HBC Fest is set to open in the Haebangchon area of Seoul’s Itaewon on May 16-18, with its biggest lineup yet.
Now in its ninth year, the festival has added a number of venues in Gyeongnidan, a nearby neighborhood with an increasing number of popular bars and restaurants.
Festival organizer Lance Reegan-Diehl said that after a few bars from the area asked about joining, interest snowballed ― 12 new venues have been added to the festival in both areas, more than doubling the festival’s size.
“In most cases I had more performers than I had space for so I had to make more space this time,” said Reegan-Diehl, adding that the increase in venues also allows each to space the bands out a little more.
There are no outdoor performances at HBC Fest. The festival is a collection of live shows run alongside each other inside each venue, with each location sponsoring their own stage. The venues are free to enter, but have an incentive to get involved from sales on the day and general promotion of the area.
“It ends up becoming a yearlong promotion for everybody,” said Reegan-Diehl. “Certainly there is a large crowd to make your retail sales to on the weekend, but then there’s the residual effect, which is that people who don’t know this area, they have a great time. And they keep coming back again and again.”
The area has risen in profile since the festival’s inception, with an increase in the number of visitors generally, particularly Korean visitors. Reeghan-Diehl points to the positive aspects of this, including the increased number of dining options.
But he also said it helped create a more balanced view of the area.
“In one sense, it was easy to say, ‘Oh look at those foreigners. They make this big mess in Haebangchon.’ But now there are Korean people making a big mess in Haebangchon, so personally I would hope that shifts the balance a little bit from the opinion of ‘Oh it’s just them foreigners,’ to, ‘Oh it’s a business area.’”
He said that the festival was open to all genres of live music.
“I’ve never wanted to restrict it to a certain genre,” he said. I think that’s not what the festival has ever been about.”
At the same time, he insists on live music, saying this helps maintain the identity of the festival. Previous attempts at nonmusical performance had not been that popular, he explained, and recorded music didn’t fit the format.
“You need a band or you need to play,” said Reegan-Diehl. “So we’ve sort of just stuck with the fact that everybody has got to be a live act, basically.”
“From time to time I have been approached with the DJ thing,” he said.
“Some places will DJ music after the bands are done. But that is the business owner’s business. It’s not my business. And I think there’s enough DJ parties in Korea already.”
Early versions of the festival had led to interference by police and some complaints, but Reegan-Diehl said that he had since been working with the police and local authorities to ensure the festival goes smoothly. He credited the Yongsan detachment of the police with doing a good job of assisting the festival by managing the large numbers of people there.
“The authorities don’t want anyone run over, and they don’t want fits of road rage happening either. The police officers are simply here to see that the traffic keeps flowing and that people stay out of the street,” he said.
“That’s primarily the situation that we have. We are not policed in effect where we have officers unplugging musicians anymore.”
While the festival was still going ahead, Reegan-Diehl was keen to include things in the festival to acknowledge the Sewol ferry disaster. He said that many of the venues would have posters in the windows to memorialize the victims and that they had asked bands to wear yellow ribbons, which have become a symbol of respect for the victims.
Some venues would also have donation boxes for organizations helping the victims, he said.
“Let’s show that this festival has some respect for that disaster,” he said.
For more details on the HBC May Fest visit http://www.koreamusicweek.com/.
By Paul Kerry (email@example.com