Festival Asia: In Conversation with the Japanese shamisen player Hibiki Ichikawa and Enka singer Akari Mochizuki

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Picture courtesy of the photographer

What is the shamisen? I didn’t know much about it until I came across Hibiki Ichikawa, a Japanese shamisen player. “The shamisen is a three- stringed musical instrument originated from the Chinese instrument sanxian. It was introduced in 16th century and later developed into Okinawan instrument sanshin from which the shamisen ultimately derives”.

Hibiki was born in Kanazawa where, at the age of 20, he started playing standard shamisen. A year later, he moved to the tsugaru shamisen and trained under Master Akihiro Ichikawa. In 2005 Hibiki played with the Japanese indie rock band called Cazicazi. The group’s melody merged “traditional Japanese flute and Shamisen with Western bass and drum rhythm section.” The collaboration came to an end when Hibiki moved to the United Kingdom, where he currently teaches the shamisen to international students and performs across the country and Europe.

Hibiki frequently works in partnership with another talented artist, Akari Mochizuki, who is an active Japanese Enka singer in the UK. Enka is a popular Japanese music genre considerate to resemble traditional Japanese music stylistically. As Akari said “Enka suggests a traditional, idealized, or romanticized aspect of Japanese culture and attitudes. Most of the time Enka singers are accompanied by the shamisen or shakuhachi players. Sometimes, however, electronic instruments are used, such as synthesizers and electric lead guitar.

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Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone

I was delighted when I was able to meet Hibiki and Akari in person. They were both incredibly accommodating, amiable yet shy when I decided to have a chat with them in their private quarters. They made me feel welcomed, which turned the interview into a friendly chitchat rather than a formal conversation. Without any delay I commenced by looking into Hibiki’s discovery of the shamisen.

It all started when Hibiki began playing the guitar. However, one day he found out about the three- stringed instrument and, at the age of 20, he signed up for the shamisen lesson in Japan “I was curious about the instrument, and when I heard the shamisen sound I was really moved.” Has learning and playing the instrument changed him in any ways? Hibiki paused for a second, then without hesitation and a great passion in his voice he said that “The shamisen allows me to express myself better, I don’t know why but it does.” The artist shares his love for shamisen with his students here in the UK. What attracted his pupils to play it? “My students are interested in Japanese culture, and I think, through learning the country’s way of life they found the shamisen appealing. Perhaps they have seen me playing at Hyper Japan and simply wanted to learn how to play the instrument.”

Hibiki was timid. Whenever I asked him about his career and experiences he was rather reserved about it. I guess it wasn’t because of his knowledge of English language but because he was just a humble individual who doesn’t boast about his talent. However, I was very eager to hear all about it. To my surprise, Akari jumped to the rescue and decided to tell us about Hibiki’s experiences. It was endearing to see how excited Akari was while talking about the artist. They met back in 2011 when Hibiki arrived in the UK; “We had mutual friends which made it easier to get to know each other. I wasn’t aware of him playing the tsugaru shamisen. However, when I heard him playing the instrument for the first time, I was pleasantly shocked by its sound.”

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Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone

Akari continued with the insightful story about Hibiki’s journey in becoming a professional shamisen player. I didn’t expected to hear that the 2011 earthquake in Japan had an impact on Hibiki’s career. This was the time when he was invited to the affected area and played for a big audience in support for the victims of the earthquake. Hibiki slowly started to climb up the music ladder and became a skilled shamisen musician; “There was a lot of interest surrounding Hibiki. From that point he started to travel outside of Japan and has become widely recognized, not only in his homeland but also in Europe. Now, he is here in London, performing and teaching the tsugaru shamisen to approximately 20 students.”

Why did he decide to come to the UK? “For obvious reason, I wanted to improve my English language skills and I love Muse and Radiohead. That was a good excuse for me. I also think that these two bands might have influenced my sound too. I never really expected to be teaching shamisen to so many people. I am glad that I can share my love of the shamisen with anyone who is interested in it.”

With the huge popularity of pop culture in Asia and around the world, I was wondering if traditional instruments would have its place in 20 or 30 years’ time. In Hibiki’s opinion it will have its place as long as people are interested in it. It is also matter of promoting it and encouraging youngsters to play it; “The shamisen is a special and beautiful instrument. Surprisingly, it is slowly becoming more popular, particularly amongst younger audience”. All of a sudden Hibiki stood up and presented to me and Monica, a photographer, his 5 amazing looking shamisen instruments. I must admit that they were heavy. After his 5 minutes presentation, he decided to perform two songs, including one with Akari. I have never thought that the sound of the shamisen would cause goosebumps. I realised that as a solo instrument, pieces for tsugaru shamisen require very high technique for speedy playing, refined sense of dynamic and creativity for improvisation, like jazz music. Tsugaru shamisen and its music gave me an impression of the strength of human as well as tenderness. The second song that he performed with Akari was equally beautiful. I immersed myself in their short performance. While Monica and Hibiki talked about the shamisen, I carried on chatting with Akari.

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Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone

Akari started to sing Enka at the age of 3; “My father loves Enka. He used to sing to my mum’s belly when she was carrying me inside. My father is my greatest inspiration. Having said that, there are a few Enka singers who influenced me and my singing, such as Yoko Nagayama and Harumi Miyako. These two are the significant to mention.” When Akari worked for Cross Media Ltd, a Japanese publisher company in London, her employer recommended to her to try singing at Cocoro restaurant in Bond Street; “Since the restaurant owner liked my performance, he has allowed me to sing at Cocoro. The restaurant is a popular place among very important individuals. Because of that, my name and reputation spread around London and surrounding areas.” Enka singers require a lot of hard work and vocal training, it seems that there is no training limit for Akari when it comes to hers; “I am still training and I can’t see an end to it.” According to the artist, if you want to become a good and confident singer, it is important to take as many opportunities as possible to sing in front of an audience. As mentioned before, Akari and Hibiki have been collaborating for a few years now. They performed together at Hyper Japan, Japan Matsuri and Festival Asia.

Unfortunately, with a heavy heart, I had to end our conversation. It was a great pleasure meeting them both. 

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Pictures courtesy of Monica Sablone

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Jess Murray

Pictures courtesy of Monica Sablone

Festival Asia: Friday 15th May- Sunday 17th May

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When it comes to arts, music and films, London has always been in the centre of attention. There has never been a dull moment in the capital, whether it’s the middle of a week or a weekend. This year will be one of the most exciting one in the history of London. For the first time, on May 15, 16 and 17 Festival Asia will take over Tobacco Dock.

Constructed in 1811, Tobacco Dock served as a primary store for imported tobacco. Over a hundred years later, in 1990 the building was altered into a shopping centre. However, since mid-1990s the structure has been mostly unoccupied. In 2003, English Heritage placed it on the Building at Risk Register. From time to time, Tobacco Dock is used for large corporate events such as the Tattoo Convention, the Taste Food Festival, Hyper Japan and many more. It is, without question, an amazing venue to organise such a large festival like Festival Asia.

I was thrilled when the event’s organisers said that the festival “is set apart by any other event through encompassing all Asian cultures.” I thought, however, “Is it even possible to arrange such a thing?” I guess it is, because Festival Asia will host most Asian countries: “You will be entertained, moved and enlightened (…)”. You will definitely be able to find various interesting things at Tobacco Dock. It will be like “travelling the whole of Asia in a few hours.”

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Sunny Singh- Bollywood Dancer

In those three days the festival will present to us Asian food, fashion, art, traditional and modern music performances from countries such as South Korea, which will be represented by a very talented violinist Eunsley Park and Kaya, who will be playing Kayagum. Apart from South Korea, there will be artists from ChinaCheng Yu; internationally renowned pipa and guqin virtuoso and Amy Yuan, Erhu player. Hibiki Ichikawa – Tsugaru Shamiseu player and Akari Mochizaku – Enka singer will represent Japan. Djitron Pah, an Indonesian musician, will show off his talent whilst playing a harp and the PhilippinesLahing Kayumanggi dance group will show the audience how to move. It is worth mentioning that LK is a “Dance Company rooted in the folk culture and traditions of the Philippines.” I can assure you they are amazing performers who “demonstrates the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines.” I could keep on writing about all the performers, however, there are just too many to mention them all.

Apart from music and performances there will be various other things to experience such as a Cultural Room, where you will be able to find out more about Asian countries. There will be over 100 exhibitors including Japanese Kimono, Yoga Centers, Anime, Clothes, Food, Calligraphy, Games, Massage, Meditation, Traditional Swords, Paintings, Jewellery, Religious Temples and Meditation Centres, Art, Henna, Languages, Travel, Holidays and many more. I am very excited to see and experience Spiritual Room. As you may already know “Asia has traditionally given to the world an enormous wealth of spirituality which has in the last century more and more been penetrated by the west.” The Spiritual Room will introduce you to Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taosim, Jainism, Skikhism, Zoroastranism, Zen and Yoga.

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Kaya- South Korean Traditional Musician

I absolutely loved everything that I read about Festival Asia so far. I got so excited about it that I decided to have a chat with one of the Lilisan’s CEOs Corrado Canonici who was greatly thrilled to talk about the event.
It was one of those cold evenings in London when we decided to meet in a small café at Victoria Station. With a giant cup of green tea in my hand, I started our conversation by asking Corrado what was behind the project and how it came about. He was insightful, wryly funny and generously friendly “I was always passionate about Asia. It all started when I was very young, I read many books about it. I was truly fascinated by Asian philosophy and its culture. Years later, I started to work with the Chinese singer Li Li and, after a while, I asked her: why don’t we organise something together like an Asian Festival. I realised that there are events showcasing Asian culture, however, one or two countries. I really wanted to create an event that celebrates the entire Asian continent (…). At first I thought it was a crazy idea. It took us a year to do all the research, collect the data and build up a contact list. Bit by bit we started to plan properly. Look where we are now! The festival will have its debut in May”.

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Eunsley Park- South Korean Violin Player

LiLisan Ltd, in collaboration with Barley Arts International, has managed to team up with various people who are currently helping with the festival, especially LycaMobile, a huge mobile phone provider, which became the festival’s official sponsor. With great excitement, Corrado said that “the amount of things that will be showed at Festival Asia will definitely blow the audience’s mind.” As mentioned before, there will be over 100 exhibitors, various musicians and performers participating in the festival. For those who are endlessly hungry “there will be food that will make you lose control of your diet and give you the opportunity to taste the whole of Asia in one go.” I reckon it will be my favourite area at the festival; food is always good.

I noticed that Corrado is particularly excited about Martial Arts performances “We want people to be there to see Japanese Shorinji Kempo, Korean Hapkido, Taekwondo and Karate. I would like them to see as much as possible. Every half an hour we will have different Martial Arts’ performers on stage.” We both agreed that Festival Asia will be a big and an exciting event; Corrado admitted that “Loads of work went into it.” After looking for a proper place to organise the festival, the team agreed on doing it in Tobacco Dock, the place has “an incredible character. First of all, it is very central, it is near Tower Hill station and not too far from London Bridge. As a venue Tobacco Dock is simply amazing to hold a big event such as our festival. There is enough space to do everything. It’s a perfect place for us.”

With big smiles on our faces, Corrado and I ended the conversation. I must admit I am very excited about the festival. Do not forget to get your tickets to the event. Festival Asia will be held 15th- 17th May 2015 at Tobacco Dock, E1W 2SF. Tickets are priced at; Adults £12.50 in advance £15 on door. Children £8 in advance £10 on door. For more information about the event please visit www.festivalasia.co.uk. You can follow Festival Asia on social media for latest announcements and news: Facebook- FestivalAsia and Twitter @FestivalAsiaUK.

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Li Li- Chinese Opera Singer

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Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Jess Murray

Pictures courtesy of Festival Asia and the photographer

Seoul Fashion Week: Fall/ Winter Collection 2015- In Conversation with the Korean model Heynam Sin

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 For the past few years, the fashion in South Korea has greatly matured, due to inspiration from the West. “Factors that have influenced the changes in the country’s fashion are culture, wealth, and (social) media, its developing economy has also had a profound effect on fashion.”

Currently, South Korea maintains a unique fashion style that has become an acknowledged influence in worldwide trends.  Korean style has become more expressive and, most of the time, reflects a sense of individuality. When I was in Korea I realized one thing that the country’s fashion has slowly started to affect the world’s fashion. Korean celebrities are starting to have a real influence in fashion such as G- Dragon and TaeYang. Both pop stars have recently made appearances at the Paris Fashion Week, where they mingled with the most prestigious fashion designers such as Kenzo and Karl Lagerfeld, a German fashion designer who is based in Paris. Karl is also a head designer and creative director of the fashion house Chanel and the Italian house Fendi.

The most popular fashion event in South Korea is, without a doubt, Seoul Fashion Week which take place twice a year in the Spring/ Summer and Fall/ Winter seasons. It is sponsored by Seoul Metropolitan Government and organized by Seoul Design Foundation. The fashion shows are held in March and October followed by New York, Paris and London Fashion Week.

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Photos courtesy of Lee Sung Hoon

Seoul Fashion Week is split into three parts: The Seoul Collection, which was represented by 55 fashion designers. One of those designers was  SANG BONG LEE, whose brand concept is “based on artistic sentiment, pursuing beautiful and new pattern, cutting and structural silhouette reflecting lifestyle”, CHOI BOKO, whose brand’s idea is “based on artwork motif that started in painterly foundation of fine art and reproduces vintage with steric effect from couture’s perspective. It also presents a balanced silhouette using patchwork of various materials. The brand presents an ethnic fantasy using geometric pattern, which has strong and colorful contrast, changed shape and modernity” and KANG KIOK whose brand is based on classic and trendy design. Apart from Sang Bong Lee, Choi Boko and Kang Kiok , there were  fashion designers who displayed their work such as  Duyoung Jung (Brand: VanHart di Albazar), Kwak HyunJoo (Brand: Kwakhyunjoo collection) and many more. Generation Next is an upcoming fashion design program for Korean designers. The Generation Next was represented by 21 young fashion designers such as JINWON WOO (Brand: Rocket X Lunch ), DOYOUNG KIM (Brand: Pethidine in Pearl) plus many more. The Seoul Fashion Fair is an exhibition showcasing Korean fashion companies.

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Pictures courtesy of Lee Sung Hoon

Seoul Fashion Week has always been aimed at an international audience, from an ordinary fashion goer to celebrities. This year you could have seen Jessica Alba, an American actress, at one of the fashion shows. I was lucky enough to be able to interview Heynam Sin, a South Korean model, who is represented by YGK Plus Agency. Sin was eager to answer a few questions about her career as a model, favourite designers and her preferred daily outfits.

I have been friends with Heynam for a year now and I must admit that she is a really hard working young lady who doesn’t give up easily. For as long as I have known her, she has always been driven by the fashion richness as well as music. It is worth mentioning that Heynam plays bass guitar and sings too. Sin has been working in the fashion industry for years. Apart from participating in Seoul Fashion Week, she has been taking part in commercial photo shoots for various magazines in South Korea and beyond. Sin spent a few months in Hong Kong as well as Milano, where she worked for different photographers and fashion designers.

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Pictures courtesy of the photographer

I started the interview by asking Heynam about her favourite magazines, blogs and catalogues that she reads often. Heynam, without any hesitation answered: “I definitely go for Vogue Girl, Dazed and Confused and Streetper”. I have to admit that I love Dazed and Confused myself. Recently, the magazine went trough some crucial changes and now it’s called just Dazed. For those who don’t know, Dazed “is a monthly British style magazine founded in 1991. Its founding editors were Jefferson Hack and fashion photographer Rankin. It covers music, fashion, film, art, and literature”. Of course every model has to be asked about its favourite models and designers. Honestly, I expected Heynam to say that her preferred models are Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss, to my surprise, the answer was “Twiggy, I like Twiggy. She is still rocking and she is definitely great”. I have always thought that models from 1960s or 1970s aren’t popular, but Sin proved me wrong.

Heynm has a vast knowledge about fashion and its designers but nevertheless seems to appreciate Alexander McQueen and Valentino the most. Who doesn’t right?

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Pictures courtesy of the photographer

As mentioned before, Seoul fashion is dynamic, Heynam thinks that it’s because “People who love fashion and care about current trends use internet. Due to the development of the internet, people communicate better and fashion becomes more complex yet dynamic. It constantly evolving.”

When describing her style and what fashion means to her she said that “Fashion is a way of showing the freedom of expression, this is how I see fashion. My style? It is probably 1970s punk rock style.” As you probably know, modelling is a very hard work. Sleepless night, dozen catwalks a day and endless photo-shoots. How does Heynam feel about it? What’s rewarding about it and how has modelling changed her life? With a smile on her face she answered “When the money gets deposited into my account I am happy, making money is probably the fun part. Having said that, I also came to appreciate myself and learnt how not to be embarrassed about my height and learnt how to embrace my beauty too”.

She has been working not only as runway model, but also as a model for fashion magazines and various catalogues. I asked her about the main differences between runway and photographic modelling; “Runway modelling is about grabbing audience’s attention and see the response and gratification on their faces. Whilst photographic modelling is more about working with countless stuff and trying to get the perfect shot for a magazine/ catalogue. As a model I do prefer to work the runways as it is more fun.” Don’t you wonder what’s Heynam’s favourite outfit is ? “It’s gotta be classic motorcycle jacket and Ramones T-Shirt.”

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Picture courtesy of the photographer

Heynam Sin debuted in 2006. She said she lost count how many times she participated in fashion shows. When it comes to Seoul Fashion Week, season F/W 2015, she represented 11 designers. In the previous season, S/S 2015, she took part in 13 catwalks while the year before. F/W 2014, she rocked her socks off in 14 shows. Whose fashion show was the most interesting at this year’s Seoul Fashion Week: “Kaal E. Suktae, the fashion designer incorporated a famous and well known animated character DOOLRI. The outfits were modern with a touch of chic. This style stood out for me.” How does she get along with other models? Heynam said: “When I was starting as a model there was that issue of senior/ junior thing that I had to adhere. However, modelling environment is more relaxed nowadays. These days since I am doing my own projects, there is not a lot of competition from other models. I only gained confidence and precious experience when doing my job.” 

We do hope that the next season of Seoul Fashion Week will be even more exciting than this year’s one.

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Jess Murray

In Conversation with EE

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EE are an imaginative, vigorous and “total art performance group”. The husband-and-wife duo, who hail from South Korea, have been rocking their audience’s socks off since 2008. Yun-Joung Lee and Hyun-Joon Lee effortlessly merge art, music and dance together and then formulate it into a one of a kind, high powered performance.

Yun-Joung is no newbie to the music business. She started her career almost two decades ago when, in the mid 1990s, she was a vocalist for Pippi Band – “a pioneering act in Korea’s alt- rock scene”. After a while she became a solo artist and released Evolution in 1997 followed by 2001’s Sixth Sense album. A few years later she met her husband Hyun-Joon, an installation artist and DJ/ Producer, and in 2008 they formed EE and released their first CD single Curiosity Kills. Their popularity grew rapidly and in 2009 the group played at the World DJ Festival in Seoul. They also presented to the audience their full-length debut album entitled Imperfect, I’mperfect which was positively received by the critics in both South Korea and abroad.

In September 2009 they played material from their debut album at the Global Gathering Festival. Two years later EE were invited to play at Coachella Festival in California. It is worth mentioning that, to date, the band remains the only Korean artists that have ever “earned an invite to play” at such a well- known festival. In 2012 they toured in the UK for the first time and we hope not the last time.

The group’s most recent offering entitled Weird People We R Da People was released in August 2014. On this particular 3 track EP they experimented with hip hop, adding it to an existing electronic sound. After listening to it I can easily say that Hyun-Joon and Yun-Joung display a high level of creativity and sophisticated understanding of the concepts of music as well as a personal style.

It seems like 2015 will be a productive year for the band starting with an exciting live appearance at South by South West (SXSW) in March. We do hope everything goes well for them. Here is the interview we conducted with EE; we hope you enjoy reading it.

VOTA: Hyun-joon Lee and Yun-joung Lee did you both grow up wanting to play music? How and when did the whole making music thing come about?

lil E: Growing up, I was exposed to lots of music by my brother and sister. They both listened to a lot of diverse genres and there were always lots of LPs and CDs in their rooms. I first started making music when I joined Pippi Band.

Big E: I’ve loved dancing since I was young. As I got older, I began choosing and editing music for dancing and performances. I officially started making music after I met lil E.

VOTA: When you first met, did you ever imagine yourself playing together as a married couple?

lil E: I don’t think we were thinking that far ahead. We were so busy and enthusiastic about making art together when we first met that we never thought about the future. We naturally stepped into each other’s lives, and then suddenly became husband and wife.

Big E: Maybe? I can’t remember if I imagined us playing together as a married couple or not. But I do remember asking her why we weren’t married. That happened not long after we started dating.

VOTA: Yun-joung you have been in the music business for almost two decades, is there a specific period of time that you are particularly proud of?

lil E: Hmm … I don’t know! But there have surely been moments when I think my energy has been stronger. Those were when I joined Pippi Band, made my first electronic album, and when we made EE’s “Curiosity Kills” EP.

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VOTA: You call yourselves a “total art performance group” why is that? How would you describe your music?

lil E: I always tell people the same thing – that the description isn’t as grand as it sounds! It’s just an easy way to try and explain what we do. With EE, it’s not just about making songs. It’s about how everything – sounds, lyrics, videos, art, costumes, performances, etc. – fits together. It’s about the total package.

VOTA: Who chose your band name? Why did you like the name “EE”?

lil E: “E” is the Korean pronunciation of our family name, it’s easy to remember, and can include many different meanings using words that start with “E.” So I thought using “EE” as our name would have lots of open possibilities.

Big E: I thought the name was something that I’d never get sick of. But I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing! And like lil E said, the letter “E” has many uses. But sometimes “EE” is a bit too common so it makes it a little challenging to search for us on the Internet.

VOTA: Your latest EP entitled Weird People We R Da People was released in 2014. After its release, the website Korean Indie wrote: “Rappers would kill for beats like these and that EE were the ones to create them shows a glimpse of this group’s genius”. What is so unique about your sound?

lil E: I don’t know. I think we’re not trying to be cool. But maybe we’re just naturally cool? Who knows? The important thing for us is just having the ability to create what we want.

VOTA: Which song truly represents you as a band?

lil E: “Curiosity Kills”

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VOTA: In what ways does the place you live, or places you have lived, affect the music you create or your taste in music?

Big E: We live in Seoul. Seoul has many people, many accidents, and moves very quickly. But I’m not sure if any of that affects us at all.

VOTA: In 2011 you performed at Coachella in California. To date, you are the only Korean band who was invited to play at such a well-known event which showcases popular and established musical artists, as well as emerging artists and reunited groups. How did you feel when you received the invite to the Coachella Festival?

lil E: We were really honored and felt happy. But I felt a little sorry because many Koreans don’t know about this great festival.

Big E: Playing at Coachella was a lot of fun. That was our first time to play overseas. I’m very thankful for the opportunity they gave us.

VOTA: In March you will be going to the US again for a live appearance at South by South West (SXSW). What do you expect from your performance at the SXSW?

lil E: I’m expecting to see people’s eyes open wide and for their jaws to drop. That’s what usually happens when people first see our performances!

Big E: We’re bringing some other performers with us and will have a drummer too. I think our shows are going to be a lot of fun to do. We’re excited about going to Texas for the festival.

VOTA: Have you got any new projects coming up?

lil E: We’re going to be releasing some new songs hopefully just before SXSW. They’ll be weird!

Big E: We have plenty of other things we want to do too. If we get lucky, we’ll be able to tell more about them soon.

Here’s the band’s schedule during SXSW:
March 18 Austin, Texas (11 pm) @ 405 Club
March 19 Austin, Texas (10:30 pm) @ Elysium (K-Pop Night Out)

 

Interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Jess Murray

Pictures courtesy of the artists

Kickstarter Project Under the Dog Finds New Producers

Originally posted on Mainichi Entertainment:

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The company behind Kickstarter’s most successful animation project has stepped down today, leaving fans with much to ponder.

Creative Intelligence Arts has decided to leave their project, Under the Dog (UTD), and hand over the management to Kinema Citrus in order to “comply with certain requests from members of the UTD creative team.”

Hiroaki Yura, producer of Under the Dog and CEO of Creative Intelligent Arts, said to fans: “I hope you all understand that I did my best to do what’s right for the project, and I hereby regrettably resign from my post.”

Under the Dog, a sci-fi thriller anime that was originally written by Jiro Ishii in 1997, raised over $878,000 for the project in September 2013, 151% of of the original budget.

The anime’s tragic storyline meant that Creative Intelligent Arts had to go to Kickstarter for funding, as mainstream anime distributors would not readily produce it.

Masahiro…

View original 76 more words

In Conversation with the Production Designer Ryu Seong- hie

 

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Seong- hie Ryu is a Korean Film Production Designer whose creativity and passion for film has no limits. She made a name for herself in 2001, when she gave a helping hand on Song Il- gon’s film Flower Island. The film was later presented with 7 awards, including CinemAvvenire’s award for Best First Film at the Venice Film Festival in 2001. Also, in the same year she successfully completed her work on Ryoo Seung- wan’s movie No Blood No Tears, followed by Memories of Murder (2003) by Bong Joon- ho, and Oldboy (2003) by Park Chan- wook, which in my opinion expanded her horizons in becoming an even better Production Designer. Oldboy’s  script contained moments where there was no precedent to draw from, and the task of designing a room where a man has to remain imprisoned for fifteen years for no apparent reason must have been daunting. A colleague of mine once said:

“That horrible little room was the emotional core of the whole story. Ryu responded with a masterpiece of art direction, and she did it with some cheap motel furniture, a sickening color scheme and, above all else, that hellish inspirational painting on the wall,” and I couldn’t have agreed more.

Following her work on Oldboy, she developed an incredible partnership with directors Boon Joon-ho and Park Chan- wook.

A source at the KCCUK said: “These two filmmakers have produced some of the biggest, most commercially successful and critically praised films South Korea has seen. In her thirteen year career Ryu has shown herself to be an incredible force in helping to create and elevate Korean film standards to what they are today.”

We were delighted when The London Korean Cultural Centre invited us to conduct a group interview with Ryu Seong- hie. She is an interesting and very creative individual, and a great inspiration to those who work in the film industry.


Hangul Celluloid: In your career as a production designer, you have worked on many films across a range of differing genres; many of which mix fantasy and reality. What are your thoughts on the balance between fantasy and reality in both fantastical and reality-based films? And if we consider your films that contain major fantasy aspects – such as ‘I’m a Cyborg’ or ‘Hansel and Gretel’ – are they easier to create, from a production design point of view, than those based in reality because of the opportunities provided by the fantasy elements or are they more difficult because you are creating almost a complete fantasy world from scratch?

Ryu Seonghie: As a production designer, there is always a big question for me between reality and fantasy. Of course all films are fantasy to the audience but when I first read a script I always ask myself how I can find a balance between reality and fantasy. A film like Oldboy was, at the time it was made, very taboo subject and those sorts of stories were larger considered to not be popular with audiences and I felt that if I approached it realistically the audience might feel reluctant to accept it so, as with all my film work, I spent a lot of time considering how best to present the story to the audience. 2003 was a very important year for cinema in Korea: Oldboy, Memories of Murder and A Tale of Two Sisters all came out but before then Korean films were largely based on a very realistic look and mood – natural, if you will – so the films of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho were incredible new in many ways and I was very lucky to meet those directors and, even more so, work with them. None of us were really familiar with the new take on genre – I’m not even sure if we knew that it was a new take – and I guess that’s part of why I considered so deeply how I could underline the impressionism within the genres of films like Oldboy while I was at the same time depicting the realism needed. Actually, when I was working on Oldboy, I thought it might be may last film because the producer kept asking if I was sure of my choices – he thought it was too much – and I, and even the director, wondered more than once if what we were doing was perhaps too risky. As I mentioned, none of us were familiar with the genre but ultimately doing this work and working in these genres was the right thing for me; deciding what choices should be made and what was naturally right for the story in particular. On the second part of your question: At the time of making those early films, and even now to an extent, we didn’t have a professional concept artist working on films. It’s not a well paid occupation and so doesn’t happen regularly, it’s not like in the West, and so in a film like Hansel and Gretel we had to do the concept art ourselves. ‘The Host’ did have a concept artist but that was very much the exception rather than the rule. So, that on a general level made the fantasy elements of films really tough to achieve because we had so many things to deal with but as a designer it’s always wonderful to have the opportunity to create your own world. All in all, I’d say fantasy is easier to achieve because of being able to create your own world without the limits of reality, as long as the director likes your choices.

Korean Class Massive: How did you make your first step from art design and pottery making into film production design? Was it something you always intended to do or did your film career come about almost by accident?

Ryu Seonghie: I always wanted to do something related to the arts – fine arts or ceramics etc – and even as a child I had a dream of creating my own world; creating something only I could create. So, being some kind of artist was always me goal. I, of course, studied hard and after working hard for four years I finally had to chance to have an exhibition of my work at a gallery and I was, of course, incredibly nervous and very excited. The gallery was in a very rich area and collectors and wealthy individuals came to the exhibition and bought some of my work which made me feel deeply proud – it was the first chance I’d ever had to sell my work or have people wanting to buy my work – but it also made me feel a little strange because I had wanted my work to communicate with people and speak of their loneliness and the unfairness they faced but the people who bought my work were of a very different kind. I felt that perhaps I was communicating with the wrong people or that I wasn’t communicating at all; rather I was just serving the tastes of the wealthy. Ultimately, I came to decide that film-making was art that could communicate with people more so I changed my mind and my plan which resulted in me going to the United States and majoring in production design.

Diya on Korea: You’ve had quite a long career in the film industry so far and I wondered if you could talk about perhaps both the challenges you’ve faced and the successes you’ve had working as a female in a largely male-dominated industry?

Ryu Seonghie: Working in the Korean film industry as a female was truly one of the hardest things. My actual given name is Yoo Seonghie and I changed it to Ryu Seonghie because in Korea it sounds more male and has stronger characteristics. The phonetics of the two surnames in Korean are the same and they have the same Chinese characters but we can dictate it in a different way. Parents can also choose whether to use Yoo or Ryu for their children’s surnames. After I changed my name to Ryu for at least the first three films I worked on people wouldn’t have known if I was male or female and in fact with hard-hitting, masculine films like Oldboy, Memories of Murder and A Bittersweet Life many talking about them would refer to the production designer (me) as male. Most of the films I have worked on have had strong sexual inspiration and content – I’m not sure what happened to the directors for that to be the case [Ryu Seonghie laughs] – and have a very masculine feeling overall, but as a production designer I think I benefit in those situations from being female and I’m always aware of trying to express what masculinity means, understanding what the director really wants and what he, as a male director, means when he says, to a female production designer, that he wants to give a scene a sexual feeling. I am a very strong person myself and in my work so I feel I can almost see both sides of such an issue or question and I always try to look at things from both a female perspective and what I believe would be a male point of view, especially in such masculine films. As far as challenges or successes are concerned, I think luck played a big part because after graduating in the States I originally planned to stay there and work in Hollywood. After two years working there on independent movies, I was working on a small budget Western film with a director and one day after building a set, there was almost a ‘Pop’ in my mind and I suddenly thought “What am I doing? Why am I making Western films sets in the desert?” I mean, I was raised with Western movies and I’m very familiar with Western culture and I was doing what I always wanted to do but it still felt very strange. At that time, Korean cinema was less than promising but what I was being asked to do in the West had an emphasis on almost erotic stories – all in all terrible, from my point of view – and even though I was capable of making erotic movies I preferred to go back to Korea and try something challenging. Of course, I returned at the time when a few directors were ready and trying to do something truly new – Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Kin Jee-woon, for example – and I met them at just the right time. So, all in all I guess it really was luck.

View of the Arts: Could you tell us about the differences in working with the same director on a number of projects, such as Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho, as opposed to working with a new director for the first time?

Ryu Seonghie: That’s a difficult question. It never gets easier. You could think that once you’ve worked with someone it’ll be easier to work on a subsequent project and collaborate again but it’s never easy. They are not easy people by any means and they are very ambitious and even though they may have become my friends there’s always a nervousness on my part and it’s always very challenging.

EasternKicks: I wondered if you could tell us a bit more about the process of working with directors such as Park Chan-wook and taking the ideas they have and making them real?

Ryu Seonghie: They are certainly not ‘chatty’ people, by any means. Some directors really like to talk and I sometimes feel I’m being employed as a listener; specifically hired to listen to them [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. However, I think production designers have to have so much inspiration, film work is often less than logical, but I always try to be the person who helps to finish the map, as it were; connecting all the inspiration of all involved in what I feel is the best way. As a person who loves film-making, and who is also a passionate viewer of movies, I always wanted the director to find the way and solution that I would understand and agree with. Although, as I’ve said, it’s not always logical, I think I’m in a role that allows me to keep order and keep the director and film going.

Anton Bitel: Unless you’re working entirely within a closed studio set, which I assume doesn’t happen all that often, you have to face the realities of a location shoot, and I just wondered what has been your most disastrous production and did you thrive on the challenges that presented or were they just a nightmare?

Ryu Seonghie: Strangely, the current movie that I’m working on is always the most disastrous; I’m not sure why that is. There are always so many problems, sometimes I feel like I’m not a designer or an artist but rather a person to solve the almost endless problems. There are always artistic issues internally and technical difficulties from the outside but the problems always relate to the budget. However, the limitation of the budget can sometimes give you the chance, the spark, to create something new. If you asked every designer they would say they always have budget problems. If you take the example of Oldboy, we didn’t have a decent budget because we were too new at the time. So, in the script it says there is a rich evil person who is ‘one of the richest people in Korea’ and who lives in highest penthouse. How could I show that [Ryu Seonghie laughs] because I don’t even know rich people and I don’t know how they live. I can hardly even imagine it. If I’d had a big enough budget, perhaps I could have gone to a high-brow furniture store and find items to perhaps rent and use – it’s always easier if you can afford to go to a suitable place and buy or rent items – but with Oldboy that wasn’t an option. Like me, most Koreans wouldn’t know those types of people or what their home were like and that led me to begin thinking of how I could succeed by making that set seem very unfamiliar. Therefore, I built a penthouse with stone elements, very minimal furniture and a long, narrow water feature, and I used green light to further increase the strangeness. So, the budget limitations forced me to approach things in a different way – if I’d have had the money I wouldn’t have needed to think like that. It’s been like repeatedly in my films, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ was the same – we didn’t have a decent budget so we had to make everything ourselves.

Mini Mini Movie: You talked earlier about working with directors, their personalities and conversations and I wondered what you relationship is like with cinematographers, who you have to deal with in relation to the colours used in films? For example, earlier this year we met Chung Chung-hoon and he was very funny and witty. What was it like working with him and other cinematographers and how much do you have to work with them to get your colours right?

Ryu Seonghie: Chung Chung-hoon is a really great cinematographer. He doesn’t ever want to have an argument and he doesn’t want you to put him in a really serious situation so whenever I would bring my serious questions to him he would always try to run away [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. Everybody has their own way of communicating so it’s always important to find a way of communicating that makes both people feel at ease. Similarly, I think every designer has their own way of designing but, for me, at the beginning I tried to imagine the space in the script with the lights; what kind of windows would be used, where would the light sources come from – top, bottom – would it be hot or cold light, because the temperature and brightness of the room always gives you inspiration. Normally in Korea, we’d have two people – a cameraman and a lighting director – so it wasn’t like the Western idea of a DP and though Chung Chung-hoon is now working as a DP, back then I spoke to the lighting person more than the cameraman because the lighting is so hugely important to my job. I spoke more to the cameraman about composition and what the movie means. At the end of the day, any film is a collaboration and discussions of many subjects are vital.

Hangul Celluloid: A lot of the films you worked on – the work of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho etc – essentially changed the face of Korean cinema and became hugely successful, as a result. Considering the fact that your production design played a huge part in both the look of those films and even what those films were as cinematic works, what are your thoughts on the current trend for large conglomerate companies favouring high budget, high visual blockbusters, some would say at the expense of smaller independent story-led dramas? And as you’ve already said that a lot of your films contain sexual content what are your thoughts on the increasing use of sexuality in Korean cinema and the tendency for Korean films to be labelled as ‘erotic’, with nudity appearing largely for the gratuitous sake of nudity alone?

Ryu Seonghie: Sexual content to my mind should always be used n a symbolic manner. In my earlier films there was indeed quite a lot of sexual content but it came with a legitimate reason, a sexual inspiration if you like. Nowadays, sexual inspiration is cared about far less and that itself could be considered a problem and, yes, it’s is a current and ongoing trend. With ‘The Host’ having been such a huge success, the budgets of Korean films have got bigger and bigger and in recent years scripts coming to me have been of far bigger budget movies. However, most of the time the directors of those films are focused on commercial success rather than any serious psychological context underlining the film and that sadly means that story depth often suffers. They think “That’s enough, as long as it’s successful”. Of course for the film to achieve that success, it has to be visually striking and while that’s good for me because it means my work is getting bigger audiences I’m slightly worried that the stories may be too simple or even, perhaps, a little boring. Films today are, in my opinion, far less interesting than those of earlier years and times.

Korean Class Massive: Looking back at your career, is there a specific film or design concept that you are particularly proud of? And in the future, is there perhaps a genre or type of film you would like to work on that you haven’t had the opportunity to as yet?

Ryu Seonghie: I’m always trying to find something unfamiliar or even strange; a step away from reality, though I have to say I’m not a fan of sci-fi films. That’s my focus now. Regardless of genre, if I could continue my interest and can keep working on worthwhile films, that is my wish. It’s always difficult to say what I’m proudest of in my films; it always tends to be my previous production.

Diya on Korea: When you’re not working, what do you do to get away from it all and relax, or are you always working in your mind?

Ryu Seonghie: No, I do nothing and I think about nothing film related [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. When I’m working, I tend to put all my energy into my efforts, perhaps too much energy, so when I’m free I really need the time to do nothing and empty my brain. Travel and family become my priority. I like to watch films in my time away from work too but as a viewer rather than a professional.

View of the Arts: Would you agree that women are under-represented in films in Korea? Do you feel that is because even though Korean is a modern country it is still very traditional with women expected to marry by a certain age rather than pursuing personal or career paths?

Ryu Seonghie: In most cases, it’s not very representative. It’s always the man who makes the decision in films and compared to reality women are, I feel, portrayed rather conservatively. Few films manage to capture the reality of women in Korea. I’m not complaining particularly about films like Memories of Murder or Oldboy but even in Oldboy the daughter was ‘selected’ and largely used as a tool in the film, rather than anything more. Since then, I worked on The Host and Mother and with them the portraying of women gradually began to change somewhat. That said, Oldboy and Memories of Murder were released way back in 2003 and even their portrayals of women appear different when you watch them all these years later, but still Korean films do tend to show women in an over-conservative manner. I don’t know why that is or if the directors have a problem [Ryu Seonghie laughs].

EasternKicks: If we could stick to Oldboy, the design of the film quickly became very recognisable and it has inspired and been referenced in no end of DVD packaging, posters, album covers and even through to the Spike Lee remake of the film. I wondered how you feel about your work being reinterpreted in all these various ways?

Ryu Seonghie: Now, when I watch Oldboy I feel almost a little ashamed of myself because it’s rough but I am ultimately proud because it’s rough. If I was working on that film now, maybe I could make more sophisticated wallpapers, patterns and the like but at the time I was so full of energy I felt that energy itself could be the most important thing to support the movie. So, I didn’t mind that it perhaps looked rough because the more important thing for me was making the film logical in a sense and creating the frankest film I could. When I see those covers etc I do on one hand feel that I could do better but on the other I realise I could never do that again because I was young at the time and stupid enough to succeed [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. The fear that audiences could perhaps walk out of cinemas during the film forced me, in a good way, to work even harder and, as I’ve already mentioned, that fear often made me think it might be my last film. I was very sure of the excellent story that Park Chan-wook wrote but unsure of the production design I was creating and I thought that if I was doing it wrong I could be the one who destroyed everything.

Anton Bitel: The work you did in Three Extremes and also Behind the Camera feature dressed sets and the production design that you did was actually part of those films; a part of the films’ textures and they are exposed. What particular challenges did that present you with as a production designer?

Ryu Seonghie: Back in the old days, I was too nervous and I had too much energy and I always waited for inspiration to arrive. Sometimes it came and sometimes it came too late. However, now I don’t wait for inspiration because even that waiting makes me anxious. Of course, at the time I might have been full of inspiration but that’s not the most important thing when making a film. I read a quote that said waiting for inspiration is amateurish while professionals just do their work, and now I like to take the time to research and understand – through books and photography etc – rather than struggling to find inspiration. The hardest thing is that I feel I always have to produce something good and I always struggled with that concept for personal reasons. I think I have gradually managed to get free of that judgement. At the end of the day, the biggest problems always come from yourself.

Mini Mini Movie: You’ve mentioned research, and I wondered with films like The Front Line was there a lot of research involved to ensure the film was historically and technically accurate? Was ‘The Front Line’ the film that required the most research?

Ryu Seonghie: Documentary films provided enough information. The reality and imagery of those and real life photography was so strong and in fact I decided t do this movie because of one picture in particular though I wasn’t keen on doing a war film overall. I was very reluctant because I don’t agree with some of the process with which Korean films are made and I honestly never thought of myself doing a war film. There is a mountain in The Front Line that North and South Korea fight over many, many times and while there were so many caves inside the mountain, the US and Russia wanted to be the one force to utterly control every one and the entire situation. That picture was so sad to me that I ultimately felt that it could depict the topic very well. That is the imagery that made me decide to do the film; with imagery that powerful you don’t need anything more. It provides all the inspiration and you do not need to create if there is a true life picture of a situation. Even with Memories of Murder, based on a true story, we got a lot of information from documentary photography.

Hangul Celluloid: Out of all your films, if you were asked to name one or maybe two that encompass your style of production design and that you are most proud of, what would you say?

Ryu Seonghie: A lot of people ask that type of question because I work with many important directors and they want to know who is the best and who I like more. That’s a very heavy question for me [Ryu Seonghie laughs]]. Always, the current movie that I’m working on is the one I’m proudest of and the one that I feel encompasses my style; because it is my style at the present time. That said, I always loved Park Chan-wook’s ‘Thirst’ and as far as Bong Joon-ho is concerned, Memories of Murder. Yes, those two… maybe [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. ‘Thirst’ was very stylised and I’m so proud of the work that I did but Memories of Murder from a production design point of view had a lot of historical significance. In fact, many Korean film-makers like Memories of Murder very much. Yes, a very difficult question.

Korean Class Massive: You mentioned how you thought Oldboy might end your career. How do you know and decide which projects to take on?

Ryu Seonghie: Memories of Murder and Oldboy had incredibly well written scripts; they were both outstanding and different. That ‘difference’ is by far the most important value for me because it’s always so challenging to try something different, even if it’s only slightly different. I care about the writer and director’s point of view and even though a film may have an interesting story, the perspective of the director and writer can change it drastically, for better or worse. For me, I’m also more attracted by the supporting characters and their stories, rather than the leads.

Diya on Korea: You mentioned how you started off working in Western films. Having now had the experience you’ve had in Korea, would you ever consider going back to working in Western cinema again?

Ryu Seonghie: People keep asking me about working in Western films again as a result of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho becoming famous worldwide and making international films, and Chung Chung-hoon having gone to work in Hollywood. I honestly don’t know… I mean, I was there for study and a little work but as such Hollywood held no mystery for me. I’m not that keen to go back to working on Western films but I still think American movies are doing a really good job. Maybe it’s easier for a cinematographer to go back and forth and produce great work but for a production designer I feel that understanding the system fully is vital. I did a film called ‘Late Autumn’ which was filmed in Seattle and that was okay because it was a small movie and as such I was able to focus on the real design aspects rather than struggling with the system; where to buy, where to get the people etc.. I’m still trying to understand Korea as a space, a country and a land.

View of the Arts: What advice would you give to film-makers trying to achieve the best production design on a low budget? I know it all depends on producers because they control the budget but in terms of production design what would you suggest? Do you have to deal with a producer yourself if you really want to expand your designs and how do you approach them?

Ryu Seonghie: At the beginning of my career, I always fought with producers because in terms of my designs I always felt “This is right, I really need to create this”. Of course, the producers have to do their jobs, too. When I did Oldboy, there was some stuff that wasn’t shown on screen and they asked me to pay for those things [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. While they were making film, we all knew it would be an amazing movie but no-one was sure how it would perform commercially and absolutely everyone was really worried. However, I knew I had to finish the work and the producer constantly thought I was doing too much with crazy wallpapers, props and the like, and the deal became “If we don’t show the props in the film then you have to pay for them”. In the end, the truth is I had to pay a lot of money, and even the director doesn’t know that. When I was doing Oldboy and Memories and Murder I never lost trust in the projects and while I’m, of course, proud of my production design, the fact that I never lost my trust is the proudest thing for me.

EasternKicks: One film we haven’t really mentioned is ‘I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK’ which is a hugely stylised film. I wonder if you could tell us about the inspiration behind the look of that film; the cardboard masks, the opening titles and things like that?

Ryu Seonghie: In I’m a Cyborg, the main male character feels he’s getting smaller and smaller and is afraid that he may disappear completely. That was my inspiration. I used very timid, almost transparent, pastel colours compared to other films – pale pink, pale green etc – and I got the inspiration for that from the worries of the characters in the hospital; people who themselves are almost transparent and afraid they might disappear. All their dialogue gave me inspiration too and at the end of the day the script is always my greatest inspiration.

Anton Bitel: Can you watch your own films subsequently or do you find it rather painful?

Ryu Seonghie: I will watch my films at a premiere but normally after that I won’t watch them again after that. When I make a film I put so much energy into my work that afterwards I just want to get away from it. I actually wanted to rewatch The Host this evening, because it has been so many years, but the KCC has asked me to go for a light dinner instead.

Mini Mini Movie: As a final, quick question regarding your old skills of pottery and your artistry. Have you even done a film where you could put your own pottery or artwork inside?

Ryu Seonghie: No [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. As with my production design, I always put too much energy into my art and pottery and I really don’t want to see it in my films. It’s like an old lover, after you’ve expended too much energy you don’t want to see them anymore [Ryu Seonghie laughs].

We would like to thank Paul for the group interview transcription http://www.hangulcelluloid.com/index.html

Interviewed by Maggie Gogler.

Edited by Roxy Simons.

The following are links to the various sites of the critics, writers and bloggers who took part in this interview:

Hangul Celluloid

Korean Class Massive

easternKicks

Mini Mini Movies

Diya on Korea

In Conversation with HumanRace

 Jaehyuck Shin, Seong- ki Yoon, Sunghwan Hwang and Minsoo Choi

Jaehyuck, Seong- ki, Sunghwan and Min- soo

Indie Rock, derived from the term independent, is a type of alternative rock whose origins can be traced back to the British and American music scene in the 1980s. The trademark of this genre is the variety of acts it encompasses, and it has slowly come to refer to bands that are keen on maintaining their independent status. HumanRace  are one of these bands, whose music is influenced by many genres, such as British pop and rock.

HumanRace is a relatively young band who originally hail from South Korea, with their first EP It’s You being released in May 2012 and, in the same year, they successfully performed at the Busan International Rock Festival. The festival organisers were so impressed with their concert that they requested an autograph event with the band. Talking of HumanRace’s performance, a writer at HelloKPop said: “Due to other hot bands performing right after their performance, they weren’t looking forward to anyone showing up to the signing session, but surprisingly the line for their autographs was long and it took them 2 hours to complete it.”

Their second EP, November, was as promising as their first, and over a two year period HumanRace’s music has definitely matured. Their dreams have expanded, and, this year, the band have finally released their first full- length album, Human in Reminiscence, which is quite simply superb. Even though Seong- ki Yoon, the band’s lead vocalist, sings in Korean, you can feel the emotions through each of his songs. With his incredibly powerful voice and perfectly hit high notes, his singing abilities can be easily compared to singers such as Bono, Chris Martin or Matt Bellamy. HumanRace will get you hooked, and if you like lively music, then this is the band you should definitely listen to.

humanrace

View of the Arts: Jaehyck, Seong- ki, Sunghwan and Minsoo, how and when did you decide to enter the music industry? and what is your favourite music style/ genre?

Minsoo: I do not have a specific music style or personal preference. Whether it is Classical or Electronic there isn’t a limit to the spectrum per-se. This is because behind every song there is always a composition to it and it is not preferable to listen to just one genre or style. That’s why if I listen to a song for the first time and it makes me feel good then it will be a song to influence me for the next time. When I met Seong- ko for the first time I felt the positive energy in his voice, and that was the main factor to start a band. In the near future, we will learn from our experiences and learn to broaden our perspectives into other genres that are out there, and use the experiences and feelings to help us to make good music.

Seong- ki: HumanRace is the first band that I have been in. I was in a school band during my University degree playing the guitar. But, most of the time I would practice on my own, and during this time I learnt how to play the piano and the saxophone. Now, I got to meet the members in HumanRace and release an album, and through this I have experienced band life. Before the band, I would listen to Pop and American Rock, but now I tend to listen to British Pop and Rock. I am really into Queen right now.

Jaehuck: I would do a little K-Pop session playing the guitar and teach guitar for private tuition. Before this, I didn’t have a stable job where I could contribute to music. However, since I have joined HumanRace I have been able to  make and promote music. I am really into space-based sounds, and enjoy the band U2.

Sunghwon: Ever since middle school I have played drums, leading me to become a band faculty member in University, during that time I majored in Music and was in some very famous drum teams around Korea. That’s all before I joined HumanRace. I am a big fan of funk music and HumanRace is the first band I have been in.

View of the Arts: When you compose a song, where do you get your ideas from and how does a song evolve?

HR: We have always wanted to create music that would leave an impression in people’s hearts and believe that the music we make will always be remembered for a long time to come, that is why we always pour our personal and honest emotions into the music we make. Most people will listen to songs that are popular and can reflect personal feelings and is easily relate-able. We are the peoples’ music, that is why our songs are made to bring memories and touch the emotions of the people wanting to listen to keep it in trend and constant, this is evolving from time to time and through different situations.

View of the Arts: To those who can’t speak Korean could you tell us what your songs are about?

HR: Human Race is a band that covers the aspects of human emotion; happiness, sadness, determination and sorrow, we use all of these emotions to tell a story, likewise with the people that listen to our songs they understand the passion of the songs we create, we are what we want to listen to, and hopefully others feel the same.

View of the Arts: Could you take us through some highlights of the studio album Habits in Reminiscence?

HR: When we were recording the vocals for Habits in Reminiscence, some two or three days before, Seong- ki’s cat had died, with this incident Seong- ki used this to express his loss and sorrow in the recordings. We also recorded the vocals for the song New day on the last day of the sessions. Seong- ki had immersed himself in trying to convey the minutest feelings whereby how authentic his voice was when it was played back. He decided to drink a bottle of wine before the recording, and sing in the state he was in. This turned out to be a really good move on our part, and seemed to work when we were previewing the songs.

View of the Arts: Seong- ki you took part, in one of the biggest talent shows, the Voice of Korea. How do you feel about reaching the finals? Do you think it helped you to promote your band HumanRace?

Seong- ki: Minsoo was the one that actually put my name on the application for Voice of Korea. Human Race needed to promote and garner more attention from people, so this was a good strategy to use. Minsoo and I suggested that it would work out well for the band and decided to make our way to the auditions. When we first started out as a band and Minsoo first heard me singing, he felt the charisma and power from my voice. We were confident that the viewers would feel the same way, we only wanted to try and make it to the live shows at least, but when we found out that I was going to the finals, it was a great shock and proud moment for the band. In doing so, Human Race got recognition and me, well, I’ve become popular through this experience.

View of the Arts: What is the hardest thing about being in a band?

HR: Human Race is not just a band that was set up as a hobby for us, we all have other jobs. Nevertheless, it is our life, and it is our livelihood. Right now we are not at a stage where we can be financially dependent on income of sales, but instead through our own investments and, in time, we hope to make it big and become very successful. We are waiting for the day that we look back on the hardships and smile and laugh about the times we struggled.

View of the Arts: In what ways does the place you live, or places you have lived, affect the music you create or your taste in music?

HR: There is no particular place or places that have heavily influenced our music. We are always open and tend to get inspiration from everything around us whether it’s people or events that have occurred.

View of the Arts: If you guys were to describe yourself in 3 words, what would you say?

HR: If we were to describe ourselves in three words it would be Love, Memories and Sincerity.

View of the Arts: KPop, K-Pop everyone always talks about K-Pop. Do you feel pressured by the huge wave of K-Pop?

HR: K-Pop as in its name is a form of pop-dance and is only a symbol, that’s not to say that we are not proud of K-Pop and the style it brings, we are gratified, and it does make us quite proud. We believe that music should not equate to just one genre, K-Pop has become so self-imposed as being just one type of style and it is being overloaded with the same things. If there is no diversity in the arts then it is very hard to evolve or continue. It will be hard to see this anywhere else but Korea, we make it our goal to create music that is authentic and not manufactured, as this would bring more love to our songs and make us better musicians.

View of the Arts: What are your hopes for the near future?

HR: Firstly, the biggest goal is to be recognized in our home country of Korea, to be able to promote more domestically and to be called the best band in Korea. If we were able to, we would like to perform in foreign countries. Human Race is a band that shines in live performances. One music goer that listened to our band for the first time has showered us with compliments. We want to be able to hear more of this on the main stage at Glastonbury one day.

View of the Arts wishes HumanRace all the best. They are, without a doubt, talented musicians.

Interviewed by Maggie Gogler.

Edited by Roxy Simons.

Translated by Michael Chong.