This week we were given brief glimpse of the incredible scene that Seoul Community Radio works tirelessly to support and represent.
Though the station is going from strength to strength, there is a bittersweet irony in the fact that as Seoul Community Radio continues to thrive, the infrastructure that surrounds it is making things consistently more difficult for the scene it supports. “I think it’s much more fragile than we think,” says co-founder Rich Price. “We’re all sort of surviving, just about, and that’s purely on passion. I feel like we’re lucky in Seoul because you’ve got so many kids who are so passionate, even though it’s getting harder and harder to do stuff. I don’t want that to disappear.” The wake of COVID-19 has seen a renewed enthusiasm for some esoteric and ancient dancing laws demanding higher taxes from establishments that enable dancing than those that don’t, a crackdown that has been felt across all aspects of Korean culture, but is felt most by smaller, independent venues that have been unable to open despite the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. “There’s not that recognition of the clubs as cultural institutions,” continues Price. “There will always be places to party and there will always be very innovative people who circumvent the challenges. The next step is striving for the recognition that London and Berlin have.”
With lockdown restrictions preventing independent venues from getting back on their feet and increasingly draconian governmental measures shrinking the ground beneath them, the situation is looking more and more desperate, and the irony of Seoul Community Radio’s continued success is not lost on the team. “It’s so juxtaposed to COVID,” reflects Price, “opening a space when there’s so many spaces outside closing. It’s very stark.” To address this, SCR has doubled down on their community efforts, making their physical space available as part of their ‘Community Service’ scheme. “The space really enables us to help,” says Price. “I don’t think we could really do that in a purely digital context. It’s local people helping other local people.” Hosting local restaurant pop-ups, album and EP launches and Pride month celebrations, Seoul Community Radio lives up to its name in every way, standing as hub amidst the bustle of Itaewon. The station’s helping hands extend to local clubs and labels too, in the form of ‘Support Your Seam’, which allowed for the selling of surplus merch to raise funds for struggling venues.
“Doing ‘A Decade of Seoul Parties 2010-2020’, made us realise that there’s a responsibility,” says Price. “But it’s so hard to get people to understand that who aren’t in the scene. It’s very difficult. I guess that’s why we do what we do. There’s nothing quite like the underground music scene worldwide.” Looking to the future, Price predicts a struggle to keep the scene alive, thought you can tell he feels up for the fight. “I think the future of the scene for the next decade will be a battle of getting the recognition of clubs as institutions of artistic merit, protecting those institutions of merit, defining them as up there with galleries, theaters, and other places which develop talent which feeds Korea’s image as a cultural country which is growing all the time,” he says. “It’s the artists that enable us to do that. I would love to invite anybody who wants to chat with me about it. If any other radio stations or other platforms feel that they can work with Seoul Community Radio, please hit me up!” This concern about general misconceptions about the scene is something that co-founder Seulki Lee shares. “The Korean general public seems to perceive the club scene as an alien culture,” she says. “It’s as though clubs are perceived only as a shady, dark, unwholesome part of culture. With SCR, we thought it we needed to take it out into the sunny side a bit more.”
“On the other hand, the premise that people can become one through music is also quite established,” Lee continues. “So with SCR during the pandemic we’ve seen there are some social problems with music and wanted to help out our community a little more. Previously we’ve done social campaigns around Korea’s dust issue and climate change as part of global initiatives, so this was an extension of that. Last year, SCR donated profits to an orphanage towards an air purifier.” It’s clear that the potential the station has to genuinely contribute to both the local dance music scene, as well as the community in general, is a fundamental part of the station’s core ethos. For Rich Price, Seulki Lee and DJ Bowlcut, as well as for the Seoul scene at large, Seoul Community Radio is much more than the sum of its parts, but a vital point of convergence around which the rest of the scene can rally. It’s a role each of them take extremely seriously. “What else is there to do?” Price asks with a coy smile.
Seoul Community Radio Presents: Against the Clock – Lionclad
First up is a very special Against The Clock session from Lionclad, a rising producer, beatmaker and artist. Though a proud member of local crew Azikazin Magic World, a multidisciplinary art collective comprised of filmmakers, musicians and puppeteers based out of Songpa-gu, in recent years Lionclad has caught global attention. Back in 2019 she was crowned Beat Battle Champion at the Goldie Awards, a competition presented by A-Trak and Fool’s Gold that sees producers and DJs going head-to-head in front of a panel of judges, which in 2019 included the likes of Armand Van Helden, Busy P, DJ Craze, Alison Wonderland, Just Blaze, Take A Daytrip, UNIIQU3 and Kittens. “I like trippy, dreamy beat music, so I make it!” she explains. “The important thing is the weird vibe. I really like weird stuff, there’s a lot of emotions in there! You can’t really dance with it, but at the same time it’s really groovy.”
“I started performing my music in Itaewon, Seoul in about 2017,” says Lionclad. “With beatmakers and DJs in Seoul we tried out some parties, and through those communities I got to know about Seoul Community Radio. So we did parties and projects together and I got close with them. SCR introduces underground artists and supports the music scene in South Korea, which inspires a lot of artists and helps communicate with them too.” For the producer, radio has pivotal role in navigating the trials and tribulations of a difficult period, providing an emotional tool for those seeking different kinds of solace in music. “People like to be in their zone in 2021,” she explains. “Radio helps people to gather music to their own space and even share the zone together. I think that is a very important way to bring people various kinds of energy.” This resolute approach to the communicative power of underground radio is reflective of a deeper optimism Lionclad has regarding the Seoul music scene, even during a time when coming together as a community is harder than ever.
“There are lot of ways to perform indoors, like online performances, which have the benefit that people can get to know artists and enjoy music very easily,” she says of finding ways to play her music during Seoul’s various lockdowns. “I think in some way it helped people to really dig deeply into their own taste, and the internet music community in Seoul really grew. Physical space is very important to communities, I can’t deny that because of my experience of getting energy from those places. But as technology is growing virtual environments can also share energy too. It’s really interesting that people keep making systems in virtual spaces to really make their projects work. It’s all about trust, I guess.” Looking forward, Lionclad remains optimistic about her community’s potential. “When I first started performing I felt that Seoul’s underground scene was very small, but I see now it’s growing rapidly. I just hope the scene gets bigger, so I can share in more inspiration.”
Seoul Community Radio Presents: Y2K92
For Y2K92, life under lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to have been extraordinarily productive. Against the apocalyptic background of enormous disruption to public life, the shuttering of local clubs and relentless curfews, Jibin and Simo have spent their days making tracks, writing lyrics, modelling, shooting and editing videos and telling stories. In spite of it all, it sounds like they had a really great time. “We had fun with the people and stuff,” they explain. Thought this might sound counterintuitive, but once you’ve heard the disparate mixture of sounds the duo corral under the Y2K92 banner, a name which refers to the year in which Magnetic Rose, the first episode of cult anime trilogy Memories, takes place, their unique approach suddenly makes perfect sense.
Across a handful of self-released videos, SoundCloud uploads and Bandcamp one-offs, Jibin and Simo are perfect examples of artists whose tastes were forged predominantly in virtual spaces. Dusty breaks, queasy drill bass, bit-crushed trap hi-hats, shuffling trip-hop drums and autotune-drenched vocals swirl together in a heady sonic palette that draws as much influence from the underground electronic sounds championed by Seoul Community Radio as it does the US hip-hop sounds that have become a huge part of Korean musical culture. All of these sounds are approached with an off-kilter levity that has become the duo’s signature, something that fuels every aspect of the project, from their idiosyncratic visuals to their surreal performances.
“For good music, you need people,” the duo say of SCR, which they describe as “full of love for music,” yet it is the online community aspect of the platform that is so crucial to Y2K92. Though they count the station’s founders, as well as many of the DJs and artists that make up Seoul Community Radio as close friends, for Y2K92, meatspace is absolutely not essential to their musical universe. “We don’t think it’s required,” they explain, “but it’s very important. Jibin learned a lot from the internet community when she was young, but when she heard music at the club, she appreciated it!” Fitting, then, that for their contribution to the Seoul Community Radio Fact Residency, Jibin and Simo present an exclusive, premiere performance of their new, as-yet-untitled EP, beamed to you directly from onit.life, the station’s virtual art and club space. Tearing through seven new tracks, most of which don’t even have names yet, the duo deliver an impromptu soundsystem session, surrounded by the digital avatars of some of Seoul Community Radio’s regulars. Absurd, hyperactive, yet light-hearted, onit.life is the perfect environment for Jibin and Simo to get weird and wild.
Seoul Community Radio Presents: Patch Notes – Salamanda
“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 performance 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. “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.”
Seoul Community Radio Presents: Beck Junghyun
Jeju Island, located just off the Southern tip of Korea, was formed approximately 2 million years during the eruption of an underwater volcano. It is the largest island of the Jeju Province, which is the only self-governing province in South Korea, run not but mainland politicians, but instead by local inhabitants, such as pianist, sound designer and Hatha yoga instructor Beck Junghyun. Drawing from the volcanic energies of the island’s fertile earth, she leads a session of improvisational movement and electronics, an ethereal hybrid of narcotic beat science and sounds samples from traditional Korean musical forms.
Originally produced for a performance with Maro, an art and performance collective also based on Jeju Island, the composition, is titled ‘Sam Ra Man Sang’, which can be translated as ‘All the universal phenomenons in this world’, is inspired by the natural world and shamanic ‘kut’ rituals, ancient rites performed by Korean shamans. On Jeju Island specifically, these rituals center around the ‘bon-puri’, a collection of myths based on the invocation of a number of local deities. “I see the body as a reflection, or expression, of our spirit,” explains the artist. “We feel pain and sadness through our physical bodies. I want to embrace our life as human, in the physical realm, even when it can be painful at times. We are on the ride even though we chose or not, so we might as well enjoy the ride.”
Using an Akai APC40, a Push2 controller loaded with samples of a Gayageum, a traditional Korean 12-stringed zither, a Korg M50 keyboard and a Roland JD-XI synthesizer, Beck Junghyun guides a special performance from dancer Jisuk Ahn. “He keeps quite a low profile, but is into the meditative side of music in a big way,” explains Junghyun. “He has performed in modern and traditional performances across Korea.” Flowing with and against the gentle flow of Beck Junghyun’s sounds, it’s as though Jisuk Ahn’s movements are responsive not only to the music, but to the lush vegetation with which the artists are surrounded, channeling the spirits of the island in the tradition of the many kut rituals of the past and of the future.
Watch next: Seoul Community Radio Presents – Beck Junghyun