[TRENDSETTER]Korea’s new breakbeat champion

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[TRENDSETTER]Korea’s new breakbeat champion

S Bar on a Friday night. More than 700 members of Seoul’s party crowd, from both north and south of the river, have converged on Apgujeong-dong’s trendy bar for the 2003 MTV Motoalert DJ Challenge Finals.
The winner gets a new Motorola cell phone and a chance to spin at Phuture Zouk in Singapore before record shopping in London. For one deejay in Korea, it will be a sweet deal. Across Asia, the winner from each country will be profiled for a special TV program. The styles range from old-school funk to drum-and-bass to trance and house. The genre doesn’t matter, as long it’s good.
By 9 p.m., the first deejay has the crowd nodding along to the beat while the judges, a mix of producer, music label agent and magazine editor, look on. The competitors include:
1. Paust, resident deejay at Club Saab in the Hongik University area, self-proclaimed “minister of awesome music,” owner of 3,000 albums. Spins house. Otherwise known as Kim Nam-kyun.
2. Airekan, described by one music critic as “a lanky kid who looks like a Chemical Brothers member,” once opened for Mike Meyers. Listens to everything from classical to hip-hop, but spins trance. Also known as Jung Seok-jun.
3. Schedule 1, resident deejay at Club Saab, afro-styled at a salon in the Ewha Womans University neighborhood, spins hip-hop. Also known as Shin Il-sub.
4. Kuma, resident deejay at the new Hyatt hotel in Incheon, where he spins “quiet” music, but his passion is big beats. Once opened for Plump DJs. Fresh from eight months in London. Also known as Lee Gil-seok.
By the time Kuma takes the stage, people are dancing in front of the DJ booth. Kuma starts with a bootleg remix of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” by DJ Cool, and ends with Fatboy Slim’s “Rockafeller Shank.”
Fans and friends cheer when he wins. It’s his first award, he later says.
On a recent afternoon, his trip to London and Singapore booked for mid-November, Korea’s future No. 1 breakbeat producer spoke with the IHT-JoongAng Daily about his aspirations and the music scene.

What’s your musical history?
I started as a hip-hop deejay 2.5 years ago, and quickly got into hard trance. One day, my friend happened to turn on breakbeat music, and I was hooked by the excitement and rhythm of the music.
I got a gig at MI in Hongdae to spin trance, but I was throwing in breakbeats whenever I could. The music was too hard, and I got burned once by playing only breakbeats.
I got tired and went to London to learn English. I started buying albums again, making demos and sending them out. I ran into some Korean peers, who were studying music engineering or production in London, and they eventually hooked me up with the Plump DJ party back in Korea.
I returned to Korea three months ago and started a breakbeat promotion company, Breakbakery. I’m working with hip-hop DJs like Needle and drum-and-bass DJs like Fujiwara, and breakbeat DJs Tak and Michelle. I need to make a living, but I want to make money only through music.

When your music industry peers return to Korea, do you think they’ll affect the scene here?
I wish there was a business person here who had lots of money and also appreciated and understood music.

What clubs in Korea have the best sound systems?
MI in Hongdae and Cube in Apgujeong-dong. Cube uses Function 1 speakers, used by the Chemical Brothers and Jamiroquai for their live concerts, but some people don’t like the sound.

What are the DJs spinning in London?
In London, you’ll hear a lot of New School Breaks, spun by James Lavelle and Plump DJs. The music is derived from The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim. The beats are big, but funky. Actually, it was after listening to the Plump DJs that I started to get back into breakbeats. The Plump DJs are not limited by rhythms or music speed, and it makes breakbeat exciting.

What are your plans for Singapore and London?
I’ll be scouring the second-hand record stores in London for used vinyls with Felix the Housecat, a house artist. In Singapore, I’ll be representing Korea. I have to do a good job for my country.

What’s been your most daring moment as a DJ?
I was at a party at Fabric, and the DJ who was opening for Carl Cox really sucked. I thought, “DJs can be that bad and succeed even in London? I can do this.” So I sent a letter to the people at Fabric, and they replied, “Let’s see what you can do. Send us a demo.” I didn’t hear back, but I’m going to spin at Fabric one day.


Kuma’s Top Four
Kuma's record collection, part of which he left behind in London, is half house and half breakbeat. New albums he orders online, but in order to make tracks, he requires the latest albums, and old-school music.
Yo La Tengo
“Summer Sun”
“I'm listening to this all the time,” Kuma says. The New Jersey-based group uses lo-fi guitar, bass, brushed drums, swirling horns, insistent piano figures and organ to create a hushed, but never boring, tone.

Plump DJs
“Plump Night Out”
Consistently voted top DJ by music magazines across the world; this first album proved the duo's mettle as producers and deejays. Funky and dark.

“OK Computer”
Frontman Thom Yorke clearly divides people into fans and detractors. Radiohead's third album may be at times slow, angry and bleak, but the music is also original and intelligent.

Deulgukhwa, Flower on the Rock
“Album One”
Forerunner of some of today's Korean rock musicians, this band debuted in 1985. Led by vocalist and acoustic guitarist Jung In-gwon, band members drew on Simon and Garfunkel and jazz to make “real music.”

by Joe Yong-hee
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