It was a cold a windy day in Camden on Sunday, something easily forgotten at Barfly thanks to the energy that filled the venue during the four hours of Korea Rocks. I like the Barfly venue – just the right size space for a gig to feel busy but intimate, and the whole place as well as our bodies vibrated with the sounds of the bands.
Up first was Apollo 18, a trio consisting of Daeinn Kim (bass), Hyunseok Choi (guitar), and Sangyun Lee (drums). Formed in 2008, they won the ‘Hello Rookie’ prize in 2009 and ‘Rookie of the Year’ in 2010 and have four EPs to their name. Their energetic hardcore rock was excellent for getting the crowd into the mood. The set consisted of the songs Magnolia / Iridescent Clouds / Discusting / Corpse Flower / Trampoline / Warm / End / High Stepper / Orbis. I personally liked the lyric free ‘Warm’ from the Red EP the best. I love music that builds up from quiet to crescendo in that way!
Galaxy Express were up next, the band that I was most keen to see live and they did not disappoint at all. They had more sustained energy than the jumping crowd could compete with, and at least for me there was a moment or two that I actually felt a little spaced out! The trio of guitarist/vocalist Jonghyun Park, bassist/vocalist Juhyun Lee, and drummer Heekwon Kim have made a real impact on the Korean rock music scene, and their on-stage antics such as playing the guitar with their teeth fitted well with the Camden location. The set list was You Want It Real / Tonight with You / Where am I Going? / Soldier / Daybreak Snowfield / Horongbul / Dawn / Jungle the Black / Bye Bye Planet.
The videos of Goonam that I’d seen and their appearance on the Korea Rocks program on Arirang had left me feeling a little lukewarm about them, but in actual fact they were the surprise hit of the evening for me. Their music is funky – a smart mix of pansori style vocals and rock beat, and I really loved what they were doing. Their performance was playful and fun with bassist Byunghak Eem and keyboardist Naun Kim larking about and the former eventually getting off the stage and playing in the crowd right next to me! Their joy on stage was very infectious and the mood of the audience was definitely happiest during their set which consisted of: Long and Healthy Life / Shadow Dance / Go South / Jang Dan / City Life / Light of Dawn / Apologize.
Sadly due to last trains home I was only able to stay for the first two songs of Gate Flowers whose set list was We Are One / F.M. / Misapprehension / Paint It Black / Inconvenient Truth / Regret / Ghost. Their performance was more controlled energy with powerful vocals. It did look like it was going to be a good set, but I didn’t get to appreciate them fully this time round.
After the heat and sweat of the venue mixed on with the powerfully turpentine-scented goodie bags (mine are still soaking in the garage), Camden seemed more cold and windy than before. I was happy though! I did think it was a shame more people at the front of the venue next to the stage didn’t get involved in the music more than they did their cameras. It must have been a little disconcerting for the artists. I hope the bands do come back again in the near future – I would definitely pay to see them and, based on the gigs, I have some serious album-buying to do!
Korea Rocks, sponsored by Hyundai Card Music, was at the Barfly in Camden on 28 April. Further tour dates can be found here.
- Korea Rocks Facebook page for more links and behind-the-scenes photos