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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.
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 part 2 of our guide to K-indie music—with more genres and eight more 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.
The oldest name in this round-up shows none of its age through constant experimentation that—most importantly—works to a tee. Since debuting in 2000, 3rd Line Butterfly has become a staple in the K-indie scene with their distinct sound powered by moody guitars and velvety smooth vocals. Their album Divided By Zero was critically acclaimed and nominated for Best Modern Rock Album of the Year at the 2018 Korean Music Awards.
Think of the warm, fuzzy feelings you get when you’re on a road trip. The windows are down and the wind is eating your face but it feels ohh soo good. You wish the day never ends. That’s what dream pop makes you feel, and it’s also one of the ways you can describe ADOY’s music. The best part of it? Unlike many of their counterparts, their songs are sung in English (yay!).
The five-piece band, comprised of members who were from prominent K-indie bands (Eastern Sidekick, From The Airport, Watersports, Traumpaline), has caused quite a stir in the scene since they dropped their first EP CATNIP in 2016. In early 2018, they received a nomination at the national Korean Music Awards for Best Modern Rock Song. In 2021, ADOY released their third EP [her] with the title track, Antihero.
Described as: The fuzzy guitars of Muse crossed with the synths of the Pet Shop Boys (Buzzfeed)
If you find the name familiar, that’s because they performed in Singapore at Baybeats 2018. The brainchild of former skate punk rocker Toby Hwang and fugitive astrophysicist (arguably the grooviest of titles) Annie Ko, Love x Stereo dazzles with their array of synth-fuelled electronic anthems. The electric duo celebrated their 10th year anniversary in 2021 with the release of their fifth album, Xennials.
Branding themselves as a “strong cocktail with heavy shots of blues, punk, electronic, psychedelic, jazz and pop”, this quartet of quirky rockers first came together in 2013. DTSQ's brand of brash and wild punk rock has garnered them fans worldwide—the band is fresh off a UK/Europe tour that saw them playing at big festivals and smaller, more rambunctious gigs.
South Korean hip hop has been on the rise since the explosive success of Keith Ape’s It G Ma (underwater squad!), and Kid Milli’s meteoric rise will inadvertently be attributed to that. However, don’t let that distract you from this rapper’s astounding lyricism and unique flow that commands you to sit up and listen.
Unconventional, nonchalant, nonconformist—these are some words that come to mind when Hyukoh is mentioned. After all, the band has defied all odds and rejected the cookie-cutter aesthetics of K-pop to become the underground cool kids of Korean music. Formerly signed with HIGHGRND (a subsidiary of record label YG Entertainment), Hyukoh is one of the few K-indie bands who consistently edge out blockbuster idol groups like Big Bang and Girls Generation on the charts.
With songs about the anxieties faced by South Korean millennials today, the band has been called the face of the Sampo generation, an ever-growing number of youth who are giving up dating, marriage and having kids because of societal pressures and high costs of living.
Described as: One of the leading lights of South Korea’s indie scene with carefree pop songs that recall artists like The Whitest Boy Alive and Mac DeMarco (Dazed)
Cited as one of 2018's break-out bands, Say Sue Me is a surf-inspired indie rock band from Busan, South Korea. The band comprises Byungkyu Kim on lead guitar, Sumi Choi on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jaeyoung Kim on bass and Sungwan Lim on drums.
In true hallyu wave fashion, Say Sue Me has also written soundtracks like So Tender for the Korean Netflix drama Nevertheless and My Heart for hit Korean drama Yumi’s Cells.
Described as: The hopeful light at the end of a dark tunnel, combatting grief with jangle-pop hooks and a warm blanket of reverb. (Bandcamp)
Say Sue Me will be performing at the Esplanade Annexe Studio on 20 October 2022 as part of Esplanade's Mosaic Music Series.
Formerly going by the moniker Camper and part of the hip hop collective you.will.knovv (started by R&B superstar DEAN), Rad Museum represents a personal reinvention for producer-singer-graphic artist Soh Jaehoon. The “museum” part of the name is a commitment towards artistic expressions in multiple forms—one that is realised through an eclectic combination of bars, beats and visual art.
Rad Museum’s first EP Scene tells stories from different perspectives, taking the form of a grieving old man in the track Tiny Little Boy, and cutting a lonely figure in the heartbreaking Birthday. In 2022, Rad Museum released his first studio album RAD which features a star-studded line up of collaborators like Wonstein, Lee Hi and DEAN.
Described as: Channeling the dreamy retro beats prevalent in the Arctic Monkeys album AM with a dash of Hyukoh (The Kraze)