Korea’s musical reputation internationally – unless you’re an 80s pop aficionado – is not strong. The average bit hit out here is Britney-level generic, probably featuring a sample from an 80s dance track and more than likely a 17 year old girl on vocals who appeals to the 40 year old businessman’s dubious sexual fantasies but can’t actually sing. Fortunately, if you dig a little deeper, there is a huge amount of impressive talent out there. The badly named ‘Let’s Rock Festival’ managed to sample a fair few of them. As I’m sure you all know by now, I love a good festival, and despite limiting most of the bands to only three or four songs, this one succeeded as no sooner had one band left the stage and another appeared, so it provided a great overview of what’s good in the scene. A few bands that caught my eye were:
Nel (넬 ) – (If they were a Western band they’d be…Radiohead). I’ve raved a about these guys before. Subtly beautiful, full of driving crescendos, hooks and soaring vocals, and technically vastly superior to anything else I’ve come across in Korea. Great stuff.
Big Bang (빅방 ) – (If they were a Western band they’d be… The Feeling). Korea’s worst kept secret. Which of course, to most of us, still makes them a pretty obscure prospect. Big Bang are basically a rocked up boy band throwing out really catchy songs with occasional English lyrics (I’m so sorry but I love you…). These guys really get stuck in the head. If it wasn’t for the choreographed dance routines they’d get far more respect, mind.
No Brain (노브라인 ) – (If they were a Western band they’d be… Weezer). Loud and leery kiddy punk that caused such an audience surge towards the front a minor rock festival in Korea was in danger of doing a Roskilde. Talented in the ‘only know three chords but can’t half write a song’ kind of way.
Transfiction (트란스픽순 ) – (If they were a Western band they’d be… Green Day). Wow, personality overload! Not only did this band pull off coming on stage with every band member in full ‘the joker’ make up, their stage performance totally back up the exuberance. They are yet another strum away three-chord band, but the on stage antics make up tenfold for the relatively unoriginal sound. Class!
Windy City (왼디시티 ) – (If they were a Western band they’d be… The Wailers). Reggae comes to Korea. These guys are truly unique for East Asia, sounding like they’re straight out of a Malibu commercial. Most locals stood there dumbstruck, we thought it was great. You have to admire the balls to go in a completely different direction to the rest of the country.
Something tells me I’m going to be buying a whole lot of Korean rock albums before I leave! If only they made one called ‘Classic Noraebang songs’ I’d buy it in a second, great memories!
It’s amazing how a music festival can put me in such a good mood even when I barely understand a word. Having worked my last ever Saturday at Berlitz (because of some very weird scheduling – I’m happy!), and bumped into a couple of random friends there, it was a really great way not to feel girlfriends-in-another-country alone on a Saturday night. A bunch of us ended up polishing off Pentaport Vodka and dubious Chinese alcohol back at mine until about 4am. Way it should be!
On Sunday loads of Berlitz teachers got together with a few students and headed to Everland, Korea’s biggest theme park. I went once last year, but it’s amazing how much I missed. Everland is a little like Disneyland, in that it has a quite incredible ability to turn even the most mature of adults (I’m not talking about myself, obviously!) into children for the day. Particular highlights were Raphael’s insistence on soaking everyone with bubbles from his freshly purchased bubble gun all day, everyone else’s endless attempts to eat the bubbles as they flew away and Gabriel’s quite spectacular piece of cowboy ‘horse riding’ on a kids dinosaur ride. Maybe we all need to grow up a little!
Luckily, Everland goes well beyond the scope of European theme parks for less child-like entertainment. The biggest rollercoaster, for example, starts with a huge sheer drop and tops out at over 150km/h. Add to this that for most of the way round you’re convinced you’re about to come off the rails and it’s not exactly built for 10 year olds! There’s an entire mini-village of bars, live bands for entertainment and even a Sushi restaurant. Far, far better than the cut out houses near the entrance have you expecting.
The best thing, however, was having been just three for so long, Gangnam centre is now seven and it suddenly feels like we have some team spirit again. We have hardly any work to do, mind, as the workload has been spread out between more than twice as many people, but it’s great to have such an improvement in atmosphere at work. It all bodes well for my final month, which starts in just five days. Dublin here I come!
Thanks to Dio, Mi Hyun, Chan Yong and his beautiful fiancé for standing (almost) proudly next to the misbehaving Westerners all day, you’re great sports!
Next up: Chuseok (Korean thanksgiving) on a volcanic island.
PS Happy Birthday, Dio. You’re a total legend; guys like you are the reason leaving Korea will be so hard.