South Korean indie rockers offer up a compelling alternative to contemporary K-pop.
BY FRED MILLS
The BLURT staff put our heads (and ears) together and we have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”: it’s Love X Stereo, from Seoul, South Korea. This makes our 22nd BKS selection since commencing the program of spotlighting new and under-the-radar artists back in 2008.
The group is described in its bio as “an electro rock band… authentic electronic music based in alternative and punk rock from the ‘90s. With its free use of synthesizing and effects, Love X Stereo’s music is danceable. And despite the fact that many genres aside from K-pop are being completely excluded in the harsh environment of the Korean music industry, its consistency in creating well-produced, visionary music continues to attract global attention. By infusing alternative music with electronic elements, Love X Stereo is creating a fresh new style of music that is continually gaining great respect from both sides of Korean independent music scene; rock and electronica. Its music often confuses Korean audiences who isn’t always accustomed to absorbing new sounds, but it definitely takes center stage in the expat community (in other words, foreigners living in Korea) thanks to their impressive live performances and memorable song-writings.”
Indeed, one readily detects everything from Smashing Pumpkins, U2 and My Bloody Valentine to classic ‘60s girl-group, spacey ‘70s Prog and poppy ‘80s nu-psychedelia in the band’s sound – check, for example, signature track “Soul City” (aka “Seoul City”) for a sleek sample of the impressive instrumentation and vocalist Annie’s sensual yip ‘n’ croon.
Annie – Lead Vocals, Keyboards and Synthesizers
Toby – Guitar, Backing Vocals, producing
Sol – Bass, Backing Vocals
Young Hoon Jang – Drums
Annie and Toby kindly answered our email questions, and followed up a short while later to let us know that had just received invitations from MidPoint Music Fest (aka MPMF.13, held in Cincinnati Sept. 26-28) and Indie Week Canada 2013 (Oct. 16-20, Toronto), and hope to set up a U.S. tour around the events. Meanwhile, check out their official website or Facebook page for additional details as well as song samples. They’re one of the good ‘uns, trust us.
BLURT: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your pre-Love X Stereo days as the punk/skate rock band Skrew Attack.
TOBY: I was in a band called “18Cruk” back in 1998, which was one of the 1st or 2nd generation Korean punk rock band. I played the bass, and our band was like one of those anarcho bands back then. At that time, I was very much into bands like NOFX, Black Flag, Bad Religion, or Minor Threat – many fast paced hard core/punk rock bands. In order to do those type of music, I decided to leave the band and made a 3 piece sk8 punk rock band called “Skrew Attack” in 1999. This band was probably the first sk8 punk rock band ever in Korea. I founded Bitch & Beach Records and Stereo City Records afterwards. (Our band name ‘Love X Stereo’ was actually inspired by this name: ‘Stereo City’.) And in order to pursue music more professionally, there were constant member replacements all the time. Many members went in and out, and then I met Annie in the end of 2005. (‘Skrew Attack’ still remains as Korea’s 1st sk8 punk rock band.)
Why did you decide to change your name and, presumably, your style?
We did punk rock for years and years, so this time we wanted to do something different, something that isn’t necessarily punk rock, and something fresh and new. We love to add experimental flavor into our music, adding different elements from different genres that we like, such as trip hop, electro, alternative rock etc. So, changing band name was quite inevitable.
So far you have released two EPs – Buzzin’ in 2011, and Off the Grid in 2012 – correct? What details should we know about those?
The album Buzzin’ was the first album that band ever produced. This album was our very first attempt for dance music. We bought a synthesizer for the first time, and made our title song ‘Ocean Breeze’ right away. This song sort a led us to dig deep into electro music, which eventually became the origin of our band.
Off The Grid album is more on the shoegazing, ambient, psychedelic side which we always wanted to try someday. ‘Chain Reaction’ is a good example which shows all those elements. But ironically ‘Soul City’ seems to be the most beloved. Maybe ‘Soul City’ is a bit more friendly to the audience than ‘Chain Reaction’.
You’ve also released covers of Nirvana, Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins (listen to 1979, above) – why did you select those artists to cover?
There are many reasons why we do covers. First of all, we cover these songs as an homage to these bands. Second, we thought this is a perfect way to explain our music to a more broader audience. Last but not least, these bands are the reason why we started music in the first place, and we always love to cover songs that inspire us. It started from a very random idea, but we did it anyway, and we still want to cover more songs in the future.
Talk a little about the Korean indie/underground music scene that we outsiders wouldn’t necessarily know about. Not surprisingly, we don’t get much information about it—primarily, it’s just K-pop artists that make the news over here. Where does your band fit in?
We believe that the size of Korean indie scene is only 5-10% of what the K-pop scene is right now. But there are a lot of independent artists out there active these days. Though, we do feel recently that lots of corporates are willing to get involved in this small scene and to take over small labels and independent artists in a certain way. We keep learning from our experiences and try to stand on our own.
In your Sonicbids EPK you suggest that Korean artists have been discriminated against by the recording industry and the government—could you explain that a bit more?
ANNIE: To avoid any further confusion, I didn’t mean that independent artists are getting discriminated by the system. What I meant was that Korean rock itself has been discriminated throughout history, and for that matter, most rock musicians nowadays just really don’t have a chance to create a bond with our great predecessors. Think of it this way: The majority of people in Korea presumably think that ‘rock music equals independent music’. That shows how rock music is underestimated in this country. But rock music is constantly getting attention as a new alternative to K-pop. So… ummm, that says, we are not very much involved in this scene whatsoever (I think.) We want our music to be heard by the world, not just in Korea, lol. (below, two recent live sessions by the band)
How has your music been received by the Korean fans and the Korean music so far? What are your plans to reach a larger audience, either regionally or globally?
Our Korean fans are mostly fans who really love ‘music’ in general. But Korean fans might be only about 10% of our fanbase. Most of our fans who buy our CDs and follow up our shows are mostly foreigners (non-Koreans) living in Korea. And we aren’t getting much love from the public yet, but we do think many Korean artists (such as musicians, artists etc.) seem to like us, too. We will continue making new music, of course, and will try to reach out the world constantly. You will see us in your neighborhood very soon.
You have a new EP slated for release in July? What can you tell us about that?
We are scheduled to publish our new EP in July, hopefully. (Still working on new songs.) It’s going to be sophisticated, complicated, edgy and grand, but still very easy to listen. It’s going to be superb!
And also, we are about to release a new theme song for famous Korean pop artist “The Jack” (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Thejack-더잭/493262977391512). He is a very humorous, photogenic rabbit who portrays real life into this fictional character. The song is inspired by his famous catchphrase is “bu-kkeu-reo-wo-yo”, which means “I’m embarrassed.” And to add more flair, we hooked up “J-Path” (http://soundcloud.com/jpathmusic), the best DnB artist in Korea, and he’s going to remix our track in a very peculiar way. So stay tuned!