Eleven Korean music groups are heading to the U.S. this weekend for South by Southwest (SXSW), one of America's biggest music festivals set to begin this Friday. These acts include K-pop girl group Red Velvet and popular rappers Tiger JK and Yoonmirae, but also singer-songwriter Big Phony, punk band No Brain and garage rockers Galaxy Express.
For Galaxy Express, it is their fourth time traveling to Austin, Texas, performing unrelenting psychedelic rock ‘n' roll music in front of American audiences.
The group features three members ― Lee Ju-hyun playing bass, Kim Hee-kwon on drums and Park Jong-hyun on guitar. The rockers are all in their late 30s, but they are confident to say they are the most energetic Korean musicians out there.
"We play music like three veteran soldiers," said Park Jong-hyun during an interview with The Korea Times at the CKL Stage building in Jongno, Seoul, last week. "We pursue hard music like Nirvana… something like animal barking and howling. We start and finish hardcore and we are soaked in sweat when we come down from the stage."
"I heard there are many angry people in America, because Donald Trump was elected president," Lee Ju-hyun said. "Our show is good for angry audiences. We will blow off steam with you, America."
Galaxy Express neither enjoys huge popularity nor plays mainstream music here, but they believe K-pop is not all about idol bands and their rock music has an audience too.
The band has been appearing at SXSW since 2011. In 2013 they took part in the first "K-pop Night Out" showcase organized by Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA). They made a splash early on, earning shout-outs from popular music magazine SPIN, The New York Times and MTV Iggy.
The band, which formed in 2006, has energized fans in France, Taiwan, Japan, England, Russia and Hong Kong with their energetic performances on the stage.
Q. Please introduce your band.
A. Jong-hyun: We are Galaxy Express and we are a rock ‘n' roll band. We formed our team ten years ago and have released four studio albums so far.
Q. How do you feel about joining SXSW?
A. Jong-hyun: It is our fourth time participating in SXSW and it has been four years since the last time we performed there. We first played on an American stage in 2011. We are excited and we look forward to it. We expect some changes have been made in four years and we are talking about relaxing and enjoying the show there this time.
Q. How do you describe Galaxy Express's music?
A. Ju-hyun: Our songs are energetic and psychedelic. The music drowns you into a dreamlike feeling. We will make American audiences deaf!
Q. What impression do you have representing Korean rock at SXSW?
A. Jong-hyun: If we show our good music on a good stage, the audience will like it. We want to let people know there are musicians like us in Korea, not just K-pop idols.
Ju-hyun: K-pop is leading the mainstream and there is no need to show that we are different. We just have to play our music naturally and people will feel something original. There are no races or borders in music.
Q. Why do you only have three members?
A. Hee-kwon: Because we can divide our income in three, the less people the better. If we miss one, we cannot play ― every member is imperative. Plus, if we have members in even numbers, the group can get divided into twos. In terms of our music, three members are good when expressing simple and light music. We think we can play all the music we want with three of us. Our two vocalists have distinct voices too, so there is no need for extra members,
Q. Why do you think fans like Galaxy Express?
A. Ju-hyun: Our music is straightforward and very raw. It has a rough feeling and we focus our music on the very basic. If we were to compare our music to sports, it would be extreme sports. We run and fly all over. It's like a music that draws off your sweat and explodes adrenaline inside you.
Q. What was your most memorable moment at SXSW?
A. Jong-hyun: I forgot if it was our first or second visit. We played for four weeks and at the end of our final performance, all the people we met during the four weeks came to see us again. It was really touching.
In another show in Houston, I remember it was not SXSW and we were playing our songs there for the first time. We had two people in the audience and they were musicians participating at the festival who visited us while resting. SXSW is the same in a way that not all shows fill the room. There are many shows without audiences but we like it more that way. It feels more comfortable and we feel like we're playing an ensemble piece.
Q. What kind of band do you want to be remembered as?
A. Ju-hyun: People who know their style. We don't want to chase after trends. We want to show our outlook on the world and play music that our fans can enjoy for a long time. A music that people want to wait for, even when they get old. I like the words "crazy" and "insane." It describes us well and I don't think those are bad expressions.
Reporter : Kim Jae-heun
International Distribution : DFSB Kollective