Review: K-pop Night Out at KCON 2016

Photo credit: Maureen Ouch
Photo credit: Maureen Ouch

On July 29th, 2016 we were in Los Angeles for the annual KCON, which celebrated its 5th year, to watch the ‘K-pop Night Out’ showcase at the convention floor. This was the first year KOCCA and CJ collaborated to bring a Korean Indie lineup to KCON LA and the second time a Korean indie band has played on the convention floor. Last year, Coremagazine was the first Korean indie band to play at KCON and be an opener for the K-pop lineup at Staples Center the next day. Making its debut at KCON, K-pop Night Out showcased three bands – Love X Stereo, Sultan of the Disco and Dead Buttons – on the convention floor.

Photo credit: Maureen Ouch
Photo credit: Maureen Ouch

Dead Buttons

Dead Buttons is a duo comprised of Kang Hee Lee (Daniel) on drums/vocals and Jihyun Hong (Jay) on guitar/vocals. In 2013, they reinvented themselves after losing their bassist and released their first EP Whoever You Are, and at the beginning of 2016 they released their first full-length album Some Kind of Youth. They’ve had various tours around Europe and have experienced much success since their first EP in Korea. Their sound can be described as rock ‘n’ roll with an infusion of different genres.

KCON was Dead Buttons first U.S. showcase. We were shocked to hear they were coming to LA because we thought their first showcase would be in Austin for SXSW, but instead Los Angeles was the lucky city to welcome the guys first. The showcase was featured on Friday July 29th, 2016 on the first day of the three day convention inside the Los Angeles convention center. Unfortunately, the showcase started a little over an hour late. Before the showcase started Jay kept reaching out to the audio engineers to fix his guitar sound, but after ten or so minutes without success he said “f&ck it” and started their showcase. They played various songs from their new album like “The Witch” and my favorite song “16-22”, ending the showcase with their second single “Desire.”

Photo credit: Maureen Ouch
Photo credit: Maureen Ouch

As expected the sound was off throughout the showcase due to the technical issues so it wasn’t the showcase I was expecting nor was it KCON’s best setup for artists. The people working behind the scenes did a poor job with the stage lights as well, during the entire showcase the only thing you could see was the guys’ silhouettes due to the bright screen in the background and the colored lights hitting the audience’s eyes. Jay’s microphone kept changing volume and the sound of the guitar overwhelmed the drums for the most part.

Despite having huge technical issues they played their hearts out for those that were in attendance. Around the time they were playing not many people had made it inside the convention. At least a little over a thousand fans were still outside in the 3-4 hour long lines to check in and enter the convention floor. There wasn’t many people on the floor, but the few who managed to beat the lines and attend approached me to ask who they were after they played and jotted down their name on their phone.

Photo credit: Maureen Ouch
Photo credit: Maureen Ouch

Love X Stereo

Next on the bill was electronic rock duo Love X Stereo with Annie Ko (vocals, synth) and Toby Hwang (guitar, bass). Love X Stereo started in 2011 and quickly released their EP Buzzin’. Over the years they have consistently released EPs, with each one getting better than the last. Their most recent EPs We Love We Leave Pt 1 and We Love We Leave Pt 2 really grasp the beauty of this duo. They also have their own studio in Korea called Love X Studio where they produce, record and mix for other local artists. Love X Stereo had previously performed in Los Angeles as part of Culture Collide’s lineup in 2014 in Echo Park, and were chosen as #3 of the top 10 international acts attending that year.

Unlike the previous band, Love X Stereo had a good sound throughout their showcase. Annie, wearing a flowy coral pink skirt with a black blouse, quickly jumped into the first song drowning out the convention’s chaos around the stage. She skillfully caught the attention of passerby hallyu-ers and a small crowd started to form around them. Toby, on the left hand side of the stage, was masterfully jamming; his usual guitar stance, with a subtle head bob and a rhythmic back and forth movement, gazing at his pedals and wonderfully complimenting Annie on backup vocals. They played some of their recent songs from the EP’s We Love, We Leave like “My Anywhere,” “Dead Beat Generation”, their popular hit “Hide & Seek” which was used in the Korean drama ‘Cheese in the Trap.’ Annie, pushing forward with her powerful vocals and energetic stage presence ended their set with an older song from their Off the Grid EP called “Storm.”

Photo credit: Maureen Ouch
Photo credit: Maureen Ouch

Sultan of the Disco

Sultan of the Disco was the last band to perform on the convention floor and since the showcase was delayed by and hour or so, the band had the best crowd from the three. Sultan of the Disco is a soul/funk quintet equipped with an eclectic wardrobe and sexy dance moves.

By the time Sultan of the Disco hit the stage most of the people outside had made their way into the convention floor and the band had triple the audience of Love X Stereo. Sultan of the Disco certainly can get any crowd excited, last year; just like Love X Stereo they attended Culture Collide. At Culture Collide they had all the attendees dancing through their whole set, and it was the same at KCON. The moment they started playing everyone was imitating JJ’s dance moves on the floor even forming a circle in the middle. One of the wonderful things about K-pop fans is that they immediately show their excitement if they like something and they certainly loved Sultan.

Final Thoughts

It was certainly a huge surprise to have an indie lineup this year, and to be honest it was the best part of this year’s convention. Unfortunately not many had the chance to even hear them as they were outside waiting in the scorching sun to register. Despite the setbacks, the whole lineup seemed pretty pumped up on stage and gave their best. We hope that KOCCA will continue to collaborate with CJ to bring more indie bands each year.

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