Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Expat music scene thriving in Seoul

The Tear Jerks perform at Club DGBD in Hongdae on June 23.
/ Korea Times photo by John Redmond

Up until about seven years ago, the expat music scene in Korea was saturated by a handful of cover bands and a few solo performers, all adhering to a playlist dominated by classic hits and golden oldies. Acts were rated by the number of well known tunes present in the set list and some even had huge fan clubs and would tour the peninsula.

For lovers of non-mainstream acts, the pickings were rather slim.

Fortunately, a remedy to this situation was found in venues in the student neighborhood of Hongdae that began catering to a booming number of local independent acts in genres ranging from punk, ska, rockabilly, pop and folk. The majority of acts were Korean with a few expat/Korean combinations.

Over time, a new generation of expats began to form bands of a slightly more indie persuasion. The major expat touring artists were still DJs on their way to or from other festivals in Asia.

As more bands began to frequent the Hongdae scene at clubs like FF, The Spot, DGBD’s, Freebird and the now defunct Skunk Hell, venues in the expat area of Itaewon began opening up to this new wealth of talent.

Popular rock venue Ole Stompers was the first to embrace this scene by hosting a now famous “Battle of the Bands,” the brainchild of Cain Barriskill and Alan Green, featuring Korean bands, expat bands and combinations of the two. The first “Battle” was eventually won by Korean power pop trio “Galaxy Express.”

Since those days, a growing number of acts have swamped the indie scene, with regular performances and CD releases and the rest, as they say, is history.

Among those born out of that scene and those already established are such names as Seoul City Suicides, Whatever That Means, The Tremors, Rux and The Tear Jerks. Korean power ska band Ska Sucks, have a huge following not only for a unique spin on ska music, but a band known to deliver great live performances.

Not content with limiting live performances to Korea “The Tear Jerks” will take to venues in Taiwan.

Appearing at Ole Stompers Rock Spot, Itaewon, on Aug. 27, The Tear Jerks will be supported by punk troubadour Johnny Red, bands Whatever That Means and Seoul City Suicides.

There is no cover charge but for a 20,000 won fee the bar will hold an all the beer you can drink policy.

The following night The Tear Jerks will be playing the legendary DGBDs with guests Ska Sucks, The Tremors and Rux. The cover fee is 10,000 won.

The current lineup for The Tear Jerks tour is Shawn May on vocals, John Middlemis on guitar and vocals, Cain Barriskill, bass guitar, Zee Kang on fiddle and Dae Hoon Ko on drums.

The Tear Jerks began in Seoul Pub in Itaewon in the summer of 2008 when former Bellows bass player Cain Barriskill asked Shawn May if he would be interested in fronting a punk band.

“I had seen Shawn sing an a cappella version of a Tenacious D song once at open mic night, so I knew he had guts and stage presence, I also knew that he shared my passion for punk rock,” said Cain Barriskill in an interview with The Korea Times,

The two immediately started writing songs and searching for members to complete their line-up. The first person to answer an ad placed on the Internet was Detroit born guitarist John Middlemis. John had played in several punk rock outfits in his hometown and brought the experience of a seasoned musician. The unit was completed when jazz trained drummer Cooper Marshal showed up at practice with a set of sticks and a six-pack of Cass.

Northern Irish bass player Barriskill has a background in traditional Irish music and this was to play a major role in shaping the band’s sound.

“Trad music and punk rock have so much in common, from the fast rhythms to the working class ethics, it had always been my dream to bring this music together. Seoul was an unlikely place for that to happen but sometimes that’s just the way things work out.”

The band worked hard to combine raucous Irish drinking songs and street punk Oi, and managed to create a sound which hadn’t been witnessed in Seoul before. Like most Irish songs, The Tear Jerks’ lyrics tell a story, most of which are based on personal experiences.

The tour ending in Taiwan entitled “Lock Up Your Daughters” kicks off this weekend with the band announcing that the venues and support acts are personal favorites of band members.

To get to Ole Stompers, leave exit 4, Itaewon station Line 6, turn right before the fire station and left at the first street. Ole Stompers is at the top of the hill on the left.

To get to DGBD leave Sangsu Station, exit 1 and head towards Hongik University. Turn left just before the park, walk past Tin Pan Alley and keep going straight, you'll see a convenience store on the left. Club DGBD is on the opposite corner.

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