non-fiction rock from Aotearoa New Zealand

The Han Joo-Slingshot-Nosebleed Drumroll

We crashed straight from work into a delightfully intense three days in Tokyo. It’s full on and little off. So what happens next is rest, food, and discovering the local Mangwon-dong area of inner city Seoul.

We decided to come to South Korea after we met folk from Bulgasari, a bunch of local experimental musicians and performers who toured Aotearoa New Zealand last year. Among them was NZ born Ian-John, who has been living in Korea for many years now. He’s the key organiser for our tour: He’s organised all the shows, the accommodation, met us at the airport and introduced us to fantastic vegetarian fare [which is not essentially easy given the massive prevalence of meat in the local diet].

We arrive on a Tuesday, early afternoon, after battling through the early morning Tokyo rush hour, us with baggage with pointy corners onboard extremely packed commuter trains. The first show in South Korea is on Thursday evening. We reach our backpackers, decant of possessions and head off for a meal, which is exceptionally delicious. A mixture of fermented condiments, kimchi pancakes and a deliciously yummy alcohol called Makgeolli, a fermented rice wine. It has a deeply cloudy, almost milky appearance. Makgeolli makes you sleep great and leaves you with the head of a teetotaler – win/win.

On Thursday evening we go out to the venue HaroO SpaceBus. We play here on Saturday but today we come to watch the band Kopjanggonggol [Beef Tripe Hotpot], local psychedelic legends of 20 plus years. The guitarist, Yukie Sato, is one of the crew who toured to NZ with Bulgasari. The group is a three-piece, and is classic psych rock and roll but closer to the highly enthusiastic styles that came from south-east Asia countries rather than the trad UK or USA styles. Highly enjoyable, and massive fun. There seems to be a lot of jokes and humour involved that connects with the locals, accompanied by an expressive fuzzy fox tail worn by the guitarist. Yukie is playing at the show on Saturday with us.

42289119_548911965545673_6994219508411924480_nOur first show is at the Yogiga.Pal gallery, ground zero and heartland for the Bulgasari experimental community. Venues like this are precious and scattered finely across the face of the earth, small community run venues that encourage experimenting in sound and tolerance of the ears. It’s the energy of individuals involved in venues such as Yogiga that is often a pivot-point to a surviving and flourishing exploratory musical and performance practice in these communal spaces. Places like this are gold. This first performance is an evening of improvised music, four musicians – two sets of duos and then a foursome to end the evening.

Chrissie performs first with French born Remi Klemensiewicz. Chrissie plays prepared bass and acoustically affected vocals. Remi plays a combination of effects pedals including live-looping of signals and sounds.

Following that is Kieran, on prepared and junked up kit, and Shi-Ne on Piri, a double reeded wind instrument. A slightly shorter set than Chrissie and Remi’s, but with enough tension. Venue Proprietor, Han Joo, offered a tension spring for musical effect to the drum kit, culminating in an instrument briefly named the HanJoo Slingshot. This spring was attached to the hi-hat at one end, and a drumstick taped to the other. When stretched out and released it produced a great random recoil that complimented the already random playing. At one point it was being stretched to capacity, under tension as the name would suggest, with various sounds being extracted until the moment it slipped free. Springing swiftly back with considerable force it rode across Kieran’s face. Somewhat surprised but without hesitation the playing continued. However looking up it was obvious there was blood pissing from a wound on the bridge of the nose. All very dramatic.

The third and final piece contained less bodily fluids. More space and play between the four. Less blood. More laughs. This show is part of Ian-John’s series called Ddakji (improvised music series), so hopefully these recording will find their way to release.

We go for food at a eatery close by for pancakes, one green with vegetable, and the other full of kimchi. And more Makgoelli. Thus ends the day.

Friday: On Wednesday, when at Haroo, we made plans with Yukie to met at his and his partners house for breakfast on Friday morning We also got invited to meet Han Joo for food after the evening show. Delicious bookends to what was going to be a long day.

We stroll to Yukie’s through the backstreets avoiding traffic from any direction. Yukie lives with partner Eunhi, and her mother … as well as a massively huge vinyl collection stacking into the thousands. We eat a noodle soup called Kong Guksu, it looks like a cheese sauce but is made entirely of soya bean. It’s consistency is incredibly cheese-like as well. Beer also accompanies breakfast and makes for much laughing. After this more kimchi pancake found their way to the table first, then into bellies. Delicious, nutritious, and sleep inducing. It’s a real privilege to have this opportunity to be invited into the family home, we’re very appreciative of this.

41570847_1809108149209126_1604082465859698688_nThe afternoon is a digestive rest before heading of for the first rock show at Strangefruit. It’s located only a few doors down from where we had the pancakes last night. A decent sized bar underground, and where, if you loiter to long out on the street, a staff member from the restaurant upstairs would come down to shoo you off for scaring the locals…

This is our first rock show in Seoul. Playing as well are 4 other acts:

Moon and Bouncers: Bass, drums and piano – very chill, maybe trip-hop styles, but certainly a full and grooving celestial funk infused tunes, imagine an astronaut on the dance floor dressed in a spacesuit of sequins.

sOo Jung Kae X Rui Inaba: These two plus an accompanying saxophonist. Soo Jung visited NZ with Bulgasari, and has an extraordinary free yet skilled piano technique. The trio play a free jazz that is both playful and entwined with itself. Remi, born in Japan then lived in NZ for many years before recently moving to Korea, introduces the set with a very kiwi referencing summery barbecue-reggae groove before the group slides into a soporific Arabic-inspired motif. One part sandy and sleepiness, the other suggestive and sultry.

Gong Gong Consent: Guitarist Sally, Ian-John on harmonic, springs, and feedback, Leighton on Electric guitar, and Kim Hyosook on a local stringed instrument called a Gayageum all playing together in an improvised and free-sound piece. It’s very beautiful and not a hint of K-Pop in earshot.

Maluihan: Two-piece – guitar and drums, deeply emotive music with strong references between rock and local folk traditions, a moody and brooding series of tunes full of space that ascends into accents like mountain peaks rising high above valley fog. It’s really beautiful.

Then we get to our turn, our first rock performance. And for a country that doesn’t like to dance much we find gleeful flailing falling about in-front of us. We blurt out our set in a gleeful explosion, the hi-viz does the biz. It’s a blast.

A lot of enthusiastic chatting and meeting while we pack-up, satisfied at this first success. A couple of beers then it’s back to Haroo for a midnight vegetarian feast cooked by Han Joo, more Makgoelli and then a late night ramble back to the backpackers for 4 hours sleep before a journey to the DMZ the next morning.

One response

  1. Pingback: HELLo Tokyo, HELLo Seoul | mr sterile Assembly

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