Before there was K-pop, there was prison rock


Han, Dae Soo had soul

Beautiful is not a word I would use to describe K-pop. It’s catchy. Its groups can writhe in sync, and now it is exported all around the world as respectable as any other commodity. But beauty isn’t something that beats in the heart of K-pop.

If anything, what pumps inside K-pop is brute discipline, ambition and extraordinary effort unknown to mankind. Even if you think it’s just nursery rhymes with heavy back beats, you got to respect it. Out of that bizarre respect, (Warning, Shameless plug) I wrote story “Dreams Obstructed” about it not too long ago.

And too often, in a country that with words like Jeong and Han, this place does have a soul. So, where is the music with?

I don’t know about where it is now, but I was researching for a book I’m working on and found some of it in the 70s:

Han, Dae-soo


Shin, Jung-heyon

First, listen to Han Dae Soo:

Here is the words translated in English thanks to Tony’s web. The bold is mine.

The Wind and I

Boundless, boundless wind
Rustling through the trees on a rugged mountain
Ah the wind of freedom
The one who danced over the hill like waters
A nameless, faceless, emotionless one
I too vow such a life for myself
As the wind’s, as the wind’s

Across the waters
More beautiful than the tip of a mountain in twilight
Ah the wind, my sweet one
Journeying with time as it moves free of all senses
A nameless, faceless, emotionless one
I too vow such a life for myself
As the wind’s, as the wind’s

That description, is just haunting and beautiful. I don’t know why I dig this folksy sound, but I do. It also is cool to note he was banned in Korea and fled to the states.

Now Shin, Jung-heyon, is a straight up awesome psychedelic rocker.

I’m there, it’s 1970’s. It’s got that groove. And you know what? This guy was thrown in prison not long after refusing to write a song for the dictator Park Chung Hee. (Well, he was thrown in prison on Marijuana “involvement”)

I don’t know where the soul is in Korean music now. I’m sure it’s out there, I just don’t know where to look. If you do know, drop me a line. Help me find some soul.
2 comments… add one
  • gordsellar Dec 30, 2015, 3:29 pm

    Ha, well, I think Kpop is basically a mutant horror wasteland, and while there’s Korean free jazz I like (like, one player for each instrument, basically—Google Kang Tae Hwan if you don’t know about him… I saw him live once and it was a trip), but you might dig some of the stuff in the Korean indie scene. I don’t just mean my old band:

    … but also groups like the Uh Uh Boo Project Band:

    That’s their best EP, and the last song is about whether one prefers sausage or kkakdugi side dishes with a meal, depending on one’s mood or the time of day; that track’s my favorite. Though the other tracks are more experimental (and do more to fuse in specifically Korean sounds), the whole side dish rant is still the funniest song:

    Then there’s my other old favorite, Hwang Shin Hye Band, which is just one guy, but anyway. His most famous song is about Jjampong, you know, the Chinese soup. But all his old CDs were great. (He’s rebooted his career, but I haven’t heard the new CD.)

    Older live show videos I’ve seen felt a lot like what I’ve heard Sun Ra concerts were like, except with a kind of Korean space acid shaman vibe, instead of an Egyptian Caribbean jazz circus vibe:

    He’s sort of less weirdly cartoony himself in more recent work, but still weird. Here’s an old song about hopping (like a rabbit):

    And then there was the old Pippi Band (not to be confused with Pippi Longstocking, which had some of the same members, and formed after the band split up when they were banned from TV after the lead singer spat at a camera and then flipped the bird at, er, hundreds? dozens? during a live TV performance):

    Their lyrics were screwy and weird. Everyone called them a “punk” band back when they were still remembered, but that was all about attitude, not about the musical style. (Seoul’s punk scene was basically Club Drug back when I knew about it, and most people had no idea what the term meant.)

    All that stuff was before I got here, and I get the impression it was a wild, lively, ragged scene that sort of got smashed to pieces by the whole ’97 financial crisis. (Like so many things here.) All the musicians involved are still around, and the groups have all re-formed or reunited to some degree, but none of it strikes me personally as quite so interesting, raw, or wild as it was before. (Shrug.)

    Still there was some interesting stuff around after, though. I think you might get a kick out of these ones:

    – Third Line Butterfly. They did the soundtrack (and band tracks) for 너의 뭣대로해라 (a kind of indie-ish TV drama that featured a band: one of the main characters was the keyboardist in the band), and it put them on the pop cultural map here. We played a gig with them once. They wouldn’t remember us, but they were a tight band, and a lot more like punk than Pippi Band ever was. It was all loud guitar and female rage:

    (They seem to have reskinnned themselves into something way more indie-pop and TV-friendly in more recent videos, I suppose since Korean TV has “discovered” indie music and started featuring it in live specials, which, well… *shrug* Eh. But the old CDs were good. Sadly I loaned those out to a friend and never got them back.)

    -Delispice was cool, for a couple of albums. I saw them live in Iksan of all places. Long story. Anyway, by the third or fourth album they decided to change their style, and it wasn’t my thing anymore. But the earlier albums, they reminded me a lot of the old Canadian band The Pursuit of Happiness (as in, “I’m an Adult Now”) and The Charlatans (the UK band) and in one song they actually sampled “… the spice must flow” from Dune, a really hilarious meta thing to hear on an old Korean indie music CD.

    – We also played a gig with a band called Rock Tigers, who, well… rockabilly’s not my thing, but they put on a hell of a show, in a way easy to guess from these videos:

    – An old friend of mine is the guitarist and singer in the band Plastic People, which is sort of like Yo La Tengo strained through a folk music wire mesh:

    We were on (and, as far as I’ve heard, maybe screwed over by) the same indie label here back in 2004.

    – Speaking of folk, I dig Kim Kwang-Seok, who I’m sure you’ve heard before:

    – I don’t know if 적적해서 그런지 ever put out an album, but they were one of the tighter, all-girl (almost: guy drummer) rock bands I saw back in the day:

    – and I’m guessing you know 장기하와 얼굴들:

    One more band: they’re a little more polished and, er, inoffensive now, but Jambinai does some really creepy rock/traditional Korean music fusion and neatly avoid the whole sad electronic jazz + 국악 “fusion fusion” thing that I hate so:

    We used one of their tracks, with their permission, on “The Music of Jo Hyeja,” right near the end (and another—or maybe it’s another part of the same track—for the closing credits), with their permission, and they apparently screened the film at one of their gigs while we were in Vietnam? I’m not sure.

    I don’t know if any of that’s what you mean by soul, but I think the bands above mostly do the thing prescribed by Bill Hicks at the very end of this clip:

    Oh, one more, just because: Korean Star Wars fan filk indie rock album. No, really: I own a copy. It’s real. There’s a love song about Chewbacca and Han. There’s a song about Yoda settling in Japan because he loves green tea… and the song teaches the words to order tea in Japanese. It’s kind of amazing, this little (double) album:

    • Joe Milan Jr. Jan 24, 2016, 2:05 pm

      Holy cow Gord. This is like the grail of Korean music that isn’t Kpop. Thank you and I’ll try to get on it.

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