Korean Musicians at SXSW 2014

Lee SungWoo of No Brain
Lee SungWoo of No Brain

So I was writing this article when I got an email. Okay, I get emails all the time but this email made me jump up and down and squeal like a girl. You see, I’d applied for press accreditation for South by Southwest (SXSW) just to throw my name in the hat. I honestly didn’t think I’d get it but last Thursday I got an email with the magic words “SXSW Press Accreditation – Approval.” You can imagine my excitement – the holy grail of music conferences, and I’m in. ATK Magazine is going to play in the big leagues. 

But enough about me – and ATK Magazine! Let’s talk about the fab Korean musicians who are going to SXSW and why you should check them out if you haven’t already!

Over the past couple of years Korean music, in particular K-pop, has been increasingly invading the consciousness of the Western world. Not only are more mainstream publications writing about them but more and more Korean musicians are including North America in their touring schedules. It’s fabulous!

SXSW has been including Korean musicians for a while but this year there will be 15 Korean musicians. Yep, you read that correctly – 15. As both a writer and a fan, I’m super excited to see so many great musicians. The list includes some of my favourites, some I’ve interviewed, and some I’m not familiar with. So, so very happy that I’ll be able to bring you all the info from SXSW because the Korean lineup rocks (pun intended).

For those of you who might now be familiar with SXSW, it’s more than just a music festival with music, film and interactive components. The entire festival runs from March 7-16 with the music festival happening from March 11-16. And did I mentioned, it’s in Austin, Texas. Hm… I’ve always wanted to go to Texas.

Who’s going?

Okay, since I mentioned above that I love some of the musicians, have interviewed some and don’t know some; why don’t I break it down that way? Oh wait, I’ve interviewed some I love. So I’ll introduce the ones I know first and then the ones I’ve discovered because they’re going to SXSW.

Who do I love?

No Brain – I love No Brain (I’ve written about it a time or two) and interviewing them last year at Canadian Music Week was a career highlight. This punk rock band is not to be missed. I’ve been listening to them since 2007 when I saw them in Seoul at a music festival and they literally stopped me in tracks. There’s something about seeing them live that is simply energizing. So much fun, it just grabs you and makes you start jumping.

Nell – They are another group I’ve been listening to since 2007 and I adore them. I’ve only seen them live once (in Seoul) but it left an impression as they opened my eyes up to the fact that Korean music isn’t all K-pop. There’s something soulful if a little sad about their songs.

Love X Stereo – I was introduced to Love X Stereo when they contacted me last fall (they came to Toronto for Indie Week) and couldn’t stop listening. The combination of Annie’s powerful yet feminine voice with the electro-rock beats is a winning one.

Jay Park – I love to dance and Jay Park’s songs were just made for dancing. From Korean r&b verging on the sweet side to an English mixtape filled with sexy lyrics to music videos that make you drool… Jay Park has you covered. Never seen him live but if his music videos are anything to go from, it should be fun!

Crying Nut – A long-time favourite whom I had the chance to see in Toronto at Canadian Music Week in 2012. Like many punk bands, they own the stage and get the crowd up and jumping. I dare you to catch one of their concerts without getting excited.

Who do I know?

Glen Check – I’d heard of this  electro-rock/electro-pop band but hadn’t really listened to them until now. That is so going to change.

Hyuna – Of course I’ve heard of Hyuna but I generally don’t listen to a lot of girl K-pop so I’m not overly familiar with her. With lots of cute videos and a sort of innocent sex appeal, she’ll be a hit with the fans.

Who did SXSW introduce me to?

YB – Okay, of course I’ve heard of them but I’ve never listened to them until I started writing this article. This Korean rock band has been around forever and is well worth adding to your playlist.

Big Phony – Another new discovery, the gentle sounds of Big Phony’s voice are lovely. Definitely listening to some more as I think he’d be a perfect addition to my writing playlist.

Jambinai – Wow, love the combination of traditional Korean instruments with rock music. So cool. Never thought I’d see a gayageum and haegeum (traditional Korean instruments) fit so well with an electronic guitar.

Jang Kiha & The Faces – Another new discovery for me, this eclectic sounding band has me wondering what they’ll sound like in person.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio – Why have I not listened to them before? Wow, “Shut Up & Dance” (a sentiment I’ve voiced from time to time) made me not only want to move but also search for more of their music.

Hollow Jan – A heavy metal band I didn’t think I had heard before but a quick YouTube search shows they were at the Ssamzie Music Festival in Seoul in 2007 (and so was I). Intrigued to hear them again.

Idiotape – Did I mention that festivals are a great place to discover new music? This electro-rock band is fun and lively to listen to. Can’t wait to see them live.

Want to hear more? Of course you do! Head on over to DFSB Kollective’s Soundcloud page for lots of music. And of course, if you like any of them… buy their music!

Editor’s update: Since the time this article was published, Galaxy Express is no longer attending South by Southwest. However, another Korean band, Smacksoft, is now going. I wasn’t familiar with Smacksoft before hearing they would be at SXSW but after listening to them, I’m hooked. I can’t wait to see them live.

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

2 thoughts on “Korean Musicians at SXSW 2014

  • March 14, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Thank you for this. I’m moving to Korea in a few days and am much more into alternative/rock/electro music than pop so this is definitely helping me discover bands that aren’t part of the K-pop scene. :D

    • March 14, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      Glad to help! There’s lots more to Korean music than just idol pop/K-pop. Have fun exploring the Korean music scene.

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