Creator of ReacttotheK talks ‘Classical Musicians React’ & K-pop trends [Interview]

With almost 250,000 subscribers on YouTube, ReacttotheK is a K-pop reaction channel that has been gaining a lot of popularity online ever since its creation in May 2016, especially with its Classical Musicians React series. Some of the reactors, along with the creator and main producer of this channel, Umu, recently held their first panel at KCON LA. We spoke to Umu about her channel, her experiences at KCON, and her thoughts regarding the latest trends of K-pop music.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to Kultscene. To begin with, could you introduce yourself?
Hello Kultscene readers! I’m the creator of the Classical Musicians React series on my YouTube channel ReacttotheK and a Sophomore French horn performance major at the Eastman School of Music. For those who are not familiar with the CMR series, it’s basically a bunch of classical music majors who happily freak out over or criticize the musical composition of K-pop songs. We hope to open the eyes of the K-pop fandom to what makes music so cool sometimes.

What made you first decide to create your YouTube channel?
I originally created the channel for fun when I was about to graduate from high school. I was afraid that no one in a music conservatory was going to be into K-pop. I then began to film reactions with my friends as a way to stay in touch with them, and have them to fangirl with, while I was away for school.

[The] Classical Musicians React series began when I got up the courage ask some [of] my entertaining musician friends react. Hearing the music related comments they had towards the music was a blast to both my channel’s small fan base and myself. Seeing how the first few videos quickly gained a lot of attention, I decided to make it a complete series. As time went on, I began encouraging more musical comments rather than typical comments on the MV, so that my content could be centered around an aspect of K-pop not many other channels focus on.

What is the most memorable reaction video you have ever filmed?
There are many different videos that I recorded that were memorable in different ways. Often the most extreme reactions are to MVs with a interesting plot or to a song with unexpected content. K Will’s “Please Don’t,” VIXX’s “VooDoo Doll,” LYn & Leo’s duet “Blossom Tears,” and BAP’s “One Shot” had the most memorable reactions to the MV. For memorable reactions where the music surprised them, my favorite reactions are to 4Minute’s “Hate,” f(x)’s “Red Light,” EXO-CBX’s “The One,” 2NE1’s “Come Back Home,” and MAMAMOO’s “Don’t Be Happy.”

What difficulties have you faced along the way while creating new content and managing the channel?
The main thing I’ve struggled with running this channel is deciding whether to prioritize the channel or my school work/personal life. I have extreme dedication to projects I start, so I often put the channel in priority over my own health and work. This has made my life very stressful at times, so I am currently learning to balance both my time directed towards the channel and school.

Another difficult thing I’ve come across is fan’s disappointment in me when I make certain decisions with my channel. I have a vision and goal for my channel: I want fans to be super happy and proud of their favorite K-pop group when we react to a song by them. But in order to put out content where the reactors are amazed by the music, I have to be picky with what songs we react to. This has created a ton of hate towards me, and makes me look like a stuck up classical musician. I understand this is not a step I should take if I want to become a more popular channel, but it is what I have to do to put out the content channel viewers enjoy seeing (aka the musicians actually saying music theory related comments vs just talking about the MV because they have nothing to say about the music).

Also on Kultscene: Taemin’s ‘MOVE’ Song & Music Review

From what you have seen of K-pop so far, how do you think it will continue to develop musically?
Good question! I’m not the best with naming genres, but I’ll try my best to point out certain trends that i’ve been seeing a lot lately.

Boy groups groups have been delving in the EDM & hip hop genres a lot lately. I have a feeling groups will be doing a lot of those style of songs since they seem to be the most popular genres at the moment and are also the best genres to choreograph hot dances to.

I’ve heard a lot of “tropical pop” lately (WINNER’s “Island,” CHUNG HA’s “Why Don’t You Know,” KARD, etc) where groups use the same style of synth samples and stick to diatonic, catchy melodies and a constant dance-oriented beat.

Some thing that I’ve seen become more popular with girl groups ever since Red Velvet’s “Rookie,” is “speak” singing trend. Cosmic Girls, Pristin, Lovely, ELRIS, and a few other groups have continued this trend and are starting to get creative with it, which is fun to see!

Another genre of music i’ve seen a lot of with girl groups is orchestral funk. GFRIEND, LOVELYZ, WJSN, APRIL, Oh My Girl all have the pop-y string/synth/electric funky guitar instrumentation along with treble heavy mixing.

What I love about K-pop is that most songs are a mix of multiple genres. Blackpink’s “As if it’s Your Last,” Dreamcatcher’s “Fly High,” Weki Meki’s “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend,” EXO’s “Ko Ko Bop,” MAMAMOO’s “Don’t Be Happy,” 2NE1’s “Come Back Home,” LOONA’s “Cherry Motion” and many more all have multiple genres smushed into one song. I see this trend as a gateway to many new unique songs and hope to see more of this in future K-pop releases.

Current reactors for Classical Musicians React (via Umu)

You and your reactors recently held your first panel at KCON LA, how was the experience?
It was amazing! Our following has always been numbers on a screen to me, and it didn’t occur to me how /real/ everything was until we arrived at KCON and were approached by fans every few minutes. Getting to meet our fans was a great experience, and definitely left an impact on both the reactors and me. When reflecting back on KCON, the reactors told me their going to take reacting a lot more seriously now! We are hoping to get invited many more times, and each time make our panel more fun and interesting!

Also on Kultscene: K-Pop Unmuted: Talking Girls’ Generation

Some of your initial reactors have moved on from the channel since they have graduated from the university, so what are your plans for the channel when you yourself have graduated?

All I can say now, is that I’m definitely not throwing the channel away. I don’t have exact plans for the channel after I graduate yet, but I’m slowly starting to brainstorm ideas. A few reactors have volunteered to keep reacting on their own when we’ve all parted ways, so I can say that even though we won’t all be together, you won’t be seeing the last of us!

Is there anything else you would like to say to KultScene readers and to your fans?
Thank you so much for taking your time to read (and hopefully enjoy) my answers. I am extremely honored that there are so many wonderful humans out there interested in and enjoying my channel! I hope you all get something out of it, whether it be laughter, entertainment, or learning something new (I expect y’all to know what modulations are by now if you’ve seen the majority of our videos ;)). Thank you so much for your love and support and I will continue to work hard to put out good content!

Check out ReacttotheK here!

Have you watched any of the “Classical Musicians React” videos? How do you think K-pop will continue to evolve from here? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Aeon Dream Studios talks ‘To The Edge of the Sky,’ BTS, & dreams [interview]

It’s only been about a month since their visual novel demo To The Edge of the Sky was released, but Aeon Dream Studios has already achieved great success with a 4.9/5 user rating on Google Play and over a hundred thousand installs. With beautiful graphics and an intriguing storyline set in 2077 featuring BTS members as characters in an enigmatic government organisation, the demo has definitely whetted the appetites of fans who cannot wait for more. We spoke to the game’s creators at Aeon Dream Studios about their new game as well as their future plans and dreams.

Kultscene: Thank you for taking the time to talk to Kultscene. To begin with, could you all introduce yourselves and your roles in the company?
Ajané Celestin: Hello! I’m Ajané Celestin. I’m the CEO, Creative Director, and I also write and act as the Editor.
Chieu Nguyen: I’m Chieu Nguyen. I’m the Art Director and Lead Artist responsible for most of the visuals in our games, mainly character art and user interface.
Eglė Dilytė: I’m Eglė Dilytė. I’m the Lead Creative Writer, main scriptwriter, and I also work as our Social Media Coordinator.

How and why did you decide to found this company?
AC: Chieu, Egle and I met up on Tumblr as fans of visual novel games. We became friendly with each other and since Egle and I were writers and Chieu was an artist, I asked them if they wanted to make a game. We decided to see what would happen and go as far as we could go. We didn’t imagine things would get this far, but we’re very happy it has.

Also on Kultscene: The Sonic Identity of K-pop girl groups: Implied Meanings and What The Future Holds 

What first inspired you to create To the Edge of the Sky, and more specifically, to model your main characters after the BTS members?
AC: We’re fans of BTS’ music and their concepts and aesthetics constantly inspired us last year. As creators, we began to see more ways we could flesh out some of their story concepts in a visual novel game format and also thought that ARMYs would probably be interested in such a game.

Characters of the game modeled after BTS members (image via To the Edge of the Sky)

What were the challenges you faced in your creation of To the Edge of the Sky?
CN: Definitely time pressure. We had about two weeks for this demo while still planning on our previous game, so it was rough trying to get the assets done while still maintaining our usual quality. Fortunately, the first part of the demo was finished like how we envisioned it.
AC: As Chieu said, it was mainly time. Chieu had already done promotional artwork because we were gearing up to create the demo, but I suddenly came up with the idea to do it before I headed to their Newark concerts in March so we could hand out the promotional artwork. We challenged ourselves to create a concept from scratch as well as artwork within roughly a 10 day period. However we were able to achieve it and are grateful to receive the positive responses.

You’ve posted online about your plans to present the idea for To the Edge of the Sky to BTS’ label, BigHit Entertainment, how do you intend to achieve that?
AC: As anyone who has been paying attention to BTS knows, they are reaching their peak right about now, so it is very difficult to contact them. Right now we are in contact with someone local to Seoul who may be able to assist us with that further.

To the Edge of the Sky has become very popular on the Internet, especially among ARMYs (BTS’ fandom). What would you like to say to the new fans of your game?
ED: Well, first of all, hello and welcome! Thank you for playing our demo and thank you so much for your kind words and support. This might sound a little cheesy, but we feel energized by all the love and we’ll continue to work hard for everyone.
AC: I’d like to say that we’re really, truly grateful for all the kind and positive comments we’ve received. We had no idea To the Edge of the Sky would be so well received. We put everything we had into it during the short time we had and are so grateful for the ARMYs that gave us positive responses at the Newark concerts and through social media and emails. We can hardly believe it but To the Edge of the Sky is nearing 400,000 downloads within two months of its release and we’re really grateful for the thousands of positive reviews so far. Thank you for also becoming fans of the game and we promise we will do our best to develop this game for you.
CN: Thank you so much for your generous support thus far, it means a lot to us. We will continue to work hard and hope that you could see this game come to fruition with us.

Also on Kultscene: Introducing KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted: Produce 101 

So far only a demo for To the Edge of the Sky has been released, what will come next following this release?
AC: After we finish our current project, we are planning to work on developing the next part of To the Edge of the Sky. We want to give ARMYs more while we continue to work on making this a full game.

Where do you see your company in the next five years?
ED: With a much larger games library and still creating more, it’s been my wish and I think all of ours really to be able to work together and create together until we die of old age. And I hope we’ll be able to produce more content than just visual novels.
CN: We would have more games out with higher quality, and it would also be nice to have a larger fanbase. We are never satisfied with the status quo and are always seeking to improve the quality of our work. Therefore, it is my hope that in 5 years time, we will create even better games and be able to reach out to a wider range of audience.
AC: In five years…It’d be really nice if we had a few different series. It’d be really nice if we could produce more games like To the Edge of the Sky, where genres are crossed over, as well as our own, completely original work. I want us to continue to become better developers, writers and artists and make a variety of different games for all kinds of people. It would be interesting to do work outside of games as well, under our brand name.

Check out Aeon Dream Studios and their current works here!

Have you tried out To The Edge of the Sky? Are you a fan? Tell us what you think in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Kevin Kim talks ZE:A disbandment & new beginnings with radio show ‘SBS PopAsia Live’ [interview]

Kevin Kim, SBS PopAsia, SBS PopAsia with Kevin Kim, ZE:A

Courtesy of SBS PopAsia

As K-pop fans who know the bare minimum of the Korean language, it’s always a struggle to try to tune into a radio show whenever our faves are on. Unlike K-dramas or other TV shows, live radio shows don’t have subtitles — unless a merciful fan translates and uploads a bootleg version (#Blessed). But like the dramas and TV shows, these subtitled versions always come days or even weeks later. Moreover, what’s usually even more difficult as a foreign fan is living in a country that doesn’t necessarily accommodate your daily K-pop fix. However, that’s about to change — or at least for Australia, and therefore English speaking fans all over the world — thanks to ZE:A’s former member Kevin Kim. With his new radio show, SBS PopAsia Live with Kevin Kim, the K-pop star will answer all your Hallyu questions and fulfill your all your fangirl and fanboy needs.

Kevin has been in the entertainment industry for well over a decade in both Korea and Australia, where he spent most of his adolescent and teenage years. He’s always carried an enamoured passion for music, since his early days in Australia when he took part in an array of musicals and a choir that went onto doing international tours. He carried his love for everything entertainment with him back to Korea, where he joined idol group ZE:A as the lead singer. Fans were gifted with Kevin’s talent time and time again, even if the Korean music industry failed to recognize his skill during his time there.

It’s unfortunate that things didn’t pan out the way they perhaps should have, but everything happens for a reason, right? They say opportunity doesn’t come knocking on your door twice, but in Kevin’s case, it did. We recently caught up the K-pop star over the phone from Australia as he makes his big move from Korea. He talked about his most missed Australian foods, life after ZE:A, new solo music, and what we can expect from the radio show.

Hi Kevin! Thank you for setting aside time to do this interview KultScene Congratulations on hosting SBS PopAsia! How do you feel about becoming a daily host?

Kevin Kim: Hello! Well, I’m very honored to be with SBS and doing PopAsia Live starting on the 29th. I’m very excited about it and I’m looking forward to it!

Can you tell us a little bit about SBS PopAsia Live with Kevin Kim?

KK: I’m going to play a lot of K-pop songs and also V-pop, C-pop [on the show]. I’ll also be sharing all my thoughts with the fans and try to give [them] more information about K-pop. [The show will] mainly [be about] Asian pop, fans, and stars.

You were the host of Hotbeat on Arirang for over four years. How and do you think your previous experience hosting has helped you prepare for this new MC gig?

KK: As you said, I’ve been doing radio for four years now with Arirang radio station. [Going into this,] I’m very confident because I’ve been sharing a lot of thoughts and messages with our fans, [receiving their feedback], and I think it will be great to see what the outcome will be like. I just want to feel the vibe here in Australia. You know, the K-pop fans here, they’re also very excited about Korea, the stars, all things Hallyu as well, so I would love to share [my knowledge with them] and see how everything will turn out.

Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: Kevin Kim (ZE:A)

What prompted your decision to leave Korea and to go back to Australia and start MC-ing?

KK: The main thing was I wanted to just, you know, after [ZE:A’s] disbandment, I wanted to come back to take a rest because I’ve been away [in Korea] for about 10 years. I wanted to restart myself with something special, which is SBS and the radio show that I’m hosting. I’m going to be doing more of my music and I’m working on my solo album as well, so hopefully I can turn that out sometime this year.

How’s it like being back in Australia as an adult after pursuing your career in Korea?

KK: Oh, good question! You know, a lot of things have changed. I was surprised by all these shops and restaurants. There’s been a lot of changes [from 10 years ago]. It’s been a month now since my arrival [back in Australia] and I’m still adjusting [laughs], but also having fun.

What’s your favorite or least favorite thing(s) about being back?

KK: Well first of all, I missed the food; Meat pies, sausage rolls! You just cannot find — well, they did have Australian food there in Korea as well, but not as good as here in Australia, so food was my thing! And also, my friends. I haven’t seen them for years. I never had the chance to come to Australia to perform as ZE:A, so [now that I’m back], I want to see what it’ll be like.

What will you miss most about living in Korea? The fast internet connection? Just kidding, but really…

KK: Well, obviously that [fast internet] [laughs]. I miss basically everything, [like the] members. It’s only been a month but still… I don’t know, it kind of feels weird, I guess. Just leaving everything there and being here by myself. I’m used to sharing everything with the members and all, but now that I’m here by myself, it’s a bit lonely. But I’m A-okay! You get used to it [laughs].

You’ve been apart of ZE:A for seven years, so how is it like to transition back to daily life in Australia?

KK: It’s not hard, actually, because I was born in Korea but I was raised here [in Australia], so I’m basically used to the culture and the people here. Except for all the changes, you know? So I’m trying to [figure out the changes and] all that. Aside from that, everything is like a daily thing to me.

How did the members react/feel when you told them you were moving back home? Do you have any plans to go back and visit any time soon?

KK: Well, they are doing their own thing now, so, I guess — We still keep in contact through a messenger app, so every time we come up with the motion [idea/concept] for movies, albums, we just share it all in our chat. We don’t really feel sad about being solo and doing [our own] promos; we’re always happy for each other [and seeing each member] do their own thing. That’s how we feel right now; we’ll always support each other.

It’s not a definite goodbye to Korea, I mean, [moving back to Australia] is just another challenge for me. I’m also trying to expand. I had a great opportunity that came through to me, which was SBS. Also, my old agent, Martin Bedford, I knew him from when I was in high school, he contacted me about a year ago when I was in Korea and I was surprised that he still remembered me, so maybe it’s all destiny [for me] to be here again. To tell you a little detail about Martin Bedford, [he runs] the agency that Russell Crowe was in and Olivia Newton John [is currently under], and now I’m here with Martin and SBS PopAsia. Like I said, I’m going to expand my career as Kevin from now on.

Also on KultScene: Top 5 English Covers By Korean Male Singers

How does it feel seeing all the outpouring amount of support from your fans on your new endeavor?

KK: I’m so excited to see [what’s to come] and like I told you, I haven’t been here as a solo artist or as ZE:A, so I think the radio show that I’ll be doing will be a great gateway [for me] to be connected with the K-pop fans here in Australia. I think I’m going to show more of me and share everything that I’ve been doing and [have] experienced in Korea as well. It’s very exciting!

It’s been over a year since you released Collection.” Can we expect any future music projects?

KK: Well first of all, I’m so looking forward to making a single or maybe a full album here in Australia. I’ve worked on a lot of songs throughout my career as [a member] of ZE:A when I was in Korea, so I have a lot of things to share and a lot of things to show. There’s a lot of exciting things that I am getting ready for ,so I hope I can show our fans my style of music. With the Collection album, I really wanted to show [listeners] what I was capable of. That song was inspired from a fashion show that I went to; I just had the idea of this word,“collection,” and that’s how it lead me to creating the song.

Just for fun, what’s your most played song right now and who are some of your current favorite artists?

KK: My number one is Michael Jackson. He’s always been my favorite artist and biggest inspiration. There are tons and tons of artists I’d like to recommend, but right now my favorite artist is Chris Brown. I’ve been listening to his latest song “Privacy” [a lot]. I also like Justin Bieber too.

Any final words for KultScene’s readers?

KK: Thank you for having me! I hope you guys are ready to hear my show on SBS PopAsia Live, which starts on the 29th, Monday through Friday, every day at 6 p.m. AEST. I am also working on my songs and I’ll be releasing my singles and album here in Australia and also in Korea in the near future. Hope you guys will be ready for that!

* Interview was edited for clarity.

SBS PopAsia Live with Kevin Kim will be a one-stop show to stay tuned for all things Asian pop, featuring the latest music, news and interviews from Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Thailand. It will air Monday to Friday at 6 p.m. AEST on SBS PopAsia starting May 29. Listeners can also tune into SBS PopAsia Digital Radio by downloading the SBS PopAsia mobile app or by streaming live on their website.

Kevin Kim, SBS PopAsia, SBS PopAsia with Kevin Kim, ZE:A

Courtesy of SBS PopAsia

Do you have a favorite K-pop radio show or podcast you listen to? Share your experiences in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Jambinai on blending Korean & western music styles to create unique post-rock

Courtesy of Nah Seung Yull

You may not know them yet, but Jambinai is a post-rock Korean indie band to take note of. The five-member group blends traditional Korean instruments with western rock to create hauntingly dramatic music. Inspired by the world around them, they’ve created a unique, experiential sound that sets them apart.

Though they’ve had countless acclaim in the past for their releases, Jambinai has never performed in New York City before. But on May 17, the quintet will head to NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge for their first ever Big Apple show.

Ahead of their NYC debut, Jambinai’s Lee Ilwoo and Kim Bomi did a Q&A with KultScene:

Thanks for taking the time to talk to KultScene. How’s everything going lately?
Lee Ilwoo: We are touring in Europe for a month and have a show everyday. It’s tough but really exciting.

You’re making your NYC debut next month. I know you’ve toured quite a bit, but how does it feel to be playing in New York?
Kim Bomi: I’m very happy. Because New York is the center of all culture, as everyone knows. So I’m looking forward to our first show in NYC.
LI: We have toured Europe several times, but this is our first time in NYC. So [I think that] just a few people are going to come our show. But we are going to do our best!

Any things you want to/do see while you’re here?
KB: I want to visit Blue Note [Jazz Club] again, personally. Actually, I went there seven years ago. I spent a lovely time there and I’ve never forgotten those memories. So I want to try again of possible. But I’m not sure because we don’t have much time. We have to move to Chicago the day after.
LI: After the show in NYC, we are going to have to head to Chicago immediately. So it’s so sad not to have some time in NYC.

You have a unique approach to post-rock that looks different from just about everything else coming out of Korea nowadays. How did Jambinai get started?
KB: When we first met, we just wanted to try make some new sounds. Because nowadays, Korea has so many bands who make some new blend [of] local music with western styles. But it’s not a good match for Korean traditional instruments. For example, in that music, Korean traditional instruments just follow or copy western [styles]. We thought about that, [and it’s] not good. So we talked about how can we find different way and better sound.
LI: I like post-rock music and I’ve [been] inspired from [it]. Some bands blend post-rock sound with violin, cello or other western classical instruments. It was so nice and fresh to me. Actually, I tried to blend Korean traditional instruments with rock sound so people listen to Korean traditional sounds, but I didn’t know how. But the bands who blend classical instruments with rock sounds gave me some ideas.

What’s your creative process like?
KB: In my case, playing the haegeum, I’m influenced by Ilwoo. Because he composes all [of our] songs first and then I have to arrange my part; [I] can blend good on songs [sic]. And sometimes I’m influenced by a movie or novel or other genres [of] music. Recently, I’ve read a novel. The name is “EXPANSE.” It’s [a] sci-fi novel. It was very interesting and I can use the feeling[s I felt from reading it] when I play.
LI: I’m inspired by many bands and Korean traditional music. Korean traditional instrumentation is really unique. By Western standards, some Korean traditional sounds are just noise or [have a] weird pitch. But that gives [me] many ideas to make us unique. And issues around me also inspired me.

“They Keep Silence” was one of NPR’s top songs of 2016, which the writer said it was because of the “righteous anger” the song evoked in relation to the Sewol Ferry, which was a national tragedy. Why do you think such a locally aimed song resonated with one of the US’s most prominent media outlets?
KB: Because the song’s story is just about humanity and justice. Even if you don’t know what that lyrics mean, the song has some powerful emotions. Because when we play that song, we pray for the [deceased]. I think that emotion has been passed on to people.
LI: There are a lot of English pop music fans in Korea. They don’t understand what that means, but they feel the image of the song. “They Keep Silence” has Korean lyrics, but I think it can give the image of the tragedy or make people feel sadness and anger, even if they don’t know Korean.

Why do you think now, almost a decade since you began, your sound resonates with people across the globe?
LI: I don’t know. Maybe [because] we use traditional instruments for post-rock and it looks unique. Many people are used to western instruments like guitar, piano, keyboard, etc. So, I guess people feel our instruments are fresh.

Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for the “They Keep Silence” video? It begins with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., and then shows Jambinai playing, first calm and then eventually descending into more of a metal sound. What sort of feelings did you hope the video would evoke?
KB: We want to never again [feel] like this tragedy[sic]. So we want people remember the tragedy and think about justice, at least [the people] who listen to that song.

Though that song was extremely popular, are there any other songs of yours that you think new listeners would, or should, listen to?
KB: Recently we’ve [re]arranged our old song called “Paramita” from our first album. But you can only listen to this song at our show. So please come to our show!

Jambinai’s music is so tied to Korean sounds and history, so how will the recent political shakeup influence your music now?
KB: Actually I’m not sure. But we’ll always sing about justice [while] the world goes wrong. This is a basic duty of human beings.
LI: If something is going to happen, it’s going to inspire me to make music or lyrics.

Korean indie music is gaining in popularity, but what are some difficulties that you guys have faced as performers?
KB: It’s very hard to survive as performers only. I hope it gets better.
LI: The fandom of the indie scene in Korea is really weak and small. And many Korean people think that using acoustic guitars and singing a love song is indie. So if someone tries to make their own sound, it’s obviously very hard to live and play in Korea.

What do you think of the Korean music scene in general?
KB: Korea has many music genres in the indie scene, but most people don’t know about that, because media broadcasts only play K-pop. So I hope that [indie] will be broadcasted more widely.
LI: K-pop and K-hip hop are the best popular music in the Korea.

What do you guys draw inspiration from?
KB: All of this world!

Are there any artists you’d like to work with if you get the chance?
KB: In my case, personally, Thom Yorke. I love him.

What’s next for Jambinai? Are you guys working on any new music?
KB: Nowadays, we are talking about some new album casually.

The artist’s written responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Interview facilitated by 7000Miles.

Jambiani make their NYC debut at Le Poisson Rouge on May 17, at 7PM. Buy tickets here, and let us know what you think about the band in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

You too can be a k-pop producer thanks to Makestar [Interview]

makestar interviewEvery minute nowadays there’s a new service disrupting one industry or another. For the hospitality industry, it was Airbnb. For the taxi industry, it was apps like Uber and Gett. And for K-pop, it’s Makestar. The crowdfunding service is about a year old, but has already started to shake up the Korean entertainment industry.

Through a variety of fund-raising campaigns, running the gamut between things like photobooks for well-known acts to funding the debuts of rookie K-pop idol groups, Makestar has been giving the less-well-funded Korean acts a chance. K-pop acts like Crayon Pop, 24K, Nine Muses, Astro, and the recently-departed Rainbow have benefited from Makestar’s unique approach to connect, both financially and on a personal level, Korean stars with their fans. By having fans pledge funds ahead of production of an album or special project, Makestar is helping Korean entertainment companies ensure that there’s an audience for their production. And a profit.

According to Brian Kim, Makestar’s chief product officer, the company’s goal isn’t simply to fund K-pop projects, but actually better the K-pop industry. Makestar’s not just about K-pop, but it is the company’s main forum of business right now. They have also featured a handful fundraising campaigns on the site for films and musicals, but the majority of their current projects are geared towards music fans.

Also on KultScene: From ‘Genie’ to ‘Wolf’: Dsign Music believes the future of music begins with K-pop [INTERVIEW]

“We’re really focused on what the fans want,” Kim told KultScene over the phone, explaining that a lot of his job revolves around communicating with the pledgers. “We’re trying to make new opportunities for fans to have their voices heard a little bit more by the industry. I guess that’s the foundation where we started.”

Foundation or not, Makestar is definitely helping fans — particularly international K-pop fans — get their voices heard. Kim’s most notable example was a recent interview with Stellar that an Australian fan got to MC, which featured questions the fan had gathered from Stellar fans from around the globe. Practically unheard of in the K-pop world, the interview was part of a fundraising campaign for Stellar that featured fans spreading the word about both Stellar and the Makestar project. According to Kim, Stellar’s willingness to try new things with Makestar has helped the crowdfunding platform grow.

“Because of Stellar’s projects we’ve tried new things, like mashing up the fans dancing with Stellar’s music video and having it officially sanctioned and so on, to even basic things like Ask Me Anything kind of thing,” explained Kim. “We’ve tried new things where fans get to feel closer with them and [Stellar] have been very receptive.” Kim also added that the other Korean management companies have been more receptive of Makestar’s suggestions on whatever project they’re pursuing through the site as a result of Stellar’s example.

Even KultScene’s staff got on board: Joe showed off his production cred on Twitter earlier this year.


Convincing Korean entertainment agencies to try out Makestar wasn’t the easiest thing at the beginning, despite Makestar coming with powerful backing. The CEO, Kim Jae Myun, was a co-founder of FNC Entertainment. “He was the one who created CNBLUE and FTISLAND,” Kim interjected. Nearly a decade after FNC’s founding, Kim created Makestar to see if mass fundraising would work in Korea’s rigid entertainment environment. At first Makestar met with little success, but as the company started seeing success with their campaigns, entertainment companies started approaching the service about setting up their acts with a fundraising project.

Makestar’s success relies on the popularity of K-pop, and the relative small market that Korea’s estimated 300 entertainment agencies have to partake in. “Before Makestar, it was kind of understood, you know, ‘we just don’t have the funds, we don’t have the resources, that’s not the way it works.’” Single after single was the only way many small Korean agencies felt they could promote their act, hoping for a hit to compete with the bigger acts.

“A-listers will always be A-listers. They’ll always have concerts, big events, and their albums will do well. The name value itself will carry,” Kim explained, mentioning some of Korea’s largest entertainment companies like SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment. “One way we discovered [potential] disruption was [by asking], ‘Is this the only way?’ If funds are a problem, crowdfunding can kind of solve that. If getting word out is a problem, the project can help with the premarketing and marketing, and we’re getting into postmarketing.”

Also on KultScene: This is the hardest K-pop quiz ever

International fans are very different than Korean fans, which Kim and Makestar are very conscious of when creating their campaigns. Boy bands will typically garner pledges primarily from middle-aged Japanese women, but well-known acts internationally, like Crayon Pop, will see about a third of their funding coming from the US and other English-language markets. Makestar’s services are offered in English, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, but they want to make it even more internationally focused. “American fans are very different from French fans because Americans and French people are very different,” said Kim. “What we’re trying to do now is involve fans in what we’re doing at Makestar, whether it be suggestions, whether it be engineering a project. So if you like BTS and you’d like BTS to run a project at Makestar, what would you think as a fan would be a really good project to run? We’d really like to start crowdsourcing those ideas as well because at the end of the day who knows better than the fans?”

Through a variety of campaigns and offering different rewards, ranging from production credit to meeting and spending a day with K-pop stars, Makestar guides the fundraising efforts of K-pop acts. Kim reassured KultScene that it was Makestar acting as a consulting service, not Makestar acting as a secondary managing company. “At the end of the day, the management companies have the final say as to how the project proceeds. Sometimes it comes out pretty much as we expected, but other times, because of some additions that the management company has made on a whim, basically, made based on nothing, we do tend to have burps here or there.”

While there may be slight issues Makestar seems to have figured out a way to ensure that campaigns succeed and they’ve had few failures recently, although a high profile campaign for Xia Junsu failed last December when it came about $300,00 short of its $838,000 goal. Garnering more than two times the goal isn’t uncommon: Stellar’s “Sting” album production project was funded more than 500 percent times the initial goal of $10,068.97, and brought in more than $53,000. The projects range varies, with smaller ones aiming for around $10,000 and larger ones by more popular acts, like Astro and Rainbow, angling closer to $30,000. Makestar recently saw its first crowdfunded debut from Momoland, who raised a little over $12,000.

What’s next for Makestar? Not concerts, said Kim. “We do have plans for concerts, but we do really want to make them special. We don’t want it to be just about money, money, money for [the stars] and the management company, because if that happens, we know that it’s not going to be a special occasion [for the fans], other than the concert. So we’ve been racking our brains about creating a project style where the stars can visit different corners of the world and have that special connection with the fans. We’re holding off on that.”

What do you think of Makestar and their campaigns? Reach out to them via email if you have any ideas about campaigns! And share your thoughts about this article, and K-pop fundraising, in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Run River North Is Walking To The Beat of Their Own Drum, All the Way To The Top [Interview & Review]

run river north, monsters calling home

KultScene sat down with six member Korean-American indie folk-rock band, Run River North (previously known as Monsters Calling home), before their set at Brighton Music Hall, in Boston, last Wednesday. The group is no stranger to the city, having already been here several times and had actually performed at the very same venue earlier this year in April. We talked about the weather, to which they were totally digging, performing in Japan, touched base on being Asian-American, and some other insightful topics.

KultScene: Our audience might not know you, can you introduce yourselves?

RRN: This is Run River North, my is name John, I play drums.
I’m Daniel and I play guitar.
I’m Sally and I play keys.
I’m Alex and I sing and play guitar.
I’m Jennifer and I play the violin.
I’m Joe and I play bass.

KultScene: You’re about a fourth of a way into your tour with “Finish Ticket” and “IronTom.” What’s this tour been like? Are there any funny/weird habits your bandmates have that you never noticed before?

John: I think we know a lot about each other, it’s kind of hard to find new habits that you know people have picked up. Being in a band, with this band, for two or three years of touring, you kinda get each other pretty quick but yeah, I think by now we get most of it. The tour has been great so far. I think it’s like our first, kind of like full support run with a band that is great. I mean, we’ve toured with great bands before too but this is kinda something that we wanted for a while, to tour with some like minded friends.

KultScene: What’s your favorite song to perform live?

Alex: “Beetles” is always my favorite.
Sally: “29” is fun because we added this crowd participation part, so we all sing together. It’s unique so we try to involve [the audience] as much as possible.

KultScene: In a recent interview, you mentioned that your first album was about looking back at the immigrant story. And in your most recent album, you guys talk about looking forward and finding your identity. Are there any themes or concepts you wish to tackle next?

Alex: I haven’t really thought about that. I don’t think the concept came pre-planned, it just naturally happened. I mean, it could go back, if the songs are good. It could go back to immigrants, it could go back to ourselves.

Daniel: The common thread isn’t predetermined. It’s usually just consistent and it just shows up at the end of the songwriting process, you just kind of see “oh, there’s a general theme here” and I think that’s what it’s been for two albums.

John: That’s kind of the beauty of making albums; you see a snapshot of that period, that moment and that phase.

Also on KultScene: 5 Rising Female Acts At Zandari Festa ’16

KultScene: You recently performed at SXSW this past summer. How was that experience in comparison to when you performed on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”?

Alex: SXSW is an interesting set. There’s hundreds of shows going on at the same time so it’s not really like it’s your time to shine, it’s barely your time to shine and you just gotta play in front of whoevers in front of you and hope that someone’s there, but you can’t expect anything out of that. You just gotta go in there with low expectations and hopefully you’ll get a nice showcase and hopefully someone comes through. And for us, we were lucky this time around where one of our showcases, we got this promoter who does festivals in Japan, and because he was there, we were able to go to Japan. Those things are never guaranteed. And with Jimmy Kimmel or Seth Meyers that we did this year, there’s this focus of everyone watching you; there’s one mission and one opportunity, so it’s a little different I guess. SXSW just feels like doing a tour but a little more focused. You can’t really compare the two too much. Both are pleasant in different ways.

John: Our agent, our managers really set us up; there’s a path, a goal for each showcase. We wanted to bring different people to these showcases, so if you’re just an indie band with no fame, it’d be very difficult to stand out, but because we have such an amazing team behind us, they’re setting up all these paths and opportunities for other people to interact with us and I think that’s the key with SXSW. With Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel and stuff like that, that’s more for exposure. All of this is going towards a plan, it’s progressing towards a plan to be more successful, to be more exposed to different types of people. So all of it is working for us.

Alex: There’s really no negative side to it.

KultScene: You auditioned for Kollaboration in 2011, I’m actually apart of Kollaboration Boston. How have you turned any initial failures ultimately into success?

Alex: That’s how we got started, actually. Kollaboration is a great way to play on stage, but it should only be a platform. And if you want to be an artist and want to perform, then you should keep singing. You should never let Kollaboration be your judge, unless you like being judged for your work like that in a competition sense, at least for our band, that’s not what we want to be doing. It was a great way to get started, it was a great push for us to say “okay, if we’re going to perform on a stage, what do we need to do so that..” you know, regardless if we get the money, it’s fine, but would people want more of us after that?

I think that if it’s your job and it’s your life career and to go around doing Kollaboration. That’s just not for us. I don’t really encourage that for people. If they want to better themselves in their art and use that then yeah; it’s another platform, and if it’s a cool stage, if it’s going to expose you to more people, especially in the Asian-American community where you can inspire people that way, then yeah, do what you can and be good at it. But I think the goal is to get the people that do the Kollaboration shows, to come out to actual venues, to actual shows that people do for a living and see what it’s like and that includes the audience as well, as the artist. Everybody, if we’re talking about empowering Asians, go to wherever everyone is doing shows, go to where there are galleries, where there are people who have been doing this forever I think that’s the main thing about Kollaboration, to be the gateway for those audiences or artists to go out there to support those who make music or make art.

Daniel: I think Kollaboration is a great service to the community; a great opportunity.

KultScene: What are you hoping your Boston audience will be like tonight? Is there a message(s) you want them to leave with tonight?

John: Personally for me, like any show, we want to create fans where people will see us 15 years later and say, “oh man, I remember seeing them in high school and I still love them” or the ones who will follow us no matter what, keep up with everything that we do, fans that will, you know, follow us on Instagram or Twitter, fans who just love everything about us. That’s our goal, to be loved; to be loved by hardcore fans who love our music, not just one song.

Daniel: I hope people leave the show inspired to pursue their craft, to just be good at what they do in life. Seeing six Koreans or Asians on a stage in a world that, you know — [some people think] it’s not our place to be here, I think, but I hope people feel encouraged to push through. For 45 minutes or whatever the show length is, they’ll get to enjoy our music for what it is.

*Interview was edited for clarity.

Also on KultScene: Rock Bottom On Top In London [Interview]

run river north, monsters calling home

And they did just that. Run River North gave an awe-inspiring show, performing what felt like a greatest hits/ repackaged masterlist set, with a total of eight songs. The sextet opened with bright lights and “Excuses,” (if this festive folky beat alone doesn’t get you hooked, then check out the music video, you won’t be disappointed). They hit the ground running! There was really no easing into it; RRN accelerated at high speed. This band meant business. RRN quickly shifted gears, transitioning from folk to rock and got the crowd bopping away with “Run or Hide,” which is off of their second album “Drinking From a Salt Pond” — definitely a crowd favorite.

Now, my personal favorite, “Monsters Calling Home.” Their debut/self titled debut album, “Run River North.” is about the “immigrant story.” Well, what does that actually mean, you ask? In case you read this far and still haven’t looked them up, the members of Run River North, Alex, Daniel, Jennifer, Joe, John and Sally, are all second generation Asian-American; it wasn’t planned, it kind of just happened that way. They drew inspiration for that album from their parents; parents who had to start over, “digging for worth, in land under a foreign sun” when they left their homeland. RRN has become a voice for a generation that’s kept quiet. They’ve become this light, for a community that thought certain instances were only happening to them and no one else. No one should ever feel like they’re the only ones experiencing some sort of turmoil, let “Monsters Calling Home” be your outlet.

One of my favorite things about live concerts is when the band performs not only their hits but also their b-sides. Sometimes, the b-sides are the best songs on an album, like “Superstition” and “Seven.” Run River North showcased such captivating harmonizations in “Seven” that it left the crowd breathless. Maybe it’s the countless years they’ve been together and all the shows they’ve performed, but the chemistry and dynamics between these six could make anyone envious!

Their last three songs, “Pretender,” “29” (as mentioned by Sally earlier) and “Anthony” were very interactive for the audience and for the band; RRN had the crowd singing and clapping along to the beat. Even had us with our hands up in the air at one point. There was a part towards the end of “29” where Alex and Joe were facing one another duking it out on their string instruments, then Alex leaned his forehead into Joe’s T-shirt and wiped all his face sweat on Joe. That’s how you know you’ve got a friend for life. They pulled out all the stops for their last song “Anthony.” Jennifer traded in her violin for guitar and, well, she absolutely slayed. I’ve seen a few photos floating around the internet of Alex’s hair, but since he had it tied up during our interview and throughout 90 percent of their set, when he finally released his luscious locks (I’m pretty sure this guy had better hair than most of the females in the audience), it was the final icing on the cake. Concerts can’t be entirely serious, right?

Even if you think folk, rock or that combination in general isn’t your thing, go and give Run River North a listen. Even if their style isn’t what you’re used to, their story telling through their lyrics should be more than enough to lure you in forever. And don’t forget to check out Run River North, as they tour a city near you!

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From ‘Genie’ to ‘Wolf’: Dsign Music believes the future of music begins with K-pop [INTERVIEW]

Dsign Music Interview Robin Jenssen

Fans can wax poetical for hours about the positive aspects of the music coming out of South Korea nowadays, but more than just avid lovers are looking to K-pop for its innovative industry. Music producers, songwriters, and industry insiders from around the world are turning towards Korea to see how they can get involved. According to Robin Jenssen, the CEO of Dsign Music, K-pop is seen by western producers as the entry point into the larger Asian music market.

“You have two-thirds of the world in Asia, why should you just stick to the millions of people in the US and Europe?” Jenssen asked during our phone call last week. “It’s a really small market. Everyone wants to be a part of that new [market]. When everything opens up [in Asia], it will be a huge thing for music.”

Korea and Asia as whole have already been a huge thing for Dsign Music, which has created hits for everyone from Girls’ Generation and TVXQ in Korea to EXILE and Namie Amuro in Japan to Jolin Tsai in Taiwan and, wait for it, Ricky Martin himself. K-pop fans owe a lot to Dsign, considering that the Norway-based production team created hits like Girls’ Generation’s “Genie” and “I Got A Boy,” EXO’s “Wolf,” f(x)’s “Rum Pum Pum Pum,” and Red Velvet’s debut single “Happiness.” Their latest Korean single, Baekhyun and Suzy’s “Dream” peaked at number one in South Korea and number three on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart. Dsign’s most recent Korean songs were featured on Apink and Red Velvet’s latest albums.

Also on KultScene: Meet iDR, The Producer Behind Some Of K-Pop’s Biggest Hits

But before “Genie (Tell Me Your Wish)” came out in 2009, Jenssen had no idea what was going on in South Korea, or the fact that Dsign would end up creating some of the most popular songs. “It was actually our publisher who called us one day and said ‘Hey, you know they still sell a ton of records in Japan and Korea?’ We were like, ‘we don’t even know what it is,’” Jenssen said with a laugh. “We knew where it is but we had no ideas about the music. We had no clue.”

After “Genie” topped charts around Asia, Jenssen and his team went to see Girls’ Generation perform at the Tokyo Dome. “We had four TV interviews while we were at the stadium and there were thousands and thousands of people walking around the stadium. Then we realized, ‘Okay, we want to do more here.’”

Jenssen also credited iTunes and Spotify for opening up Asian music to western listeners who had otherwise had little access to non US or European-based music industries.

Since then, Dsign has been integral to K-pop’s foundation. They work closely with SM Entertainment, which tends to work closely with many western producers, but have also produced music for non-SM acts like Lee Hyori (“Bad Girls”), Spica (“Tonight”), Rainbow (“Energy”), Boys Republic (“Video Game”), and 9 Muses (“Hurt Locker”). Jenssen runs the day to day business aspects of Dsign, but has plenty of a role in the creation of their songs; his voice can be heard for a split second at the very end of Girls’ Generation’s single “Beep Beep.”

When creating songs, Jenssen revealed that it’s not just music that international producers have to pitch to Korean companies, it’s the whole concept. “Music in Asia is all about the video, the dance routines, the marketing, and how you put the package together,” he explained. “A good example is [EXO’s] “Wolf.” You get all the kids in Seoul to go around with their hands up in the air making ears and howling ‘awoo!’ They sold a lot of merchandise based on that song because it’s a concept song. And you kind of understand everything when you see the video and see how everybody reacts to it. Other songs are also concept songs, so sometimes we’ll write down ideas for the video too to ensure that the concept sticks through to the end.”

Also on KultScene: K-Pop Sound, American Style: Marcan Entertainment Is The K-Pop Production K-Pop Agencies Turn To

Jenssen emphasized that foreign producers are learning that K-pop is based around the synthesis of intense concepts with the rhythm of US music, like hip-hop and R&B, and the melodies of Europe, where electropop is still prominent. But it’s not just K-pop emulating western styles according to Jenssen, who highlighted Selena Gomez for pulling off the most K-pop-like sound in the English-language music market. “A lot of new stuff in the US now is sounding more like the K-pop we’ve been doing for like five years, with a bit more stuff happening with several more parts in the song. When we won the YouTube award for Girls’ Generation with ‘I Got A Boy’ it was described as the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ of 2013 because it had all these parts in it. That’s something that K-pop is well known for.”

And Dsign Music believes that Korean music, and music industries throughout Asia, offers a new frontier in particular because of its immense export rates, which Jenssen said emulates the current model for English-language music. “Most of the income stream from the US artists comes from the rest of the world. Same with the UK. So the UK and the US have been always the winning part in the sales numbers because of the overseas sales just like Korea’s building its way to being the musical export market of Asia.”

As for Dsign’s future in Korea, Jenssen, unfortunately, said that they have more songs planned for later this year, but due to South Korea’s secretive approach to promotions he’s not allowed to give any details.

What do you think about Korea’s role in the future of music? Which is your favorite Dsign Music-written song? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook,Twitter,Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Puer Kim discusses her return with ‘Gem,’ inspiration & loving her body [interview]

Puer Kim Interview

Like a diamond in the rough, Korean indie singer Puer Kim released her maxi single, Gem yesterday (August 23). Her first new music since 2014’s Purifier, the sultry vocalist explored darker elements on the three jewel-inspired tracks. Although a short album, Gem displays a wide range of styles ranging from alt R&B to synthpop and explores themes inspired by the gemstones: “Pearl” reflects the desire to break free of the shell we’ve each found ourselves in, while the second track is about believing in our “Diamond”-like strengths and multifaceted positive qualities, and “Emerald” rounds things out as a symbol of love and understanding in relationships.

While busy with the release in South Korea, Puer Kim took a few moments to respond to an email interview with KultScene where she spoke a bit about Gem, her inspirations, what type of music she likes and would like to work on, and how she deals with body shaming.

Edited for clarity.

It’s been almost two years exactly since you released your last album, Purifier. Would you mind introducing yourself to KultScene’s readers who may not be familiar with you?
Hi I’m a Korean singer-songwriter, Puer Kim. Puer actually sounds like my Korean name Byul (별), which means star. And I wanna live purely so… I’ve been in [the] music business since 2011 independently. In 2013 I joined Mystic Entertainment.

Comments on "Pearls" MV

Comments on “Pearls” MV

Gem was released a few minutes ago and I just saw the music video for “Pearls.” The overall sound of the album is a bit darker, more electronic than what we last saw from you with Purifier and “Bank.” What made you explore such a widely divergent sound?
Well, if you knew my music before I joined Mystic Entertainment, it was whole lot darker, rough, [and] also had an electronic mood. This is not the first new thing but more like what I’m used to. [The] Purifier album was lighter and brighter [and] I did love that for that since I didn’t really do those kinds when I did my music by myself.

Comments on "Pearls" MV

“Bank” had a very bright music video but “Pearls” is nearly entirely black and white. What’s the concept behind the video?

You should ask my director for the better answer. Haha. This “Pearls” song is about a person who decided to break [out of] her so-to-think wrong environment and live her own life. So there are images of shaking and waking and breaking [and] also holding.

Also on KultScene: Music Video Director Ian Gallagher on Working with Neon Bunny for Free, Co-Directing WINNER, and Dreamlike Images

You’ve dealt with extremely heavy concepts, like the music industry in “Manyo Maash” and hard work. What’s the message you’d like listeners to take away from “Pearls”?
As a matter of fact, I don’t like to talk about the messages. You think whatever you want. You feel however you like. I’m the one who makes music and my listeners are the ones who get my music in their own ways.

I noticed that the video for “Pearls” was overrun by comments about your physical appearance. How do you deal with the scrutiny?
First of all, I swear that it’s my natural body. And I think it’s cute that people are amazed by it. I love my body, my everything, as much as my music. So people, you gotta listen to my music too! (ed. We think so too!)


Gem features three songs, “Pearls,” “Diamonds,” and “Emeralds,” and was inspired by Leo Lion’s children book, Frederick, right?
Yes it is. There’s a mouse named Frederick in the book. He’s an artist who saves beautiful lights (thoughts, inspirations) and share it when his friends need it. I want my music to be that light.

The LA-based rapper Demrick features on “Diamonds.” What was that experience like?
My producer [London-based] Postino knows Demrick. He introduced me. He actually introduced many rappers and Demrick was my first choice. Why? It feels just right to ask him for featuring. Intuitive decision! And after the recording I felt I was right.

Are there any other artists who you’d like to collaborate with?
I do wanna write lyrics for K-pop idols. My lyrics are known for their unique fun color.

The maxi single is all in English but you’ve previously sung in Korean. How did you come to decide to swap languages? Will we be seeing more Korean songs from you?
English is foreign to me. I feel like it’s a safe bubble. I can be more free [and] use lots of poetic licenses. Korean is my mother tongue. I’m most natural with it. It’s being free vs being natural. Which means both are nice. And I realized [a] funny thing since I started my music: listeners don’t understand my pronunciation either in Korean or English. I must have a bad tongue. And [the] Korean maxi single will be coming up soon too.

You’re Korean but spent time studying in the US at Berklee. How did that affect your musical style? You don’t exactly follow the typical Korean music trends.
Way before I moved to the U.S for studying, Korean songs that I was familiar with were hymns. I liked pop, jazz, and classics more. So it didn’t really change my style of music [that] I like and do. It has been like this as long as I can remember.

[ed. It’s unclear if she meant English-language pop, jazz, and classics.]

Also on KultScene: Seoul-Based Punk Band …Whatever That Means Talks Music & Multiculturalism

What are your thoughts about the current state of mainstream Korean music?
I don’t really listen to the trendy music so I don’t really know. All I know is some SM [SM Entertainment]. Idol lyrics are so fun. That’s about it.

Aside from working on Gem, what else have you been up to during your break?
I sleep a lot and take a long bath. I do those very seriously. Is it funny to say that these are my true hobbies?

Is there anything else you’d like to say or any last words for KultScene’s readers?
The reason I do music and share it with the world is to let my listeners think of me. If you like my music and you can have a good time with it, that’s wonderful. I [would] like to be in your heart from time to time. So invite me.

Thank you so much for your time!

Take a listen to Puer Kim’s “Pearls” right here:

Have you listened to Gem? What do you think about Puer Kim? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Music Video Director Ian Gallagher on Working with Neon Bunny for Free, Co-Directing WINNER, and Dreamlike Images [INTERVIEW]

Ian Gallagher

Music videos are a huge part of what entices international fans to K-pop thanks to their accessibility online. The work of music video director Ian Gallagher is not exactly the dancing in box or love stories that are so typical to the genre. His work with the queen of South Korea’s electro-indie scene, Neon Bunny is some of the best in the country and shows an entirely more abstract image than the average K-pop music videos (or MVs as they’re commonly known).

In celebration of Neon Bunny’s return with her new album, “Stay Gold,” and his latest work on her video for “Room 314,” we caught up with Gallagher for an interview about his creative process. The director sheds light on his inspirations, his ongoing collaboration with Neon Bunny, working with YG boy group WINNER, and his work in film.

I’d like to start by asking how you got into film and music video directing?

I had two main interests in high-school, writing fiction and playing music. Playing in bands naturally led me to create images for the band, mostly cover designs and stickers, which led to an interest in visual arts. It was hard for me to stick to one thing though. I loved all the different mediums and how they related to each other, the differences and similarities. I wrote a lot of short stories and attempted a novel, while continuing to play music and study a bit of graphic design in college. It took awhile, but I came to the slow realization that films utilized all these different elements to create something else. I think this was like 7 or 8 years ago. I began writing screenplays and bought a cheap DSLR and went from there.

Were there any films or videos you had seen that made you want to do work in cinema?

The greatest push was watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker.” It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The film has a simple elegance to it, in story and in cinematography, yet it delves into some deep questions about being human. After watching the film I knew that that was what I wanted to do. To make something like that.

How did you end up working in Korea? Any advice for other foreigners who might want to do the same?

I’m a rare case actually. I’m half-Korean, half-American, and pretty much grew up in Korea speaking both Korean and English. [I] went to a Korean elementary school, but then went to an international school for high-school. So the culture of Korea is not foreign to me. I’m not exactly an expat, yet I’m not Korean. I’ve always been sort of in the middle of two cultures. My advice to foreigners is come on over, learn the language, be nice and have a great time. It’s a great place to work; a lot of interesting things are happening in art. I think Korea is just now breaking into a post-modern era, and it’s really amazing witnessing the change.

What’s it like to make films there compared to anywhere else you might have worked?

Koreans have the most intense work ethic I’ve ever seen. I love working with a Korean crew.

What is your process for directing a music video?

I have to love the song. I need to really feel something from the music. It’s a pretty simple process though. Once I have a song, I just listen to it non-stop and try to figure out a visual mood for it. Looking back on my videos, I think I’m more focused on capturing a certain overall tone than individual images. Especially for music videos, I try to mimic the process of writing music and go with what feels right at the time instead of anything too intellectual.

Your collaboration with Neon Bunny started in 2011 with “Together With Me.” How did it come about?

I think her first album had just come out and she already had another video. I heard “Together with Me” and loved it. So I e-mailed Neon Bunny saying I’d make her a video for free with no budget, and sent her the idea. I don’t know what she thought about me, but for some reason she accepted and it turned out to be great fun. I was still learning all the technical aspects of filmmaking and it shows in the video, but it was a blast to do.

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What made you continue that collaboration with Neon Bunny?

She’s a truly great musician. Her songwriting abilities are just amazing. It’s no easy task to create pop music which also has depth, it’s one of the hardest things to do in music, but Neon Bunny seems to do it so effortlessly. So I’m pretty much honored to be allowed to create videos for these songs. A music video is only as good as the music. Also, Neon Bunny produces her own music on her own label, so it’s really great to be able to make decisions without having a committee to water down the ideas.

How has your relationship grown over the years?

We’re good friends now. I think we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that helps when we are trying to create something together.

What is your process for making a music video with her compared to with others?

Much more laid back. There’s definitely a trust that’s developed over the years. Shooting videos is usually a tedious and difficult process, a lot of stress, never enough money or time, but with Neon Bunny it feels like we’re actually having fun. For the video for “It’s You” we just travelled around various places in Seoul and shot whatever we felt like. There was an overall structure but instead of extensive storyboarding, planning, and having a big crew, we let it go loose and it was a lot of fun. It would be hard to propose shooting a video like that to another artist.

Your work with Neon Bunny, from the soft focus of “Together With Me” all the way up to the crystalline views in your latest work “Room314,” has almost always had an impressionistic quality to it. Is this a particular style you like and what draws you to it over a straightforward narrative?

I’ve never really been a fan of narrative music videos. Of course there are great videos that use narrative devices, but I like to be closer to the abstract nature of music. To me, it’s about feelings and moods, and a kaleidoscope of emotions. The nature of dreams also take up a large portion of my work. I love hazy ill-defined things, and it ends up in the videos. I’m not trying to create any kind of deliberate style though, I think it just happens because I try not to intellectualize the work and make decisions based more on instinct. Anything I do will inevitably have my stamp on it because it’s come through the filter of my brain, so I try not to think of any personal kind of style. The whole process is a discovery really, seeing what happens, how certain elements give unexpected results. This happens throughout the entire making of the video, from the first idea, to shooting, and especially in the editing.

Do you think it works especially well with music videos?

Yes. For films I take a completely different approach. Narrative films are about the story and characters, but with music videos it is a good opportunity for me to explore the more abstract and impressionistic aspects of filmmaking. The works of Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, and Chris Marker have also been a great revelation and influence on my own stuff. In my mind it’s like the relationship between prose and poetry, and playing with the gray area between the two forms.

I also noticed a certain digital edge to a lot of your work. The affected colours of “Romance in Seoul” comes to mind, is that a conscious effort to replicate Neon Bunny’s electronic music?

I like to play with the imagery of more mainstream K-pop videos, and the idea came out of re-appropriating the super saturated color schemes of many of those music videos. Like a twisted version of a dance video, but still poppy and colorful to look at. The electronic aspect of the music definitely pushed the visuals in that direction. The basic idea behind “Romance in Seoul” was a fever dream recorded digitally and played back with glitches and errors. The dancers were amazing to shoot. All the dancing in the video was improvised on the spot.

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What was it like working with WINNER? At the time they were a potentially huge debuting group and you have the task of creating a video from an instrumental song of theirs, not exactly standard idol fare. Is your approach to a song like that different to something more straightforward?

Actually, the song was written and performed by Min Woo Kang, a really great electronic musician, specifically for the teaser video. There’s a bit of a misconception that it is a WINNER song. The co-director, Kim Zi Yong, and I decided we wanted to try something different with the music. Usually for teasers a song from the band is used, or a song is licensed. I think because WINNER was still in production on their album, maybe in the mixing process, it wasn’t possible to use one of their songs, so we decided to hire a musician to basically score the teaser. It was the first time we worked like that and I am really proud of how that came out. The song was written as the editing of the video was taking place, so the editing changed with the song, and the song changed to the edit if we needed anything at a certain part.

Working with WINNER was great. They are a great group of guys, really nice and very passionate about their work. I was pleasantly surprised to see how professional they were even though it was one of their first videos. In fact everyone over at YG was great, with more of a collaborative atmosphere than the other companies.

“The Visitor” is also another example of your impressionistic work, what sort of story did you try to tell with it, if any?

The story aspect came from co-director Kim Zi Yong. The basic premise is the end of a night of partying, with each member being in a different situation. My involvement may have added a little bit of that impressionistic aspect to it, but when collaborating like that it becomes hard to tell what element came from who. Those are the best collaborations too.

How was it working with Kim Zi Yong?

It was probably the most fun I’ve had. It’s great being able to bounce around ideas like a tennis ball, adding a bit here, changing some there, always coming up with something else that you couldn’t have thought up alone. We were good friends before working on the video so it just became an extension of that. Playing around with ideas and seeing where that leads. The editing was also collaborative, with each of us taking a pass at it over and over again, riffing on what the other one did. He’s a really great director and I’m always excited to see what he’ll come up with next.

I watched the trailer for you new short film “망” (“MAHNG”) and am very intrigued. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? Where can we eventually see it?

“MAHNG” is a period piece, and though it’s not based on anything specific, I wanted to take aspects of Korean folk tales and try to spin a new story out of that structure. The basic storyline is of a young woman who has lost her husband, and she drags his body across the land to a shamanistic shrine, and prays for the spirits to bring her husband back to life. At night, a spirit comes to hear her speak, but things don’t work out the way she wanted. We’re still in the process of sending it out to film festivals, but after that run we plan to put it up online for free.

Do you have a preference for making films or music videos?

Though related, the two are vastly different in execution so it’s hard to say which I prefer. Each medium offers something different in creative satisfaction. I’d like to eventually make feature films, but it’ll be a long and slow process getting there, especially since the films I want to make won’t fit perfectly in the mainstream. Music videos offer a great outlet for me, but I plan on doing more diverse work. More short films, more videos that aren’t exactly music videos but something else. The goal is to keep plugging at it and always having fun.

What are you working on at the moment?

We just finished a video for Neon Bunny for the song “Room314.” We’re probably going to do another track off the album but it’s still in the preliminary stages. Working on screenplays during the down time.

Thanks so much for the interview. Is there anything you would like add or ask in return?

Thank you for the interview. I think it’s great that you guys are covering some Neon Bunny related news. More people need to hear the music. Buy the albums. Support the artists that you love so they can make way cooler shit.

What do you think of Ian’s work? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Seoul-Based Punk Band …Whatever That Means Talks Music & Multiculturalism [INTERVIEW]

Whatever That Means 2016

Like something straight out of the 90s, …Whatever That Means is a full-fledge punk band. With Korean, American, and Polish members, they take their influences from all over the world to express the emotions and disgruntlement of the generation. While they sing in English and about global themes, their songs are shaped by their home base of South Korea: “Peace of Mind (The Communist Song)” and “Asian Prodigy” reflect the socio-political situation in Seoul.

…Whatever That Means is set to embark on their 2016 US west coast tour later this month so ahead of their trip we spoke to guitarist Jeff and bassist Trash, who share both vocals and a marriage.

How are you guys feeling ahead of your US tour?
Jeff: I think we’re all just really excited to stop preparing for the tour and actually be on tour. There is so much work that goes into planning and preparing for an international tour, and at least for us, there is a huge feeling of relief once we’re finally sitting in the van, and our only responsibilities are to get to the next town and play a show. I can’t wait for that.

You were here in 2011. What’s changed for …Whatever That Means since then?
Trash: We’ve gone through several member changes since then. That’s the main reason it’s taken us almost five years to get back. Thankfully, despite all the frustration that goes along with searching for a stable lineup, we’ve come out the other side of it with the best lineup we’ve ever had. I think people who saw us back in 2011 are going to be surprised by the big step forward we’ve taken.

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You are all about punk, which isn’t exactly mainstream in Korea. What does punk mean to you?
Trash: Punk rock is about thinking for yourself, and living your life the way you think makes the most sense. It’s about questioning the things you’re surrounded by and forming your own opinions about them. Those definitely aren’t mainstream concepts in Korea.

How did you guys end up forming a punk band? Indie rock is hard enough in Seoul but punk…?
Jeff: Seoul has had a great, growing punk scene since the late 1990s. Trash and Daewon grew up in that scene. Bialy and I purposely searched it out when we got here. It’s a great community of fairly like-minded people. All of us had played in punk bands before except Bialy, who had always played in metal and hardcore bands. Coming together to form …Whatever That Means just happened kind of naturally.

You’re releasing a collaboration with the Seattle band Burn Burn Burn. How did that come

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Jeff: In 2011, we played at Nemesis House in Tacoma, Washington. It was one of the coolest shows we’ve ever played. Drew, Burn’s singer, and I struck up a bit of friendship that night and stayed in touch over the years. We’d talked a few times about releasing a split album, but when we decided we were definitely coming back to the US, we agreed the time was finally right.

With members from all over the world, what are the difficulties being part of a multicultural indie band in South Korea?
Jeff: It’s not as strange as people may think. I’m the only one who doesn’t speak Korean really well. Daewon is the only one who doesn’t speak English really well. There are certain situations where we’d all like to handle things differently than other members, but that happens in every band no matter where you’re from. When it comes down to it, we have all chosen to live and build our lives in Korea. Part of that is playing in the punk scene, so in the end, we have a lot more in common than we do different.

The indie scene in South Korea’s is clearly filled with a lot of talent but I’ve heard from several musicians that the support just isn’t there for non-corporate music acts. What’s your band’s take on things?
Trash: It depends what you mean by “support.” Are there corporate sponsors and big labels supporting the extremely talented independent musicians here? No. If that’s a band’s goal, then they’re kind of out of luck. But when you go out to a show and see all the kids that come out and spend their money on entry fees, CDs, t-shirts, and merchandise, when you see how many independent bands have crowd funded thousands of dollars to put out albums and tour, I’d say there’s a lot of support where it really counts.

Two members are married. Does that ever make for any difficult situations? How do you, or do you even, separate your personal and professional lives?
Jeff: This is always a very popular question, and the simplest way I’ve found to put it is that when it’s good, it’s pretty much the greatest thing on Earth, but when it’s not good, it can be the absolute worst. There was a lot more conflict at the beginning when we were trying to define our sound and learning the personalities and roles of all our members. These days, there’s not much conflict at all. And I think not trying to keep these different parts of our life separate is actually the key. It’s always important to remember that your band mates are your friends first and foremost. That becomes even more important when your band mate is your spouse, and you know that whatever is said at practice, in the van, or at home on the couch could spill over into any other aspect of life.

What does the name …Whatever That Means actually mean?
Jeff: Well, when Trash and I got married, we had a pretty normal wedding and reception. After the reception, we had a big punk rock show at our favorite club in Hongdae as the after party. At that point, Trash was playing in a band named BB Lucky Town. I didn’t have a band at the time, but knew I wanted to throw something together for that show. When my buddy Ric was making the poster for the show, I still wasn’t sure who I’d be playing with, so the poster listed all the bands and then at the end said, “and Jeff….whatever that means” and then once I’d put a lineup together for the show, we decided to call ourselves …Whatever That Means so we could pretend our name was on the poster. None of us actually liked the name. It was kind of a joke, and the band was only supposed to play that one show and be done. Now, it’s more than seven years later, and we’re stuck with it. Oops!

Are there any Korean artists you guys are fans of nowadays that KultScene readers should check out?
Jeff: Oh definitely. Some of our favorite bands in Korea are SkaSucks, Billy Carter, Chain Reaction, Burning Hepburn, and Animal Anthem. Everyone should definitely check out our label mates, Full Garage, too. Actually, as I’m typing this, they’re on a plane to the US for their first American tour. They’ll be playing all up and down the West Coast from July 7 through the 22nd. You can find those dates, along with our tour dates, on our label’s site.

Any last words for KultScene’s readers?
Trash: Thanks for taking the time to check out a local band from Seoul, Korea. Hope to see you
at a show!

Thank you, Jeff and Trash, for speaking with KultScene.

West coast fans can check out …Whatever That Means this summer as they hold a four-state tour:
July 23 Las Vegas, NV @ The Double Down Saloon
July 24 Fresno, CA @ TBA
July 26 Corvallis, OR @ The Interzone Café
July 27 Seattle, WA @ The Kraken
July 28 Tacoma, WA @ Real Art
July 29 Portland, OR @ Foggy Notion
July 30 Reno, NV @ PB&J’s
July 31 Berkeley, CA @ 924 Gilman Street
August 1 Los Angeles, CA @ The Redwood Bar

Are you going to see …Whatever That Means? What do you think of their music? Share your picks in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us onFacebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.