Typhoon Muifa be damned. There was music, drink and partying to be had on Saturday, Aug. 6 at The 8th Jeju Stepping Stone Festival, and nothing was going to stop it from happening.
Though three important events on Jeju were cancelled this last weekend due to the typhoon, throughout the night more and more spectators came to Hamdeok Beach in Jeju City to watch seven of Korea’s most accomplished indie rock bands at The Stepping Stone Festival.
“They were great,” said 3rd Line Butterfly lead singer Nahm Sang Ah about the audience. “It was suppose to rain, so we were really worried. We were saying there will be five people.” She had nothing to worry about. Even with the occasional downpour, roughly 300 rain-drenched but spirited spectators were in attendance.
Sponsored by NXC and Daum Communications and organized by Stepping Stone Founder Kim Myung Su, the entire festival, like the ones before, was completely free. Even beer was free, though donations were accepted with all money going towards conserving Gotjawal forest.
“It’s still like a grass roots festival,” said Shawn Despres, a friend of Apollo 18, and a music journalist for The Japan Times and Web site Korea Gig Guide.
The bands, said Despres, were the “upper echelon of Korean rock,” and they were “very representative” of the Korean indie rock scene.
The music ran practically the entire gamut of what the Korean indie scene has to offer with funk by Funkafric & BoostDah, psychedelic with Seoul Electric Band, folk with Sagitta; and rock with 3rd Line Butterfly, Witches, Goonamguayeoridingstella, and Apollo 18.
The festival started off with a soft tempo and as the night fell the volume rose. No one seemed bothered by the sporadic torrential rain and wild wind, which actually seemed to be relished by the audience, but did require a tent to be placed over the stage. It was eventually removed for the last band, Apollo 18, when it looked like there would be no more weather.
“It was fantastic,” said Nahm. “The wind, and the rain, and the sea. We just went into the sea and came out and showered and played, and it was fantastic.”
▲ 3rd Line Butterfly guitarist Song Ki Wan. Photo by Darryl Coote
Apollo 18 lead guitarist Choi Hyun Seok said at the pre-festival party a day before that his band decided to play The Stepping Stone “because [Jeju] is really [expletive] beautiful,” and that the festival has a great atmosphere and attracts good people.
Nahm said that for her band, which has played the Stepping Stone three times, the event is like a vacation for them. “It’s like family you know, all the bands know [each other] so well and they’re friends. Summer vacation is fixed, every year fixed, [The Stepping Stone Festival is] kind of like a vacation.”
For this writer, the event was a crash course in Korean rock. Several of the performers and journalists said that Korean indie rock is young and doesn’t have the history of say, Japan, due to the military governments in control of the nation until the late ’80s. It was suppressed because, as Choi said, “rock music is revolution.”
The scene is small in Korea, and “there are a lot of good local bands, but they need support to grow,” said Despres. He said that Taiwan, China, and Japan governments financially support their musicians to travel and gain exposure, but that in Korea only traditional music and K pop receive the same kind of help. “The bands are good,” Despres said, “they are ready to go international but they need more support.”
By the time Apollo 18 took to the stage, the atmosphere was approaching a frenetic high, and half way through the set spectators and band members from the other groups took to the stage. It was a night to be had, a rare sight on Jeju, and one that many hope to be repeated.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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