The birth of Korean Goth rock
In 1996, just about ten years after the crest of the Gothic rock scene in the West, there were ripples of Goth beginning to show in the South Korean music sea.
Some of the first bands were O.H.N. ("Our Hot Dog Nation") and Rainy Sun, whose "gothesque" outfits (O.H.N.'s drummer personally designed/created the band's ensemble) and dark mood progressions in their music set in motion what would become the Korean Goth Wave.
What inspired this deviation from the then norm of the Korean alternative scene? Rainy Sun's vocalist Jung Cha-shik told Groove Korea, "We just got fed up with the overbearing pop scene and the boring, un-creative so-called 'alternative' music being made at the time."
What is Gothic rock? In general, the music arose out of the post-punk scene in England and the first time "gothic" was applied to the music (as it is usually believed) was 1981. Gothic rock is guitar-based with dark lyrics that tend to be introverted, personal, with elements that can be traced back to much older literary movements like "Gothic horror" and "Romanticism." The first groups labeled as such were Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. It wasn't long before the Gothic rock sound and style started to have an impact. The band Sisters of Mercy is considered by most to be the epitome of it.
"We wanted to take the piss out of the music we were forced to hear at the time," said Andrew Eldritch, founder/vocalist/songwriter of the Sisters of Mercy. Translate the British slang term Eldritch uses and it's not so different than Jung's motivation.
What is the appeal of the Goth sound and attitude to Koreans? A more recent addition to Korea's growing Goth pantheon Ophelia provided an answer. Ophelia's quietly compelling lead vocal Yui explained it this way to Groove Korea: "The essence of the music resonates with our Korean soul, 'H'an'."
H'an has been described as an amorphous idea, like love or hate - it's intensely personal, yet carried inside by Koreans as a whole. In a way, it's suffering tempered by a sense of resiliency.
Oathean, created in 1997, is the quintessential Korean Goth band and the most influential one concerning the creation of the Korean Goth Wave. There are several things that make Oathean stand out from fellow Goth bands. The band, once death metalish, now plays symphonic death rock that incorporates traditional Korean instruments (one of the first Korean rock bands to do so) which embodies their lyrics of sadness and depression.
In 2005, Oathean's album, "Fading Away Into The Grave Of Nothingness," became the first Korean Goth record issued outside of their homeland (they are signed to the American label The End Records) and it was well received by the world Goth music community. "There is no reason why this 'Goth' thing has to be a Western musical motif," Oathean's founder Kim Do-su explained to Groove with his brother Kim Min-su at his side.
Kim Do-su took his love of the music and its rising Korean musical/cultural scene to the next level. He gathered some of the finest Korean Goth bands and created Jusin Productions, which has become Korea's largest record label for Gothic rock acts, including Ophelia. This past May, the Jusin Fest was held at the respected music venue Rolling Hall and it presented such bands as Hunter's Moon, Diesel Sneakers, Sacrifice, Ishtar and many more. This line-up went on to play such popular music sites as F.F. and Sapiens 7. The Korean Goth community has made it clear, thanks in part to Kim's tireless efforts, that it is no longer a sub-level section of the alternative music establishment.
However, there is one notable Goth band who finally established "Korean Gothic rock." The band is Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy (name refers to the mirror used by Nostrodamus "to see the dark, cursed future.") and they first appeared in 2003. Just as British Goth developed out of their post punk period, many Korean Goth bands, such as Dark Mirror, got their start in the Korean Black/Death metal scene.
"The Koreanizing of our band's music helped set us apart from numerous other death metal groups...we did it by combining the Western based music with traditional Korean music ... we, sort of, morphed into a gothic one," Dark Mirror vocalist Material Pneuma said in an interview.
Pneuma described the band's outlook: "Our music has a cathartic essence to it, rather than making the listeners delve further into depression." Recently, Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy's music received an appreciative response in England.
Today, the Goth sound and style have even entered Korea's pop world. One of its top diva girl acts, 2NE1, recorded a visually Gothic video and the song itself is Goth-pop ala the Korean glam-Goth group Eve. There is a German Goth band, Krypteria, whose lead singer is Korean, Cho Ji-in. There is even a Swedish Goth band called Korea. A cursed future? It isn't for Gothic rock fans because whenever Korean Goth groups are exposed to the rest of the world, they are hailed as one of the best in the genre. The wave has begun.