Due to a lack of Eastern music dominating Western culture scenes, it’s not often that Americans have the opportunity to attend Korean concerts. My experiences until recently have been limited to seeing BTS perform in New Jersey and The Rose perform in Massachusetts. However, now that I’m living in Seoul, attending concerts is both convenient and accessible. This past weekend, I attended my first music festival in Korea at the 2019 Joy Olpark Festival.
While the festival started at noon on Saturday, two friends from Yonsei University and I left campus at 10:30pm the previous night. We took an easily navigable hour-long subway ride on line 5 to Olympic Park, which was much quieter at this hour than where Yonsei is located in Sinchon. Even on weekdays, Sinchon tends to have a booming nightlife. Yet, we arrived early because our goal was to be at the front of the concert line. It was hard for us to anticipate if others would be waiting for as long as us, given that the event was a hip hop and rap music festival -- not an idol concert. Nonetheless, among some of the performers were Zico and Crush, the latter of whom I had seen spontaneously busking the week before by the Han River.
At the park, we joined a line of only twenty people and set down cheap mats to sit on during our wait. To our surprise, it was evident that many people merely left their belongings in line to reserve their spot. Since Korea has a trusting social environment which is generally safe from theft, there wasn’t any concern of one’s items being moved or stolen.
Shortly after we arrived, a security guard told us we’d have to leave and come back at 4:30am, as they were closing the park’s gate. Thus, we moved to a study room nearby for only 4,000won. I had taken a five-hour nap during the day but also slept at the study room, as the biggest issue we’d face while waiting was staying rested. When we returned at 4:30am, we all crashed, even though sleeping with only a thin blanket between our bodies and the concrete was hardly comfortable. Thankfully, September in Korea, even at night, isn’t that cold.
Most concert-goers began to arrive the following morning at 9am. Olympic park had a surplus of bathrooms, a cafe, and a convenience store for us to utilize. It resonated as unlike any concert I’d been to in the US, where food is hard to come by and expensive, and restrooms are unsanitary outhouses.
As foreigners, we had to pick up our tickets in a specific foreigner line. After, we went through security, which isn’t strict compared to American concerts, as there were no metal detectors or pat-downs. When we were finally let into the park, we were able to get a spot in the front row, which was separated from the stage by a mere queue barrier rope, making us incredibly close.
The first band to perform was SURL, a small band with a likeness to Western artists The Strokes and The 1975. This was my first time hearing their music, but I was instantly drawn to their sound. On Instagram, I posted a video and tagged them in it, which they liked under our direct message thread. I ended up messaging them after the concert and told them how I had enjoyed their performance, which they hearted again in acknowledgment.
후디 performed next, followed by pH-1 and G.soul. The latter moved off stage and came between the stage and the audience barrier, interacting with fans including myself. Since it was daytime and I was front row, I was able to wave at the performers with them being able to see me.
선우정아 performed next, whose voice reminds me of Mitiski and has a particularly soulful sound. She gave audience members chances to try, and fail, to sing with her. Since I was filming parts of the concert, when the girl beside me sang with 선우정아, I got it on film. Afterward, I offered to send it to her, but she didn’t speak English that well, so I communicated with her friend instead. They were especially gratuitous toward me for this. They had only moved to the front for this artist, but I offered to make room for them since we were already pretty spread out on our blankets. Later, they bought muffins and told me they bought me one as a thank you. I rejected it despite their insistence. In hindsight, I realize that it was likely culturally rude for me to reject food like this, but since I’m not Korean I don’t think they took direct offense. We were able to talk for the rest of the time there about our favorite musicians, and I’ve since stayed in contact with them!
As a foreigner in the front row, plus my poignant piercings and tattoos, I was curious to know if I’d stand out to the performers, of whom I was in direct view. While I didn’t know the artist Kim Feel (김필) before the concert, I thought he kept looking in my direction during soundcheck, which took place in front of the whole concert since we couldn’t leave and come back for each artist’s performance. It really is hard to tell when a performer is looking directly at you, but when he came off stage, he stood only feet apart from me and I eventually waved. He waved back and then offered his hand to me and the people beside me for us to touch. In hindsight, this was something I wouldn’t have normally cared to partake in but is a part of concert culture that Korea and the US share.
소란 and 10cm performed for an hour each next. It was slowly transitioning into the night, and I had been watching performances all day. Unlike American concerts, every performance was punctual, following closely to the set schedule. I noticed that Korean fans weren’t as loud and didn’t dance as much as fans at concerts in the US. One small detail that stood out was that when Korean fans request an encore, it sounds like they’re cheering “acorn" since its spelled 앵콜.
Finally, for two hours the last three performers were to go on stage. It was 7:30pm. I had already felt fulfilled by the concert – it was only 50,000won and I was exposed to a new side of Korean music that I could continue to explore after the concert. However, I had initially bought tickets to see Giriboy, my favorite artist who has never performed in the US.
Seeing Giriboy on stage was a surreal experience. It made me sad that when he spoke between songs, I couldn’t understand everything that was being said. Nonetheless, I don’t think that a language barrier can prevent non-Korean speakers from enjoying a Korean concert, especially if the music carries a good beat and the artist’s voice is strong. When Giriboy came off stage and into the pit, I felt especially accomplished having been so close to him.
Later, Crush and Zico performed, both of whom threw water into the audience and got my clothes wet. These kinds of interactions surely made me feel like I got the absolute most out of the concert, making sleeping on concrete the previous night completely worth it. As an American fan of Korean hip hop music, this whole experience was truly unique and something that I will seek again during my time in Korea.