ve talked about.

“There’s just so much happening, you know. There’s just so much going on in so many different areas.

Every venue that you go to has equipment beyond our wildest dreams. As a musician or an artist, the set-up here is phenomenal.”

The group is learning more Korean with each trip, and hope to expand their repertoire of K-pop songs for their next visit. They believe it is important to know the meaning of any Korean song that they sing.

“To us, singing is really about communication,” said Loz. “So if we’re going to be singing in another language we really feel like we do need to understand what we’re singing all of the time so that we can communicate.”

And while Suade plan to continue entertaining audiences across Korea with an Aussie-inspired, boisterous show when they return in October, they are also hoping to use some of the lessons they have learned from Korean groups and possibly introduce some K-pop music to audiences back home.

“It’s massive all around Asia, but we don’t hear anything of it in Australia,” said Loz. “There’s the opportunity that we’ve been thinking about to take some Korean music and write English lyrics for it and record it and maybe bring some of that music back to Australia as well.”

By Hamish Boland-Rudder, Intern reporter (hamish.bolandrudder@gmail.com)
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