Pioneer of electronica scene cranks up juiceThere was a time when the pursuit of electronica and similar genres on the Korean pop scene was tantamount to insanity. But that’s exactly the direction the band Roller Coaster went in early 1999. Earlier, all three members ― Cho One-sun on vocals, Lee Sang-soon on guitar and Jinu on bass ―had been individually involved in the mainstream pop music scene.
When the three hit on the idea to pursue the kind of music they wanted, industry pals tried to stop them. The Korean music audience was not quite ready for unfamiliar genres like electronica and acid pop, they were told. Roller Coaster didn’t budge; they just plowed on ahead.
Record labels winced at songs like “Habits,” with its dry electronica rhythm and melody, which is why the band was even more amazed by the audience’s reaction when its album sold more than 150,000 copies ― a remarkable number for an underground band starting from scratch. “Habits,” along with songs like “Love Virus” in 2000 and “Last Scene” in 2002, is one of Roller Coaster’s hottest numbers.
With a reputation for staying ahead of the times, Roller Coaster has weathered the move from underground to mainstream safe and sound. Their much-anticipated concerts tomorrow and Sunday will celebrate the release of their fourth album this year.
“We just pursued what we wanted, to find ourselves standing where we are now,” said Ms. Cho, 31, the vocalist, during an interview at a chic cafe in southern Seoul’s Cheongdam-dong.
The group made its Japan debut in 2001, as “one of the few Korean bands that appeal to the Japanese market,” in the words of one Japanese music producer. Asked what the producer might have found appealing, Jinu, the 32-year-old bassist, said all too seriously: “Our looks.” Then, he revealed an impish smile as his crew bantered about and laughed.
Roller Coaster’s members may have physical appeal, but their primary weapon is unquestionably the music. Since their 1999 debut, Roller Coaster has cemented a style featuring acid pop and electronica influences, intensified by Ms. Cho’s delicate, phantasmal voice.
While previous releases were chock full of easy-listening melodies, with lyrics about heartbreaking love affairs, the band’s latest release this year, “Sunsick,” is more varied. This time the band turned to acoustic sound, with a touch of Latin influence. The lyrics, too, take in a broader field. Ms. Cho sings about problems communicating in modern society in “I Cannot Hear You,” and nature-related topics in “Sunflowers.” (The latter subject provided the band with its album title, a word they coined to mean a longing for nature).
Roller Coaster fans had to wait two years for a new album, but the band admitted it took only a week to produce the album. In the meantime, they were traveling a lot, over to Thailand and Europe, where they hunkered down at local clubs and at music shops. Following what they described as an inspiring trip, the trio gathered at the apartment of one member equipped with basic recording equipment, where they wrote, performed and recorded the songs.
Recording at home is another quintessential part of Roller Coaster’s style. “It’s not only affordable but it also gives us the freedom to pursue whatever we want,” said Mr. Lee, 29, the guitarist.
by Chun Su-jin
The concert takes place at the Seomyu Center in Samseong-dong at 7 p.m. tomorrow and at 5 p.m. Sunday. All tickets are 45,000 won ($38). For more information and ticket sales, call (02) 1544-0737 (Korean only).
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