Indie Music in Korea : Part 2

Commercial Success of Second Generation 

As mentioned in the Indie Music in Korea: Part 1, the first generation of Korean indie bands (Crying Nut, No Brain, Deli Spice, and Unnine Ibalgwan …etc) lead the independent music market at the early stage. After the first strong impact of the early indie bands on the music industry, it seemed like their glorious time will last forever after. However, after some “bad incidents and changing trends have brought the whole indie scene down to the minor genre and that is when the second generation rose. 

The second generation of the indie scene has made a bigger commercial success in the Korean music industry thanks to the paved way for the first batch. So who were the most eye-catching musicians in the second generation? 

Representatively, there were iconic bands such as 10 CM (십센치) and JangKiHa and the Faces (장기하와 얼굴들). They came up with funny concepts and lyrics that made the band a rising star. 

Americano by 10CM their first hit

First, 10 CM (십센치) started their career in Hongdae busking. 2 members of the band are from the southern rural part of Korea and they came up to Seoul for success yet, they had no place to practice. That’s when they started busking in Hongdae streets where they started to be known to music lovers in Hongdae.

After some time in the street, they released a great hit song “Americano” (아메리카노) in 2010 which was listed as 7th on the Korean music bank K-chart. 2010 was the time when literally everyone started to drink americano coffee as an after-meal drink and because it was so close to the Korean lifestyle, the song’s lyrics about Americano touched the heart of so many music lovers. Also, they only had a few chances to be on the media but because their song was so catchy, they could have gotten popular and still the band is one of the most-listened till today. 

The Moon is Rising by JangKiHa and the Faces

The other iconic band is JangKiHa and the Faces (장기하와 얼굴들). They are often called “The old future of Korean popular music”, as they lead the second wave of indie music invasion. JangKiHa the leader of the band as shown in their band name, composed most of the songs in their first album which made them a subculture superstar. Surprisingly, one of their hit songs ‘Cheap Coffee’ (싸구려 커피) was also about the coffee like 10 CM’s. The song is about the pathetic life of a person living alone in a cheap and low-quality house which many students in Seoul could relate to. 

Apart from the song ‘Cheap Coffee’ they were also well known for the hilarious dance in the song ‘The Moon is Rising’ (달이 차오른다, 가자). The dance and the song went viral on online forums which made the song very popular on the internet and eventually on the media. The band leader JangKiHa still makes very experimental music and somehow listeners like what he provides. BTW, for K-pop fans, he may be known as IU’s ex-boyfriend. 

Global Awareness of Korean Indie Music

In the last ten years, Korean indie music started to be known to listeners abroad. Here are some musicians Jambinai, Idiotape, Hyukoh and Shaun. 

They Keep Silence by Jambinai

Jambinai is the band that brought Korean traditional music and made it their way. They use Geomungo (거문고, Traditional Korean plucked zither), Traditional flutes, and Haeguem (해금, Traditional Korean string instrument) in their music with an electric guitar which makes their music sound like alternative rock. They started to be known to western listeners in 2014 and have performed in many popular music festivals such as SXSW (US), Glastonbury (UK) and TransMusicales (France).

Melodie by Idiotape

Idiotape is an electronica band that made its debut in 2008. They are famous in the European electronic music scene, especially in France, Spain, and Germany. They mix rocky sounds with EDM which makes them also famous as rock festival performers. The band has also performed for well-known festivals like Glastonbury (UK), Fusion Festival (Germany) and Festival Mundial (Netherlands). 

Wi Ing Wi Ing by Hyukoh their debut hit

Hyukoh is relatively a new band, but they have brought rock music up to the Korean music chart after so many years of dance music domination. After being on the Korean TV show “The Infinite Challenge” (무한도전) they worked with IU, and that is when they got great popularity in South East Asian region. They had a tour in Malaysia and Singapore while they also got to play at Coachella. 

Way back home by Shaun (Korean version)

Way back Home (Feat. Conor Maynard) [Sam Feldt Edit] (English version)

Shaun would be quite well known to Gen Z since his music is widely used in Tiktok and Reels. The song “Way Back Home” first made a great hit in Korea and he has made the English version of the song with Sam Feldt and Conor Maynard. The song has climbed up to the summit in the Malaysian and Singaporean charts. 

Since the birth of Korean indie music in the mid-90s, K-indie music has been developing through an eventful time. Now there are music labels specialized for indie musicians (most of them are run by former musicians and their friends) and the bands are showing diversity in genre. Also, they got to know how to promote themselves through social media channels and Youtube. 

So long story short, Korean indie music is worth a try if you are a music lover.