Korea’s favorite rock band YB celebrates 20 years

YB, South Korea’s most famous rock band, performed in Temecula, California, in June to celebrate their 20th debut anniversary.

Fans began lining up outside the golden doors of the Pechanga Resort and Casino Theater hours before the show. Three excited fans, Mir, Gina, and Maureen, wearing YB T-shirts from SXSW and Warped Tour, were the first to arrive.

“[YB was] very fun to see live,” said Mir, who resides in Los Angeles. “They’re energetic, and each person is talented. The guitarists, they’re jamming. And what can I say about Dee … They always surprise you, and you can tell they care about the audience. They check in and see you and make that connection even if you don’t know them.”

“I love all their songs, I can’t pick a favorite,” Gina said. She has a special history with the band – in 2008, YB came to play at her house in Austin, Texas. She keeps a picture taken with YB on her phone. “They’re really a great bunch of guys.”

Maureen, from Long Beach, agreed. “They just have so many different sounds.”

YB performed at Pechanga Resort & Casino for their 20th anniversary on June 11. (Taehoon Kim/Kore Asian Media)
YB performed at Pechanga Resort & Casino for their 20th anniversary on June 11. (Taehoon Kim/Kore Asian Media)

YB is a group of five, led by Yoon “Dee” Do-hyun, guitarists Heo “Baby J” Joon and Scott Hellowell, drummer Kim Jin-won and bassist Park “Bright Star” Tae-hee. “We are very moved that we have reached our 20th anniversary. We are very moved because it is very difficult for a Korean Rock band to reach where we are, and be able to perform for 20 years. It is something that is not common,” YB said.

To say they are not common is an understatement – since 1994, they have created nine albums, from their first album, “Autumn Outside the Post Office,” to their latest, “Reel Impulse,” in 2013. Along the way, they’ve picked up trophies from Korea’s three main broadcast stations, received the World Peace Music Award for improving human rights in Korea through music and performed the now-iconic “Oh, Pil Seung Korea” during the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, of which they became a sort of face for the Red Devils, Team Korea’s avid supporters.

YB's Baby J (Taehoon Kim/Kore Asian Media)
YB’s Baby J (Taehoon Kim/Kore Asian Media)

The list goes on of their various awards and tours in Korea, and internationally in Europe and America. “As we reach our 20th anniversary, our next goal is to do another 20 years. We want to perform for a long time on stage like the Rolling Stones and U2. That is one of the reasons why we never stop challenging ourselves with new obstacles. That is also why we are trying to perform more in the States so we can widen our area of performance,” YB told Kore.

The group played at major American music festivals like SXSW in 2007, and Vans Warped Tour in 2009. “Before every show, we practice individually one last time to focus. After that, we get together one last time to go over our set list for that day. Then, whether if it’s a big concert or a small concert, we always pray as a group right before we enter the stage,” the band said.

Scott Hellowell (Taehoon Kim/Kore Asian Media)
Scott Hellowell (Taehoon Kim/Kore Asian Media)

The group said they are most inspired while they’re skateboarding, surfing or traveling, and are always prepared to turn those experiences into music. The group’s energy has inspired musical diversity ranging from ballads and blues to jazz and hard rock.

At the same time, they are discovering that singing in English – which began with their sixth album, “Why Be?,” in 2006 – is not exactly the same as singing in Korean. Many of YB’s English songs are remakes of their Korean hits, including “Cigarette Girl” and “A Flying Butterfly.”

“We have had a lot of inspirations when we started to translate our music into English,” the band said. “If the language changes, the nuance changes. If the nuance changes, the melody changes. When you compare both of them, the melody may sound similar, but you can see that it is different in the details. Some songs seem more powerful, some songs may seem very pop. Depending on the lyrics, the expression may vary.”

Bright Star (Taehoon Oh/Kore Asian Media)
Bright Star (Taehoon Kim/Kore Asian Media)

About 1,000 concertgoers filled up the rows of the theater, many of them holding foam glowsticks and donning band T-shirts, binoculars and fan signs reading, “We Love You YB!” As fog filled the stage, Dee entered the stage in a blue blazer, lit from behind by blue lights. The screen behind him beamed with Technicolor images, pulsing with each high note.

Hellowell described what the relationship with the audience is like when they first start playing each show: “The first couple of songs you’re like, ‘What’s going on with the audience?’ You’re kind of exploring each other, but by the end it’s just like it is in Korea,” he said. “It’s like instantly you’re getting the answer. You’re asking them what do you think about the show and it’s there.”

The wavy-haired Baby J, the first to show off a solo performance, flaunted his background in jazz and hard rock guitar. Dee’s solos, also of a hard rock variety, were littered with soft ballads, piano and even harmonica leading into the fan-favorite “Love Two.” Bright Star’s “Dreamer” and Hellowell’s head-banging guitar solo rounded out the acts.

Jin (Taehoon Kim/Kore Asian Media)
Jin (Taehoon Kim/Kore Asian Media)

One rock ‘n’ rolling “Madman” and a few encores later, the show was over, though fans’ enthusiasm never subsided – for many, after all, the experience was the first seeing YB live, after watching them through television and computer screens.

“[The show] was a new style from what I heard growing up,” said Sky, who drove out from Los Angeles with two friends.

“We were really grateful and happy towards the audience for coming such a long way to come watch and cheer for us,” YB said. “Again, [we] would like to thank the people who came to our show and we prepare to meet them again at another concert.”