All posts by Oliver Saria

ROK Heavy

South Korean post-rock band Apollo 18.
Photo by Simon Bond.

This spring, some of Seoul’s finest indie sensations will leave Hongdae to plug into America. Not only will four Korean bands play at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in March, there will be a Korean act at the renowned Coachella Festival (April) for the first time. Oliver Saria introduces you to the most popular bands you probably don’t know and takes you inside Korea’s indie music scene.

THIS MONTH, a handful of prominent South Korean music acts will tour the United States for the first time. And none of them will perform choreographed dance pop numbers with multiple costume changes. And “rock hard” won’t describe the band members’ abs, but rather what they do on stage. K-pop might be Korea’s biggest export besides economy cars, cell phones and female golfers, but an established indie rock scene is using social media to expand beyond Seoul’s eclectic Hongdae district to prove to the world that there is more to Korean music than just bubblegum ballads.

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Media and Music Conference in Austin, Texas, slated for March 16 to 20, will showcase the largest contingent of Korean acts in the event’s history. Four bands are scheduled to perform, including the atmospheric shoegaze of Vidulgi OoyoO, the electro-dance, high-energy rock hybrid of Idiotape, the wild party-rock of Galaxy Express, and the post-punk, post hardcore sonic assault of Apollo 18. Additionally, in April, the electronic performance art duo EE will be the first Korean act to perform at the renowned, days-long Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California.

Vidulgi OoyoO, Idiotape and Galaxy Express will visit various cities as part of the Seoulsonic North American Tour, which kicked off in Toronto on March 9 during Canadian Music Week. Meanwhile, the ballsy band Apollo 18 plans to independently tour the South with stops in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

In other words, for the first time, American audiences from coast to coast will have a rare opportunity this spring to sample some of the best live acts in Korean indie music today. Depending on how well they’re received, the eyes (and ears) of the music world might very well turn towards Hongdae, the mecca of Korean indie.

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Two Changs Forward, Three Steps Back

The two Asian characters on Fox’s Glee lock lips—a major TV milestone for Asian Americana, right? But Oliver Saria argues, the show gets “the whole Asian thing” mostly wrong.

I heart Glee…maybe more than a heterosexual man in his mid-30s should admit. I confess that I enjoy the singing and dancing, but I also tune in to watch the multifaceted portrayals of the various characters unfold on the show. Usually, they start off as broad caricatures (the Jock, the Drama Queen, the Ditz, the Slut, the Gay Kid, the Sassy Black Girl, the Asian, etc.,) but eventually develop into authentic, complex personalities.

Recently, however, the Asian characters on the show seem to be backsliding while they simultaneously receive more airtime. For the most part, I commend the writers for breaking the mold when it comes to Mike Chang (portrayed by Harry Shum, Jr.) and Tina Cohen-Chang (portrayed by Jenna Ushkowitz). Neither one is a soulless, grade-grubbing automaton with rivers of resentment for his/her overbearing parents. Tina is neither a dragon lady nor a geisha, but an angst-ridden goth chick with a fake stutter and an angelic voice; Mike is a jock rather than a hapless nerd who clearly knows more dance steps than kung fu moves. (Incidentally, the blogosphere has dubbed Shum “The Situ-Asian” for his washboard abs.) He in particular is a rare breed in the realm of television comedies. In a show with no shortage of geeks and gays, Mike is one of the few Asian male comedic characters on television that is neither.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the Asian girl on the show is actually dating the Asian guy. When was the last time you saw that on American TV? Okay, Lost had South Koreans Sun and Jin, but everything on that show was strange. And sure, The Secret Life of the American Teenager has two Asian American teens, Henry and Alice, who are not only dating, but doin’ it on the regular because cable is just freakier that way. Still, it’s kind of a rarity to have two ethnic minorities at all on any given show, let alone dating one another. Continue reading