I’m a k-pop fan, not a hardcore one, but most of the time I listen to k-pop music. My favorite band is Big Bang but I listen to other band as well, like CN Blue, FT Island, 2NE1, Epik High, etc.
I’m a k-pop drama addicted too. And sometimes I find some cool OST’s. Recently, I’ve started to watch Cheongdam-dong Alice. One of the OST’s is played by Every Single Day, Every Single Day is an indie band. I listened their songs and I find them really refreshing; it’s something different from k-pop.
That’s why I want to write this article. This band made me so curious about indie music and what this genre promotes.
And now, the question is what indie music is anyway?
What is indie music?
It is said that music is fluid, flexible and is gradually altering over time as fashion and politics. It can create indelible imprints onto our every day listening habits.
Indie music comes from independent music. This kind of genre is produced independently from major commercial record labels or their subsidiaries. It’s a process that includes an autonomous, Do-It-Yourself approach to recording and publishing. Also, it is a term that describes a genre, such as indie rock, indie pop. Indie artists do not fall into a single, defined musical style or genre and usually they create music that can be categorized into other genres.
Robert Helbig in the article “The History of indie music” asserts that this kind of music is really hard to define because it has no clear reference or outline. Indie music, Helbig continues, has spilled over musical boundaries and seeped into almost every genre avaible.
This genre appeared for the first time in 1950’s and 1960’s and it was seen as a back-street rebellion. This kind of music is really confusing. It has no specific characteristics. For example the term indie music is interchangeable with terms such as “alternative rock” and “underground”.
I think this kind of music is trying to have an arty-fartzy feeling, because indie music always has been near to the cinematographic and art “world”. So, this music wants to have an original style. It’s always changing. It doesn’t want to get commercial.
The first famous indie musician was Captain Beefheart with his album called”Trout Mask Replica” (1969). This album is describing indie music. It brings together pop, jazz, blues, poetry and rock “to create a collage of surreal fantasy that has inspired dozens of musicians, including The Beatles.”(Robert Helbig).
In conclusion, indie music is trying to put on the stage something else. It’s trying to bring always something new by putting together different kinds of music, like Captain Beefheart did. That’s why even now his legacy is intact through his followers.
I cannot say I’m a big fan of indie music, but I think this music is bringing something new. So, if you’re tired of same lyrics, same MV’s, same music, try some indie music. It’s refreshing, trust me.
The history of indie music in South Korea
How about in South Korea? When did indie music start to be played?
Before indie, the most popular genre was rock. So, we are talking about the 1970’s. Then, the government started to censor and to change the musical tastes of Koreans. This way, rock music almost disappeared. The mainstream music was mostly soft pop and teuroteu ( “trot”) and just a little bit of rock.
In the mid 1990’s, throughout South Korea, there was a cultural renaissance, like new magazines and books about music, new movies and other cultural products. This revival was taking place around Hongik University (Hongdae), this place being the main arena for live music clubs.
In the Hongdae area, classic rock bars appeared and of course indie bars too. The goal was to reconnect the youth with Korea’s forgotten past. The most important live clubs were Blue Devil and Drug Club. Drug Club is known for its punk music. Many people associate this club with the revival of modern rock in South Korea. The other club, Blue Devil, moved to Cheongdam-dong, where it created the “Cheongdam sound” (which evolved into the Fluxus Records sound, with bands like Rollercoater, Clazziquai, and Loveholic).
In the late 90’s, the indie music scene was really thriving and even worse, when the Asian economic crisis came, indie music was in collapse.
In the mid 2000’s another wave of indie music appeared. Pastel and Happy Robot were two successful indie labels but the biggest was Boongaboonga( BGBG) Records, which put on the market really good songs.
In conclusion, Korean indie music is like a rollercoster, with ups and downs. After this small history of indie music, I can say that, k-indie is getting more popular nowadays than before. Why? Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube. These social networks promote the indie bands. When I was researching for this subject, I found so many good bands. I hope you will start to get more interested in them too. Nice music, nice feeling. So if your favourite band is going through a hiatus and you don’t know what to listen to, I recommend that you to give k-indie a try. It’s really nice.
Indie music in contemporary South Korean society
Right now, the Korean music sphere is dominated by idols produced by big entertainment companies. I listen to these idols. But, for indie artists, life is hard. They can barely earn enough for their every day life necesities.They usually take part-time jobs because the earnings from live performances are really low.
In Hongdae area are almost 500 indie bands and around 100 are able to play in rock festivals and to have a secured place in Hongdae clubs.
Korean indie music agencies have said ‘Clubs are looking for an audience of 5-30 people on weekdays and 70-100 on the weekend, this is not easy and every club has the same requirements.’ adding ‘Club management won’t see profit from ticket sales and whilst they make a little money on selling booze, recently the sums haven’t added up at closing time.’
So, the life of a Korean indie artist is really hard. However, its really important for Korean music. Cultural critic, Jeong Teokhyeon asserts: “The world of indie plays an important role in nourishing Korean music” and “This market needs help if it is to develop. Band must be increasingly and regularly on shows such as “I’m a singer”( KBS) and “Immortal classic”( MBC)”
So the exposure of these bands is really low. For example, when I wanted to listen to k-indie, I couldn’t find so much about them. And I really want to see them on shows where they can show how good they are.
Lee Hyun-Song (The Knoxx) says” There are some shows on cable that introduce indie bands, but I think the position of indie in TV is generally very low” and „I think the problem is that all Korean media are simply dominated by K-pop and idols.”
The cultural critic, Mark Russell agrees: „I think the big difference in Korea (compared with other music markets) is the huge emphasis on teen pop music. Not everyone likes pop, and not everyone is a teenager, which means there are several large music markets that are basically untapped” and „Korea has a huge amount of creativity and energy in its music scene. The problem is that the whole structure is undernourished.”
This article is about the lack of divergency in Korea’s music industry LINK
Here are some of my favourite indie songs:
Also, you can check Simon and Martina’s indie playlist. I check it every week. There are so many good songs that need to be promoted.
There are so many things to say about Korean music. I think I’ll need to write a book about all of this. But, if you’re interested in k-indie music, this article is a start. I hope you’ll go and explore some more. It’s such an interesting field of study and there are so many peculiarities that you will never find it in European or American music.