Review: K-pop Night Out at SXSW

It’s no secret that I love music or that I’ve been looking forward to seeing all the different Korean musicians that were scheduled to perform at South by Southwest (SXSW) this year. I mean, I flew all the way to Austin, Texas from Toronto, Canada to see them. Sometimes when you really psych yourself up about something it disappoints, this wasn’t one of those cases. It was a blast to see old favourites live again like Nell and Crying Nut, to discover new favs like Jambinai and Idiotape, and to crush a little on seeing Jay Park so close I could almost touch him. But as usual, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s rewind a bit to before the show.

The Fans

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There’s nothing like wearing a tank top in March or seeing the unbriddled enthusiasm of fans to help one shake off any jet-lag and tiredness and get into the spirit of the show. I chatted with a few random fans from the ‘tickets at the door’ line up (side note: there were three line ups – badges, wristbands and ticket buyers – with those with badges and then wristbands given priority) and while the vast majority of them were there to see Jay Park and HyunA, the two K-pop acts; pretty much all the bands performing were mentioned. But the best part was how once the different bands started playing, the crowd paid attention and lots of them discovered that they liked what they were hearing. How do I know? There was time between the sets to chat and so of course, I did. Those around me were having a blast!

Jambinai

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The perfect start to the evening, Jambinai has such an amazing and unique sound. Blending traditional Korean music and instruments with that of a rock band, Jambinai has found a way to make the ancient rock, literally. I liked them when I was just listening to their CD but live they are even better. I’d definitely recommend checking out their music and catching them live if you have a chance!

Hollow Jan

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You would never know they weren’t originally in the line up (their officially scheduled showcase was on Wednesday) as they seemlessly fit in. While screamo isn’t a genre I listen to often, Hollow Jan captivated me while they were on the stage. So much emotion in the music and performance, it was almost impossible not to enjoy their set. If you get the chance to see them live, take it!

Nell

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I’ll admit, I’m a fan and was super excited at the chance to see them live again (I saw them in Seoul before). Unfortunately, they had some technical problems with a mic which must have been frustrating but otherwise, they had a solid set. The final couple of songs were the best and this was were Nell came alive. I hate to say it, but I was hoping for a little more from them. Not that it was bad, it was a good set.

Crying Nut

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They always bring so much energy and fun to their performances. I love their music but live… live, they are simply amazing. You get energized just wathcing them. By the time they came on I’d made some new friends in the croud and I told them that they would like Crying Nut. After their set, one of the girls turns to me and says, “you’re right, they are amazing!” I think that, more than anything I can say, speaks to their performance and the crowd’s reaction. They gained fans from their set!

Idiotape

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The crossover appeal of Idiotape is emense, especially as nothing can get lost in translation. They came on and immediately the vibe when from rock bar to dance club. Idiotape were completely silent, no interaction with the crowd, just letting their music speak for itself. And speak it did. As a huge Beastie Boys fan from high school, I absolutely loved the remix of Sabotage. If they came to a club in Toronto, they’d kill it!

Jay Park

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I’m normally a pretty quiet person but I’ll admit that when Jay Park came on stage, my inner fan girl wanted to come out and play. A consumate performer with buckets of charisma, Jay Park owns the stage… and the crowd went crazy. It was easy to see that he was a fan fav. And just to make the crowd even crazier, he started his set with four layers of clothing – tank top, shirt, sweatshirt, jacket – to strip off… and you knew it was all coming off! He was joined on stage by a couple of dancers and Loco, a labelmate on Jay Park’s new label, who had a smooth rap style and was obviously jazzed about being on stage (huge grin the entire time). I thoroughly enjoyed the set.

HyunA

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Okay, don’t hate me but this was the set that I liked the least. It was the shortest of all the sets and while HyunA made all the right moves and sounded super cute when she was chatting with the audience, she lacked the confidence and charisma the other performers had. That being said, from the pushing and shoving, it was obvious that many in the crowd loved her. And I will admit, her music is catchy.

Oh, did I mention that Lady Gaga stopped by K-pop Night Out to take in the final two sets – Jay Park and HyunA – and could be seen dancing to HyunA’s Bubble Pop.

Final Thoughts

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All in all, it was an amazing show and I loved the format. By putting the non-idol acts before, it helped introduce the audience to a wider variety of Korean music than they may have been aware of beforehand. And it worked. Plus as I arrived early, it was cool seeing them wander in and out of the club (which is how I got the picture above). The club may have been ridiculously hot – I had to leave my prime spot at the front twice to get water so I wouldn’t faint – but it was super fun, there was great music, and the vibe was so possitive towards Korean music. A good “K-pop Night Out”!

To see more pictures from K-pop Night Out (and other Korean music showcases), please check out our Facebook page.

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.

One thought on “Review: K-pop Night Out at SXSW

  • March 17, 2014 at 3:25 am
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    HyunA’s act was very disappointing. She was the only act I knew going into this show. I became fans of all the other groups sure, but HyunA was the reason I decided to go. The fact that every group preformed for 30+ minutes and actual played instruments made her performance such a let down. First of all her performance was 15 minutes at the most, only preforming 3 songs (2 of which were on heavy rotation on the TV’s before her act). Second you could tell they just played her songs through a speaker instead of using the PA system using an I pod, this made the music very loud mono, distorted sounding and made her act uncomfortable. Unlike the acts before her all her conversations with the crowd were very awkward and short. Another thing to point out was her singing, she was off key the whole time (when she was singing) and barely audible. You could tell she was just singing along to the song playing from the I pod, half the time she didn’t even sing to the song. She would make it very obvious that she was not singing at all by just dancing with the mic away from her face. Over all her performance was weak all around, she really dropped the ball as the final act. I can understand she was probably nervous, but she looked like a scared child on stage between songs. While all the other acts went around the club and mingled a little with the crowed she just straight up left immediately. I know she cant be there all night to sign autographs but come on, at least pretend like you are happy to be here. On a final note all the acts before HyunA were fantastic. All of them brought their own energy to the stage and played as if this was the only time they could preform in the US. So overall it was a fantastic night. If Jay Park was the final act, that would have been much more fitting than HyunA’s act.

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