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Photographer documents Daegu indie scene

‘Sound and Fury’ exhibition exposes best of city’s grassroots music shows


DAEGU ― Fans of independent music are not always well-catered to in Korea, in the midst of the ever-powerful K-pop industry. Seoul and Busan have, with the help of dedicated supporters and promoters, made great strides.

But somewhere between the two lies the lesser-known, more conservative city of Daegu, taking its own steps toward an eclectic music scene with a small but equally passionate band of followers.

The Korea Herald spoke with expat Aaron Thompson ahead of his photography exhibition “Sound and Fury” about his attempts to document it. 
Yamagata Tweekster  (Aaron Thompson)
Yamagata Tweekster  (Aaron Thompson)

“There’s kind of exciting stuff going on in regards to independent music,” said Thompson, who plays bass and synthesizer in “dark noisy shoegaze group” Black Hanbok.

“With my photo show, I’m hoping that people who aren’t actually exposed to the indie scene will take a look at these images and go ‘wow,’ there’s something really exciting and cool going on here.”

The 26-year-old, who trained as a photojournalist, started photographing performers at Daegu’s oldest nightclub, Club Heavy, back in June 2009. He met members of promoters Supercolorsuper and has been working with them ever since. The team help keep Daegu’s alternative music scene abuzz by getting musicians from around Korea and abroad to play.

Attracted by the similarities he saw with the indie scene in his native Las Vegas ― principally the same struggle with getting people to show up to gigs ― Thompson became fascinated by what he feels is a special time for the city, when people are trying to change things.

“A good photojournalist is there to capture the moment that if it isn’t captured, will be gone forever,” he explained.

One of the centerpieces of his show is an image of the female lead guitarist in Dogstar, the only Daegu band featured.

“They’re (Dogstar) probably one of the best unheard of bands in Korea. They just bleed music,” Thompson, also a music writer, enthused.

Referring to the striking shot of Ryu Sun-mi as an example, he said, “I want to make images that when people look at them they can hear the music, they can imagine the style.”

Other acts featured in the exhibit, include Sighborg, 10, Yamagata Tweekster, Handsome Furs, On Sparrow Hills, Juiceboxxx, Den!al and King Kahn & BBQ show ― from their last ever performance. 
Itta from 10 (Aaron Thompson)
Itta from 10 (Aaron Thompson)

All of the shots were taken at Supercolorsuper-organized shows in Daegu. The four core members with the promotion/booking organization there have put a lot of time into publicizing and extending the scene from its initial base at Club Heavy, into other venues with new acts, explained Thompson.

“They hit the ground running … whenever a show’s going they’re out the weekend before putting up posters, hand-billing and you know, they’re spending their own money,” said Thompson, recognizing the hard work and challenges involved in trying to establish the underground scene there.

But, he said, people are starting to take notice and he hopes this show of his photography will contribute.

Thompson’s meticulously selected images ― it took two months for him to pick nine from his collection of around 4,000 ― instantly catch the eye with their trademark vibrancy and kaleidoscopic waves of energy.

In order to keep editing to a minimum, he said he swings the difficulties with lighting in murky clubs to his favor, using as little flash and as much ambient light as possible. “I tried to keep all the images as absolutely pristine and raw as possible,” explained Thompson.

“I put everything into it and I’m just pretty crazy I guess. I’ll do anything for an image.”

In the past he has sustained injuries for his pictures and said once, as he was trying to get a shot of a band from above, he fell off a speaker onto his back.

His commitment and talent have not gone unnoticed; Thompson’s images have been featured internationally in publications ranging from Rolling Stone magazine to British tabloid the Star.

But Thompson seems happy staying on what he calls “the ground floor,” capturing music, and life, at its grassroots. Although his prints are available for purchase, he will charge only twice the printing cost ― the other half being reinvested into the local music scene and new projects.

He uses a Canon 40D which has been with him since he trained. “It’s been through hell, you know, like a good camera should, but it keeps on kicking,” he said, hoping he wouldn’t jinx his good fortune by telling how it had broken and endured beer, dirt and even blood.

Next up for Thompson is another project that will take him to the fringes of Korean society: An in-depth pictorial of Daegu’s migrant workers.

“Sound and Fury” will be at Doyo Gallery in Daegu from Feb. 1-28. Entrance is free and opening hours are midday to midnight. An opening reception will be held at the gallery on Feb. 5 from 7 p.m. with music by experimental band Not Jeremy Jones. For more information, call (053) 421-6233.

By Hannah Stuart-Leach  (hannahsl@heraldcorp.com)
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