LKL meets the energetic Korean rock band Biuret, the overall winners of Sutasi 2009, during their brief visit to London.
I’ve come to the Royal Garden Hotel overlooking Kensington Gardens to meet Biuret, one of the latest Korean bands to win international recognition. The foyer is packed with music industry types, because this is the venue for the International Live Music Conference 2010. Biuret have been invited to showcase their talents: three sets with the final one finishing at 2 in the morning, while the delegates play at the roulette tables. Having only arrived in town the day before, the band can’t know what time of day it is.
The London gig is their first in the UK, and they are doing cover versions of western songs as well as five of their own – including including Without U from their first album. In honour of the themes of the convention – “Titanic, Ocean” – the western songs they have prepared include Oceans by Pearl Jam, Nick Cave’s Ship Song, Jeff Buckley’s Nightmares by the Sea and Watching Me Fall by The Cure.
I make my way to the appointed meeting room and on my way come across the unmistakable blond curly mop of hair belonging to Lee Kyo-won, aka Happy Jackson, the band’s lead guitarist. He’s the joker in the band: outgoing, always laughing. Moon Hye-won is more focused and intense. She’s the lead vocalist and songwriter. Her hair intricately twined and with rather gothic black fingernails, she’s in a stylish but casual red plaid shirt. Bass guitarist Ahn Jai-hyun, always smiling, is in a classic bold houndstooth jacket, while drummer DR is the observer. Maybe used to his three fellow band members taking the limelight at the front of the stage, he’s happy to sit back and let them do the talking. The band have a great chemistry together: while they all have different characters which contributes to their music-making, they seem to enjoy being together and throughout the interview were laughing and joking with each other.
I get my iPhone out to record the interview. It’s an immediate ice-breaker, and both Happy Jackson and DR get theirs out as well. Since the gadget was only released in Korea a couple of months ago, two out of four ain’t bad: Samsung and LG must be getting worried. Also helping with the interview and interpreting where necessary is Ji Lee from Asia Sounds, who is trying to bring Biuret to an international market. Their third full-length album is coming out in the summer, and while Hye-won has written one or two of the songs, this is the first album where the majority have been contributed by other songwriters: as this album is aimed squarely at the Western market, they are collaborating with an American and Australian songwriter. But Biuret’s core style will still be evident.
Moon Hye-won founded Biuret in 2002, and Happy Jackson has been with her from relatively early on. They recruited bassist Ahn Jai-hyun over the internet, and DR, a much in-demand drummer in the Hongdae music scene completed the line-up. DR in fact plays for three other bands on and off, and seems to fit well with all of them: he’s in demand for his particular style, and other bands in Hongdae know where to come for it.
Their first EP came in 2005, and it sold out within months, and their first album, Be Full of Spirit – Beautiful Violet, followed in 2007. Already with half an eye to the international market, one or two of those songs were in English, but their 2009 album Dreams Come True, was different in tone and more aimed at the domestic market. 2009 was a big year for them, when they entered the international talent-spotting contest Sutasi and were pan-Asian winners. “This gave us a lot of respect in Korea,” said Jackson. “The music scene in Korea is very pop-oriented, and people were really surprised when we beat the international competition.” The success has given them the confidence to venture into the international market.
Biuret’s sound is firmly at the rock end of the spectrum. They have been compared with Cherry Filter and Bloody Cookie, and among the Korean artists they list as influences are Crying Nut, No Brain, Kim Tae-won and Boo Hwal: “It’s really difficult to be a rock artist in Korea,” says Hye-won. “And to have longevity, that’s really difficult. You’ve got to respect anyone who survives in the music industry for a long time.”
There’s another British connection with Biuret: they were support act for Oasis when they toured to Korea. Of the other Western bands that have their respect, 90s grunge rock looms large. Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins have been influences, but also singer-songwriter Alanis Morisette.
This brings the focus back to Biuret’s leader Hye-won, whose voice is able to move from tender melodic tone to gutsy rock chic with ease. She accepts the comparison with Cherry Filter and others, but while Biuret has the same energy levels in their sound, with a bit of hardness, their style also has a bit of shade, with more darkness to it. Their melodic lines contribute to the uniqueness of their own sound.
After the London gig, they’re off to Southampton to share the stage with a local band called the Melodramas who they came across and befriended while on tour in Perth, Western Australia, in October last year. Continuing their international tour calendar, their next stop is Ho Chi Minh City. I ask if they’re looking forward to it. They nod enthusiastically. “I like Vietnamese rice noodles,” says Jackson. “And I’m looking forward to seeing the Vietnamese girls,” he adds wickedly. “Everyone in Hongdae likes Vietnamese girls.”
Their gig calendar has been extremely busy since their Sutasi success. But have they grown too big for the Hongdae clubs? “No, Hongdae’s a big place – there’s plenty of room,” says Jai-hyun. Here’s hoping their third album will bring more international recognition, and bring them back to the UK again.