Local fest endures through HBC changes
Story By: David Tizzard
“Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of fuel. Sentimental people call it inspiration, but what they really mean is fuel. I have always needed fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”
Hunter S. Thompson
For many that have lived and worked in South Korea for some time, Haebangchon has always been the spiritual home of the gonzo-ists. The place where people live out Hunter-esque lifestyles: drinking beer upon waking, howling into the night, and traversing the streets in all manner of undress. Much of that lifestyle and many of its more ardent practitioners have receded in the past few years as the increasing gentrification has spread out from Itaewon’s newly-built back streets of restaurants adorned with the face of the local bald guy and sunk its coffee shop-fueled grips into the neighbouring Gyeongnidan and Haebangchon.
And yet, despite all that has come and gone in that time, the Haebangchon Festival remains. Now entering its 13th year, it serves as a bridge between a time that once was and the now more family-friendly and palatable side of the town. A decade ago, bringing someone to the festival on a Friday night or busy Saturday afternoon in the sun would be a true test of their mettle. Now, people will queue outside the surprisingly never-empty pizza joint taking selfies, slurping lattes, and remarking on why a few people are walking about with guitars and what all the noise is about. This is all from the perspective of a performer and a drinker, however.
From an organizational perspective, Lance Reegan-Diehl – the owner of DEELEEBOB Music and festival founder and organizer has provided the community with a culture of its own.
“I like the fact that it has endured, remained free, and it has always held a positive image for the musicians that take part in this ‘live’ music festival,” he says. And he’s undeniably right. When other local organizers are charging you just shy of fifty bucks to see some chap touring from England who does karaoke over his synths for 40 minutes, a free weekend festival of music is certainly not to be sniffed at.
And while the festival does give local acts the chance to get together – to play, to perform, and to frolic – it also encourages international performers, too. Kenji Onizuka is a frequent visitor from Japan, bringing with him his guitar and inimitable style. Other acts have ventured from Italy and Germany to play here as well. The notion of “playing” is very much in the mind of Lance when he discusses what kind of acts perform at the fest: “Get the funding, fight with residents and cops for 12 years, run your own karaoke/rapper/DJ fest or costume party.” Hear, hear!
It’s that kind of attitude that makes the festival what it is. Gives it character, identity, and a raison d’etre. While I must admit I do miss some of the more outrageous costumes people would often adorn when the fest was truly in its debaucherous prime, organizer Lance is very much right in stamping some of what he believes live music is and should be on this event.
That’s even more revealing when one considers the struggles and fights he has endured as the neighborhood has changed around him. He is involved with the town council, attends meetings to discuss the issues affecting the local community and has even written a chapter in the Yongsan-funded book about the HBC area. His memories of buying “danger” tape to cordon off the streets on busy nights are now being replaced with discussions of sidewalks in the town. And with an ever-increasing number of visitors arriving for a hamburger and a coffee on the first part of their date course rather than a day boozing in flip-flops, those sidewalks and traffic control areas for cars will be necessary.
And then what of the army base that occupies much of the vicinity at the bottom of the hill? With the relocations to Pyongtaek underway, there’s going to be a big shift happening and that might reverb on the festival itself.
“I think that is the side to watch out for, if the Yongsan North post is really a city park, then HBC could continue kind of as is for the next 10 years” says Lance. “As always, I make a 5-year plan, and roll with it… then make another one. Keep going like that.”
And here’s hoping it does keep going like that; stays true to what it is good at, and adapts and evolves to the environment around it. Venues come and go, players drink and leave, the neighborhood shifts and shapes, but the music will live on and serve as fuel to the many people that live here.
In May 2008, I walked down those dark steps into Ssen Bar with my band The Decadent Gonads to play my first HBC festival. Photos online confirm my memories of the bar being filled with a sea of people – not necessarily to see our band – but simply to be in the music. To drink, to talk, and to dance. To write their own Rum Diaries. Since then, I’ve played countless festivals and my bands have changed as my hair has shortened. The idea inside remains the same, however. And it’s one that finds a home in the Haebangchon festival.
May 25th 9pm to 12am – BAD HORSiE @ Bedrock in HBC 9pm
May 25th 9pm to 12am – HBC May Fest. 8 venues running 9pm – 12am
May 26th 3pm – 2am -HBC May Fest. 14+ venues running 3pm – 2am
May 27th 7pm Open stage at Hidden Cellar
For more details, including an updated schedule and list of performers, please visit the main website www.hbcfest.com and the Facebook links.