Interview with the CEO of South Korea’s Premier Music Showcase, Zandari Festa
by Adam Riley
Zandari Festa is South Korea’s premier independent international showcase festival, attracting artists and professionals from all over the world. Started in 2012, Zandari Festa quickly established itself as South Korea’s largest music showcase festival. The annual event takes place in Seoul’s Hongdae area, the epicentre of youth culture in South Korea and ground zero for the country’s indie music scene. For three days each year, Zandari Festa brings together acts and music industry professionals from around the world for concerts and conferences at more than 20 unique venues around Hongdae.
This year’s festival runs from 29th September until 1st October in Hongdae, Seoul, right in the heart of the Korean live music scene. K-Pop Korner’s Adam Riley had chance to catch up with CEO and co-founder of the major annual event, Yoon-Young Kong – known to many just as Dalse – to discuss its origins, how things have developed, and plans for the future.
Adam Riley, K-Pop Korner: Can you just start by giving a bit of an overview of who you are, when Zandari Festa started, and how the whole idea of Zandari Festa actually came about?
Yoon-Young “Dalse” Kong, CEO and co-founder of Zandari Festa: I’ve been creating and directing cultural projects focused on music for a long time. At some point, I began to think that Korean bands needed to gain a wider variety of experiences and that’s why I founded Zandari Festa in 2012. I started taking Korean bands overseas to play at international showcase festivals starting in 2010, but I soon realised that I could introduce more Korean musicians to the world if I invited key people in the global music industry to Korea. That’s why we strive to have delegates from some of the world’s best music festivals come to Zandari Festa each year.
What would you say were some of the biggest achievements since Zandari Festa started, and what sort of major hurdles have you faced in the same time period?
Dalse: I think the biggest achievement of Zandari Festa is that many people in the Korean and international music industry, including musicians, have been able to build a much stronger network for themselves through our festival. In terms of Korean musicians, many more are trying to do more stuff internationally because of their experiences at Zandari Festa.
The biggest hurdle is always the same – money. If we booked big headliners on a massive stage, we’d be able to sell lots and lots of tickets and receive many sponsorship offers, as well, but that’s not who we are or who we want to be. Zandari Festa is a festival that offers opportunities to all musicians regardless of their commercial stature. We want to give them the chance to showcase their music, create new friendships and relationships, and also have a great time. It is because of this that we have a small budget to work with and money is tight, but we believe that we’re doing something that has real value and that we’re creating great opportunities for acts from Korea and abroad. We hope this will allow Zandari Festa to continue to grow in the future.
There have been Korean bands playing at Sound City in the UK since 2013? How did you become aware of Sound City in the first place?
Dalse: I pitched the idea of taking a few Korean bands on tour in 2013 to a Korean company. The original plan was to go the US, but there were some problems with trying to make that happen, so a member of my team suggested we go to the UK and have the bands play at Focus Wales and Sound City instead. The Korean company liked that idea, and we built a two-week tour around those two events. We arranged two shows at Sound City and both went fantastic. Due to how well things went in 2013, and the relationships we made in Liverpool, we’ve been helping Korean bands to go back to the festival each year since.
From what you have experienced whilst here in the UK, have you been surprised by the positive reaction of the British public to the Korean bands that have performed so far?
Dalse: I think bands need to work hard to capture the attention of audiences in the UK, which is a good thing. Once an audience is interested in what you’re doing, though, they give you their full attention. Most of the Korean bands that have gigged in the UK have worked really hard to deliver strong performances and I think they’ve received great reactions because of that.
Why do you think the UK crowds love Korean bands so much?
Dalse: Korean bands are very good at what they do and play with a lot of energy. They make music they’re passionate about and mix their Korean cultural characteristics into their sound. I think this makes them unique and exciting to watch for audiences from all countries.
There have been some great British artists at Zandari Festa over the years. Who are some of the most memorable for you so far?
Dalse: All of them have been very impressive, but if I have to choose one, I’ll say Fizzy Blood. They played great, really enjoyed Zandari Festa, and made lots of friends here.
How do you decide which British bands to invite over to Korea for the festival?
Dalse: They are chosen after a long discussion with the Sound City crew. We’re not interested in whether they’re famous or not. We’re just looking for acts that are making really cool and interesting music and who are interested in using Zandari Festa to help create new opportunities for themselves.
Can you tell us about the actual Hongdae area and about the Zandari set-up? Does Zandari Festa take place at one central place, or is the festival held in different locations?
Dalse: Zandari Festa is held at different clubs throughout Seoul’s Hongdae area. People are given a wristband that allows them to hop around to all the different venues and check out the bands playing there. Hongdae is like the Holy Land of Korean indie music. The Korean indie scene was born here and this area is still the place where many bands gather and play.
We plan to keep doing our festival in Hongdae each year, but we’re also considering maybe expanding to other spaces with different cultural and geographical characteristics in the future. Maybe there will be a Zandari DMZ showcase, a Zandari Island showcase, or a Zandari Factory showcase one day. It could be fun!
Congratulations on the deal between Zandari Festa and Sound City! It’s great to see you working together so well. Can you talk us through how that deal came about, what it means for UK and Korean artists, and tell us more about the upcoming Zandari Festa?
Dalse: We’ve been really lucky to have such a great relationship with Sound City. Since we first attended the festival in 2013, they’ve been really open to working with us and Sound City CEO David Pichillingi and his staff have a similar mindset as us. They’ve been great partners! With the opportunity our partnership has created, we’ve seen bands from both countries start pushing to further expand their reach on their own. Korean bands are beginning to get more gigs in Europe and British bands are getting more opportunities in Asia outside of Zandari Festa. We love seeing bands working to take their music to new audiences around the globe.
This year’s Zandari Festa is the most international edition of the festival to date. The event will take place from 29th September – 1st October in 10 different venues around Hongdae. There will be 120 bands playing showcases, and half of them will be coming from overseas. Sound City will be attending again and bringing some really amazing acts over with them. As well, we’ll have bands from more than 20 other countries performing over the course of the weekend, and industry professionals from some of the top music festivals in the world will also be coming to hang out with everyone and enjoy lots of fantastic music.
What are your plans for expanding Zandari Festa in the future?
Dalse: We want the festival to continue to grow and be a great party for indie bands and music professionals from all over the world. Zandari Festa is a place where acts and music industry professionals can potentially do business, but we want that to happen in a fun environment where everyone can enjoy lots of great music and meet cool and friendly people. At Zandari Festa, we encourage everyone who comes to love music, drink lots of beer, and make many friends!
Adam Riley hosts K-Pop Korner, which airs on Fab Radio International every Saturday from 8pm-9pm (repeated on Sundays from 10am), with regular updates posted at http://www.facebook.com/kpopkorneruk and http://www.twitter.com/kpopkorneruk