Three South Korean indie bands to look out for

Three South Korean indie bands to look out for

Chang Kiha and the Faces, The Koxx and Goonamguayeoridingstella are rocking the South Korean indie scene

Chang Kiha and the faces

Chang Kiha and the facesChang Kiha and the facesThe Band: Perhaps the biggest indie act in South Korea right now, Chang Kiha and the Faces came together a little over two years ago when Chang Kiha, up to then a drummer with another indie outfit, decided he wanted a shot at being the main man. 

It was a shrewd move. Adding a three-man backing group and the studiedly insouciant Mimi Sisters, Chang released several quirky, catchy singles followed by an album, "Living Without Incident," that sold more than 40,000 copies, a huge number for an indie act in South Korea.

Now among the rarefied few indie types that can make a living entirely from their music, Chang's mix of mannered delivery, left-field lyrics and big choruses has made him a genuine star, as evidenced by a rousing performance at this year's Jisan Valley Rock Festival.

“To reinterpretations of styles of the 70s and 80s, they add a kind of 21st century pastiche that really rekindles feelings of nostalgia,” says Lee Joo Young, the features editor at Arena Homme. “This enjoyment in the here and now that they achieve through these pastiches is Chang Kiha and the Faces' great strength.”

The Music: Familiar yet completely individual, Chang's music melds stuttery, folk-inflected rock with wry, often very funny lyrics. 

The Song: In a crowded field of instantly memorable songs, perhaps "Dali Chaoreunda, Gaja" (The Moon is Waxing Full, Let's Go) best captures Chang's joyously catchy melodies and choruses. Listen and watch.

The Future: Having already chalked up big sales, a trio of awards and triumphant performances at South Korea's biggest festivals, Chang Kiha is as famous as any indie act in the country. Longer-term success seems assured.

The Koxx

The KoxxThe KoxxThe Band: New Year's Eve, 2008. Having formed only recently as a jazz band, three art student friends decide to see in 2009 with a performance of the kind of electro-tinged rock they really love. 

Not for the last time, the reception is electric, and The Koxx, as they would soon be known, had found their calling. 

Overcoming a now infamously inebriated show before they even had a deal, The Koxx (now a five piece) have gone on to play a string of short, frenetic sets that have made them one the most talked-about live acts in South Korea's indie scene.

“The only shortcoming in [their debut EP "Enter"] is that there are only six tracks on it,” says critic Kim Zakka, writing on website. “Of the rookies to have emerged this year, none can match up to The Koxx.”

The Music: Angular, tight-suited indie pop with doses of electro. Think Franz Ferdinand and shades of Daft Punk.

The Song: In what are invariably air-punching, mosh-prompting live performances, "Trouble Maker" is never less than storming. Listen and watch.

The Future: With their "Enter" EP out now and an album to follow in the spring of 2011, The Koxx are poised to translate their live power into a broader, more established fan base. 


GoonamguayeoridingstellaGoonamguayeoridingstellaThe Band: Among all South Korea's indie bands, surely few embody the scene's low-fi, contrarian roots like Goonamguayeoridingstella (roughly translatable as “Old-time Men and Women Riding a [Hyundai] Stella”).

Releasing their first album, "We Are Clean," in 2007 (subsequently named the 70th best album of the decade by Soribada, South Korea’s biggest MP3 file downloading site), this two-piece band, according to lead singer Cho Woong, “are influenced by people from the past” and “attract fluttery fans.”

Yet underpinning this obscure facade are lyrics of rare wit and poignancy, and a sound that is at once detached but thoroughly beguiling. 

“Though reminiscent of American and British psychedelic rock and post punk, [they] differentiate themselves from other Western-influenced Korean bands by bringing an innate Korean flavor to the mix,” said Jung Woo-young, a music and features writer at GQ Korea. “[Debut single] Hangungmal [Korean] demonstrates this by incorporating the strange yet melodic sounds of the Korean alphabet.”

The Music: Like a slowed-down Happy Mondays (or Radio Dept with guitars), Goonamguayeoridingstella mix funky but understated drumbeats with ethereal synths, wa-wa guitars and haunting, slightly strained vocals.

The Song: With its shuffling guitar riff and throwaway exhortations to stop talking and kiss, "Ppo Ppo" (Kiss) is the perfect snapshot of Goonamguayeoridingstella’s sound. Listen and watch.

The Future: Perhaps a little too indie to ever be household names, their new album, coming out early next year, seems sure to confirm them as one of South Korea indie rock’s most singular and intriguing propositions.


London-born, Edinburgh-raised Niels Footman has been living and working in the South Korean capital of Seoul for eight years.
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