Story by: Sophie Boladeras, Photos by:
On a humid night at Hongdae’s Club Freebird, I recently got to experience the high-energy sound of the recently formed band Beatniks. Much like the beat generation of the late 1940s, these guys are the underdogs: an intense, charismatic, but relatively unheard of new band hoping to create music people can get behind.
Up on the stage in the hot club that night, none of them look much like the clichéd beatnik. Thankfully there were no turtlenecks or black berets and there was not a bongo drum in sight. Initially, I didn’t take much notice of them coming onstage, but as soon as they burst into their first song I cut my conversation short. The lead singer exuded energy and charisma with his unique voice and frenzied performance, singing in English over a backbeat of electro-rock. It was loud and captivating, highlighted by an imitative, spacey synth. Their set was a satisfying mix of beat-heavy, pop-infused electronic rock, with psychedelic undertones.
For a new band, their performance was solid. It was a show that was all about getting lost in the beat and the intense enjoyment of the moment. Groove recently sat down with lead singer Han Yoo to talk about awkward first gigs, first fans and what comes next for the group.
Groove Korea: So you have only been together for three months. How was your first gig?
Han Yoo: Our first gig was at Evans lounge in Hongdae. It was like the Dark Ages. It was horrible; we don’t want to remember it.
Okay, let’s talk about it then.
The venue was a nice, jazzy lounge; it had a grand piano on the stage and it was all very new to us. About 15-20 people came to listen and it felt awkward at first. Our bass player didn’t know the chords too well yet and he was sight-reading. We couldn’t get the balance right between the instrumental track and our live instruments. It didn’t mix well and it took us a few gigs to sort that out. After that gig it was like, dude, what should we do? We were all hungry for gigs but it was probably too soon.
The second gig we played was at a pretty big place called Gogos 2 … it didn’t go too well either. The music we started out making was kind of written without any space for bass — it was very synth-heavy. The songs were all electronic-based, so we had some issues with incorporating everything and developing our sound to fit the entire band.
Then our third gig was also really awful! But at our fourth gig at Club Freebird, it finally felt like we played as a band. It was the gig that we would all remember. The manager told us he really liked us and it was the first time we received a really good response from the club. Since then we have been pretty solid.
What challenges have you come across in terms of getting your music out there?
It’s only been three months since we started this band so we still need a lot of exposure. We’re trying to play as many gigs as possible. Also, the reason we’re planning on making an EP at such an early stage is so we can get our music out there officially. Fortunately, clubs like Freebird, Auteur and FF are supporting our music and are letting us play at their venues a lot.
What musicians influence or inspire your sound?
We have so many influences, so we are trying to narrow them down to find the color of our band, our niche sound. We want to sharpen our edge. The first covers we did as Beatniks were of Two Door Cinema Club’s songs. Our musical influence mainly comes from bands like Twenty-One Pilots, Glencheck and Foals. My musical heroes were Linkin Park — I used to memorize all their songs and they were one of the first bands that I started listening to. Sang-il’s musical heroes are The Beatles. He listened to them while growing up and he looks to them as the standard of what a band should be.
What do you think of Seoul’s independent music scene?
Hongdae, which is the main district for indie music, has developed into a mecca of electronic dance clubs. We think it’s the responsibility of live bands like us to start working harder to make the audience come back to the live clubs. For this kind of growth, bands have to stop being so competitive but rather help each other out. Good music is good music. There are so many talented bands that disappear after just a few gigs due to the competitive atmosphere of Hongdae.
The electro element makes your band stand out from others. How did you decide to incorporate it into your sound?
Some people think that electronic gadgets have no soul or originality, but I don’t agree. We are living in the “electronic era.” Everyone has a smartphone, and the internet is something that has become part of our lives. Naturally, music is also changing. Using electronic elements is becoming common. So deciding to incorporate these elements into our sound was nothing special.
What we are working on is what makes us different from other electronic-influenced bands. We don’t want to be a band just trying to make people dance. We want to play music that lets the audience feel something.
There are four members who play onstage, but there are actually five members in your band.
Yeah, Gang-il is the latest member to come into the band. We’re thinking of making him play synth onstage with us, but until then he’s more of a sound engineer at our gigs. We play with backing tracks in our shows so Gang-il plays a big part in pre-producing those tracks beforehand. We hope you’ll be able to see Gang-il onstage with us soon.
Can you tell me about any tracks you are working on?
We’re working on tracks that are more guitar-riff-based and have a simpler sound structure than the songs we wrote before. I want our music to be simple but to have a strong impact. Not a big chunk of muddy material thrown at you at once. We recently made a demo CD that contains five songs. It’s all home recorded so it isn’t studio-quality, but we’re proud enough to give it out for free as a demo. The five tracks are all on our SoundCloud page (soundcloud.com/beatniks4) and are available for free download. We’re planning on finishing our EP album by the end of September.
What do you have planned for Beatniks?
We are a really new band and we feel pretty good about how things are going so far. We have developed some pretty good relationships with some of the club managers. We’re working on finishing our EP album by the end of September. We want to play more gigs and to get recognized. We have no fans right now — or maybe one. Have you seen “Flight of the Conchords”? Maybe we can have a solo fan/stalker like that lady Mel.
Sang-il Choi – Drums
Han Yoo – Singer
Gang-il Byun – Sound design
Chan Woo Yoo – Bass
Dong Hyun Lee – Guitar