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From Hongdae to Texas

Korean indie band Galaxy Express gains confidence after U.S. tour


Galaxy Express, one of the leading indie rock bands based in Hongdae, wondered why they had to go to the U.S. to perform when they were first offered the chance two years ago.

“We were asked to participate in a project called SEOULSONIC designed to bring Korean rock groups to North America. But we said, ‘No. Why do we have to? We are already doing great and busy here,’” said Park Jong-hyun, the band’s guitarist and vocal.

The band who were half in doubt soon found out that they were wrong. In March 2011, the band, as part of the SEOULSONIC project, embarked on their first North American tour and performed at Canadian Music Week and also South by Southwest, America’s largest new music festival.

“It was amazing. We realized that the world is so big and there are so many people out there who loved our music. We gained some sort of confidence,” Park told The Korea Herald in an interview. 

Galaxy Express. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Galaxy Express. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

This year, the Korean indie band famous for garage punk, psychedelic sounds and explosive performances, made a bigger step forward. The trio participated in SXSW held in Austin, Texas, as an individual group. This time, it not only wowed serious rock fans there, but also grabbed the mainstream media’s attention. The New York Times ran a photo of the group performing and listed their names as one of three bands coming from non-English speaking country in the story. Also, a Korean independent filmmaker made a documentary show about the band, and it will be screened later this year at a film festival.

“We were so surprised to see hundreds of people coming to our show. Some were even wearing T-shirts with our names on it and some even asked us to live there permanently,” said Lee Ju-hyun, the band’s leader who plays bassist and also sings.

“People said they realize that our music is a kind of rock. But they said ours is so unique and distinctive from what they’ve heard. We just said that we are from Korea,” he added.

With all the energy, passion and confidence they received from the U.S. tour, the group has fully changed its music style to something more positive and fun.

“We were always sarcastic at first when making and singing songs that cursed the world we live in. But now we are trying to deliver message that even though the world hasn’t been changed, it is worth it to live and enjoy,” Park said.

Galaxy Express is the first indie band that was partly supported by the Korean government for their U.S. tour. The band also performed in front of Culture Minister Choe Kwang-shik last month at a press conference on the government’s project to turn the Korean Wave into an industry. The comprehensive plan includes hosting the first Asian Music Market in October at various venues in Seoul to introduce not only K-pop artists, but also the country’s talented, yet unknown indie bands, like Galaxy Express. The ministry also plans to support indie bands who want to make inroads into overseas markets.

“The Japanese government has been supporting rock bands for the last 20 years. It is quite late for the Korean government to do so. But we hope that the government continues the support to open more opportunities for bands like us,” said Kim Hee-kwon, a classic-turned-rock drummer.

Formed in 2006 in Hongdae, home of indie bands in northwestern Seoul, Galaxy Express started to gain recognition from critics and rock fan groups with its two EP albums, “To the Galaxy” and “Ramble Around.” Making an official debut with its first full-length album “Noise on Fire,” in 2008, the group won “Best Rock Album” at the 2009 Korean Music Awards. The band, consisted of three extravagant and enthusiastic artists, surprised the audience with their unconventional idea on new album making. The group announced that they will write, record and release their second full-length album “Wild Days” in 30 days in 2010. The following year, they won “Musician of the Year” at the 2011 Korean Music Awards.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)
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