I’ve followed Angle Magazine for a long time. Mainly because it was a window into the scene around Busan and the surrounding areas. Philip and I don’t have a lot of one-on-one conversations, but we’ve been watching and covering independent music for many years.
I thought it would be interesting to have another creator, and one who’s in South Korea, talk about their experience with Korean music.
Can you introduce yourself and what you do?
I’m an Irishman living in Korea since 2012. I started making Angle Magazine in late 2013, followed by Big Day South festival in spring 2014. I started the Amplify Korea podcast in 2016, though it’s been fairly stop-start due to personal circumstances over the last few years.
There have been different name changes, and changes to what both Angle and the podcast covers, but it’s slowly starting to come back to life now.
Why did you originally come to South Korea?
To be honest, it’s because Ireland fell apart. Banks and awful government left the country in ruins, and I ended up bouncing around for a few years before settling into a teaching job in Korea. There was no great reason to come here, but once I arrived it quickly became my home.
Why did you decide to write about music and art in the South?
When we were getting started in 2013, I was living in Ulsan. There wasn’t much in the way of music happening in the city that I could find. The very first seed of the idea for the website was one part personal discovery, and one part sharing. It started in Ulsan, quickly spread to Daegu and Busan, and then moved across the country.
There were so many great sites covering the Korean scene, but due to how much was happening in Seoul, people rarely needed to look outside of it. Being in the middle of the community down south, I could see music and art that was worthy of promotion, but rarely given a chance.
Most of all, it’s the community that I found in these cities that was welcoming, and willing to give their time to an overly talkative foreigner who didn’t know enough about the scene. They had the patience to put up with me, but could also see the benefits of what we were trying to do.
What got you into the indie scene?
I had some bands while living in Ireland and London. Music has always been a big part of my family. A few of my brothers made their own music as well, out of a family of seven kids who all play. It’s just something I need and actively seek out.
What inspired the different music projects you started?
As time went on the site changed. At one point we had about 20 people involved who were doing interviews, translation, design, and so on. Then I moved to Jeju, and the amount of time I had to keep on top of the site was greatly reduced.
I started the podcast as a way of keeping up with the music scene while not being able to physically get to shows often. It was something I could do without needing a huge time commitment. When it came to planning events I hoped to create events that were different to the regular three bands and a bar.
Ideally making events less passive, with more audience interaction, and some visual elements to it as well. Whether that is incorporating live art, dance, or projecting visuals, I just wanted to broaden the variety of what was already happening, and create events I’d also want to go to myself.
What are your favorite bands now?
This is always such a tough question. I have to split it between live shows and recordings. One of my favorite bands to see live in recent years was The Magus, who have unfortunately split up since.
I love watching Hon’z and 신도시 (Sindosi) from Daegu. Dead Buttons new line up is super fun.
The biggest issue with choosing a favorite is that so much of it is influenced by seeing bands play live. You can put out a great album but it’s harder to make a permanent connection with audiences without seeing a live show.
For instance Secret Asian Men had a great debut album which I loved, but I don’t think they ever played outside of Seoul. I rediscovered their album the other day and wondered how I had totally forgotten about them.
Any memorable moments?
Far too many. It’s been a rollercoaster ride. With live events, Yamagata Tweakster humping a Merc in a night market after headlining Big Day South in Gwangju.
Hon’z blowing away the crowd at HQ in Busan while fireworks exploded over the ocean behind them.
Say Sue Me looking wide eyed in front of 120 people at the first show I promoted back in 2014. Full stage invasions at Big Day South 2015 in Ulsan.
Any horrible memories?
Far too many. Losing wonderful people like Semin and Junsoo, both of whom were always the first to make an outsider feel welcome at a show. The music scene needs more people like them.
Finding out about people in the scene who are abusers, but accepted. The scene needs a lot fewer people like them.
How have you seen the scene change over the years?
There’s definitely more of a connection between cities now. Not just between Busan and Seoul, but seeing acts move across the country between Gwangju and Busan, Daegu and Ulsan – all the small connections that are needed to help the scene grow.
More acts from Seoul are coming out and touring around the country, and overall there’s more attention given to what is happening outside of Seoul, if still not quite balanced enough. It’s just a case of strengthening the links that are there now.
What do you see as the biggest problems of the music scene?
As always, the lack of touring. In a country where every venue is set up with a backline, and transportation is the best you can get, there’s no excuse for bands to just sit around their hometown.
The only way to get money these days is from live shows. Bands need to be door to door salespeople, proactively getting out to build an audience. They can’t expect an audience to always travel to come to them. Also, getting music into places for discovery.
So many bands stop at just Spotify or Apple Music, but neither of those services are great for finding new music.
How has COVID-19 affected music?
When it comes to planning shows, it’s endless uncertainty. I can’t speak for musicians, though I know a number who have had more time to create as a result of things closing down.
With the general awful mood of the world at large, I’m expecting a lot of new bands over the next year or so. Financial or societal struggles always seem to drive new music developments. Look at Sheffield in the 80s, or the recent boom in the music scene in Ireland.
Have you seen “expat savior” mentality with expats coming into the scene thinking they can do it better or it needs “saving?”
It happens a lot, and something I’ve probably been guilty of in some ways when I first started out here.
It always ends the same way though.
If you’re not genuine, people see through it.
Bands who pop up and claim to be the only “xyz” in Korea just show an ignorance of what’s happening in the scene around them.
Or promoters who fail to pay support acts, or even give a chance to Korean acts when bringing international acts over won’t last long.
What are some improvements you’d like to see in the next year?
More financial support from local and national governments. More community and bridge building in the scene itself.
So many acts and labels view others as competition for the limited amount of funding that’s available.