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We all have at some point been hit by Korean fever (K-pop, K-drama, K-fashion, kimchi—the works), even if some of us don’t freely admit to it. It is, after all, the golden age of hallyuwood, and there’s no escaping it.
Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, refers to the cultural phenomenon that has swept across much of Asia, even the West (Canadian art-pop musician Grimes is a huge fan of K-pop and draws influence from it). From tearjerker dramas to idol groups, South Korea has become one of the region’s most popular cultural exporters thanks to its high production values, accessible content and successful marketing.
But beyond the mainstream, how well do you know Korean music? If you’re looking for something new to discover, fly under the radar with us and check out what its richly diverse and burgeoning indie scene has to offer.
Here’s your fast guide to the different genres of Korean indie music—and seven artists you need to know. Go ahead and give them a try, and kindle that K-indie love.
“Indie” is merely short for "independent". Especially in music, it refers to anything that is created independent of major recording studios or labels. This typically means that artists have full creative control over their work.
Known by their nicknames Egg 1, Egg 2 and Egg 3, this indie band recently topped seven of their domestic music charts with their latest release, Summer Night You and I, beating idol group Wonder Girls and singer-dancer HyunA—and get this—all without any publicity. They are known to tackle a range of genres from pop to folk, reggae to punk, even jazz and bossa nova.
Known for their explosive synth-fuelled live performances, Idiotape is one of Korea’s beloved electronic bands whose music is influenced by ’60s and ’70s Korean classic rock. The award-winning trio has crisscrossed the US and the UK to perform at festivals such as SXSW and Glastonbury, putting Korean electronic music on the world map. Described as "What happens when Cut Copy, Daft Punk and Chromeo have a baby" (The Times), the band was part of the Mosaic line-up back in 2016.
Part art performance, part experimental multimedia project, Korean husband and wife duo EE was the first Korean music group to be invited to perform at Coachella in 2011. Their blend of quirky fashion, electronic music and art is as equally bizarre as it is refreshing.
As their name suggests, this bubbly duo's got mad love for bunnies. Dawoon Jung and Hyesung Jung breezed into the indie scene with their whimsical, bubblegum brand of indie folk music and became YouTube sensations. What makes them stand out are the choice of instruments that they play, which include the cello, melodeon accordion and xylophone, among others.
Described as: All the lightheartedness and soul of Feist but with the Korean flair for all things cutesy. (OZY)
The punk community in South Korea might be small, but it certainly is loyal. If you’re into hardcore and punk but don’t know where to start, you might want to check out The Geeks, one of the first hardcore bands in the country and one of the most influential.
If you find their name familiar, it’s because Asian Chairshot was part of the Mosaic line-up back in 2014. The band’s brand of alt-rock, psychedelic and garage rock blended with old Korean-style melodies is a hard-hitting mix that had everyone in the Korean indie scene talking just months shortly after they were formed. Their first full-length album was produced by Smashing Pumpkins guitarist, Jeff Schroeder.
Described as: Shin Joong Hyun jamming with Black Sabbath combined with the forward-thinking sonics of Radiohead (Jeff Schroeder).
They call themselves Copy Machine because their music is a "copy" of everyday life, and they are one of the best (and most rambunctious) ska bands in the country. This Baybeats and Mosaic alumnus mixes elements of ska, punk and reggae, influenced by the likes of Bob Marley, Sublime and Suicide Machine. Check out the video below to get a glimpse of how infectious their performances are.