South Korean Bands Rock Out at SXSW

Pictured above: Korean glam rock band, Victim Mentality. (Photo courtesy of Victim Mentality)


Move over, K-pop. At this year’s South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival, held in March in Austin, Tex., several underground rock bands showed how South Korean music is more than just catchy K-pop tunes (though there was plenty of that, as well).

Meet the big-haired rock stars of glam metal group Victim Mentality: vocalist Krocodile, guitarist Kyung-ho Sohn, bassist Scorpion and drummer Tarantula. The group made its debut U.S. appearance at the festival’s

“Seoulsonic” showcase, as it prepares for the spring release of its debut album, “Heavy Metal is Back.”

“Our message is simple—live life to the fullest,” Sohn said in an email to KoreAm. “Our music is energetic and fun. It’s a bit over-the-top at times, too. But this is all done on purpose because we want to make people happy and help them enjoy their lives.”

Sohn and Krocodile, the original members of the group, met in 2005 and bonded over a shared love of heavy metal and British rock groups. They formed Victim Mentality four years later. A sub-genre of heavy metal, glam metal is also categorized as pop metal or hair metal, and is inspired by the exaggerated hairstyles and makeup donned by famous bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s such as Mötley Crüe and Whitesnake.

Sohn and Krocodile found the group’s bassist, Scorpion, in 2013 through an online metal community board. The trio played live performances all throughout South Korea. Yet a lack of live drums in their sets left something to be desired. Luckily, the opportunity to collaborate with Tarantula at a performance a year later led to the birth of a quartet, and Victim Mentality could finally take their sound to new heights.

“We wanted to make music that was sexier and had more flare, and glam metal seemed like a perfect match for that,” Sohn said. “What drew us to the genre was the style and charm of the acts. We wanted to dress up and have the same sex appeal and sleazy stage  show as those classic ‘80s glam metal acts, so we’ve mirrored our style after bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison.”

Victim Mentality’s songs feature soaring guitar riffs, escalating vocal melodies and instrumental breakdowns of epic proportions. They are known to appear on stage in leopard print outfits and heavy eyeliner, all the while brandishing bullwhips reminiscent of heavy metal’s heyday. At South by Southwest, they performed such singles titled “Don’t Spit on Me” and “I’m Not Your Friend.”

“When we play in Korea, people go crazy when they see us,” Sohn said“American fans may even go a bit crazier because they are much more familiar with metal, and of course, glam metal originated in the U.S.”

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Cul-Music-AM15-2EE1EE mixes entrancing electronic elements with aspects of performance art. (Photo courtesy of Foundation Records)

South Korean duo EE also took the stage at this year’s South by Southwest, performing during the festival’s “K-Pop Night Out” showcase, though their musical style is not so easily defined.

Singer Lee Yun-joung (“lil E”) and producer/DJ Lee Hyun-joon (“big E”) are known to form an exhilarating presence onstage, fusing entrancing electronic elements with the ever-changing dynamics of performance art.

EE enhances its music by mixing sound with fashion, digital art and performance art. A handful of TVs set up on their stage during South by Southwest offered up graphic visuals, while the two musicians hid behind masks and glitter. As a “total art performance group,”

EE has carved its own niche in the South Korean underground music industry.

“I took a break from music to work as a stylist,” Yun-joung told KoreAm by email. “But when I stopped doing music, I felt like I had a fever. I thought making music again would be a good cure for this. Around that time, I met Big E. He listened to my story, and then next thing I knew, EE was happening!”

Inspired by their identical last names, the two Seoulites, and now husband-and-wife pair, collaborated and formed EE in 2008. “When we decided to call ourselves EE, the first words that came to mind were ‘easy’ and ‘enjoy,’”

Hyun-joon said, also by email. “Since then, other ‘E’ words have popped into my mind at different times to describe us, too.”

Cul-Music-AM15-2EE2(Photo courtesy of Foundation Records)

Yun-joung’s energetic, magnetic voice complements the natural lilt of Hyun-joon’s deep voice. Think the grittiness of M.I.A. meets the electronic elements of Purity Ring, made even more complex by deep hip-hop beats and bass lines. In other words, there’s no sound like it. Whatever it is, it’s been working for the duo, who, in 2011, became the first South Korean musical act to perform at Coachella.

Although Yun-joung admits they often bicker over housework or childcare, their differences dissolve when they go into the recording studio or onstage—it’s their happy place.

“[It’s] happy wandering and weird snazziness,” Yun-joung said of their sound. Hyun-joon simply—and aptly—calls it “eeism.”

EE’s first single, “Curiosity Kills,” debuted in 2008; their first full-length album, “Imperfect, I’mperfect,” was released a year later. 2013 saw the release of EE’s second album, “Unpdctvprdct,” and in 2014, they came out with their latest EP titled, “Weird People We R Da People.”

“We don’t know how our music will evolve in the future,” Yun-joung said. “We make it a point not to limit ourselves. And because of that, we don’t plan for the future at all. Instead, we’ll just keep doing whatever we want without worrying about styles [or] genres.”


This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).