Event report: the 2015 Trafalgar Square Korean Festival

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Trafalgar Square is one of London’s premier venues for free open-air events, and Korea is ideally situated to take advantage of the space to showcase its culture, given that the Cultural Centre is a stone’s throw away. The square had already hosted two Korean festivals in the summer of 2007 and 2008, presenting a mixture of traditional music and dance through to contemporary pop culture; and there’s always food and tourism promotion to add to the mix.

Yun Myung Hwa Dance Company
The Yun Myung Hwa Dance Company in full flight in Trafalgar Square (Image © KCCUK)

Korea took a break from the square from 2008 onwards. There were a number of reasons for this. The first two festivals were organised by the private sector (the Korean Cultural Promotion Agency), and with the opening of the Korean Cultural Centre in 2008 there was always going to be a settling in period for organisers and funders to see how the big events were going to be supported in the new era. Plus, there was the little problem that in 2008 the food stalls were not too diligent in cleaning up after themselves, creating some nervousness in City Hall over future events.

Yeon Hee Company 'U-Hee' and Yun Myung Hwa Dance Company perform Pan Gut
Yeon Hee Company ‘U-Hee’ and Yun Myung Hwa Dance Company perform Pan Gut (Image © Han EJ Karmy)

New mayor, new decade. And since 2008 a lot has changed: the Cultural Centre has proved itself in the organisation of major events such as the Korean Village in past Thames Festivals; K-pop has been accruing a bigger and bigger fanbase (it’s only in the last couple of years that London has proved itself to be a big enough market to entice the big K-pop companies to bring some of their acts over); Korean food is an increasingly established part of London’s food culture; and the mainstream press is more open to covering things Korean.

Yeon Hee Company ‘U-Hee’ perform some pungmul
Yeon Hee Company ‘U-Hee’ perform some pungmul (Image © LKL)

So 9 August 2015 was the first big Korean event in Trafalgar Square in seven years, and it was worth the wait. With girl-band f(x) the main draw for the younger demographic, and Guckkasten the attraction for rockers, there was always going to be a big turnout. And the attendance surpassed expectations. City Hall estimated that up to 40,000 had attended – the numbers no doubt boosted by the spectacular weather.

f(x) on stage
f(x) on stage (Image © KCCUK)

It was undoubtedly f(x) that drew in the punters. The most devoted fans were queuing from 7am in order to secure a pitch in front of the stage from where they could take unobstructed fancam footage. And in the weeks running up to the event the fans wanted to know just one thing on the social networks: would Sulli be there? They probably knew the answer, and the official news that f(x) was henceforth a 4-member band hit the streets that very weekend. When Amber failed to turn up to the press conference before their stage appearance there was even speculation that the band could be down to three. But at the climax of the Trafalgar Square event, at the 5pm appearance of SM Entertainment’s number two girl group, “the most reliably risk-taking act in K-pop“, all doubts were dispelled.

FX-in-trafalgar-square
f(x) in Trafalgar Square (Image © KCCUK)

It was at this moment that the KCCUK’s roving photographer snapped the image (above) that sums up the festival. Perched on the top of Grand Buildings, the KCCUK’s home just off Trafalgar Square, they got a bird’s eye view of the crowds and the performers that they were there to see. Their set had four numbers: Shake that Brass, Rum Pum Pum Pum, Red Light, and most appropriate of all given the weather, Hot Summer. Here’s a fancam from Twitter user alex (and plenty more videos and photos can be found on Twitter using the hashtag #fxinlondon):

Shortly after the FX performance, the square emptied out a little, but there were still huge queues for the Korean food stalls and the crowd was still buzzing in anticipation of Guckkasten while traditional percussionists and fan dancers entertained them.

Dancers and musicians perform bukchum
Dancers and musicians perform bukchum (Image © LKL)

Another question people were asking before the festival was whether the planned anti-dogmeat protest would make itself felt. Well, no-one I spoke to actually saw them, but they were there, protesting peacefully at the north side of the square.

The dogmeat protest
The dogmeat protest (photo via Facebook)

The hard work of the organisers at the KCC and City Hall had paid off, and the day was blessed with that most unpredictable of things in the British summer, fine weather.

A fan dance with St Martin-in-the-Fields in the background
A fan dance with St Martin-in-the-Fields in the background (Image © LKL)

For the record, here’s the timetable of events and details of the performers.

Section 1: Connecting with Korea’s Traditions (12:30 – 15:15)
12:30 Opening performance: Gilnori parade 14:05 Royal Wedding Dance of King and Queen
12:40 Traditional Dynamic Drum Performance 14:20 Traditional Korean Music meets B-boy
13:00 Traditional Percussion Music: Samulnori 14:30 Feast Dance: Hyangyeon / Reign of Peace
13:10 Feast Dance: Hyangyeon / Reign of Peace 14:40 Folk Music and Dance: Pan Gut: Nongak
13:20 Folk Music and Dance: Pan Gut: Nongak 15:05 Cooking Show: Chef Joo Won
13:40 Traditional Korean Fashion Show
Section 2: Korea-UK Now (15:15 – 17:40
15:40 Joint Performance: UK band meets Korea 16:30 K-pop World Festival Champions
15:45 Joint Performance: B-boy battle 17:00 f(x)
16:15 K-fashion show: UK based designers 17:25 Cooking show: Judy Joo
Section 3: Looking to the Future (17:40 – 20:00)
17:40 Traditional Korean Music: Sinawi 18:40 Traditional Korean Fashion Show
18:10 Feast Dance: Hyangyeon / Reign of Peace 19:00 Guckkasten
18:20 Folk Music and Dance: Pan Gut: Nongak 19:40 Closing performance: Arirang

Performers:

  • Yeon Hee Company ‘U-Hee’ (talchum, pungmul)
  • Yun Myung Hwa Dance Company (traditional dance)
  • PAN (percussion)
  • Cho Young-ki (hanbok fashion designer)
  • The Talks (Yorkshire Ska band)
  • Jinjo Crew (B-boys, Korea)
  • Soul Mavericks (B-boys, UK)
  • Kim Yoon-ha, Yang Young-hwan, Lee Si-won, Lim Jae-hyuk (UK based fashion desighers)
  • f(x), Guckkasten (K-pop, K-rock)
  • 4 in Nori (sinawi ensemble)
  • Joo Won, Judy Joo (chefs)

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