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An Introduction to Korean Indie Music for Korean Language Learners

Guest post by Sam Gendreau

Korea Indie Music

It’s been 5 years since I started looking for some of the best possible—preferably noncommercial—Korean bands out there, and today is your lucky day because I’ll share some of my findings with you! It’s not an exhaustive list by any standard, especially due to space constraints, and of course it’s subjective, but hopefully this will pique your curiosity and serve as a good introduction to Korean music.

By “Indie,” I mean bands or artists that write their own music and that are less mainstream than, say, KPOP and manufactured music ready-made for mass consumption. This “Indie” label is common in Korean music, and such music is often referred to as “K-Indie”. Technically, this could include genres as wide as rock, pop, grunge, acoustic, folk, ballad, and more.

For the top 10 bands, I’ve included an introduction to the band/artist, including the kind of music they play, the amount of years they’ve been on the scene, and the number of CDs they’ve released. I’ve also embedded a video for you to listen to, for what I consider to be one of each band’s “best” songs (one of their most popular, basically), and included links to additional songs that I particularly recommend.

Since most bands and songs’ titles are originally in Korean, I’ve included a loose translation for your convenience. However, this does not necessarily reflect the actual translation that the band has used, if there was ever one. I’ve tried my best to find the right translations whenever possible.

If you are studying or planning to study Korean, learning the language partly through music would be a great option available to you (which I’m sure you are already aware of, since you’re reading this on Susanna’s blog and she has written a book entitled “Language is Music”). If you want to find the lyrics for a particular song, you can most of the time simply Google the name of the band and song, and add “가사”, which means “lyrics” in Korean. If you cannot read Hangul yet, it only takes a couple of days of study to get the hang of it, so don’t be put off by these strange characters!

Otherwise, simply enjoy discovering a new culture. Believe me, Korean music is truly diverse, creative, and addictive. If you have any additional bands you think are worthy of mention, please let us know in the comments section! Remember, this list is highly subjective and only given as a means to introduce you to Korean Indie music. There are simply too many good bands to include them all in one post, so don’t hesitate to make your own suggestions and I will most likely write an additional post in the future on my blog, lingholic, if people are interested!

 

1. 검정치마 – The Black Skirts

Wikipedia page: Korean, English.

The Black Skirts is a Korean indie rock one man band founded in 2008 in Seoul.

Vocalist “Holiday” Cho (조휴일) is the lead singer and songwriter. He was born in Seoul, but grew up in New York City. He later came back to Seoul, Korea, and released the band’s first album, 201, in 2008. The album earned the 7th Korean Pop Music Award for Best Modern Rock Album.

Besides the album 201, The Black Skirts has released one unofficial album, My feet don’t touch the ground (and I am so winded I can’t sing for you today), in 2009, and a second full-length album, Don’t You Worry Baby (I’m Only Swimming), on July 13, 2011.

Most of the Black Skirts songs contain a mixture of languages – mostly English and Korean, and also Spanish (see song “Dientes”).

“Best” song: “Love Shine”:

Other recommended songs:강아지 (Puppy),” “Antifreeze,” “아침식사 (Breakfast),” “날씨 (Weather),” “음악하는 여자 (The Woman Who Does Music).”

 

2. 짙은 – Zitten

Wikipedia page: Korean.

Zitten is an amazingly addictive one-member Modern Rock band, with Seong Yong-Uk as the vocalist and composer. Zitten’s first full-length album was released in 2008 (Zitten), and the band has released three EPs, in 2005, 2010, and 2011 respectively.

Follow Seong Yong-Uk on Twitter or visit the band’s official site.

“Best” song: “괜찮아 (It’s OK)”:

Other recommended songs: 곁에 (Next to),” “동물원 (Zoo),” “고래 (Whale),” “이유 (Reason),” “Feel alright.”

 

3. 델리 스파이스 – Deli Spice

Wikipedia page: Korean.

Deli Spice is an excellent rock band currently composed of 3 members, with Kim Min-Gyoo (김민규) as the main vocalist, guitarist, and band leader. The band has released a total of eight albums, with their first one, Deli Spice, released in 1997.

Visit their official site or their MySpace page.

“Best” song: “Confession (고백)”:

Other recommended songs: 차우차우 (Chow Chow),” “달려라 자전거 (Ride the Bicycle),” “Y.A.T.C,” “가면 (If You Go),” “고양이와 새에 관한 진실 (The Truth About Cats and Birds).”

 

4. 브로콜리 너마저 – Broccoli, you too

Wikipedia page: Korean.

Don’t be fooled by the band’s rather curious name! Broccoli, you too is an amazing 4-member band originally formed in 2005. Deokweon (덕원) and Ryuji (류지) are the band’s main vocalists, with Jandi (잔디) on the keyboard and Hyanggi (향기) on the guitar.

Their debut album (EP) was released in 2007, under the name of No Encore (앵콜요청금지). They released 3 full-length albums (in 2008, 2010, and 2012), as well as a second EP in 2012.

The band won “Best Modern Rock Song Award” at the 2010 and 2011 Korean Music Awards, for their songs “Universal Song (보편적인 노래)” and “Graduation (졸업).”

“Like” them on Facebook on visit their website.

“Best” song: “보편적인 노래 (Universal Song )”:

Other recommended songs: 꾸꾸꾸 (Coo Coo Coo),” “유자차 (Citron Tea),” “사랑한다는 말로도 위로가 되지 않는 (Telling You Love Me Does Not Bring Any Comfort).”

 

5. 루시드폴 – Lucid Fall

Wikipedia page: Korean, English.

Lucid Fall (루시드폴) is a Korean singer-songwriter. His birth name is Jo Yun Suk (조윤석). He has released five studio albums: Lucid Fall (2001), Oh, Love (오, 사랑) (2005), A Night at Border ( 국경의 밤) (2007), Les Misérables (2009), and the latest album Beautiful Days (아름다운 날들) released in Korea on December 20, 2011.

Lucid Fall’s musical style incorporates folk, pop, and bossa nova. He uses a nylon guitar as his primary instrument and is famous for poetic lyrics. The tone of Lucid Fall’s music is melancholic and at times gloomy, but it’s also soothing and relaxing.

Lucid Fall was awarded the Bronze prize at the 5th Ryu Jae Ha Music contest in 1993, as well as the best pop single prize at the 3rd Korean Music Awards in 2006.

Follow him on Twitter or Facebook!

“Best” song: “And Snow is Falling (그리고 눈이 내린다)”:

Other recommended songs: 고등어 (Mackerel),” “국경의밤 (Night at The Border).”

 

6. 토이 – Toy

Wikipedia page: Korean, English.

Toy is a one-man project band of Korean pop singer-songwriter and pianist Yoo Hee-yeol. Toy is an “old school” band that was at the height of their popularity back in the 1990s. The band has released 6 studio albums since 1994, in addition to one live and one compilation album.

Toy started as a duo of Yoo Hee-yeol and Yoon Jeong-oh, but after releasing Toy’s first album, Yoon Jeong-oh left the band to study overseas. Yoo Hee-yeol has been the sole member of Toy since 1996, and he released Toy’s second album Fairy Tales for Adults in the same year. The title song Remember I Was Next to You sung by Kim Yeon-woo became a big hit and the album was a success.

Visit their official site.

“Best” song: “Whenever (그럴 때마다)”:

Other recommended songs: 내가 너의 곁에 잠시 살았다는 걸 (The Little Life I Spent Next To You),” “혼자 있는 시간 (The Time I’m Alone).”

 

7. 10cm

Wikipedia page: Korean, English.

10 cm (십센치) is a very popular Indie band in Korea. The band has two members, Kwon Jung Yeol (vocal, djembe) and Yoon Cheol Jong (guitar). The band won “This Year’s Discovery Award” at the 2010 Mnet Asian Music Awards, and “Best Pop Song Award” at the 2011 Korean Music Awards.

Since the debut release, they released one single in 2010, called “Americano,” and two full-length albums (2011 and 2012). “Americano” was an instant hit, and the melody is recognizable by most Koreans since the song aired on radio and in TV series quite extensively.

Follow them on Twitter!

“Best” song: “오늘밤은 어둠이 무서워요 (Tonight, I’m Afraid of The Dark)”:

Other recommended songs: 그게 아니고 (That’s Not It),” “Americano,” “죽겠네 (I’m Gonna Die).”

 

8. 롤러코스터 – Roller Coaster

Wikipedia page: Korean.

Roller Coaster is a 3-member rock band, with Cho Won-Seon (조원선) as the band leader (vocals, keyboard). Cho Won-Seon is an extremely talented woman that has also released a solo album in 2009 (Swallow). Roller Coaster has released a total of 5 full-length albums, in addition to one live album and a digital single.

The band made their debut in 1999, and has been active since then.

“Best” song: “숨길 없어요 (Can’t Hide It)”:

Other recommended songs: Love Virus,” “Last Scene,” “어느 하루 (A Certain Day),” “습관 (Habit),” “너에게 보내는 노래 (The Song I’m Sending to You).”

 

9. 몽니 – Monni

Wikipedia page: Korean.

Monni is a 4-member rock band with the amazing Kim Shin-Eui (김신의) as the band’s vocalist. They have a gift for making high quality, highly-addictive songs. Their live shows are energetic and plain amazing.

The band made their debut in 2005, and has since then released 3 full-length albums, one recent EP (2012), as well as several singles.

Visit the band’s site and follow them on Twitter.

“Best” song: “그대와 함께 (Together With You)”:

Other recommended songs: 나 지금 뛰어가고 있어 (I’m Running Now),” “언제까지 내 맘 속에서 (Anytime Inside My Heart),” “다시와 (Come Back Again),” “너 떠나버린 그 집 앞 (Me Who Walk Away in Front of This House).”

 

10. 스탠딩 에그 – Standing Egg

Wikipedia page: Korean.

Last but not least in this introduction to Korean Indie Music is Standing Egg, another addictive band formed in 2010. The band is composed of three members (Egg #1, #2, and #3), and released their first album in 2010. They released a second full-length album in April 2012. They also released two “mini-album” and 7 singles. Their lyrics are often a mix of Korean and English, and Standing Egg’s music style could be considered as acoustic and pop.

Visit their official website and like them on Facebook.

“Best” song: “라라라 (Lalala)”:

Other recommended songs: I’m not Yours ,” “넌 이별 난 아직.”

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Alright everybody, that’s it for today’s post. I really hope you’ll have enjoyed discovering new music, and I hope you’ll find Korean music as amazing as I do! Should you ever have any questions, whether about Korean music or the Korean language, I’d be more than happy to answer them. Feel free to visit my blog, www.lingholic.com, and visit the “Contact” page to send me a message! I’d also love it if you’d drop by my Facebook page and say hi! Many thanks~

By Sam Gendreau

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  • Hoju Saram

    Great job pointing out some less mainstream music groups here in Korea. Would just like to mention though that this blog entry should be spelt Gangnam and not Gangman. Apart from that, thank you for helping others find new ways to enjoy the Korean language like I do.

    • SusannaZaraysky

      Noted and modified. Thanks for the correction.

  • Lena

    I liked this post; it was fun:) Can you make one about Norwegian music as well?
    Actually I would like to learn more English and French. I have made a profile
    on different language learning pages, Lrngo.com, Livemocha and italki.com. Do
    you have any experience from any of these? Can you recommend someone for me?

    • SusannaZaraysky

      Lena, I haven’t tried Lrngo or Italki. So I can’t comment.

  • Thank you! This is exactly what I was looking for!

    • Thanks Kieran! Glad you found the post useful 🙂 If you are ever looking for additional bands, ask me anytime and I’ll be more than happy to help~

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  • Alexander Melburnensis

    *Gasp* you mean no 노리플라이, 권순관, 에피톤 프로젝트, or 루시아?!