We’ve featured a whole host of alternate Korean acts over the past weeks, with festivals such as Liverpool Sound City and Glastonbury inviting Koreans to play. We’ve enjoyed their different perspective on Korean music so much that we’re embracing the opportunity to introduce and speak with as many alternate Korean musicians as we can.
In the spotlight today we have GENIUS. Genius are a Busan-based garage-rock trio, formed of rock veteran Kim Il Du as vocalist and guitarist, and expats Steve Chang on bass, and Lee Chung Mok (often referred to as Casey) on drums. Their music is filled with raw rock an roll energy, reminiscent of the styles of old American rockers such as The Ramones.
Despite not residing in or around South Korea’s most prominent indie music scene, GENIUS have seen much success, gaining accolades such as GQ’s Voice of the Year [Kim Il Du] and one of 2013’s best live acts according to Korea Gig Guide. Their 2014 album Beaches made the list of Weiv critics best albums, and last month released their EP Lucky Mistake, featuring title track 88 Years Old.
Here’s our chat with Steve and Il Du, Casey choosing to opt out in an effort to cultivate an air of mystery.
Please note: Kim Il Du’s answers are verbatim, and interviewer notes have been added in Italics in places for easier English interpretation.
Can you introduce GENIUS and describe your music to anyone unfamiliar with your work?
Steve: Hi. We’re GENIUS and we play rock and roll.
Il Du: Hallow. I’m Kim Ildu. I was born 1978. I think still I’m healthy for say hi.
Who and what influences your sound?
Steve: Sora Aoi, tall boys of cheap beer, and the fear of dying alone.
Il Du: Famous rockers and Lovely my friends.
GENIUS includes two expats, hailing from the US, does this ever create challenges you may not have faced in a Western music scene?
Steve: Nobody knows I’m an expat. They just think I’m a Korean who’s dumb and illiterate.
Il Du: No. Good. You know Michael Jackson song. “We are the One.”
[There are no challenges. We’re all the same, just as Michael Jackson’s We Are The World says]
Why did you choose 88 Years old, a track you describe as sounding like ‘the Ramones pretending to be the Pixies covering Johnny Cash’ as your latest single?
Il Du: No plan. No reason. Just follow instinct.
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Many of the indie groups we’ve spoken to are Seoul based, the Hongdae indie scene their place of work. Are there any differences between the indie scene in Seoul and Busan?
Steve: People actually move to Hongdae to play music, to find success, a drive that leads some of them to chase trends and care more about their ‘image’ than having fun or loving what they make. Nobody comes to Busan for music. Here, we have no hope. I think this is actually better for our music.
Il Du: Hongdae scene like a plastic surgery. Busan is like a circumcision.
[As Steve says, Hongdae is image driven = Plastic Surgery. Busan’s scene fills a need, but isn’t always a necessity – circumcision]
What is it like to be a part of an independent music scene in a country where the products of manufactured pop are not only dominant but also idolised?
Steve: I don’t think about it. The world of dance studios and diets doesn’t overlap with ours. Mm. It’s like this: K-pop is the fat guy in the bathtub and our world is the water. Guess how the water feels.
Il Du: I don’t care. Still I’m on my way.
I believe you’re not fans of the ‘Korean Indie’ label? Is this due to its current over use amongst pop fans looking for ‘the next big thing’ given the rise of groups like Busker Busker and their pop driven taken on indie?
Steve: I used to feel that way, but these days I care less. Bands worry about their music getting co-opted and cheapened, but imagine a world in which Beethoven is trending and played in Samsung commercials. Beethoven would still be Beethoven. Likewise, I don’t care what people call us or who likes us or doesn’t. We’re just us. Not Limp Bizkit. We’re nothing.
Il Du: I don’t know Busker Busker. I’m Korean. Not Korean Indiean. I wanna be good Korean.
[Il Du doesn’t care for the label, though he also doesn’t pay attention to the pop scene to have an opinion on it]
If UnitedKpop had you make a ‘Must Listen’ playlist, apart from GENIUS, which other Korean groups would you include?
Steve: Say Sue Me, The March Kings, Kim Tae Chun.
Il Du: Kim Min Ki (김민기). Noh Young Sim (노영심).
You team raw garage-rock stylings with English language vocals, something that has received a warm welcome from UK indie fans for the duo Dead Buttons. Given the chance would you like to bring your music to the UK?
Steve: Mostly I want to spend a week in Grasmere and listen to English women say ‘secretary’ and ‘literature’. Glastonbury and Liverpool Sound City would be close seconds.
Il Du: Of course. I wanna go London casino.
Why would you suggest our readers check out your music?
Steve: To be more indie than their friends.
Il Du: If don’t listen our songs, you feel saving time. Save time. We have not enough time.
[You should make up your own mind, if you don’t want to listen, don’t.]
*Banner photo by Soohwan Park*