By Jesse Coy Nelson
Part 2: read part 1 here
Seikima II/ Loudness,Vivaldi Park, Daemyeong, South Korea 9/3/10 – 9/4/10
I woke ten minutes before the alarm went off. I slowly made breakfast, or at least not fast enough to really get a move on if I intended to make the eleven o’clock bus. I had to withdraw some money (200,000 won), and then went for food and booze at a mini-mart. I hurried to the bus station, catching the bus to Seoul right before it pulled out. It’d be about five hours to Seoul. I had my journal, so I’d catch up on that. Instead of bringing the book I was almost done with, I brought Arabian Nights, which doesn’t have a single or identifiable author. It’s sort of interesting how that’s set up.
I spent much of the time listening to Loudness. The night before, I downloaded as much of them as I could find, plus got newer Iron Maiden stuff (A Brave New World and Dance of Death) and Queensryche. I wanted to find Seikima II, but only one of their tracks appeared. The vocalist for Loudness reminded me of a cross between Quiet Riot’s Kevin Dubrow, Twisted Sister’s Dee Synder, Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, and a bit of Rob Halford, though not quite as high. The band has over a dozen albums, and some sounded quite thrashy, while others were a bit more hard rock or lighter metal. I do remember the band in metal magazines back when I used to read them. I listened to their songs twice. At the rest stop outside of Seoul, I got three Chinese pancakes (rather sweet, which I’d have throughout the day) and a spicy… uh, beef stick.
My T-card didn’t work. I got the information on the bus to Vivaldi Park. It was at the bus station near my old home around Guui. Actually, the station right across from the bus terminal is Gangbyeon. Got my ticket, and had a half hour, so I went to a PC room, the idea popping in my head that being in Seoul, maybe I should meet Debbie. I got her phone number, and then bought a few things for the ride. Talked to an older lady who’d asked if I needed help with my bus, before setting off. On the way, I thought of different things for the Big Music News Roundup podcast. I called Debbie, arranging a meeting time. Later, I was ascending. Vivaldi Park is a ski area in the winter. I had no idea where I’d spend the night, how I’d get around, and even in the beginning, I figured I might have problems with my press pass.
My only e-mail contact spoke no English. But I got the press pass, leaving the printout of the e-mail with them, and went out back where the bands would be playing. It was a ski area. They had a decent stretch of space. A very unmemorable band was playing on the Eco Stage, the last before the first band took to the Wind Stage. Actually, I liked them. They were a ten-piece band, sort of funk, soul, and Blues Brothers-ish. I recognized portions of “Funky Town” and “Play That Funky Music, White Boy,” plus they did “By the River of Babylon.” Their horn section carried over to the next section, who I thought was Vinyl, but who was actually a Korean female singer who was a lot of fun. She was sort of ska-ish, with a strong stage presence, like Karen O or Pauline of Selecter. I wanted to buy her CD.
And that was one of the problems. The only music that you could buy ended up being the Vinyl’s EP, rather annoying, because I’d planned on getting a couple good Loudness albums, or also Seikima II. I should preface this with… the growing pains of a new entity. This was the first Viva Rock Festival. It’s a good location, but they need to do many things to pump it up. First, let me say that in two days time, I’m fairly certain that I was the only Caucasian in attendance. Based off demographics, there should have been many more in proportion to many more Koreans. Part of the problem was low key advertising of the event, as well as not so good instructions on how to get there (none were in English), neither how to get there, nor of how to find a place to stay, aside from the resort (123,000 won per night). The question… will this be a one-off festival, or will it be around next year?
And talk about being a trooper… I went pretty far to see only twelve songs, with Seikima II doing only six songs on Friday night and Loudness doing only six songs on Saturday night. Without a doubt, these two Japanese heavy metal powerhouse and legendary groups should’ve had double their forty-some minute set time. Ah, but I still have a few other bands before Seikima II. So I did get Vinyl’s EP for 10,000 won (support your indie music), even though they weren’t necessarily my cup of tea. I think it was their MC, who seemed more like a cheerleading section (“yeah, yeah”), reminding me a bit of something Kid Rock-ish. They whole band looked tiny, except the tall drummer. They had a deejay, but her sound was so buried in the mix as to be nonexistent. The main singer was cute.
She was later at the booth, selling the band’s CD. With dyed blond hair, she liked to clutch at her skirt and hike it up. Maybe the CD mix will sound better than the “been there, done that” rock rap stuff that I heard. I wasn’t about to stick around for the next musician, who on the big “Next” screen looked to be a Korean version of Morrissey. I was waiting for Seikima II. Now, Gene Simmons being who he is, I bet at some point he tried to sue the band. They do look quite a lot like a Japanese version of Kiss. That said, their face paint is also very kabuki, which no matter what Gene says, far predates Kiss. As for attire, there was some spandex, but they looked far more barbarian than Kiss does. The band formed way back in 1982. Lead singer Demon Kogure has an awesome voice, along the lines of Queensryche’s Geoff Tate or Judas Priest’s Rob Halford.
And he’s obviously taking good care of those pipes, because he was spot-on. The band members were real performers. Of the six songs, one was a new one. One, I believe, was “Fire” (Kogure later spitting out flames). As for one of the other six songs, my descriptive label was “heavy as fuck.” One song was about a little girl in the forest, and for another, Kogure broke out the Korean. He had a basket of apples, and told some story that had the crowd laughing as he grinned devilishly. The drummer had a strange pink Mohawk. The bassist looked like a cousin of Gwar. The Kiss-ish guitarist was shredding. And all too soon, it was over. I wanted more. The lyrics, too, were in English. I wanted a copy of their CD, unavailable. I didn’t stick around for the last band. I had to figure out where to stay.
I considered sleeping outside somewhere, but I was just too tired for that. I wanted a real bed. Again, a room at the resort cost 123,000 won a night. If it were 60,000 won, I would’ve taken a room there. Okay, where do I go? I asked the folks at the information booth. Call a taxi, they suggested. Could I walk? I was told that it’d take two hours. But there was a place to stay down the mountain, a motel for probably 50,000 won, they were pretty sure. So I started walking. My only concern was that there wasn’t much walking space along this road. Cars seemed to be going by quite quickly. Up the hill I went, unsure of when I’d find the motel on the way back down. I reached the big tunnel, where I proceeded to whistle, and the echo, along with the sound of the music in the distance, sounded quite cool. So I thought I’d record it.
As I was fumbling about in my backpack looking for the mp3 player, a small shuttle bus approached and stopped, the bald driver speaking no English, but gesturing for me to get inside. I gave him the name of the motel where I was going. He knew it and brought me there. The motel actually ended up being only 35,000 won, and unlike the motel in Geoje, the air conditioning for this one worked immediately. I tried to call MJ. She was with her friends. I said, “call later.” But I ended up getting really tired and slept. The next day, I planned to hitchhike, and it was at that uphill turn to Vivaldi Park where I got my ride. They were resort workers, I’d guess, dressed in uniform. Wordlessly, the vehicle climbed the hill. Well, the vehicle shouldn’t speak, should it? And soon I returned. Damn, I didn’t bring with me the notes on the songs that Loudness did.
Anyway, on this day I was there mostly for them. I went onto the festival grounds, which were a lot more populated than the day before. I’d guess there were twice as many people there. I went to the table where they were selling CD’s, but it was still only the Vinyl EP. Some bland band was on the Eco Stage, and after that, there’d be ninety more minutes until Loudness played. Time to eat. For 5,000 won, I got dumplings and soup at a fast food Korean place under the main grounds… or it’s an underground mall across the street. And yes, I lied. I did see one brown-haired Caucasian girl in the crowd for the crappy band, so maybe there were one or two other foreigners somewhere at this festival (though I never saw them). At the store, I bought a small figurine for myself and a maggulli cell phone key chain for MJ, plus a bottle of soju.
I got up close to the barrier gate for this band. Later, reading about Loudness, I found out that in the early 90’s, they had an American singer, having relocated to the U.S. I really should order one of their CD’s now. I looked up Seikima II’s CD’s, and they’re mostly imports, selling for $30 or $40, or even higher (too bad). This form of Loudness was nearly all original, except for the drummer. The original drummer died of cancer in 2008. This new drummer looked like a cross between a samurai and Genghis Khan. Minoru’s vocal work was awesome, and Akira has some awesome guitar solos. Again, it sucked that they could only do six songs, speaking of which, I know that they played, “Are’s Lament” and “Like Hell,” as well as “Crazy Night,” and then my own notes include “Jack Me Up,” “Rise Up” (my names for the songs), and the song the singer introduced by saying, “bang your heads.”
Just like Seikima II, Loudness had some nice pyrotechnics. Also, their songs were in English, as was Minoru’s between song banter. Hearing the band’s range of material earlier, I’m glad they stuck with their heavier stuff for the show. N.EX.T was next, though I didn’t stick around for that. I was ready to head back to my place, as I intended to wake rather early. It was only a two kilometer-walk downhill. Again, I saw fast-moving vehicles. I was a bit nervous of that. Walking up along the side with some parking, the same shuttle bus with the bald Korean driver was there. He saw me, turning his lights on. So I got a ride with him again. I still don’t know what the deal was with that shuttle bus.
“Geum-sah-nee-dah,” I said.
Fatboy Slim/ Justice/ Armin Van Buuren, Han River Nanji Park, Seoul, South Korea 10/09/10
In some ways, it’s good when the comp-ed gloves come off and I have to pay for a show. I won’t say that when it’s not on my dime that I whitewash a bad performance, but I will say that I can be a bit more constructive in my criticism, whereas out of my own pocket translates to a review as blunt as I want to be. And let’s not fool anyone. If and when the Audio Tavern has the clout that it’ll eventually have, it’ll make a bigger difference. Now, it’s not quite at the point where it’s moving mountains. To be fair to Global Gathering, as a returning member of the press, the manager did the best she could (although the Korean guy there was a dick as far as I’m concerned) (uber cool, fuck you), helping me to get a discounted ticket. And the rest of the blame lies on me.
See, whereas last year’s event was the Prodigy, who seemed (and were) very cool to see, I knew next to nothing about the main acts for this year’s festival. My girlfriend loves Justice. No, I don’t mean she’s a law student. She loves the “band.” The other main act was Fatboy Slim, the name sounding like an old school rapper to me. He recently did an album with David Byrne, so I suppose that can peak my interest. But all things considered… the point is, I applied late for the press pass. I went to the festival less for the music, and more for the fact that distance considered, I might not see my girlfriend for three weeks were I not to go to this festival. If Chemical Brothers had been involved, that’s terrain I know.
Before I jump ahead of myself and review the show, there’s a lot of thematic shit going on that I need to get to first, the main one being… is going to see a deejay set really seeing a musical act?
Damn, I’m getting fed right and left here as the odd foreigner. And I’m here right now, and writing it on pen and pad. As is more and more the case, I’m an oddity. Here’s the deal with Justice, who is playing right now. Yes, many love this duo. Yet more than anything, they chart in that terrain that I can best describe as, “I just don’t get it.” True, the one skinny guy and the other frizzy-haired guy appear busy enough as they’re exchanging glances and chain smoking. But is it like a real band, or more in the realm of… well, just imagine that instead of a movie, you paid your money to see the editors and sound designers twist knobs and dials as they actually made the movie… albeit, wearing trendy clothes, as though they were movie actors, and not technicians. Toward the end of their set, Justice covered Chemical Brothers, or more accurately… uh, they played Chemical Brothers.
I suppose I’m missing the point in general, or I have another point entirely, but basically… what’s the point? Every reason you might have to close in on and watch the “band” is eliminated here. I’m at Global Gathering. Do I really need to press in really tight to get a closer look at what’s on the big screen, two dudes bopping their heads as they twist knobs? There’s a live experience, and there’s just adjusting the knobs on something that was prerecorded, or as George Carlin would say (“please pre-suck my mother fucking dick”), something that’s already been recorded to play. I beg the question… what’s the difference between a deejay set, and just hitting play on a soundtrack for an electronica flick.
Don’t get me wrong (again)… I love industrial music. I even quite like some techno and eletronica, but please, give me something to latch onto… something. Maybe my mind isn’t attuned to the pure electronica genre, or why you’d want to see this sort of show, other than the fact that you’re just getting a lot more people to jam out together to a beat-based non-band album you’re playing. Speaking of which, if you expect me to provide a track by track listing for Justice, you’re crazy. Besides the “A-B-C” song, and “We’re Your Friends,” which they closed with (sort of, because they also played “Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War), it all sounds similar to a night out on the town at a techno club, ambiance included, only costing $40 more than it should cost. All the more power to them, I suppose, if they can draw that sort of money.
And quite frankly, so as to make me report a bit more critically, it was worth a shell out. Granted, too, I didn’t have the right drug of choice to fully appreciate this show. Alcohol isn’t the way to go. You need to be stoned or on speed, I’d guess. Since my girlfriend was really into Justice, and she had about ten of her friends with her, I didn’t want to bring her down with my bafflement over a show like this. And again, I wouldn’t have been so introspective perhaps had I not had to buy a discounted ticket. But again, I chart this as a good thing. First, my eye was more critical, and secondly, were I told “you won’t be fully compensated, but do you still want to go”… with international shows being as rare as they are here, I would’ve regretted not going. So I wandered, as well as finding a place to watch and write.
The first two bands I saw, and they were more bands in the traditional sense of the word (guitar, bass, and live drums, as well as programmed beats) were Korean bands. As MJ explained it, they were dabbling in, or adding electronica to their sound and set. There was Telepathy, and then Idiotape, and I could be wrong, but I think that Idiotape borrowed Telepathy’s singer for the tracks that they did with vocals. Being in South Korea, the crowd was obviously heavily Korean, though there were plenty of foreigners on hand, a large portion of Seoul’s and the satellite cities’ foreign English teachers population. I’d guess that most of them, too, weren’t stoned or on anything stronger than alcohol. This is South Korea, those substances difficult to come by. One of the impressions that I received from the electronica crowd was of complete self-involvement and apathy.
I mean this in the broader sense of this style of music being pretty consumed in itself… dance to the electronica beat only for the sake of dancing to the electronica beat. In other words, there’s not much social commentary or awareness (not real song structures). Again, that’s the difference with say the Prodigy. At least on their last album, you have some messages and meaning. The other reason why I had a sense of this was because of all the wasteful plastic and garbage “giveaways.” By the time that Fatboy Slim did his set, the ground was littered with plastic rubbish, be it cups, trendy-looking and arty bags with Gap booklets and a Wonder Girls comic, and just other sheer throwaway stuff. If there’s a giant mass of floating plastic under the sea, Global Gathering may have added the state of Rhode Island to that landmass.
Okay, I will say that for Fatboy Slim, the funny thing about his promo clip before he played was the one question and his reply.
“Do you have anything special for Korea?”
“The basis of it is just me playing records and waving me arms in the air. It works”
Meaning the deejay, Fatboy Slim, throwing his hands in the air, which… yes, this older British fellow did that. I guess I was a bit surprised toward the end when he played a big chunk of House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” I don’t mean like a remake or whatnot… he just played the song. It begs the question again, what am I missing? Tickets cost about $85, my press ticket discount on the spur of the moment halving that cost. So again, I’m wrapping my mind around the idea of why anyone (and there were many people there) would shell out that sort of money for this.
This live review has become more editorial than anything. I find that I have less to say about the actual performers. Besides the fact that what I heard simply sounded like one long, barely interrupted song, I guess I can summarize the performers in this way… Justice like to chain smoke as they do their deejay set, Fatboy Slim likes to throw his hands up in the air as he does his deejay set, and Armin Van Buuren looks very happy and smiles a lot as he does his deejay set.
And as the hour crawled toward and then past 3 a.m., I was cold and tired. I’d danced with MJ one time for a bit, but then she got tired, and really, the music just didn’t move me. I filled out a survey earlier of what I like to drink and smoke (cigarette brands, my answer being “I don’t smoke”). This got me a free four-song CD sampler. It’s Gareth Emery, Mark Eteson, Menno de Jong, and Paul Thomas Russell G, and it sounds likes much of what I heard that night, so I guess in the end, I have a way to crystallize my 2010 Global Gathering experience.