Seoul Scene: From The Airport

From the Airport

If you know me, or have been following my writing for an inordinate amount of time, you might remember that this whole journey started for me back in South Korea, with a blog about my time living and working in Seoul (now moved here, if you’re into it). I loved the place, not least the music scene, which you’ll be happy to hear went way, way beyond K-pop. When I got an email out of the blue from one of the up and coming stars of the Korean indie scene From The Airport, then, it was an absolute no-brainer for me to ask them to fill me in on how the Korean scene has developed. These guys perform an interesting take on electro pop, and featured on MAP as the Korean act not so long ago. Of course, my questions were heavily informed by my own experiences and serious love of a district called Hongdae, and arts and music/ nightlife hub in the north west of the city; their answers give a more ‘of the minute’ angle…

Korean music’s international profile has been pushed through the roof with PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’. Were you surprised/ happy about its success? Is it a good representation of K-pop?

We obviously were very surprised, but not shocked, at the success of ‘Gangnam Style.’ When it first came out, we remember the music video was hilarious and we were sure it would be a hit, though we didn’t know that would be worldwide. I think it was the first time a Korean track went as high as it went on the Billboard charts, and it was quite unnerving seeing Psy on the front page of nearly every popular music webzines. As we knew Psy since before he became famous even in Korea, we were very happy to see him succeed. As for him ‘representing’ K-pop, we don’t think it’s the right word. The music in Korea, we believe, is more diverse than it looks. There are countless musicians working on their own style of music, even though they might not be top stars or famous. But yes, we think Gangnam Style is the ‘most known’ song from Korea.

I guess with PSY a lot of people outside of Korea only know of K-Pop when it comes to Korean music. How diverse is your music scene in 2015, and what kind of music are people listening to?

The most popular music currently in Korea is K-Pop and hip hop. They currently rule the charts here. However, we think the indie music scene is also growing constantly, and we sure believe the overall scene will become diverse in the near future.

A few years ago everything in Seoul seemed to centre around Hongdae. What is it about Hongdae that fosters and arts scene so successfully? Is it still as important as it used to be?

We don’t think everything is centered around Hongdae anymore, but the place is still very important to the arts scene, definitely. There are still numerous gigs and street concerts going on everyday. Now there are a lot of independent coffee shops, clothing stores, etc., attracting a big amount of visitors and tourists to the area. Itaewon is another place that is growing in terms of the arts scene. Tourists should definitely check both places out.

Tell me about From The Airport’s journey so far. How did you go from a new band to playing at events like SxSW?

​ When we first started out in 2012, we produced and mixed our music in a small basement studio by ourselves. We released three singles in our own power, making the covers, music videos, etc. ourselves. Thankfully we were recognized by our current label, and after we signed the contract, we released ‘Chemical Love EP’ in 2014. That’s when we really started to play more gigs and produce more songs. Our first trip to the States happened in that fall, when we participated in Culture Collide festival and CMJ Marathon. It was extremely fun and we are so excited to be a part of SXSW 2015. It was great to meet new audiences outside of Korea.

Gangnam Style: An Insider’s Glance

Gangnam: An insiders guide psy gangnam style1

“Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh… oppan Gangnam style”… Just the lyrics probably have you picturing that hilariously moronic horse dance, or covering your ears in anticipation. If you haven’t seen the video for Korean pop-rapper Psy’s infectious parody on Seoul’s southern business district yet, you can’t be the web-loving type. In it, Psy discos up some stables, graces the faux VIP areas of locations such as playgrounds and Han River boat rides, and generally tries to convince the local ladies that he has the necessary street cred to be worth a second look.

Eyeing the video, you could be forgiven for thinking Gangnam is the heart of everything in Seoul. In some senses, you’d be right. As home to a huge number of the city’s major businesses, Gangnam is a district of skyscrapers, exceptionally high property prices and one of the few Seoul neighbourhoods where a typical Dublin visitor’s travel budget could be utterly obliterated by stepping into the wrong restaurant. On a week night, businessmen view ‘entertaining’ customers as a part of their job. As a result, the nightlife is heavily occupied by suited men, yet tends to be wild and alcohol fueled. The ‘kimchi flower’, an unfortunate product of vomit-inducing levels of soju and the Korean love of the spicy, red fermented cabbage ‘kimchi’, is a common sight on the area’s otherwise pristine sidewalks. Generally Gangnam glimmers with designer chic and clean-cut business facades, but there is a seedier side. That lies in the much discussed but possibly mythical brothel bars, and in the aptly named DVD bangs (bang translates as room), private cinemas that have more to do with sex than watching your choice of movie.

The women of Gangnam, though, are Psy’s concern. Generally speaking, Korea has an exceptionally image conscious society, particularly among the better off. There’s a fascination with looks that goes far beyond what’s common in Europe, so much so that plastic surgery is commonly advertised and bordering on expected of the rich. One of Gangnam’s most notable stereotypes is the Dweonjang lady, a woman on an average salary who’s willing to survive on cheap dweonjang noodles and commute huge distances in order to save for a Louis Vuitton hang bag or a Prada coat. The brands form a rare exception to the general Korean belief that ‘Korean is better’ (Samsung barely has to concern itself with Apple in its own country), and they’re so common in the Gangnam district that if you didn’t know better, you’d think they were a standard, affordable brand.