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Highlights of March: K-Music Steals A Piece of the SXSW Frenzy

By Staff Writer | April 02, 2013 04:22 AM EDT


We can't welcome April if we don't pay tribute to a groundbreaking event in the history of Korean modern music.  Spots to attend and to perform are much coveted, and it is always that week in March, in between winter and spring, where it feels all the music enthusiasts congregate in the US mid-Southwest. 

South by Southwest (SXSW), the rumbling week-long film, interactive, and music event curated in Austin, Texas, kicked off its music festival Tuesday March 12. People came out to the streets of downtown Austin to enjoy the best up-and-coming global artists to know, and of course we were so there to catch one of the most buzzed about showcases this year: the K-Pop Night Out at Elysium.  

While the title insisted on a K-Pop night out, the show itself was everything but pop, as South Korea's rock scene was very much present in all its sweaty glory.

The show opened with hardcore punk band The Geeks, who screamed and hollered what may or may not have been incredibly positive messages about beliefs and perseverance. The crowd loved it. There was something sincere about Ki (The Geeks frontman) and his overwhelming stage presence that the audience connected with. Off stage, The Geeks were in all actuality a group of, well, geeks. At a glance, you wouldn't think of these guys as a crew of punk rockers, but the deception and straight edge lifestyle wasn't enough to bypass the stamping passion that The Geeks exuded on stage. They set the energy and the tone for the rest of the night, and were a favorite to experience live.

To show how wide a spectrum and how misrepresented Tuesday's Korean showcases were by name, entered Fluxus Music's Yi Sung Yeol. A bluesy acoustic soloist, Yi Sung Yeol dialed the energy down by a significant amount following The Geeks. His set, while very mellow in comparison, was smooth and easygoing. Looking back, it was probably a well-needed change in pace, as the rest of the night brought with it much louder and extravagant moments.

A crowd favorite, Guckkasten took to the stage soon after and railed in the audience with one of the strongest setlists of the night. From bizarre and fantastic wailing to brilliant guitar melodies ("Violet Wand" slayed), Guckkasten were damn impressive. A friend described the band as something of a bridge between Weezer and Radiohead, which rang all the more true the further along we reveled in Guckkasten's showcase.

But the ferocity didn't find its end there. No Brain, a punk band with a flair of Rockabilly, were not only excellent to listen to but insanely entertaining to watch live. There was an air of excitement and fun energy in their performances (or was that just the deluge of booze?) that hit a glorious high when drummer Hyoong Ga took over the mic and lived out his frontman fantasies to sing "Soju Hanjan", a song dedicated to getting wasted off Soju. Hyoong Ga committed to giving the audience a fantastic performance, and it showed by how easily the crowd reciprocated the energy. As he gulped down his last swig of Soju, which had been happening throughout the entire song, there was a certain connection between artist and listener that built in the room; a link between great music and people who live for great music, regardless of where it comes from, and it was really amazing to see unravel.

There did come one hiccup, however, during the following performer's set, Jeong Cha Sik, which was incredibly unfortunate and a bit of a bummer to say the least. A legend in his own right (former Korean band Rainy Sun lead singer), Jeong Cha Sik was the only SXSW performer who truly transported the room to one of the most aurally arousing and equally chilling places that night. There were moments that I caught myself feeling uneasy, and quite honestly it was only a testament to this man's brilliant hand at crafting sonic masterpieces, because it was a reaction he was able to strike from the very core. He was mesmerizing in every sense of the word, so it was quite sad then when he confronted technical issues by the end of his showcase. He had to actually restart his closing song, which would have felt a lot more terrible to see if it weren't for the crowd's unconditional support. The audience was loyal, and so he was able to finish on a solid note before rock 'n' roll band Galaxy Express took the reigns over.

Ever the rockstars, Galaxy Express put on as powerful a show as I had expected them to. They opened big and ended bigger, with so much adrenaline pumping through lead vocalist Jonghyun's body. Nobody held back from showing their excitement about everything in life as he did on stage, and with a few twirls of his guitar and a fearless amount of jumps, the room's energy levels were set in place for the first and only taste of legit K-Pop the night had promised.

It was the most bizarre way to end a showing of such riveting rock music, some of the very best in Korea, but there was no stopping it. K-Pop girl group f(x), who are best known as the quirky younger sisters of SM Entertainment's SHINee, Girls' Generation, and TVXQ, let the crowd hang by a thread while staff cleared the tiny stage to give the girls as much room as possible to dance in. Moments later, the fog machine kicked in and in a blink of an eye the crowd tightened, phones were waved into the air, and the backing track to "NU ABO" began to blare, sending the crowd into a complete frenzy as the silhouettes of Krystal, Victoria, Sulli, Luna, and Amber came to life.

There was no denying it--this had transformed into a K-Pop concert. Looking around the audience, at those spectators who were clearly new to the world of K-Pop in particular, hadn't expected such a crowd reaction. Everything about it though - the fanchants, the favoritism, and the ear-piercing screams - certainly had to have helped shape the experience and give an idea to outsiders of how pop music is enjoyed in Korea, because it only took a minute for everyone in sight to bust out their recording devices (security and staff had been asking folks to put them away all night, but there were so many during f(x)'s  showcase they didn't even try) and soak in the celebrity.

The crowd was enthralled by f(x). So much so, that even the fact that they were lip-syncing half their songs to an incredibly loud backing track could phase them. Amber and Luna were the most active, vocally, which was exciting in itself, but once the final e-e-e-e's of "Electric Shock" made it through the speakers and f(x) had slipped out of view and into their cave, it almost felt like it hadn't happened. Did it? Did f(x) really just perform at SXSW?

Yes, they did, and they gave Austinites and SXSW enthusiasts alike the best representation of Korean pop they could and did a mighty fine job of it. As did the rest of the night's performers, who gave a resounding voice to Korea's rock scene and ruthlessly challenged the premise of a 'K-Pop' night out all night long. It was a Korean experience. One that deserved the attention it received, and one that deserves to happen at SXSW again, because if there is a time for growth and expansion for Korean music, it is now. 

Writer: McRoth | Photos:  Johnny Au (The AU Review)

Tagged :  sxsw, f(x)


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