It has been an exciting year for South Korean music here in the UK. Oh, you didn’t know? Well, actually, that might sound a bit strange to most of you, since after all wasn’t the last Korean song to do well over here Psy’s Gangnam Style? Yeah, way back in 2012 everyone was doing that random horse style dance and shouting “Oppa, Gangnam Style!” It was actually the inspiration behind the K-Pop Korner radio show. The concept was “There’s more to K-Pop than just Psy!” and “It’s not all about Gangnam Style!”
That was the idea back then. Things have changed considerably over the years, though, and the humble show that merely played an eclectic mix of squeaky-clean Korean pop (pretty much British sugar pop with extra sheen) has developed into a show that focuses on exclusive interviews – most with bands doing their first ever English chat – and more of a penchant for indie, rock, funk, and anything other than pop, basically.
Why is that, though? Well, it pretty much stemmed from how, first off, K-Pop gets very samey after a while, but it was also partly due to how hard it is to get in contact with the large Korea music agencies that have a stranglehold on the more mainstream artists. They are very insular, even today, not working closely enough with Western media outlets. However, those talented bands bubbling under the surface are more than eager to get their works out to the world. It has seen the likes of Dead Buttons and Jambinai garner record deals in the UK, and many more are likely to follow suit in the coming years.
Why has 2017 been so special, though? Well, with Liverpool Sound City and the popular Seoul-based Zandari Festa team joining forces to build a bridge between the UK and South Korea, it has meant the two-way traffic is stronger than ever, and this year the load was spread amongst other UK festivals taking place at a similar time. Back in early May there was FOCUS Wales, and host town of Wrexham saw the punk styling of PATiENTS, surf rock of Say Sue Me, and full-on, heavy guitars and drums of 57 (Oh-Chill), with the synth-based duo of Love X Stereo making their debut appearance in good ol’ Blighty. Following on from that, there was rap shenanigans from MC Sniper at The Great Escape in Brighton the following week, along with appearances from former Glastonbury attendees, Sultan of the Disco, classic band Biuret, as well as the very British-rock themed quartet, The Monotones.
Then it was onwards and upwards as Liverpool Sound City celebrated its 10th anniversary in style. Sure, bands like The Amazons, The Cribs, The Kooks, and so on, will have grabbed the headlines, but so many people came away talking about the Korean acts that played through the day that it shows that whilst not hitting the highest of highs in their homeland because of K-Pop leading the march, over here it’s carte blanche and people appreciate them for what they do best – making great music. The Monotones are heavily influenced by UK music so unexpectedly got a very warm welcome despite being on very early in the afternoon when people were still recovering from the night before. Later on, Swiimers brought its shoegaze/dream-pop mix to the stage, Diealright (named after The Hives’ classic song) and Wasted Johnny’s threw down high energy stage shows, with heavy rock and blues rock, respectively, before the weird and wacky Ssing Ssing came on whipped up a storm. Us Brits do love great music, but we also love something different from the norm, and the colourful outfits of Ssing Ssing, complete with traditional Korean street chanting over classic tunes had throngs of onlookers dancing around like crazy. There was even a bit of retro goodness on the bill, as doo-wop trio, The Barberettes, graced the After Party section of Sound City! Anyone for a bit of Barbara Ann?
There’s more to come, as well, with Chester Live getting in on the act, with PATiENTS and 57 (Oh-Chill) returning for more, this time joined by electronica-themed soloist, Shin Seol Hee, and Japanese hard-hitting duo, MOJA. More artists than ever, all bringing with them a unique edge, and a flavour that definitely tickles the taste buds of UK crowds, and yet here in Manchester there is currently no dedicated arena for showcasing overseas talent. Maybe a “K-Pop Korner presents” showcase is in order for 2018.
K-Pop Korner airs on Fab Radio International every Saturday from 8pm-9pm, with regular updates posted at http://www.facebook.com/kpopkorneruk and http://www.twitter.com/kpopkorneruk