Music

Its not just K-pop – inside the thriving South Korean indie music scene

K-pop has grown from the biggest thing in Korea to a global phenomenon. From BIGBANGs legendary status to BTSs current world domination, the genre has gained fans across the world, with groups including MONSTA X, Red Velvet and Twice following more well established bands to crack the Western music scene.

But while you may have listened to DNA or Mic Drop, the Korean music scene isnt just made up of idols.

The Korean indie scene is blossoming, and while you may think the success of K-pop could annoy its stars, its actually opening up doors for all artists.

Three of the scenes most exciting acts – 3rd Line Butterfly, Billy Carter and Gonne Choi – performed in Londons Rich Mix at the 2018 K-Music Showcase, hosted by the Korean Cultural Centre UK and the Korea Creative Content Agency.

And the three acts were in agreement that K-pop only helps the indie scene.

How K-pop idols are opening doors for South Korea's thriving indie musicians
Gonne Choi explained that both genres of music influence the other (Picture: PR)

Billy Carters lead singer Jiwon Kim said: Were doing different music in a different scene, but K-pop music is very complicated and experimental, theyre called pop music but they experiment a lot.

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I think its very helpful for bands who are trying to do something new and create a new sound.

3rd Line Butterfly bassist Kim Nam Yoon said: When Korean indie music began to grow, many of the indie bands were influenced by foreign indie bands. So the Korean fandom was mostly exposed to the foreign industry. But after a decade or so, there are people who only listen to Korean music.

Thanks to K-pop, people have more interest in Korean music. So now we have more international fans.

BTS
The success of bands like BTS has helped the Korean music industry as a whole (Picture: Big Hit)

Gonne Choi, who performed at Rich Mix with her band, added that the opportunities swing both ways, with K-pop composers and producers often inspired by the motifs in indie music.

Those only familiar with K-pop may not know what to expect from an indie K-music showcase – theres not a smidge of a dance routine in sight. But the bands at the showcase put forward their own styles of indie, influenced by their Korean heritage.

Gonne Choi is inspired by tradition, with her folksy sound steeped in history. Billy Carter offered the rocky edge for the night, while 3rd Line Butterfly brought dreamy lo-fi to the stage.

3RD Line Butterfly perform at Rich Mix
3rd Line Butterfly believe the popularity of K-pop has boosted interest in K-music in general (Picture: PR)

While some of the acts tracks are performed in English, a lot of the lyrics are in Korean – but Billy Carter dont think this affects how UK audiences perceive them.

Jiwon Kim explained: Emotions are international, so I can see audiences totally understanding how we feel on the stage. Thats pretty moving. More than half of our songs are in English, but even still, when were singing in Korean, they can still get our feelings, and thats really amazing.

And Gonne Choi added: Im still curious about how the audience will react to my music. But even though the market differs, I dont change the music.

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More: K-Pop

Indie bands are a much harder sell than K-pop bands, who can capitalise on their male/female fanbases and catchy beats. But the K-music genre is definitely something to keep an eye on.

As Jiwon Kim told us: There are so, so many good indie musicians in South Korea. The number of amazing musicians is growing – although Im not sure how many are in the audience!

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