Swedish Death Candy Explore Seoul's Underground Music Scene
My name is Jiwoon Whang, and I play bass guitar in the band Swedish Death Candy. I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, and I moved to London nine years ago, at the age of 22.
Live music wasn’t really a thing when I grew up - the “normal” entertainment would be going to a karaoke bar after dinner and a few drinks. There were hardly any venues equipped with stages and PAs putting on live music.
From the late 90s to mid 2000s, there was an indie music movement which gained pace in the Hongdae area (which is a hotspot in Seoul now, like Shoreditch or Camden Town), led by punk bands like Crying Nut and No Brain, and ‘modern rock’ bands like Sister’s Barbershop. Some of them went quite popular, and there were a few kids like me playing guitar and doing school cover bands.
Kiha and the Faces came out just before I left Korea. They debuted with a slightly comic concept. They had identical looking members keeping poker-face as dancers/backing singers, but they went got super popular because their lyrics were celebrated for successfully representing ‘the struggling young generation’: “
싸구려 커피를 마신다, 미지근해 적잖이 속이 쓰려온다. 눅눅한 비닐 장판에 발바닥이 쩍하고 달라 붙었다가 떨어진다.
Drinking instant coffee from a vending machine, it’s lukewarm and bitter for my stomach. The cheap vinyl flooring in my bedroom sticks to my sole and wouldn’t come off.”
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I still wasn’t very convinced about the Korean music scene, but then Kiha and the Faces came back with their sophomore record, switching direction to old school psychedelic rock. They really started the renaissance of Korean indie music.
At this point I had already moved to the UK, but a handful of my friends remained in the Korean underground scene. If you watch some of the Sultan Of The Disco’s early videos you can see the Fender Precision bass I use now. My friend donated it to me after visiting the UK for Glastonbury Festival. He came in for our first record’s rehearsal sessions and told me to use his guitar, and I still do.
I was eventually introduced to bands like Silica Gel, Parasol, Life and Time, and Se So Neon. These bands emerged around mid-2010s, ranging from neo-psychedelic to folk-tronica. I was also introduced to older underground acts like Goonam and Uhuhboo Project.
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While we were recording and touring we listened to Mid-Air-Thief quite a few times, and we also listened to a lot of Korean hip-hop acts like Bewhy, E-sens, Dok2, and Been Zino. Hip-hop became very popular in Korea after the success of a rap battle competition program called ‘Show Me The Money’.
There are also old legends to check out, such as Sanulim from the 70s and 80s. Traditional music fusion group Ssingssing have also become quite well known amongst the international crowd after having performed at NPR Tiny Desk Concerts.
Seoul is a very culturally exciting and dynamic city. If you want to discover more about Korean music, many of these bands are quite frequently seen across Europe all year long, playing headline shows and festivals such as Glastonbury and Reeperbahn.
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Swedish Death Party's 'Are You Nervous?' is out now.
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