LIFE&STYLE

Itaewon internet radio puts Korean underground on air

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 25, 2017 - 16:30
  • Updated : Jul 25, 2017 - 17:32
It is 9 p.m. on a weekday and most Seoul dwellers are looking to wind down after a long day of work or study.

But in an obscure basement, the night is just beginning -- one of the city’s most in-demand DJs is dropping some “warm Tuesday night house” tracks, and thousands of listeners are tuning in via social media.

Seoul Community Radio is an Itaewon-based audiovisual streaming platform dedicated to Korean underground music and culture. Artists play one- to two-hour sets at the studio for live Facebook broadcasts from Monday to Friday, while the SCR website streams music 24 hours a day.

“SCR is a two-way street. It’s about showcasing the really good talent that people from abroad haven’t seen coming out of Korea, and it’s also helping the rest of Korea to grow their understanding of this new music,” said Richard Price, a former London native who founded SCR in 2016.

Established outlets like VISLA Magazine and website Golmokgil already write about underground art, fashion and events, but there is limited opportunity for the subculture’s music to be heard outside of clubs. SCR seeks to fill that gap. 

From left: Hong Hyun-ji, Richard Price, Lee Sang-hyun and Kim Hyun-su, four members of the Seoul Community Radio team (Chantelle Yeung)

“In a way, we feel like we’re stepping into the shoes that MTV left a long time ago -- by showcasing different music and curating it in a visual way,” he said.

But the ins and outs of running a radio station, albeit online, are not easy.

Scheduling must balance the interests of keen artists and discerning, tastemaker listeners. The station must also be careful not to anger neighbors on its quiet residential street. And in a city like Seoul, keeping pace is always challenging.

“If you’re softly, softly about it, then maybe someone else will do it. So we always want to be the first,” said Price.

The SCR estimates that between 500 and 600 DJs have now played on its page, including overseas acts like Korean-American rapper Dumbfoundead.

The station has also done both local and high-profile collaborations, such as events supplied with craft beer from nearby Magpie Brewing Co., and making apparel with streetwear brand Vans.

A recent project involving Hannam-dong’s D Museum was a particular highlight for the team. Hosting a closing party for a photography exhibition centered on the explosive potential of youth, the combination of auditory and visual art seemed only fitting.

SCR is also making waves abroad, with overseas visitors to the Seoul studio replicating their internet broadcast model back home. Similar audiovisual community radio now exists in Taipei, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Some may feel protective of their ideas in a similar situation, but Price believes these offshoots develop their own flavor and reflect the unique qualities of their locale.

“We just help them all to make their own thing. If the underground community becomes strong in Asia, it’s good for everyone,” he said.

In a scene that Price says is “less mature” than that of Europe, additional support for Asian underground is indeed important.

This is a sentiment echoed by Hong Hyun-ji, one of SCR’s three studio managers and content directors.

“I think Korean artists are kind of afraid to make music because electronic music doesn’t really come from Asia. So if they let go of that fear, I think we’re going to make our own sound,” she said.

Given a few years, Price is confident that Korean electronic music will enjoy success similar to Hallyu.

In the meantime, the very near future feels just as bright, as he and the team sit on the floor and assemble Ikea stools for the station’s upcoming one-year anniversary party.

“We can make it happen,” he says.

By Chantelle Yeung/ Intern reporter (cyeu7774@heraldcorp.com)