[FOUNTAIN]Hongdae needs to keep its edgeUntil the 1980s, the Hongik University district of Seoul was a characterless neighborhood. Thanks to the prestigious art department of Hongik University, art studios and private schools used to be the most notable attraction of the area. Nearby Sinchon, where Yonsei University and Ewha Womans University are located, led the youth culture.
In the 1990s, the Hongik University neighborhood began to distinguish itself as sleek cafes and galleries filled the so-called “Picasso Street” and “Cafe Alley.” Live music clubs and rock cafes sprang up in the area. Those in Sinchon relocated to the Hongik University neighborhood when live performances were illegalized and law enforcement launched a crackdown on decadent entertainment businesses.
Experimental rock bands performed at these live clubs. Rock cafes, where patrons also danced, developed into dance clubs. The combination of the live music venues and dance clubs gave birth to the unique culture of the Hongik University neighborhood. There are now dozens of clubs encompassing every genre from hip-hop to jazz. A new group of people frequenting dance clubs began to call themselves “clubbers,” and the fringe culture of underground and independent music was established.
If the posh Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong areas represent the consumption-oriented culture south of the Han River, the Hongik University neighborhood is a landmark on the north side of the river where the young can let off the energy of youth in music at a reasonable price.
Moreover, the neighborhood is considered an outlet of creative culture where experiments in fashion, music, dance and design are possible without being restricted by social and cultural conventions, and what other people think. Therefore, critics say the culture in the Hongik University neighborhood is somewhat decadent and salacious. As the aberrant acts of some are publicized, people are concerned that the area has lost its fresh edge.
Recently, an independent band based in the Hongik University neighborhood created a controversy as members bared themselves during a live network television program. The authorities are ready to launch a crackdown. The clubs that are registered as “general restaurants” will be subject to the Food Sanitation Act, which prohibits singing and dancing at restaurants.
It might be a good idea to experience the culture of the Hongik University neighborhood before assessing its decadence. Reckless control will have side effects. Maybe we will see a replay of the female voices that had called for a legalization of dance halls in Seoul in the 1930s.
by Ko Dae-hoon
The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.