While idol group-centered K-pop has been heavily covered by the media, the Korean indie music scene has received relatively little attention. Seeking diversity of Korean music, The Korea Herald is starting a series of interview articles shedding light on the Korean indie music scene. ― Ed.
The 1990s is often called “golden age of Korean pop” because there were so many singer-songwriters with unique styles and good album sales.
Today, the younger generation’s interest in ’90s K-pop is especially fueled by popular music audition TV programs such as “I Am a Singer” in which contestants often cover songs from the 1990s.
No Reply, a pop duo based in the Hongdae indie scene, is one of the best examples of musicians whose sound is reminiscent of ’90s K-pop.
“From the ’90s K-pop songs, I have learned that there can be many ways to write songs. For example, if you listen to Panic’s second album, it starts with a sniffing sound with a narration. To be able to think that way when making a song, and to be loved by the public at the same time, is really great,” Kwon Soon-gwan, No Reply’s vocalist and keyboard player, told The Korea Herald. He composes and writes the lyrics of most of the duo’s songs.
|No Reply members Kwon Soon-gwan (right) and Jeong Wook-jae during an interview with The Korea Herald in Hongdae, Seoul. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)|
“Take Lee Seung-hwan’s album ‘Human.’ From the top to the last, every track of the album is a masterpiece. Luckily, I was able to compose a title song for Lee’s 10th album last year,” he said.
Jeong Wook-jae, who is in charge of guitar and lyrics, said his role model is Seo Tai-ji, who gained huge popularity with the band Seo Tai-ji & Boys but later pursued his own solo rock career.
“Some day, like him, I want to do music in my own style, not ones that can make money,” Jeong said.
Kwon, 29, and Jeong, 27, have been neighborhood buddies since their middle school days in Pyeongchon in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province.
They formed the band to participate in the 2006 Yoo Jae-ha Music Competition and won silver prize with the folk ballad “Looking Back.”
After signing with indie label Happy Robot Records in March 2007, Kwon has made his name in the pop scene by writing songs for singers such as Kim Hyun-chul and Younha.
Their 2009 debut album “Road” was praised for its refined sensibilities. They followed up with the EP album “Tune Your Mind” in late 2009 and the second studio album “Dream” in late 2010. The band also has also been releasing digital singles, including popular song “Propose Day,” since 2008.
Despite their avoidance of TV and radio music programs, the duo have built up a broad fan base through frequent concerts and guest performances over the years.
After their first solo concert at a 200-seat club in the summer of 2009, they staged a concert at an 800-seat theater in the winter that year. In March in 2010, the audience for their solo concert grew to 1,200, and to 2,000 in February 2011.
No Reply will be “the first Hongdae scene band” to hold a solo concert at the large-scale, 3,500-seat Olympic Hall in Olympic Park in Seoul on July 16, according to the concert organizer Mint Paper.
“As it will be our largest concert ever, we want to make it really grand and cool,” Jeong said.
“Our studio album songs tend to be quiet and serious but digital singles and EP songs are light and exciting. The concert will be fun and dynamic with visual effects,” Kwon said, adding that he was very impressed by U.S. singer-songwriter Ben Folds’ recent concert in Seoul.
“Ben Folds helped me realize that it was okay to feel free on stage,” he said.
Separately, Jeong, a graduate school student majoring in environmental policy in Sogang University, is part of a project called “TUNE,” through which he releases solo songs about the environment, freedom and love.
After releasing an EP in 2009 as the first step of TUNE project, Jeong recently unveiled two digital singles “Consume Endlessly” and “The Flags of All Nations.”
“Korean musicians participated in environment campaigns or charity events in the past but most of the time, it was one-off thing. Nowadays, people quickly find out whether the musician is really serious about those kinds of issues or not,” Jeong said.
“Music will help me a lot in raising awareness in the environment area. Like Jack Johnson, I’ll be integrating myself as a musician and an environmental activist,” he said.
No Reply said it is their dream to release an international album one day, adding that many foreigners who frequent Hongdae clubs leave mentions on their Twitter and Facebook pages.
No Reply’s concert will take place at the Olympic Hall on July 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets range from 55,000 won to 77,000 won. For tickets, visit ticket.yes24.com or call 1544-6399. For details, visit www.mintpaper.com.
By Kim Yoon-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)