Over the past few years, the Austin-based South By Southwest has hosted numerous artists heading over from South Korea to perform at its music festival. If you’re planning on attending, here’s your guide to the Korean musicians you should check out:
A Korean-American from New York City who now calls Seoul his home, Big Phony will bring a bit of a soulful side to SXSW. The folk rock singer’s gentle strumming and sentimental lyrics will have the whole audience swaying along to his chill tunes.
Originally a pioneering hip hop crew in the late ‘90s, Drunken Tiger changed the face of Korea’s hip hop and introduced the genre to the general Korean public. Over the years, Tiger JK, the crew's frontman, and Drunken Tiger have become synonymous, with the the rapper using both monikers in his work. Tiger JK announced earlier this year that he'll retire the Drunken Tiger title after one last album, so make sure to check out this set. It will also feature other acts from his label Feel Ghood Music, including MFBTY -- Tiger JK's act with Yoonmirae and Bizzy that put out one of the best Korean albums of 2015 -- Junoflo, and Ann One.
Garage rock comes to life with this trio, who are famous for performing with all the enthusiasm and energy their proto-punk music demands. They’re no SXSW rookies (they played the event in 2011, 2012, and 2013), but it’s been a few years since Galaxy Express has visited the Austin festival so they’ll surely put on a memorable, passionate performance.
The Sistar member known for her breathy power vocals launched a solo career with an R&B flair in 2013, and has since attempted to pursue a more hip hop-focused sound -- including a stint on a Korean music competition seeking to find the best up-and-coming female rappers. But don't worry; Hyolyn is still very much a K-pop singer, seamlessly blending a multitude of musical styles into each of her songs. Her latest batch of singles -- “Paradise,” “One Step” with Jay Park, and “Love Like This” with Dok2 -- will definitely be the highlights of her set at SXSW.
Rock music looks a bit different with Luna Lee thanks to her gayageum, a traditional Korean stringed instrument. The musician -- who regularly uploads covers of classic rock to YouTube -- blends rock, blues, and pop with the ambient sound of the gayageum to create modern-sounding songs with a throwback feel. For her SXSW debut, Lee will also work with a backing band to provide an even more dynamic show.
The ethereal electro pop of Neon Bunny makes her one of South Korea’s most talented young female indie artists, thanks to her music’s ability to reflect the creative essence of Seoul -- a little hectic, a bit lackadaisical, and always progressing towards something new. She’s embraced a wide range of sounds over the years, from ‘80s new wave to jazz, in pursuit of her dreamy pop sound and is a fan favorite.
Celebrating their 20th year, No Brain is considered the foundation upon which the rest of Korea’s punk scene rests upon thanks to their progressive music style and refusal to be complacent with the state of music in the country. Their raw rock anthems transcend language boundaries and their powerful performances should not be missed.
This year has very few actual K-pop acts attending SXSW, making this girl group’s performance at K-Pop Night Out a must-watch for fans of the genre. Produced by Korean music behemoth SM Entertainment, the five members -- Wendy, Irene, Seulgi, Yeri, and Joy -- will combine sleek choreography with saccharine vocals. The quintet recently released their new EP Rookie, which followed in the trend of their hook-filled, quirky hits like “Dumb Dumb” and “Ice Cream Cake." Their name references the group's dichotomy, with "red" referring to their pop-oriented side and "velvet" relating to their more mature side, showcased through songs like the R&B slowburn “Automatic" and the evocative “One of These Nights."
The electro hip hop duo held nothing back on their debut EP Kyomi last year, an impressive album that thrived on experimental beats and aggressive lyrics, with each track offering some new taste of what XXX has to offer. Though hip hop is currently thriving on Korean music charts, the guttural and profanity-filled music of XXX is rougher and rawer than most of what’s out there. And that's precisely what makes their SXSW debut so intriguing.
While she is half of Korea's most prominent hip hop powercouple -- she and Tiger JK got married in 2007 and their son Jordan featured on Wondaland -- and part of MBFTY, Yoonmirae is so much more than that. Simultaneously recognized as one of most talented female emcees and one of the country’s most beloved balladeers, Yoonmirae has been active in South Korea for two decades and remained relevant with the dichotomy of her provocative hip hop tunes and tender love songs.
Find all of the acts' performance schedules on SXSW's website.
Reporter : Tamar Herman
SXSW Booking Agency : Drunken Tiger / Yoonmirae
International Distribution : Big Phony / Galaxy Express / No Brain