London’s Festival of Korean Music: In Conversation with No Brain

Exceedingly open-minded, outspoken and humerous, who else could it be but No Brain, a Korean punk rock band founded in 1996. Often called “the godfathers of the Korean punk scene”, No Brain is comprised of Woo-yong (Bass), Hyun-seong (Drums), Min-jun (Guitar) and Sung-woo (Vocals).

Whenever I see their shows, there is always a thrilling atmosphere in the venue and avid anticipation before the show starts. With Sung- woo’s raw vocals, Hyun- seong’s hardcore drumming and minimalist staging, the audience is invariably given a good performance. The musicians have always demonstrated their supremacy in making terrific music. Sung-woo stated that the issue of authenticity is important in the punk subculture, that’s why his songwriting is truthful and confrontational at times.

 No Brain

Photo © Cha Joon Hyuck

No Brain started their career in 1996. At that time they were under Drug Records’ management. The band soon left Drug Records, though, in 1999 to establish a label of their own, Munhwa Sagidan. One year after, bassist Jae- hwan had to leave the group to perform his military duties, but this did not stop No Brain from making music. In 2001 they were invited to entertain Japanese music fans at the Fuji Rock Festival, and the group also released “a song-for-song” cover of the Sex Pistols. Soon after, they recorded a new album entitled Viva No Brain.

A few years later the musicians delighted their devotees with a third album called Goodbye, Mary Poppins, which was a turning point in their careers, not only with regards to music but also the band members.

2013 was a very exciting time for No Brain, they performed at SXSW  (South by Southwest) in Texas, travelled to Rhode Island, NY and California. The artists also flew to Canada to promote K-Music at the Canadian Music Week Festival. The following year was as good as the previous one. No Brain along with, another influential punk band from South Korea, Crying Nut released a split album entitled 96, which achieved mild success. The artists are now set to record their first English album, which will be produced by Julian Raymond and released by Sire Records, an American record label owned by Warner Music Group.

On September 11th the band came to London to perform a one-off show at the London Scala. The concert was a part of London’s Festival of Korean Music and it was one of the craziest punk gigs I have ever been to. The artists were full of energy, talkative, both in Korean and English, and simply amazing on the Scala’s stage. Fans sang along, jumped and clapped their hands like there was no tomorrow. No Brain performed 15 songs including the amazing 1979  AC/DC’s cover of Highway to Hell. Without a doubt, the band knew how to rock the crowd’s socks off.

Before the show, I had a chance to conduct an individual interview with No Brain. I have to admit it was both amusing and interesting.

DSC_1262 00

Photo © Cha Joon Hyuck

VOTA: I know your story very well. However, for those who do not know your music,  could you tell me more about the band’s history? How did it start and where do you see yourself going?

Sung-woo: When I was a kid I liked to listen to heavy metal and punk/rock such as Judas Priest, Green Day and Sex Pistols. I chose my lifestyle based on what I have experienced through their music, I just wanted to be a rock star (laughs).

VOTA: But weren’t you afraid to do that in, still traditional, Korea? Here you are, a tattooed rock star who tries his luck as a leader of a punk/ rock band?

Sung-woo: No, I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do. Nowadays, the Korean lifestyle is different, and you can see a lot of tattooed individuals walking down the street or people dressed like a rock star. The young generation is more open-minded, nevertheless, the old one is still not in a favour of subculture life. I just want to show them that no matter what they think, I will be true to myself and do what I love to do. I do not like fakeness, I feel like there is too much of it in my country. Sometimes it drives me insane. Where would I see myself going? Well, I would like to play music for as long as I can.

DSC_1177 00

Photo © Cha Joon Hyuck

VOTA: So when did you decide to start a band? 

Sung-woo: Oh yeah, I supposed to talk about that (laughs). I and Hyun-seong met almost 18 or 19 years ago. We are also the original No Brain members.

Hyun-seong: 19 years ago man, I have been putting up with you for 19 years (laughs out loud)

Sung-woo: As far as I remember, Hyun-seong and I met at Crying Nut gig. Hyun approached me and said, “I want to start a band with you”. That’s the beginning of No Brain.

VOTA (Question from a fan): Your live show is a different experience than listening to your music on a record. Your gigs are much more chaotic, with a more hard-core edge to it. Did you always plan for live shows to contrast like that? Or did it come that way?

Sung-woo: Our shows are like a raw fish, you never know what to expect, and our records are like a fried fish, cooked and well done (laughs). On a serious note, the fans’ energy, which spreads all over during a gig, is like soul food to us. It gives us a lot of strength, and that’s what we give back to them too. It is like a give and take thing.

VOTA: So you have been in the music business for almost 19 years, is there a specific period of time that you are particularly proud of?

Sung-woo:  When we started the band, no one knew who we were. We worked very hard to be where we are now. I guess being in the music business, for almost two decades, makes us proud. We have achieved a lot already.

DSC_1019 00

Photo © Cha Joon Hyuck

VOTA: When you are not working, what do you do to get away from it all and relax?

Sung-woo: To me, it has to be yoga and a bit of exercising. You know touring, playing gigs takes a lot of my time and energy. I do like to relax afterwards and yoga seems to be the best solution for me. Taking my little dog for a walk is also relaxing.

Hyun-seong: I used to play computer games a lot, however, since I have become a dad, I like to look after my kid. It gives me a lot of joy. I am crazy on stage but when I am home, I am a real angel. Having a child has changed my life for the better.

Min-jun: Well, I have a scooter (laughs) which I use to drive anywhere I want in my free time.

Woo-yong: I enjoy to play bowling and games.

VOTA: What is the hardest thing about being in a band?

Sung-woo: (laughs) Gosh, being around him (points at Hyun-seong) for the past 19 years, I feel like I am going crazy (laughs). I am kidding of course. Being together is not that hard, I guess countless practices are tiring sometimes. Apart from it, we are like an old married couple. We are happy together but sometimes argue to spice up our band’s life (laughs).

VOTA: We are widely considered to be “the godfathers of the Korean punk scene”. Would you agree with this statement?

Sung-woo: Well, we just want to make music, and if it inspires others then we are happy about it. Of course, we are proud to be considered as the godfathers of the Korean punk scene. We just want to keep subculture alive!

VOTA: Thank you guys for your time! Good luck with your future projects.

No Brain: Thank you, Maggie. London has been great.

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Roxy Simons.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.