Tour review: Korea Rocks UK Tour

Hyundai-Korea-Rocks-500

With explosive noise and thudding bass line, Apollo 18 launched the headline Korea Rocks gig in the South East. The whole room shook, and you wondered whether the beams supporting the floor were able to take the vibration. As energy levels increased further the long hair of the lead guitarist flew back and forth – and like the ghostly girl in The Ring for most of the time you never got to see his face. The equally long-haired bass player was more comfortable playing with his back to the audience. These were musicians who were playing for the joy of music making itself. It didn’t much matter to them whether an audience was there or not, but we were privileged to be part of a private (but very noisy) salon concert.

Inside the Barfly at Camden
Inside the Barfly at Camden

Galaxy Express were more about image. The beautiful locks and well-defined cheek-bones of the lead guitarist didn’t fit well with the sound of the band, but the aggressive expression on the face of the shade-wearing bassist was much more in keeping. Gate Flowers, despite its gentle sounding name was equally aggressive, with a sound that predates their most recent album – Times. Both Galaxy Express and Gate Flowers declaimed their music to the audience, sometimes shouting, sometimes screaming, sometimes singing, but mostly acknowledging the audience was there.

Goonam on stage at the Barfly
Goonam on stage at the Barfly. Keyboardist Kim Naun’s head is perilously close to bassist Eem Byunghak’s headstock

It’s possibly not a coincidence that Goonam has been the audience favourites at the gigs. In fact the other bands have at times felt like they were the warm-up acts for Goonam. With Goonam, the music is less hard-core, more melodious. Possibly related, Goonam were the only band to include a woman in the line-up, a keyboardist who plays centre stage, in between the two main band members on guitar, and almost concealing the drummer from the audience’s view. When not playing keyboard, she’s whooping and leaping about, almost but never quite catching her forehead on the headstock of the bass guitar, and always with a huge smile on her face. These are musicians who are not only enjoying the music itself but communicating that enjoyment to the audience; and when the opportunity allows the guitarists leave the stage to play among the audience a form of audience interaction one expects from traditional Korean entertainers. And in fact one of their tracks – Jangdan – is based on a traditional rhythm.

But while Goonam might have been the audience favourite, all four bands gave their all, night after night, with quality sets energetically delivered. And with such intimate venues the audience had the chance to get up close. It seems from the reviews linked below that they went down a storm wherever they went.

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