Posted on December 10, 2015
When I joined DOINDIE, one of my hopes was for the chance to introduce bands deserving of more attention to a wider audience. Seldom have I been prouder to do so than with South Carnival. Hailing from way down south in Jeju Island, and embodying the spirit of the island in all aspects of what they do (including plain old hard work), they have in just the past couple of years become the closest thing there is to Jeju’s representative band--certainly I can no longer think of Jeju without them springing to mind. But, faced with a small independent music scene heavily centred on Hongdae, as well as the prohibitive cost of coming up here to play live, their struggle remains to rid the Korean public of the notion that there is no good music outside of Seoul (a struggle that we at DOINDIE very much support). Yet there is a reason why they spend much of their time playing at events and festivals--wherever they go, I’ve never seen a band able to make such a wide spectrum of audiences so happy. Their unique blend of latin rhythms (think Cuban salsa) with Jamaican ska (who can resist a horn section?) and lashings of the colorful Jeju dialect delivered with unflagging optimism by frontman Kang Kyung-Hwan, gets everyone dancing and dreaming of the beach, whether it’s little old ladies at a citizens’ center or young punk fans at the New Generation of Ska Festival. Building on their 2013 triumphs at two well known Rookie awards, 2015 has hopefully seen another boost to their countrywide reputation, as they were invited to play on the main stage at the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival. We were lucky enough to catch them on a rare visit to Seoul, after they played in the unlikeliest of places-- the Seoul Racecourse in Gwacheon--to talk about recording their new album, their upcoming Christmas show, and their position as a band from outside of the capital.
Kyeong-Hyeon: It’s really cold. What’s more, it feels like your nostrils might freeze. You don’t get that feeling all too often down in Jeju.
Ji-Wan: My lungs are cold.
Kyung-Hwan: Firstly, everyone looks at us with a kind of amazement. They think it’s wonderful that we are from Jeju. On the other hand, it is quite sad. Jeju is an island with a population of about 100,000 people, so of course there are bands down there, but lots of people seem to be looking at us and thinking ‘wow, they have bands down there in Jeju?’ … it really makes it feel like Korea’s scene is super small, and that makes me think we need to work harder.
Kyeong-Hyeon: Of course.
Ji-Wan: I lost.
Kyeong-Hyeon: We lost 10,000 won. We thought it would be an easy way to make a quick buck, but the horse ran sideways.
Kyung-Hwan: That’s because you backed a 190 / 1 outsider! Our title track from the first album is called ‘몬딱 도르라 <Let’s Run Together>’. Because of that song we play lots of shows at the racecourse down in Jeju. In Jeju though, the horses they race are much smaller little ponies.
Kyeong-Hyeon: They are really cute.
Kyung-Hwan: They have really short legs, but they run really hard and fast. The horses that race here in Seoul are much bigger, they look like proper horses. It’s been good to experience the racing up here.
Ji-Wan: This is Kyeong-Hyeon. He is a percussionist in the band. He plays the Conga drums and sings backing vocals as well. He doesn’t have a girlfriend. He won’t have one in the future and he didn’t have one in the past either! He likes Gundam (a robot character). It’s quite normal for someone who hasn’t had a girlfriend in a while to get into all that kind of stuff; Gundam models and other figures. He works hard to earn money and spends it all on that kind of thing. Such a pitty. Despite all that he works really hard on his music, but … he has no future. ha ha!
Kyung-Hwan: You were supposed to introduce him, not diss him!
Ji-Wan: Well, I wanted to make the atmosphere a bit lighter. He has a really good personality. His personality is so good I have never seen him get really angry or sensitive over anything at all. He makes everyone around him feel really comfortable.
Kyung-Hwan: I shout and swear at him until he cries, then the next day he appears smiling and ready to go.
Ji-Wan: I want to learn to be more like him; he is amazing. I really like that about him.
Kyeong-Hyeon: The guy next to me is Kyung-Hwan. He plays the trumpet and is also the vocalist of South Carnival. He is our band leader. Ages ago, when I first started out in music, he really …. didn’t help me at all; instead he would get angry and shout things at me a lot. Things like, ‘you might as well just quit’, ‘this music stuff isn’t for you’, ‘find something else to do’, etc. Ah, yeah … I overcame a lot to be here today.
Kyung-Hwan: You had no talent back then, you were useless.
Kyeong-Hyeon: Our band has a lot of members, and he manages us all really well. He is that kinda guy.
Kyung-Hwan: This is another of the band’s percussionists, Seok Ji-Wan. If you look at most normal households, there is a father who does all the work outside the home, and the mother who ensures everything is all ship-shape in the home. Within the band I usually do all the ‘outside’ work, like booking shows and taking care of the business side of things, whereas Ji-Wan is more like the evil mother type.
Kyeong-Hyeon: You have those really straight and stiff mothers-in-law, right? Just like mothers-in-law around kimchi-making season.
Kyung-Hwan: He is always in your ear saying things like ‘practice more’. He has that way of speaking. So at first, everyone in the band hated him. However, in the end, as the band started to get better and better, it began to feel a bit like we needed someone like him to kick us up the ass a bit. So that is Seok Ji-Wan, doing the mother's duties in the band.
Kyeong-Hyeon: He doesn’t have a girlfriend either. And he likes the Gundam models as well.
Kyung-Hwan: We don’t really like to define ourselves as a ‘three piece’ or ‘five piece’ band. Our aim is to always produce the best sound we can when we are playing live. For some other bands, it is often the case that the album has a really brilliant sound but when they actually come to play it in the live arena it is hard for them to recreate that full sound. In those cases, it is really only satisfying when you listen to the album versions of the songs. Those bands of ten say ‘you can feel the energy at the live shows’, but actually, in my opinion, the most important thing is to show your music at its best--those people have come to listen to your music, after all. So, it is possible that the amount of members in our band will increase in the future, but we never think about decreasing them. It is our aim to become a forty piece band and all take a bus together to our live shows. We want to have loads of members, like Buena Vista Social Club when they played at Carnegie Hall. So we don’t really put any kind of limit on the amount of members we have. As long as I am not replaced, then all is good!!
Kyeong-Hyeon: I won’t get swapped out either!
Kyung-Hwan: Actually, we are stricken with a bad case of victim mentality. We are a band from the provinces in Korea, but it seems to us that people always think that to be a good band, you have to come from Seoul and that bands from outside of Seoul don’t have the same level of skill. On top of that we also don’t get any of the cultural support benefits that bands might be able to get up in Seoul. So we decided to become the cultural vanguard. It was our dream to become cultural socialists, so when we started out we originally called ourselves ‘Socialism’. However, every time we played a show the Investigation Intelligence Division of the police force would call us up.
Kyung-Hwan:Yeah. They would want to check the band's political tendencies and to find out what kind of show it was we were playing. This was all simply because of the band’s name. Around that time there were lots of protests happening because of BSE (Mad Cow Disease) and the navy had just confirmed that they were going to set up a new base in Gangjeong. Our name caused a lot of misunderstanding; it wasn’t a good idea to be a band called ‘Socialism’ around that time. Also, the name prevented us from being able to play certain shows and events as well as limiting our opportunities for being broadcast on TV or the radio. So, when we got signed by a label we decided to change our name. Some ska bands like to include the word ‘Ska’ in their names, for example ‘Skatalites’, ‘Skaplay’, ‘Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra’ etc. So, we did it as well. When you say South Carnival in Korean… it actually sounds like it has the word ‘ska’ in it … “Sou-ska-nival”. So, it fits in the word ska in a kind of cute way, and also the direct meaning is a carnival in the south … which is the kind of music we are making.
Kyung-Hwan: It is island music, isn’t it? I think separating music into different genres is something that music distributors like to do so they can classify music easily. The genre we fall under is world music. In my opinion most bands don’t actually want to say ‘our music is such and such a genre’. It is our aim to play the most “islandy” music on the island. It is not artificial in anyway, we try to paint a musical picture that reflects the mood or scent of the place where we live. At the moment most of the music we make has a latin, afro-cuban, ska and reggae feel, but we don’t think that those genres are the only ones that fit well with the feel of Jeju island. If we find a different style that interprets the feel of Jeju well, then we will use it. The island of Jeju will always be our raw material, that will never change.
Kyung-Hwan: I was involved in hip hop and b-boying since I was 13 and I graduated from university with a major in traditional Korean dance. However, after completing my military service I found I wasn’t all that good at dancing anymore, so I started out in music. I was 23 years old at that time and I was into punk and hardcore. I used to make emotional core music. I was in the same scene as Korean bands like Hollow Jan, Thirteen Steps and Rux. My band was called Ten Minutes Later. However, in my late 20s I had a falling out with the other members in the band over something small, and we disbanded. I couldn’t believe we had lost something we had been working on for most of our 20s over something so petty. So I decided that when I next formed a band I would always do whatever I wanted without asking for the opinions of the others in the band. That’s how South Carnival came about.
Kyung-Hwan: At first, our aim was to just have a long run as a band. Of course, that is still our aim these days. I think it’s hard in our genre to become successful rock stars or anything like that, so our aim is simply to be a band for our whole lives. We still have about 40 years left, so rather than spending our earnings on ourselves right now, we decided to make a studio and practice space for the band. We thought that it would be good to go ‘all in’ right now and make sure we had a place to practice in and record in even if no one calls us and asks us to come and play shows. The album we are going to release in June next year, we have been working on since May this year. Over those 13 months, apart from our personal time, there have been no other additional expenses for us. That has been such a great thing for us; I would strongly recommend it to other bands as well. When you get paid for your shows and for appearing at big corporate events, I think it is better to save up and buy your own equipment and a space to practice and record in rather than spending the money on normal daily expenses.
Kyung-Hwan: When we first started out with the band we never felt a sense of duty to let people know about Jeju Island, we are just musicians. We are not ambassadors, we are musicians. When we first wrote lyrics for our songs we tried to stay away from using our everyday Jeju dialects and used standard Korean language instead, but it felt like a little something was missing. So we decided that we would start using our ordinary Jeju dialect to write songs. A similar example would be that of the Gipsy Kings. When the Gipsy Kings said they were going to release an album in the gipsy dialect, everyone around the band told them not to do it, but they were stubborn and went ahead with it anyway and ended up selling around 12,000,000 copies of the album. Because of this good example we decided to give it a go as well. My grandmother was a Haenyeo (lady shellfish diver) and so we decided to dedicate our album, <좀녀이야기 Jomnyeo Story> to the Haenyeo ladies of Jeju Island. My grandmother was a Haenyeo her whole life right up until she passed away. Although I did feel a little sense of duty to let people know about the Haenyeo ladies, more than that I didn’t want my grandmother to be referred to as an ‘A-ma’ (the Japanese term for female shellfish divers). In November 2016 UNESCO will decide on whether to refer to these divers with the Korean term, Haenyeo or the Japanese term, A-ma. My grandmother would have hated to be referred to as an A-ma. Because of this, South Carnival have made a Haenyeo special promotions group that plan to go to Cuba early next year. Cuba is a socialist country, right. We will travel to that island, which has the complete opposite ideals to our country, and show them we have our own version of their famous worker’s song, Guantanamera. Ours is called NeoyoungNayoung (a Jeju island workers’ folk song). We want to tell them that the songs have a similar context. We are far apart in terms of physical distance but our islands are not all that different really. We want to share that sentiment with them and also tell them about the plight of our Haenyeo ladies at the same time.
Kyung-Hwan: Well, firstly there are two main cities in Jeju, the main city is Jeju city and the second city is Seogwipo. We started out in Seogwipo, but if we come from there we don’t get any recognition from the people of Jeju, as they think we are a countryside band. There are some big shows and events down in Jeju but they never invite us, they all unconditionally invite bands down from Seoul. So we figured that we should perhaps market ourselves a bit differently. In order to inform everyone of our existence, rather than making a foray into Jeju City from Seogwipo we decided to go straight up to Seoul and do some auditions. This worked out far better than we had expected. After we won the Hello Rookie show, the next morning the phone was off the hook. We got 77 calls from different people. We were contacted by the Jeju City Hall, the provincial government office, the cultural and arts department and others, they all called us. All of them said, “why haven't you been in touch with us all this time? Don’t you know that the MCST(Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism) supports the Hello Rookie winning team? Apparently the MCST gives financial assistance to help with recording albums, but so far none of the MCST affiliated organizations had given us any support at all. They said that this would likely cause strong criticism from the public and so they called us to patch things up. Apparently the local offices were reprimanded a lot. During an administration inspection, the members of the Jeju provincial assembly were questioned as to why they had not been supporting us up until now. ha ha! We saw all manner of situations after we won the Hello Rookie show.
Many bands from outside Seoul are at a disadvantage right from the get go, because they are labeled ‘local’ or ‘countryside bands’ (which comes with the assumption they are not all that good), even though their abilities are comparable to those bands up in Seoul. But everybody saw what we did on the show and it became a good opportunity to say to other bands ... ‘Look what we can achieve! Even when we don’t leave our hometowns’. Now we have to keep pushing, keep moving forward. As always, the pacesetter’s achievements are set as a reference point for others. So far we have really only pushed the boundaries one step forward, but that small step was way more than we ever expected to achieve. Recently we have felt a little bit burdened by it all. Some of the band have started losing their hair! … It is a lot of stress haha. Now we have come this far and got people’s attention, it’s time to show our musical skills … but we are terrified that people will notice we are not all that good (laughing)!
Kyung-Hwan: In 2013 it cost us around 4,000,000 won over the year just for the flights. Each time we come to Seoul we have to pay for flights, accommodation and food for 11 people, including the manager. It costs about 2,000,000 won each time we come for two days. We have tried to come up to Seoul regularly since 2013. In 2013 alone we came around 15 times I think, and this year we have been up around 10 times I’d guess. There are a lot of corporate events we can play. But, as for normal shows, because our hometown is down in Jeju it’s always a bit terrifying to try and organise a show in Seoul. We tend to come up to play special events or festivals only.
Kyung-Hwan: Shows are usually late in the evening so it is hard to make that work with flight times. That means we are usually in town for two days and one night. Because the shows are usually on weekends it is always hard to find places to stay. It’s hard to find rooms so we usually end up staying up all night and hanging out with other bands in Hongdae as well, then we go back to Jeju the next day. Because we live in Jeju we can’t usually meet our friends up in Seoul more than two or three times a year, so it’s always good to catch up with them and swap stories.
Kyung-Hwan: More than being simply musicians from Jeju we want to become a Jeju landmark. For example, when you think of Cuba you probably immediately think of things like Cuban cigars, Hemingway, Mojitos and of course Buena Vista Social Club. When it comes to Jeju, we want you to think of the stone grandpa statues, hallabong (sweet variety of mandarin orange) and of course South Carnival. We like to think like that, but we were still surprised that so many more people than we expected helped us with our crowdfunding campaign. So much so that we began to think we are already beginning to achieve our aim of becoming a Jeju landmark. It feels like South Carnival has become a little more than just a band or musician. So now it feels like we have a bit more responsibility as well.
Kyung-Hwan: We can’t escape now. Life is like that I guess. We bluffed our way this far, now we need to generate some superpowers to cover up the initial bluff. Haha.
Kyung-Hwan: We don’t have a title for it yet. We are still making the album at the moment. We have been making ska and latin music for a while, but our producer said ‘you guys are gonna starve, there is no market for Latin music here in Korea. People are not into it. Just play ska music.’ That just made us want to prove him wrong. In my opinion … if the song is good enough, then people won’t care about the genre anyway. As a result, this album is made up of about 90% latin music! ha ha!
Kyung-Hwan: Firstly, all the writing and recording of the songs we have done ourselves, but we asked some other musicians to help us arrange some of the songs. The best latin band in Korea is Los Amigos, so we asked them to help us arrange some of the tracks. We really want to make a good album so we have asked them to help a lot. Also, it isn’t something we have needed up until now, but we would be open to using session musicians as well if the need arises. We are willing to try anything it takes to make a great album.
Kyeong-Hyeon: When we record, I am usually our engineer. It’s not something I was trained to do, but we needed an engineer so I stepped up to do it. We like to keep it all in the family. I do all that work, but I’m not that good at it really. I pressed some button on the desk once and ended up deleting the whole track. I did the mixing too, but it didn’t turn out how I wanted it to, so I was really sad about that.
Ji-Wan: Why are you whining on like that?
Kyeong-Hyeon: I was just telling them what happened. I wanted to learn how to do all that stuff, but there is no one down in Jeju who works in that area to teach me.
Kyung-Hwan: The thing that stands out the most for me was being on the main stage at Pentaport festival. That was the first time in the history of Korean rock festivals that a Korean band from outside of Seoul let alone a band from Jeju had made it up onto the main stage. It felt like we had written our own little bit of history; it meant a lot to us. I was really surprised by the size of the stage. If you combined all the sound companies in Jeju into one, I doubt they would be able to produce a stage and sound system that big or powerful. That’s what I remember the most about it.
Kyeong-Hyeon: What about the Suwon Jazz Festival?
Kyung-Hwan: At the Suwon Jazz Festival we got to share the stage with one of the Latin musicians we like and respect the most, Cobana. It was great, but, we were like rabbits in the headlights at that show.
Pictures : Jin Kim
Kyung-Hwan: Actually, he was a really important member, suddenly… suddenly … it happened so suddenly so...
Kyeong-Hyeon: We had a show on the day he was buried…
Kyung-Hwan: (fighting back tears) We went through the hard days together.. at first we were not at all successful as a band … all the people around us kept saying we wouldn’t be able to make it. They said there was no way we could do it and that if we wanted to pursue a career in music we should go to Seoul… we said we would show them… at that time there were lots of hardships for us, and went thought all that with us. At the moment it feels like we might finally be able to make some breakthroughs, but he suddenly passed away. It’s such a shame that he is not here to share these moments with us. hmmm… he left us just like that…
In actual fact, for us in Jeju… it is not the same as Seoul when you want to find band members. In Seoul you might put up an advert looking for a keyboard player or something and a few people will come for auditions. It doesn’t work like that in Jeju. I played the trumpet for the first time in my life when I was 33 years old. When we decided who was going to play what in the brass section, we did it by playing rock, scissors, paper. We brought our instruments from ‘Auction’ (a website like Ebay) and learned how to play them by watching Youtube videos. There is a lack of human resources down in Jeju so if you want to make a band you just have to bite the bullet and learn how to play other instruments. At the moment Kyeong-Hyeon plays percussion, but he is learning how to play trumpet as well. That is how we do it in South Carnival, so, when he passed away … Anyway, in Jeju you have to make things happen yourself; we miss him a lot, we need him in the band.
Kyung-Hwan: In my case, Buena Vista Social Club are coming to play in Korea on March 1st next year. I’d love for us to be the opening band for that show. Of course there are several bands who are better than us, bands like Los Amigos, Cobana and Jungjungbae, so we will probably just have to buy tickets and go to watch the show as fans. Sadly it is probably going to be one of their last ever shows. It is a bit greedy of me but even if it was just to put one foot on the stage I would love to share that stage with them, even if just for the briefest of moments. In Korea I would love to play a show with Cobana and Los Amigos as well.
Ji-Wan: This thought has just popped into my mind. We plan to be around for a long time, right, so in about 30 years’ time I would love to get up on one of the Gayo Stages (old school korean pop) for a show. You have to have been around for ages to get up and play on one of those stages. You have got to be good and at least semi-successful to appear there.
Kyeong-Hyeon: Well, I’m not too sure about that. I was in rock bands since I was in high school so I always wanted to appear at Pentaport Rock Festival or on EBS Space Gonggam (a live music broadcast). But we have done all that now, so .. I’m not sure what to dream about next.
Kyung-Hwan: You might as well just quit now then, you have achieved everything you ever wanted.
Kyeong-Hyeon: It’s been fun. We have had a good time together.
Kyung-Hwan: If you have realised all your dreams, call it a day now. You are not all that good at music anyway, ha ha!
Kyung-Hwan: I would want that power he had in the movie ‘Jumper’. I’d jump right into a bank vault and retire from making music! Ah, what I mean is … I would stop playing these corporate events that we do for the money. I would just play the shows I wanted to play and I would give 20,000,000 dollars to Buena Vista Social Club to come over to my house and jam with us in the garden. I want to do that kind of stuff, I don’t want to be playing shows at a race course in Seoul. We came and played here about two weeks ago as well, and after the show we had a flutter on the horses. We decided that if we won enough money … we wouldn’t play the show and would just go back to Jeju instead.
Kyeong-Hyeon: Then why the hell did you bet on a horse that ran sideways?
Ji-Wan: It was 190 to 1, that’s why it didn’t win.
Kyeong-Hyeon: If I had a superpower, it would be to see a week into the future. I’d want to find out the lottery numbers.
Kyung-Hwan: That’s all you would do? The lotto numbers?
Ji-Wan: I want to be able to fly. I would go to all the places I have ever wanted to visit. I like all the heroes that appear in movies, but I am most envious of Superman.
Kyeong-Hyeon: Look at Ironman. He made it possible for himself to fly.
Ji-Wan: It’s a pain in the ass if you have to make it.
Kyung-Hwan: I will use my ‘jump’ power and get you the money to make an Ironman suit.
Kyung-Hwan: I never do more than one showcase concert each year. We did one last year on Christmas Eve, and this year’s show will be on the 24th as well. Usually when bands play normal club shows, it costs between 10,000 - 20,000 won, but when they do their showcase concerts the price goes up to about 44,000-50,000 won. For us though, we tend to do a lot of corporate shows. So, we take that money and try to use it to give something back to our fans, and thus we are making our showcase concert a free event. Our guest band is going to be Gogostar; we are bringing them down from Seoul. Also, the venue can take about 400 people, but we have prepared over 100 gifts to give away on the night. Honestly.
Kyeong-Hyeon: Really, we have.
Kyung-Hwan: If you don’t get one, you must have pretty bad luck. We are giving away 100 things to 400 people, so there is a good chance of you getting something. Our show will be more than just people coming to watch musicians play. It is to celebrate the end of the year and to show our fans all the stuff we have been working hard on and what we will be doing in the future, and to give them all presents. It is a gathering where hopefully we can all become friends, and encourage --brainwash--everyone not to like any other bands ha ha!
Kyung-Hwan: Ah yes, one more thing. We will be doing some stuff at the showcase concert that you will only be able to see there. Last year we all wore wigs and did a cover of ACDC’s ‘Back In Black’ and a Rux punk song. We have lots of things like that prepared this time as well.
Ji-Wan: We are practising a lot.
Kyung-Hwan: Like I said before, we are a Korean band that happens to reside in Jeju. Please don’t think of us as a Jeju band or a band from the countryside. Our aim for next year is to have a showcase concert up in Seoul. I am living in hope that DOINDIE will make that happen for us!
Kyeong-Hyeon: We are a well known local product band.
Kyung-Hwan: What?! I just said not to think of us like that, didn’t I? We are a Korean band!
Kyeong-Hyeon: We are a well known local band. Make sure to come and see our showcase concert. It will be loads of fun.
Interview : Doyeon Lim & Rock N Rose
English Translation : Doyeon Lim & Patrick Connor
Edited by : Rock N Rose
Date : June 17th (Sat) 18:00
Venue : SangSang Madang Live Hall (Hongdae)
Door : FREE
For more information on the band, check them out at the following sites :