On their first world tour, indie band Hyukoh electrified the audience inside the packed Opera House on September 8th. The Toronto stop on their first world tour was presented by ModernSkyUSA, CBM Press and DRDRAmc. Clad in their signature oversized grey business suits layered over hoodies, it’s easy to see why the quad have become international fashion darlings. Their stylist, Yeyoung Kim, no doubt created the band’s tour look. Prior to their stop in Toronto, Oh Hyuk was caught at Calvin Klein’s SS18 runway show in New York. CK’s designer Raf Simons, with his own history of retooling oversized work staples, was no doubt pleased to be in the presence of like-minded creatives.
The band consists of eponymous lead singer Oh Hyuk (오혁), Lim Hyun-jae (임현제) on lead guitar, Im Dong-gun (임동건) on lead bass and Lee In-woo (이인우) at the drums. They are signed to HIGHGRND (Tablo’s label), and DRDRAmc (두루두루amc).
From the time the crew went on until the moment they finished their encore, the packed crowd were enraptured. I’ve never encountered a show where silenced sliced the wild screams as soon as the lead singer opened his mouth.
Oh Hyuk’s voice is a thing to be experienced live. His voice moves effortlessly from a rough roar floating up to sweet highs. He pierced through the speakers, vibration transmuting into waves of iron and honey. We sank down, down to the bottom of the sea, the stage wreathed in gold sea shells and horn-o-plenties dating back to the Opera House’s vaudevillian days 100 years before. “Gondry” got everyone up with one hand in the air. Even if you didn’t know the words you sang along in the stillness of the moment.
Their songs are about identity, memory, and the agony of youth. In a turn of serendipity, all four members are the same age (23 at the time of writing). Since debuting in 2014, they’ve become one of the hottest rising bands in South Korea, garnering international accolades as well. Their 7-stop HYUKOH ‘tour’: 2017 North America also tackled Boston, New York, Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Arcadia, California. Their latest offering is the appropriately titled 23, their first full-length album. The Chinese influences are apparent throughout the record, touching on Oh Hyuk’s youth, growing up in China. On “Wanli”, he riffs in Mandarin. In the music video the guys are tearing it up on the back of a trailer truck barreling through Inner Mongolia. “The moon ahead is wonderful…the boats on the ocean cannot be seen…the regrets of yesterday are forgotten… the things of today are forgotten…” The landscape is rugged and otherworldly. If anyone was sleeping on Hyukoh before, this album has the collective music world’s attention.
The band has an appreciation for fine art as well. Their album art is memorable, with many of their releases designed by artist Noh Sang-ho, otherwise known as ‘Nemonan’. His imaginative paintings have become synonymous with the sounds of Hyukoh. The animated music video for 23’s “Tomboy”, drawn by Park Gwangsoo, is also a great collaboration. It is this explorational quality that has endeared them to fans. Their sonic leanings range from soul to rockabilly. Earlier this year they brilliantly remixed Chet Faker’s “Gold” into something uniquely ‘Hyukoh’. Talented film and digital photographer Dasom Han was spotted onstage snapping pics as their official tour photographer. She is celebrated for her artistic portraits, and has worked with the band for years.
They are, in turns, loveable and yet austere. People cheered when Oh Hyuk took off his ballcap to reveal his signature shaved head. He cracked a disarming smile when, later in the show, fans begged him to ‘leave it off!’ as he attempted to put the hat back on. Lim Hyun-jae, Im Dong-gun and Lee In-woo brought the fire with “2002WorldCup” their instrumental talent undeniable. The rhythm reverberates through your guts. Other favorites were “Panda Bear”, “Surf Boy”, “Die Alone”, “Jesus lived in a motel room” and a drum solo by Lee In-Woo. That night I went home with an oversized brown official tour shirt, the band’s name repeated over and over on the back in tiny writing. Only Hyukoh would be so monastic and cool.
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