Pioneer Doesn't Leave QuietlyOn a Saturday night earlier this month, at a time when all good citizens should be in bed, the music was pounding its unrelenting, electronic beat. Soaking wet hordes were packed into the small, sweaty club called Myungwolgwan. In the middle of it all, as usual, was Andy Newton, disc jockey and centerpiece of the Hongik University area (also called Hongdae) dance club scene.
As late as five years ago, "techno" had yet to enter the popular vocabulary in Seoul. There were no techno stars on TV singing into their pinky fingers. In the western-style nightclubs around Seoul, you mostly heard dance-pop. Until 4 a.m., that is, when the hardcore party people would flock to the one underground spot that stayed open that late － Sangsudo. In that small, badly lit dive, there was only techno music, continuing as late as people wanted to stay, sometimes until 9 or 10 a.m.
"It reminded me of New York in the late '70s," Newton said of the old club. "Of course I was never there then, but Sangsudo was exactly how I imagined it, when the dance music scene was just starting." He smiled charmingly as he talked. His hair was black and unkempt, his body pudgy and the body language outgoing. Early in the day or late at night, Newton has always been the kind of person who is easy to talk to, personable and disarming. But after four years of working as a DJ in Korea and being an pioneer of the "electronica dance," or "techno" music scene, Andy Newton is moving back to England.
People who know him have only good things to say about Newton, both personally and professionally. "Everybody loves Andy," said Susan Kim, 28, a long-time patron of the Hongdae area clubs. "There was always a friendly, comfortable vibe whenever he played."
When he came to Korea, Newton had no plans to go back to spinning discs. He had been a successful DJ for years in England and Germany, specializing in a soulful variety of electronica called "house." He spent much of his time during college practicing and working as a DJ instead of studying. But just as his career was beginning to really take off, he decided to come to Korea, to learn more about the land his mother came from. So he put his mammoth record collection into storage in England, sold his turntables, and headed east.
After living in Seoul for a couple of months, Newton wandered into Sangsudo and was quickly offered a position there. At first, his schedule at Sangsudo was wildly irregular; but soon all of the club's original DJs left Korea, leaving Newton to pick up the slack. For about six months at the end of 1998, Andy was the club's only DJ, and so he had to spin discs all by himself for six or eight hours straight.
Gradually, some of the other employees at the club began to learn from Newton how to DJ, and many of them have gone on to become major DJs themselves. "It's a great feeling to see the people I played for starting their own clubs," Newton said.
It might look as if anyone can play a record loud for a big party, but in fact there is a lot more to it, he said. "You have to be able to blend the music, to reach peaks and troughs, and create a musical soundscape. You're performing for people and it's demanding, especially when you have to go for six hours or so without a break."
Newton was good at it. Robb Harker, co-founder of Sickboy Promotions in Korea, said, "He has this intangible ability to make people move on the dance floor. He can take virtually any record from his bag and turn a room full of lethargic people into a kicking party."
Eventually, Sangsudo closed, but the techno scene was growing and healthy, so Newton moved on to Sickboy.
The night clubbing world is notoriously cyclic, and after a time, Newton's sound began to fall out of favor with the Hongdae crowd. He liked to spin "house" music, but Korean crowds preferred the faster, more upbeat sounds of "trance." Newton's crowds began to shrink as other clubs offered more of the latest trends in music.
Fads aside, Newton's widespread appeal was in evidence on that wet Saturday night last week. In spite of the heaviest rains of the year, the Myungwolgwan club was packed. He did not begin until near 4 a.m., but when he did, he played a set that included many of his favorite tunes from the past four years. At that late hour, the crowd was down to the die-hard Andy Newton fans. There were a lot of them, and once again, he kept playing until nearly 9 a.m. It was a fitting last show.
Newton has moved back to England to resume his life there. After four years in Korea, his success here opened up opportunities for him back home. He wants to get more involved in studio work, perhaps as an engineer － and you can expect to see him in Korea again. "Andy will continue to work with us on a consultant basis," Harker said. "And hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will invite him back to play again."
When asked how he would like to be remembered in Korea, Newton shifts in his seat and thinks. "I think I gave people an opportunity on weekends to go and listen to a variety of soulful music with a groove," he said. "If I can add to people's enjoyment, I've done my job."
Andy may not be playing music for a while in Korea, but there are still plenty of opportunities to be listen to electronica. Friday night at Triport Hall in Jong-no, there will be a "rave" party going on from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. This joint production of Sickboy Productions, 02 Pro and Innertech will feature Bad Boy Bill from Chicago and Christopher Lawrence, as well as many local DJs. Entrance costs 25,000 won (about $19), and includes one free drink.
Triport Hall is located outside exit No. 1 of the Euljiro 3-ga station on subway line No. 2. For more information call 323-2330 (English available) or visit Web site www.02pro.com.
by Mark Russell