Posted on May 17, 2014
One of Korea’s more prolific and hardworking bands, Genius, is releasing their 3rd album, Beaches, in a set of shows across the peninsula this March. If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve caught them before. They’ve toured extensively this past year as well as being featured in GQ Korea and performing on EBS Space Gong Gam.
And if you haven’t seen them, let me share one of my favorite Genius experiences so that we’re all on the same page. In October 2012, Genius played a short set at 3 or 4 in the morning at the Cantina. The lineup was huge… but attendance was low. Each band basically played to a small handful folks, most of whom were the next act.
Genius took the stage and chaos ensued. Guitarist, Il Du, set up his microphone facing the back corner of the stage and sang to the wall. Steve, the bass player thrashed about, seemingly unaware of anything else going on (or not going on). And Casey, the drummer, had to stop in the middle of a song to avoid a fight. Apparently a drum stick flew from his hand and hit a young lady whose honor needed protecting. It was theater of the absurd set to the perfect soundtrack of their own music.
It’s clear the fellas from Genius don’t take themselves too seriously. Some of the track names off Beaches include “⅔ Gay,” “Lost Dick” and “Everybody’s Fucking Everyone.” But despite their apparent efforts to come off as class clowns, it always seems like they are more Loki than Village Idiot. Between the F-bombs are earnest song lyrics about love, fitting-in, having a sucky job. “Whenever I fail with a girl,” says Steve, “I write songs about it. Apparently I failed four times this album.”
While listening to the album, it’s easy to slip back 15 or 20 years to when pop-punk was an artform for its own sake. Before Green Day made it a vehicle for Hollywood to get rich and emo ruined what was left, the punk of my childhood was reckless, free and fun. Beaches is comfortable like that. Though I might be on the bus going to work with my headphones on, when I close my eyes, I’m 16 again and in my sonic cocoon of distorted guitar and perpetually rushing drums.
The boys have toured extensively this year around Korea and internationally including the USA, Taiwan and Japan multiple times. They talked to me about the goods and bads of the road:
Casey : We've been lucky enough to meet people who help us out like Kenji Kuroda in Tokyo. The Mad Doctors in Brooklyn helped us out a lot too. It's hard to do it on your own. I've improved my email writing skills a lot though.
Kim Il Du : I like rock n roll travel with friends. I wanna go to more countries. Cause I wanna have fun with friends and people.
Steve : The internet helps.
With their travel experience, it’s no surprise they have booked three cities in Korea to celebrate the release of Beaches; Seoul (Cafe Ruloorala), Busan (Basement) and Daegu (TBA).
Steve : My family came out for the Hollywood show so that was cool. After the show my mom said, “You know, you’re really not that talented. Just enough to trick the girls.” I thought: ‘O mom~ haha! That’s where I get my sense of humor!’ Then I looked at her face and realized: ‘Oh. She wasn’t joking.’ That was kind of a high point.
When I asked about their impressions of other “indie” scenes around the world compared to that in Korea, they balked at the word.
Kim Il Du : I think, we are not indie. I hope, we are not indie.
Steve : There’s a difference between Korean indie as it’s happening in the streets and clubs and ‘Korean indie’. I love Korean indie, but I don’t give a shit about this package called ‘Korean indie’ as a subgenre or follow-up to K-pop, a manufactured trend.
So it’s putting on a label that you don’t agree with?
Steve : Yes, and more the idea of 'Korean indie' as a trend or 'issue' the way 'grunge' became popular and k-mart started selling 'grunge' flannel and plaid. Music should be music not a product and indie is not a genre.”
Steve then went on to answer the question:
“This won’t be a popular opinion, but in terms of showmanship, intensity, and knowledge of and respect for music, the Japanese indie bands I’ve seen have blown away many Korean ones. THEEE BAT, Total Ponkotsu System, Punk Rock Labor Union, Phantom Three, etc.
“Why? A lot of successful Korean bands get away with utter horseshit. And the audience lets them. That’s why the bar is set so low and so much ‘Korean indie’ is butterscotch candy. It lasts a couple minutes, the listener thinks: ‘Oh. That’s mildly pleasant.’ Then it’s gone and nobody cares.
“When coffee shop guitar dudes, grown-assed men, are writing struggle couplets like: “never let you down / always be around” … I just… come on, son.
“That’s disrespectful to yourself as an artist and disrespectful to your audience.
“If anybody wants a list of totally awesome Korean indie bands, hit me up. There’s a lot of talent here. But as for ‘Korean indie’… I don’t know. I don’t know anything about music so don’t listen to me.”
I asked about their near future plans:
Steve : My plan was to write pop-punk songs until one got picked up by Starleague or Proleague. But now there’s no Brood War on TV so I’m heartbroken and lost.
Casey : I want to open for Kim Tae Chun and Lee Hyori's upcoming tour.
Steve : Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher, talked about how toilets in Germany are built so that you can look at your poop as it comes out of you and gets flushed away. That’s how I feel about the next songs I’ll write. Anything can come out of me! It’ll be a pleasant surprise.
Kim Il Du : Our next plans, Our Album release shows. And keep playing and stay alive if I can.
Steve : We talked briefly about the next album: maybe an EP, maybe more mid-tempo songs, more groove, something different. We’ll see.
Written by: Brian Kilrain
Translated By: 임도연 (Doyeon Lim)
Pictures : 김승환 (Seunghwan Kim)