Get to know a few of the bands that will be touring the U.S. this month, including at the renowned SXSW music festival, and showcasing the diversity of today’s Korean indie scene.
“Avant-indie, “siren-like” and “spacey alternative” are how various media have described the music of Seoul’s Smacksoft. Mixing post-punk, rock and electronica, the band is led by intriguing frontwoman Bo Ryung Whang, an innovator in the country’s underground music scene. She debuted as a solo act with Cat With Three Ears in 1998. Soon after, she formed Smacksoft, which, though started in 2001, took a multiyear hiatus while Whang pursued another passion: fine art.
After earning her BFA from Pratt Institute, she returned to the band, and quite remarkably, Smacksoft would find an audience again—accolades, too. Its 2009 album Shines in the Dark earned the band a nomination for “Best Modern Rock Album” at the 2010 Korean Music Awards. That was followed by another nod in the same category in 2013 for the act’s fifth album, Follow Your Heart.
And Whang and the band have much more music to share. She released a new seven-song solo EP called As if Nothing Ever Happened last month, and Smacksoft—featuring Rainbow 99 on guitar, Jin Shil Suh on drums, Ji Yong Shin on bass, Ha Neul Kang on keyboard and synthesizer—expects to release its sixth full-length album in June. In addition to Smacksoft’s performance at SXSW this month, the band will make its European debut during an appearance at the CinemAsia Film Festival in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in April.
WhenKoreAm caught up with Whang, she was excited about Smacksoft’s overseas gigs, especially playing at SXSW. “I read that last year there were acts from around 60 countries at SXSW,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to sharing our music, experiencing the festival and getting to spend a few days hanging out in Austin. Oh, and eating lots of Texas barbecue!”
Though she established her music career in Korea, Whang actually spent her formative years living in New York City, absorbing the hardcore and street punk of that period. In that sense, America is not so foreign to her.
“I feel more free and natural in front of American audiences than I do in front of Korean audiences,” said Whang. “In Korea you have to use formal Korean when you’re on stage, so it’s not always the most relaxed setting. At festivals, Korean audiences are a lot of fun. But sometimes at regular shows they can be pretty stiff, like logs! “I always prefer to play for audiences that feel free to show their emotions, and Americans are very good at that. If the music sucks, they may throw bottles or cans at you. But if the music rocks, then they just go crazy, which I really respect and love. As a band, it means we always need to be good when we get on stage.”
U.S. TOUR DATES
March 13 – @ Icenhauer’s, Austin, TX (SXSW)
March 16 – @ Limelight, San Antonio, TX
March 20 – @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall, San Francisco (CAAMFest)