SF Music Matters Asia Brings Top Indie Artists from Asia to Bay Area Audiences

Eem Byung-hak and Kim Naun of Goonam performs at the SF Music Matters Asia showcase at Broadway Studios in San Francisco on March 8 (photo credit: Karen Datangel).

Many indie musicians have already gathered at the world-famous SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, but before heading to the Lone Star State, some of these artists and a few others took their show to the City by the Bay for two nights of unforgettable music mayhem. From sentimental soul and slinky blues to pulsating electronic beats and fist-pumping dance-rock, the East met the West in a duo of shows, delivering something special for every music lover.

As a special preview to the newly branded CAAMFest (Formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival), the inaugural San Francisco Music Matters Asia showcase brought together some of the hottest musical acts from Korea, China, and Taiwan at Broadway Studios on March 7 and 8. This Bay Area stop served as an extension of Music Matters, Asia’s yearly premier music event in Singapore. Partnered with local music promoters from the bands’ countries (DFSB Collective of Korea, Maybe Mars of China, and The Wall of Taiwan), SF Music Matters Asia was not only a rare opportunity for fans to see so many critically-acclaimed Asian artists together, but opened doors for these artists to share their music with a wider international audience.

Billed special guest Kim Jin-ho opened the first night of the showcase with a couple of soulful and heartwrenching ballads. The former member of the K-ballad trio SG Wannabe provided the most mellow segment of the two-day festival, but the intensity and emotion in his voice and songs spoke volumes. His two-song set included his first single “Today” and “Family Portrait,” a song for his deceased father. Kim’s display for one of his first solo shows was stunning.

But that chill atmosphere exploded into a supersonic boom as electronic Chinese duo White+ took the stage. The two-man group—the winner of the Electronic Album of the Year Award at the 2012 China Douban Awards—used vocalization, looping, machinery, and percussion to great power and filled the studio with climactic beats. The hypnotic White+ noise was like the soundtrack to a journey somewhere else in this universe—a soundtrack that’s hard to ignore and fully drowns you.

Kim Rock-gun, Kim Tae-hyun, and Yoon Byeong-joon of Lowdown 30 perform at Broadway Studios for San Francisco Music Matters Asia on March 7 (photo credit: Karen Datangel).

The middle and end of Thursday night’s lineup brought the rock, yet showed just how diverse the “rock” genre can be. Lowdown 30‘s style was bluesy and sweltering—a little bit reminiscent of both American southern rock and contemporary rock, but with Seoul flair that puts them in a league of their own. Though the crowd was tuned in all night long, the place sparked up with the appearance of Korean indie rock mainstay Galaxy Express. As out-of-this-world as their band name suggests, the trio truly enjoyed interacting with the dancing, head-banging audience through their banter and amped-up performance. Popular Korean punk rockers No Brain closed the show but kept that electrifying energy going with their raw and uninhibited showmanship.

The second night of San Francisco Music Matters Asia hosted a different lineup with a different crowd vibe, but with the same excitement and anticipation of discovering, revisiting, and experiencing new artists and their tunes. Taiwanese music pioneers The Chairman served as the opener for Friday. Fusing traditional folk music with rock and electronic, the three-man band started their set by donning masks and silk coats. One of the members even shouted out to fellow Taiwanese native Ang Lee on his recent Best Director Oscar win for Life of Pi and wore a San Francisco Giants jersey to show appreciation for the city. Through stage presence and evolving and unique style, it’s simple to see why The Chairman is one of the longest-standing and most respected bands in Taiwan.

Nahm Sang-ah of 3rd Line Butterfly performs at Broadway Studios for San Francisco Music Matters Asia on March 8 (photo credit: Karen Datangel).

Beijing musicians The Gar played a lengthy set next, showing off their brand of garage band rockability. Then came Goonam, a foursome of bouncy and groovy retro-rockers from Korea. Their performance inspired much happiness, and creating some fun and upbeat road trip music is in their wheel. Special guests The Gold Medalists followed up, as Asian-American Peter Nguyen headlined the local band with some homegrown indie rock jams.

3rd Line Butterfly, another popular Korean band, received a jovial response from the audience. The female-fronted quartet (The lead singer is Nahm Sang-ah) was a true crowd-pleaser by delivering their signature psychedelic rock. Closing out SF Music Matters Asia was Chinese rock threesome Carsick Cars, who also won the crowd over with their authenticity in the indie rock genre.

The verdict on this inaugural showcase? It was one very loud, impressive, and joyful celebration and appreciation of Asian culture and the diversity in its arts. Seeing these artists entertaining and connecting with a San Francisco audience showed that no matter the language and no matter the origin, music is truly the one thing that unites people together.

If you were not in San Francisco for this event, you can catch some of these artists on the current 2K13 Seoulsonic North American Tour. If you are in San Francisco, the fun is just getting started — don’t miss out on more live music, as well as films, food, and more at CAAMFest, launching this week!