It’s 1992 – a wave of popular American music begins to manifest in the form of something new, and with echoes of becoming something much greater. A new generation, born into a new era of social change is greeted with a hip-hop infused brand of music sung by Koreans and accompanied by a distinctly different sound. It proves so great a cultural movement that it goes on to inspire an international genre so influential that it becomes a part of the very identity of South Korea itself. Now, over 25 years later, that ripple has become a wave, and seemingly nothing can stem the tide. And yet, never have there been such strong echoes of turbulence throughout South Korea’s vibrant music scene.
A new voice has emerged from somewhere within the titan that is K-Pop; one that is driven by political and social change, one that is darker, more experimental and lyrically driven by a new social dynamic. This is a voice that speaks on behalf of frustrated Koreans in a contemporary society, a general mass for whom neither traditional instruments, nor catchy pop-driven tracks no longer speak for. They are artists who have begun to emerge throughout the back-alleys of Busan and Gwangju, and in the trendy corners of Hongdae – a fluid cultural space that has become something of a petri dish for their DIY ethos and their drive to enter the mainstream market. Their goal is to bring about a profound change, and to bring about a new wave of diversification.
Emerging artists are no longer confined to playing in smaller pubs and clubs. A growing number of festivals and competitions offer a multitude of opportunities for up-and-coming independent musicians to showcase their music. Some indie groups have even made trips further afield, breaking the mould and taking an increasingly global approach to promoting their own music. Others have even made it onto Korean television! Such has the landscape of Korean music changed over the past few years.
Whether it’s only certain ideals associated with indie music rather than the music itself becoming popular, is a subject of debate. K-pop companies often reveal that lyrics and songs have been self-written by their artists now, and whilst indie isn’t a genre, it seems that the industry is intent on making it into one. Ideas from the indie music scene do flow into K-pop once in a while, whether it takes the form of groups taking on band concepts or having a track on an album that goes against the K-pop sound we know so well.
K-indie musicians are aware that K-pop is becoming internationally recognizable; their music tends not to be influenced greatly by what happens in K-pop, but some do attempt their own take on popular K-pop songs or upload mash-ups online. A mutual recognition of sorts has developed between K-pop and K-indie; no longer are they viewed as polar opposites of the musical spectrum but complimenting flavours that are beginning to blend.
Content Written by John O’Donnell
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