Leftfield ambient synth duo Salamanda settle in for a gauzy jam at Unlooked For Blessing, a plant shop and café owned by local DJ Jjongho.
“The first time we got involved with Seoul Community Radio was in 2019 when we joined their mix series,” explain Yetsuby and Uman Therma, a leftfield ambient and DJ duo who perform and make music together as Salamanda. “SCR has been a major outlet for Seoul-based underground DJs and producers for a long time,” they continue, “so we both knew about the station before we started Salamanda. SCR has always been very supportive towards the electronic music scene in Seoul and has hosted many great events, so either as Uman, Yetsuby or as Salamanda, we love being on their shows.” Influenced greatly by 20th century minimalism, the duo use an assortment of modular synths, effects pedals, carefully selected samples and their own voices to craft diaphanous ambient compositions that drift between the organic and the cosmic, more often than not accompanied by nostalgic pixel art. Back in January the duo released Allez on cult tape label Good Morning Tapes, a beautiful, psychedelic collection of tracks that serves as deep dive into the world of Salamanda.
For their contribution to the Seoul Community Radio Residency, the duo decamped to Unlooked For Blessing, a plant shop and café owned by local DJ Jjongho, to gently guide us through a gauzy jam using a variety of synths, sequencers, pedals and software. Using Ableton Live to control looping in real time, the duo used an Akai APC 40 Mk2 alongside a TC Helicon Vocal Box Duplicate, as well as a Korg Minilogue connected to the Boss Reverb pedal for sequencing and controlling delay time, feedback, resonance and envelope generation. Unlooked For Blessing is just one of a network of spaces that comprise the wider universe of Seoul Community Radio, an interconnected and interdependent cluster of venues, cafés, restaurants, and galleries that provide the bricks and mortar support a scene like this needs. “I think it’s helpful,” says Seulki Lee. “I’ve seen a lot of DJs who had never met each other team up through us, and I’ve seen a lot of scenes where people who run clubs get to meet each other that way.”
“The electronic music scene in Seoul is small but big, harmonized while being diverse, and has order within disorder,” explains the duo. “Due to the COVID-19 and the pre-existing vulnerabilities of the arts and culture sector, our favorite local venues have temporarily or permanently closed. Accordingly, we’ve been doing more online-based activities and recording mixes for radio broadcasts to reach out to listeners. While doing so, we tried (and are still trying) to find what would be the most interesting way for the audiences who are now watching and listening to us at home.” While Salamanda are sorely missing their local spots, one of the more positive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Seoul has been a greater focus on localized scenes, as well as how best to present these smaller communities to the world, an experience echoed by Seoul Community Radio’s Rich Price. “During those quieter times when there was a curfew we’ve really focused on the music,” he says. “Whereas before we’d have a lot of visiting guests, it’s been 100% locals really, with a smattering of contributions online from from people abroad.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a hugely transitional period for Seoul Community Radio. Faced with the closure of their space to the public and a seismic blow to the already precarious funding structures that the station had been barely subsisting off since 2016, the SCR team had to completely rethink their operation. “I reckon if we stayed in the old studio we probably would not have survived,” says Price, alluding to the remote, grotty basement space SCR used to call home. “The old studio didn’t really make any money. It was very cheap rent, but we were relying on events, like a lot of people. With COVID the project-led, brand collaboration business model was unsustainable because the brands themselves started to run out of money to do events, and then you couldn’t do events!” So, inspired by a visit to the Sibuya-based live streaming studio, bar and community space Dommune during a trip to Japan, last year Seoul Community Radio upped sticks for a bigger and better location in Itaewon. “Moving to the space during COVID was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” says Price. “This was at the beginning, in March 2020, so we’ve been there a year. I was sanding the wood of the steps, wondering, is this place even going to be able to open.”
Opening for a single day to a packed crowd, the station immediately had to close for another month due to a big outbreak of COVID-19 in a neighbouring district. Today, the space and the community are stronger than ever, with curfew times gradually lifting, Seoul Community Radio is starting to welcome more and more new members through its doors. “Some people think we’ve always been a hybrid of a bar and radio, which is definitely not true,” says Price. “We always laugh about that internally. They don’t know about the old broken-down studio and the time the toilet froze.” It’s this persistent effort to learn from their experiences and to keep the original ethos of the station central to everything that they do that has allowed the SCR team to continue to develop. “In a way, being more open has helped us become stronger,” continues Price. “Openness and accessibility has helped us in a survival sustainability sense, because we’ve had more opportunities come through.” It’s a sentiment shared by Salamanda. “We’ve always needed a meeting place for the music community to gather around, share information and make networks.” they say.
“While state-of-the-art technologies and vast changes in this century has provided us with a new virtual space where we can make our artistic dreams come true, we will still need physical places – venues that we cherish – to keep our community strong and healthy, at least for now.” Though resolutely community-orientated, Yetsuby and Uman Therma also place great significance on global connections. “One of the most fun online events we took part in since the pandemic was a live set streaming event with artists from Korea and Japan,” they recall. “Having this kind of cross-border event in the middle of a global pandemic helped us feel more connected to the world and less isolated.” With virtual environments such as Onit.life and the global reach of Seoul Community Radio’s weekly broadcasts, artists like Salamanda are amplifying the care and empathy of their community across continents, granting us a glimpse of the relationships upon which their craft relies. Looking to the future, the duo’s hopes are simple. “All we hope for the next decade is just being able to hang out with friends at local clubs, sweat it out through dance, have breakfast together and go home in the morning, like we used to.”
For more information about Salamanda and their music you can follow them on Instagram and check out their Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Tune into Seoul Community Radio via their website and YouTube and for more information follow the station on Instagram.
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