The Seoul-based musical talent booking agency ‘Super Color Super’ brought a touring party of five bands to play in Gwangju’s down town performance venue ‘Club Nevermind’ recently. I went to check it out.
The random range of people lounge around the dimly lit room. The lights are low and equipment is scattered in odd corners and spaces. The clock strikes eleven and a young man with long curly hair, blue shorts and suspenders, and two-tone leather shoes – red and blue – starts whacking his guitar strings hard and very fast. His guitar is coloured yellow on black, and has an angry bass layered with distortion, like buzzing bees on the attack, and yet the treble is sharp and slices like a sword.
Suddenly another colorfully dressed person thrashes two sticks on a drum – but is the musician male or female? Feminine facial features and dress style dare to distract from the listening to be had – the drumming is immaculate, precise, and extraordinarily intense. The guitarist wails into the microphone but his vocals are swallowed by the room and the crowd is drawn into the total sound as it grows and flows around the dark space until, with a final stab, the guitarist leaves a last chord ringing, and the audience standing, slightly stunned. But the applause is instant and echoes the intensity. The Seoul-based anti-folk power-pop duo ‘Wagwak’ have started the show.
As the clapping and cheering dies down a different sound begins. It is a warm, deep, electronic gurgle. The people turn their heads immediately, trying to follow like a dog does a smell. Eyes swivel and find newly lit lights across the room. A slight, slim woman in tiny micro-shorts and a tight wooly beanie is standing up on stage, focused down on a small platform of electronic gadgets. If the previous drummer is either gender, with her bright platinum blonde hair this performer is any nationality. The gurgle warps into a rhythmic warble which wanders into a wickedly quick robotic dance beat. As she twists and turns dials and steps on loop peddles, she sways, nods, and sings into the microphone placed low enough for her to continue looking down at her hands as they massage a mysterious magic from the black boxes. She moves with a confident boppy style unusual for Korean women.
Jane Ha performs as ‘Pika’. After the show she says she’s looking forward to when her friends from her regular band ‘Loro’s’ – for which she plays cello – can reunite following military service. Meantime, her lyrics are lost in the swirl of sound as it beeps and burps and floats between the mesmerized onlookers. When she finishes her piece the sudden silence is a rude awakening, like someone turned on the lights after sitting in a dark room. The crowd blinks once then cheers and claps, partly for her unique energy, and certainly for her sounds.
As the crowd grows quiet they start to look at a group of five teenagers all ready and waiting with instruments. It’s a conventional band set-up, with drums, lead guitar, bass guitar, and singer, but the bass guitarist is a girl so young-looking it’s like she’s just escaped from her first year middle-school class. Eventually they launch into an old Chilli Peppers number; it’s full-flight rock, raw and distinctly unpolished. The drummer loses the tempo within the rhythm three times, but, the band as a whole plays on with that developing confidence that is the excitement of learning music shared. The singer in particular leads, grabbing the mic stand and jumping up and down in time as he belts out his vocals. The Gwangju band ‘Biscat’ gets full applause and new fans for their effort.
A techno-tempo click-track starts zipping and sliding from the main speakers. People turn and walk over toward the sound-smith bent as if laboring over his buttons and dials. But seeing who actually is creating the layers of colorful zaps and bleets flitting around between the beats is difficult; he’s wearing a full-face welding mask with a dark-glass eye-slit. Like a medieval knight riding his sound-desk into a joust he gradually coaxes it to full speed, frantically pouring over the dials as the enticing trance-state envelops the crowd. Finally, fitfully, it fades, and the unsettled audience cheers again for the new audio-hero ‘Quarkpop.’
Suddenly the sound of two drumsticks snaps out a four-four beat: ‘Tatt! Tatt! Tatt! Tatt-’ and a new group back up on stage throws out a full band sound. It’s Gwangju’s own ‘Harp,’ with their seasoned guitarist, ultimate rock-chick bass player, uber-confident singer, and prodigal-genius young drummer Jung Ick Tae sitting up straight, loose and relaxed in his thin frame as he relaxes into the tight groove of a great rock number. He plays with a precision that continues to amaze; he undercuts the vast experience and proficiency of his band-mates. The group as a whole start the song okay, but as it continues suddenly they click together in a way that comes with years of practice, sharing each beat’s throbbing power until the blasting end.
Then the round starts off again; the weird duo ‘Wagwak’ start their second song but this time the drummer plays a tiny ukulele, and then hits the bass drum with a kick-peddle, and then plays a colorful kid’s-set xylophone, plinking a tune in time with the energetic guitarist strumming a tight tempo on his great old Gibson acoustic. The sound is a fast, fun, jaunty sweet number, and they play it so quick it’s like it’s for kids with ADHD.
And so the performers go around again, each act taking turns to play variations on their own styles of sound. As difficult as this must be for the musicians having to start and stop so often for the sake of one event’s performance, for the audience at least, the ‘Round Robin’ idea is a fun, interesting way of presenting a collection of new bands to a crowd.
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Wagwak, interview, c. April 26, 2011. Please scroll to the bottom of pop-out page.
Jane Ha, interview, c. November 1, 2010.
Jane Ha, interview c. May 6th, 2011.