The weekend before Halloween, the only designated full-time punk club in Seoul closed its doors after 6 or 7 years in business. The first show I went to there was, I think, in March of 2013. The Geeks were playing before heading off to SXSW, and any time it's come up I've said there "were about 11 people there", but it may have been more like 13.
A drunk American guy decided to do a stage dive into this scanty and underenthused smattering of patrons and promptly landed directly on his head because no one was willing to attempt the catch. He didn't move for enough seconds for everyone to start looking genuinely concerned, but then popped back up like some kind of frat house Jack-in-the-box and went, "Whooooooo! I think I have a concussion!"
So, yeah, that's that place. I've oft wondered how the delightfully divey Club Spot was keeping its doors open in the megapolis' prime college partying sector, and I guess I got my answer. More than the high rent, the issue is the struggling Korean punk scene at large. It gives off the impression of being totally nascent when it's not really, because subculture and counterculture don't really take here. Everyone is basically the same, and society has successfully pushed K-pop - which is somehow even faker, more generic and manufactured than the American pop everyone back home complains about - as the collective musical identity. That and classical, because every Korean kid grows up being forced to take piano lessons.
There just aren't enough committed anarchists, freegans, gutter-dwellers, drugs or determinedly subversive art school dropouts to give punk momentum in Korea. While there are a lot of great, committed regulars who go to shows almost religiously, I'm not going to miss the scene itself and don't imagine it's going to grow significantly over the next several years. To cite a few examples of what I mean, at least a couple of the most popular Korean punk bands and rock bands in general are disappointingly unoriginal and poppy, and a number of key figures within the punk scene are politically and socially conservative. That doesn't mean their music automatically sucks, of course, but like Christian death metal, it's full of inherent contradictions that never really get resolved. Among other things, the fetish gear they wear is meaningless, and there's almost no drug use outside of binge drinking because drugs basically don't exist in Korea. Not even painkillers stronger than acetaminophen. Unless you want to pay, like, $100/gram for weed. I'm not condoning substance abuse or saying that you need those things to have a good time, but Korea is, all around, an extremely sheltered and closed environment.
|She was a giant peach butt.|
So anyway, the big closing show, complete with the signature Hongdae free cocktail hour we've all come to both love and hate, was also a costume party, and I think the 6th of its kind (of the appropriately-named "Still Alive" shows). Now, here's another prong of the attitude/scene problem I'm trying to pick apart. A friend of mine, a performance artist, spent over an hour making her costume: a giant oversized mask of one of the kakao talk messenger app characters. Now, the event page on Facebook said not to half-ass a non-costume and expect to get the discounted cover price for it, and according to the guys at the door, that also meant no homemade masks.
Discouraging DIY and not letting someone who spent a good chunk of time on a funny costume in for ~$5 less at the venue's last show ever? Gee, I wonder why the place closed. Seriously, that kind of exclusionary bullshit is exactly the opposite of the punk mantra. Overwhelmingly, Korea just doesn't get it.
The show itself was pretty alright, and I can't complain about the 7 or so free small gin tonics I managed to get, but there were over 300 people crammed into this basement. Good grief.
There were numerous maids, a sexy Minnie, a Hunter S. Thompson, a Residents reference, an Adicts costume, a couple of gas masks, and so on:
Tried to get a picture of gay Korean zombie Jesus, but you can only see the Glo-Stick halo.
I finally busted out the Lip Service Technocracy set I bought on clearance last year, though I didn't go all out and get hot pink duct tape to make space suit-like details on my plain back leggings, so I was basically just costumed from the waist up. Unfortunately, this selfie is the only picture of my "costume":
There were a lot of French people around for some reason - as well as some French-Canadian gutter punks who'd been in town for a little while with a traveling circus - and one of them was passing around GHB-coated Ricolas, which is super edgy for Korea.
At one point some asshat decided to attempt wading through the absurdly crowded club and bar-lined streets that are effectively closed to traffic in his Lambo. I acted like I was going to kick it but didn't make contact, and people starting putting cups on the rear window that fell through the slats. One of the aforementioned circus guys, smoking at the top right, even mooned the driver, who only looked half as mortified as he probably should have been by the situation.
Sadly, the idiot running Hannes' NGO decided to have their annual benefit concert this same weekend, when there were tons of other, way better things going on, at a place off the main drag where the cover and drinks were not only too expensive, but where big chunks of them were just going to the venue. So, he couldn't come. It was a fun night but total bullshit all around, now that I think about it.
After the show was over Amy led the way to search for him, leaving her giant peach butt to its fate, and we marched over to his bar, like the three drunken fetishy musketeers, and he and I went home shortly after.
Oh, also, there were Halloween treats I got for Hannes to live vicariously through him, and a number of different wheat-free pumpkin muffins I ordered for myself:
Look how Asian the ghost is x'D
These got smushed, but they were super delicious.
The Muffs show was pretty good, even if they did have a number of technical difficulties, charged for stickers and didn't bring any pins (wtf). There was a guy with a horse mask in the crowd they brought onstage, and when I realised he was wearing a Sparklehorse shirt, his costume immediately went from boring to great.
Two or three crappy Korean bands opened for them, but one of them had a big, older, bearded guy sort of guest star with them, and he killed it. He turned out to be Insoo Kim from Crying Nut, which the keyboards and definitely the accordion and probably the sunglasses gave away. Jesse told me he's been singing for a metal band called L.O.D., and the way he was shoving the mic into his mouth and gagging on it, falling down, convulsing, and crawing around like a dog made me want to see them live so bad. I wish I'd been able to get a video of it.
There were a bunch of people taking the kids around Hongdae in costume - because Koreans take small children around to super loud places full of drunk people late at night, don't ask me why - and I was sitting on a high ledge staring at them menacingly:
The set at DGBD finished pretty early, and we booked it to the opposite side of Hongdae, where Patrick and Amy were playing their second show of the night as S-Gerat, the other half of which is half of Yuppie Killer.
It was late enough and everyone was drunk enough that there was no cover, which is what we'd been hoping for. I ate eggs from the convenience store because I'd never had dinner.
This basement venue proved itself to be beyond terrible as soon as their set started, though it really wasn't made for loud violent bands. At the back of the tiny stage was a small elevated step not quite big enough for the drum kit, and the kick literally kept falling off it. Their drummer, Graham, was delightfully wasted and wearing the Scream mask. He lost his shirt and some point early on and kept doing this thing where he triumphantly raised both arms into the air for no reason, even in the middle of songs, like he was going, "Thank you Cleveland, goodnight!"
Amy's mic wasn't on at points and the volume was way too low at others. A guy in a gas mask very clearly gestured to the guy in the sound booth to turn the volume up, but he just stood there, stared blankly, and presumably hated his life.
The feedback was terrible. It sounded like their speakers were made of live animals. It got so bad that Iain just stopped, calmly walked offstage, put his bass away, and started passively messing with pedals and cables, as they were still playing. But it was pure chaos, it was Halloween, and it was great.
So we tried that, and after arguing with the guy for a few minutes, I just kicked the back of his seat with my combat boot, stuck my middle finger in his face and yelled "Fuck you", because I was drunk, and extremely tired, before we walked about a mile to find another one that would take us home. Interestingly, the second guy told us that earlier that very night he picked up a black passenger in Itaewon who had threatened and robbed him. He wasn't exactly crystal clear about the details and I'm not sure how much he was exaggerating, but it was still surprising that he decided to go out on a limb by picking up any other dangerous foreign scum that night.
It wasn't the best way to end the festivities, but then, I've also tried to explain how this holiday was generally tinged with my personal social beefs against Korea, so I guess it fits.
Saturday we did nothing, but that Sunday, we hit the Seoul Grand Park Zoo, mostly to enjoy the autumn foliage. It was surprisingly, uncomfortably cold and windy.
We first stopped by the rose garden and kids' zoo to pet the sheep and goats.
I didn't enhance these ones; sometimes, especially when their are bright, hot colours, they just come out like this. But it's no less amazing irl.
The Fennec foxes were pretty great. At one point something startled them and they all took off running around in a big circle, yapping and chittering, except this one, who was like, "Wait, nothing's happening".
I wish I'd gotten more videos than just the one of Insoo Kim I missed, because overall it was a great, eventful Halloween that went on for two weeks.