If you’re a big follower of Korean independent music, you’ve probably heard of DOINDIE. When I get messages from people asking for shows during their trips to Seoul, I will refer them to DOINDIE’s events list. While Korean Indie focuses on introducing bands to international audiences specifically, DOINDIE is one of the sites that promotes independent acts strongly within South Korea.
I’ve never met Patrick Connor before, but his name is one I’m familiar with. He’s heavily involved with the music scene and is working with Zandari Festa this year. I thought it would be interesting to get a different perspective about Zandari Festa from someone working on it as the festival is evolving every year.
Can you introduce yourself and what you’re doing at Zandari Festa?
My name is Patrick Connor, I am the founder of DOINDIE and I have been living in Korea for the last 10 years. I have lots of jobs with Zandari, but my main task has been to book and communicate with all the bands that are travelling to Korea from other countries, as well as to help with curating the lineup and scheduling all the showcases. The festival is definitely keeping me nice and busy!
It’s the fifth year for ZandariFesta, how has the festival changed since its start?
For me, the biggest change is the quality of bands applying. We have had some amazing acts apply to play this year, both from here in Korea and abroad. We always have loads of quality Korean bands apply, but this year has seen a real jump in the quality of applicants from abroad. Some of the bands are legitimate stars in their home countries and have appeared at some of the world’s biggest festivals and on popular TV shows and radio stations. It is a real honor to have so many top-notch bands appearing at the festival.
While there are big festivals in South Korea, Zandari is the only one that’s really focused on independent music. Do you see this as a strength for performers?
Definitely! I think that Zandari is a great stepping stone that independent musicians can utilize to create some valuable opportunities for themselves.
Zandari uses Hongdae and its clubs as the grounds for the festival. For someone who isn’t familiar with locations, do you think this can be a potential downside?
Anyone who lives in Korea will be very familiar with Hongdae. It is the heartbeat of the underground music scene in Korea. I think this makes it the perfect place to hold the festival. The name Zandari literally means “little bridge” and is a tip of the hat to the area of Hongdae where the live scene really got started in Korea. The venues are all close together, so hopefully no one gets lost! Thankfully smartphones make it all rather easy to find places these days.
In a way, Zandari Festa has similarities to SXSW Music’s program, was inspiration taken from SXSW? Does Zandari want to become like SXSW for Asia?
I have never made it to SXSW, but I have been to a few other similar events, most notably the IOMMA and SAKIFO festivals on Reunion Island. Zandari Festa is a showcase festival, and as such I think we have taken inspiration from not only SXSW, but a whole host of other showcase festivals across the world as well. The founder of Zandari and several other staff members travel around the world as delegates to other showcase festivals, and so it is only natural that inspiration is taken from them.
In fact, I would go as far to say that part of the reason for going to these events is to get an idea of what everyone else is doing. And of course, the main reason is to make connections and find great bands to bring over to Zandari! I think Zandari has lots of similarities to not only SXSW but all these other showcase festivals too. After all, we all follow a similar format with showcases, conferences, etc.
Anyway, to answer the other part of the question, despite the obvious similarities with SXSW and other showcase events, I don’t think that our aim is to become the “SXSW for Asia.” For sure, we would love to become that well known on a global scale and that influential as well, but we hope we will always retain the uniqueness that Korean culture gives to the festival and makes Zandari what it is. Many of the delegates who visit Zandari regularly all say that Zandari is one of the events they look forward to the most each year. I truly believe they mean that because we always make sure that everyone has a great time at the festival, and I think we create a friendly and relaxing atmosphere for our guests.
The festival leans towards more local bands than international acts, is this a scaling issue? Is one part of Zandari Festa to promote Korean independent music?
This year we have 163 acts playing across three days in 11 different venues. Of those 163 acts, 56 of them have come from outside Korea. I think that is the most bands we have ever had come from overseas, and something that struck me was how good all of the bands that applied this year are. It is fantastic that more and more bands are learning about Zandari and want to come to Korea to play, but of course, we are based here in Korea and I think it is only right that the majority of the bands are Korean artists.
A massive part of Zandari Festa’s aim is to give Korean bands the platform to play in front of industry professionals from around the globe and hopefully from that, get opportunities to play at festivals and tour in other countries or even score themselves a record deal or something like that. But by the same token, we hope that our friends who travel from abroad get similar opportunities to do business here in Korea too.
With all the work that goes into preparing Zandari Festa, is it profitable? Or are organizers looking towards a long game to connect foreign companies to the library of artists?
You are right; there is so much work that goes into preparing Zandari! I don’t think people realize the amount of effort that goes into these things. It is hard work, but there are a lot of fun moments as well, so don’t feel too sorry for me!
To answer your question, it depends how you define “profitable” I think. If you mean, are we all getting rich from it, then the answer is an emphatic “no.” It is definitely, as they say, “a labor of love.” If you mean is it profitable in the sense of the opportunities we create for artists, then I would have to say yes, for sure. Lots of Korean artists have managed to get some really great opportunities from having played at Zandari and the connections they made there. One of the most rewarding things is seeing a band do something cool and knowing that you played some small part in helping to make that happen. I also believe that bringing in artists from abroad can only help grow and improve the scene here in Korea as well.
Our aim is simply to make Zandari as good as it can be and to continue to support the musicians in the best way we can, whether they be from here or abroad.
What do you think Zandari does better than any other festival in South Korea? What do you think it could improve?
I would never say that we do anything better than anyone. Everyone who sets these things out works really hard to present the best event they can. I do think that we do things a little differently though. For example, we are the only festival here that really concentrates on promoting indie musicians and we also put a lot of effort into providing them with a real platform from which, if they use it correctly, they can really further their careers.
We bring in delegates from all over the world, all of whom are keen to do business with artists. There are not many other festivals in Korea that do this, and those that do are concentrating more on exporting mainstream pop music, etc. Not only do we focus on exporting lesser known, more independent artists, but we also focus on bringing in great up-and-coming acts from other countries as well. I think this makes us a truly unique festival here in Korea.
There are always things we could improve on. I think the same is true for everything in life. Hopefully we learn from any mistakes we make and use them to make the next year’s event even better.
Is there a musician that you recommend first time attendees to see? Are there any bands that you want to see live?
There are just so many! If I listed all the bands I wanted to see and all the bands I wanted to recommend, it would be most of the lineup! There are so many amazing artists coming from abroad to play at Zandari this year. Thanks to our partnership with Liverpool Sound City in England we have a bunch of bands coming over from the UK to perform a special British Night. The French Embassy is also sending over some bands from France to play at a special French Night as well.
On top of that, there are loads of bands who have found their own way to get here and play at Zandari from all over the world. The quality of these bands is outstanding and I would strongly recommend that people get out to see them while they are here. If I had to chose just one of those bands, it would be The Dizzy Brains from Madagascar. I was lucky enough to see them over at SAKIFO festival on Reunion Island earlier this year and it was one of the best live performances I have ever seen. Pure rock ‘n’ roll, with all the swagger of Mick Jagger in his pomp. They are a band going places and one you should not miss. There are a lot of bands from Poland this year as well who are just amazing too. Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 are a 16-member party and are sure to put on a show to remember.
It is going to be even harder to pick Korean bands. I think the quality of music in Korea is really high and there are a lot of bands who just blow me away. One of the bands I have been really enjoying recently is Nametag. They have made some big strides in the scene this year. And despite being a young band, they made it to Jisan Valley Rock Festival this year, which was great to see. They have some really witty lyrics and they play hard. Another musician who I recently became aware of is Ahn Dayoung. She has a beautiful voice and it sits perfectly above the amazing wall of music her band builds during the songs. She is also an act that I think should not be missed.
I could go on and on, but my advice to festival goers is to go and see someone you don’t know. You might find your new favorite musician. Take the opportunity to see something new, something different.
As someone who has performed at the festival and now works with Zandari Festa, what do you see the future being for the festival?
As I mentioned before, we are partners with Liverpool Sound City in England. They too started out as a city club festival, but last year they moved to a new location in the heart of the Liverpool docklands and became a full-fledged outdoor festival. I don’t know if that is a road we will take or not, but I hope that we can keep moving forward and continue to be an invaluable date on the calendar for both musicians and fans alike.
Started in 2012, Zandari Festa quickly established itself as South Korea’s largest music showcase festival. The annual event takes place in Seoul’s Hongdae area, the epicenter of youth culture in South Korea and ground zero for the country’s indie music scene. Each fall, Zandari Festa brings together acts and music industry professionals from around the world for concerts and conferences at a number of unique venues around Hongdae. One wristband allows festival-goers access to all of Zandari Festa’s shows.
Along with showcasing established acts and exciting up-and-comers from South Korea’s burgeoning indie scene, with each passing year Zandari Festa has placed a greater emphasis on becoming a truly global event. At 2012’s inaugural Zandari Festa, acts from two other countries traveled to Seoul to perform. The 2016 event will feature artists from 18 different countries. This year will also see two special branded showcases, the “Sound City Takeover at Zandari Festa” British Night and the “Esprit Français” French Night, that will highlight some of the top emerging talent from both places. By attracting more international talent, Zandari Festa has been able to expose audiences to a wider range of musical talent and has helped build bridges that have allowed for Korean and overseas artists and Korean and overseas music companies and festivals to better communicate, work together, and learn from each other.
Zandari Festa 2016 will take place from September 30 – October 3 and will see more than 160 acts performing at a dozen venues to enthusiastic crowds of music fans, journalists, and global industry professionals. Featuring four days packed with showcases from fantastic homegrown and international acts, this year’s Zandari Festa promises to be the most exciting edition of the festival yet!