In recent years, South Korean culture and music has skyrocketed in global popularity. Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to browse through Twitter without seeing viral Hangul hashtag campaigns organized by K-pop fans, or to scroll through Facebook without seeing at least one Korean-inspired food post. Almost anyone can say that they’ve had exposure to some facet of Korean culture, whether it be through K-pop, Korean TV dramas, or Korean cuisine.
One often-overlooked aspect of South Korea, however, is the country’s incredibly rich and developed indie scene. With history dating back before the ’90s, and talented artists encompassing all genres, it’s definitely a field that music lovers need to keep an eye on. Here are five of my favorite tracks to get you started:
Disconcerting and gritty house-inspired instrumentation aren’t usually the first things that come to mind when people think about hip-hop, but that’s exactly why Kid Milli is making waves in the South Korean hip-hop scene right now. Nothing about the 24-year-old rapper is conventional or predictable.
His latest single is a sarcastic and aggressive commentary on consumerism amidst a sea of rappers who constantly seem to find ways to display their status. Equal parts angry, confident, and addictive, “WHY DO FUCCBOIS HANG OUT ON THE NET” is a track that lovers of Kanye West’s Yeezus or house artist JOYRDYE will love.
“Noise In My Head” channels the best of synth-pop, taking on the genre with a masterful sense of subtlety and development. Everything about this track feels intentional: its ’80s-inspired synths, electric piano interjections, controlled electric guitar riffs, and even its saxophone solos, which manage to mesh with the rest of the song perfectly.
From its slower and more contemplative verses to its chorus, which hits with a flourish that leaves the listener craving more, “Noise In My Head” feels like a treat in every way. Drawing from the nostalgia and sense of adventure that the synth-pop genre is enamored with, two-man band Kisnue have crafted the perfect song to indulge in during your next late night drive.
Sleepy sunsets, warm nights, fleeting dreams — these are the images that listening to “Somebody” evokes. Backed by sweet electric piano and dreamy synths, this alternative R&B track is a poignant contemplation on love that manages to convey nostalgia and tenderness to even those who cannot understand Korean.
Lovewave is perhaps the very definition of indie. Little is known about the unsigned and self-produced female singer, who uploads her songs to YouTube and Soundcloud with minimal description or commentary. When her music is this evocative, though, maybe it doesn’t need much explaining.
Sometimes less is more, and CIKI proves that you don’t need an elaborate five-man band to produce a groovy indie pop track that feels complete. A multi-talented artist — he composes, writes, and plays all the instruments for his music — this South Korean singer regularly amasses over 300,000 listens on his Soundcloud uploads. “Baby Crush” combines an addictive guitar riff with a host of other instruments, but the real treat here is CIKI’s voice. Perfectly boyish and smooth, it’ll keep you coming back for more.
“Let’s get drunk / till we see the darkness of the night / let’s get drunk / either you or I must die tonight,” a thin voice coaxes on Band88’s “The Twilight Zone.” On this nostalgic track, the group manages to reproduce both the sound of ’80s New Wave pop and the quintessential ’80s aesthetic of adventure and impulsiveness. Meshing together ’80s pop with the exciting and addictive elements of modern pop and rock, this track never really seems to stop escalating throughout its four-minute run.
These elements culminate in a song that seems to almost beckon and challenge the listener to act on its invitations. So sneak out late at night, get drunk on a weekday, run towards all the things that scare you — Band88 wouldn’t have it any other way.
From indie synth-pop to house-inspired rap music, the South Korean indie scene consists of a variety of genres and artists that appeal to nearly all tastes. If you’re looking for a way to expand your music library, or to familiarize yourself with some new tunes, consider giving Korean indie a listen.