Posted on May 14, 2014
*Note* This interview occurred in August 2013, before both members of Kuang Program left to serve their obligatory military duty. However due to some translation issues the publication was extremely delayed. We hope you can forgive us and enjoy the interview!
Kuang Program, made up of the duo Taehyun Choi on Vocals and Guitar and Younghun Kim on Drums, is an explosive darkwave post-punk band with a penchant for both drone noise and glitchy, stuttering guitars. During live performances, Taehyun leads his audiences in mantra like lyrics, to which they respond enthusiastically. The songs contain themes of suicide, love and existential crisis. The poignancy found within the lyrics is reinforced by Taehyun’s unique voice and performance style, which often finds him staggering around the stage or appearing to grasp for something just out of his reach. His signature foot-hopping/shuffling dance style, which looks like a combination between a man being electrified and someone experiencing an epileptic seizure, results in the ever present professional, amateur, and smartphone concert photographers documenting his lower half just as often as his upper. With performances this intense, there can be no question as to the sincerity of their ideas. Watching Kuang Program perform feels like you are witnessing a man struggle with his own demons and desperately try to justify his own existence. The songs come across as both defiant and resigned to the struggles of living in a modern society, where our natures have been pre-defined and our lives can feel pre-destined. As they say in the track “Gangs Are Blue” off of their recently released first full LP You Or Me, “All of us, talk about the future / but nobody has one / just born and being futureless”. So why does a band who sings about suicide and having no future bother to make music at all? Taehyun from Kuang Program was kind enough to answer some of our questions in our first DOINDIE artist interview:
DoIndie [DI]: So I guess we will just hop right in then, First question, in your opinion, what is the purpose of making music? For you as an individual and just generally, in society, what is the point of music?
Taehyun Choi: I started playing music at high school. I started out just making music with friends and mumbling tunes to myself. As time went by my attitudes to music began to change. In fact I have no specific aims regarding making music but I try not to churn out any old thoughtless rubbish. Sometimes the completed music clings on to some kind of sense or feeling, but I think that the meaning behind any process of creation is the most important thing. For that reason if there is no personal or social meaning within the song, in my opinion it is not worth producing. However just focusing on meaning is not a good idea.
For this album the most important thing was the music’s perspective. The first two songs are from the perspective of a road. The third song is from inside a room. Initially observing the room and then returning to my inner-self. In that way I keep coming and going from my inner-self to the outside world. My observational appearance and inner appearance of mine sometimes collide and sometimes mix together. I have read some reviews that Kuang Program’s music does not require a deep sympathy. Sometime ago, while walking along a road I listened to the first album again, I was so surprised that my music was so cold. Yet I guess my thoughts and feelings were expressed heartlessly like that. But I hope the audiences while listening to my music can experience a variety of imaginations and thoughts. I also hope that my music will not continue to be so cold.
DI: The world seems to be moving in a strange direction in which people have been compartmentalized before they are even born. As in, you must do these 10 things, live in 1 of 5 specific areas, have 1 of 5 specific jobs, and die in 1 of 5 specific ways to be a “regular human”. The pressure to be this “regular human” is enormous on each of us. Does this pressure motivate you in your creation process, the idea that through adversity new and creative concepts are formed as a reaction, or do you feel this struggle holds you back? Either way, how do you identify that pressure within yourself and then deal with it?
TC: In "You or Me", the title song, there's a line "I really hate that, so I kick it back and forth". In life, we always get bothered by something or other. You could say we get ‘kicked’ (hassled / pushed) into doing certain things & completing certain goals. Sometimes, this constant pushing us to do certain things can interfere with our own thoughts and desires, making us choose a direction that was not necessarily the route we planned to take I want to 'kick' and throw it away, but life goes on, I see myself and you in this process. The pressure of the daily grind / everyday life either makes me lazy or becomes the driving force behind my musical creations.. The lyric ‘지금이 아니면 안된다’ (Now or never) in the song ‘333’ is about time always moving so fast... We are not 'free of time' and as a result we sometimes feel anxious and backed into a corner. I sometimes make music when I become obsessed with the thought that I ‘have to’ do something.
DI: During the song 잘살아침 from your new album, you clearly sing about wanting to commit suicide. In fact you are practically screaming about it. But you are also yelling about wanting to love as well. First, what do you think about the idea of suicide? Do you consider it in personal terms or just as an abstract concept of death? And then, is the choice either love of death? Is there a point to living without love? Finally, is that something we could consider a Kuang Program love song?
TC: The song ‘Gangs are Blue’ is a blunt song about the reality of having no future.The following song is ‘‘잘살아침’ (Jalsal Achim). At first you might hear the word for suicide but the most important words are actually ‘love’ and ‘morning’. However in this song the most important thing is not to focus on the individual words. This song is about the will to live and looking forward to ‘tomorow’ even if you really hate today.
DI: Lots of your previously recorded material was self-recorded. Was the studio experience, with someone else in control of your sound, significantly different in terms of your creative processor or how you worked?
TC: This album was also recorded at home; we only did the mixing and mastering at the studio with an engineer. Our technical ability in these areas is somewhat lacking so it was great to have some help from a professional. When you work alone you can easily end up consuming lots of time on technical problems, rather than on the recording process. Although I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, I do have some regrets. Next time I record and album I want to spend a little more time in the studio working on it.
DI: There is a tendency for people, when talking about music, to compare one band to another, I have heard Kuang Program compared to a lot of other bands. Do these comparisons ever upset you or make you feel like people aren’t really listening to your music; rather they are just hearing what they think they already know? Is there a creative pressure to try to be aware of things other bands have done and then try to do something different?
TC: Reference is very important. It not only influences directly, but also comes from impliedly or hidden sources. I really like a lot of musicians which I am currently listening to and have been listening to in the past. It's pretty good to be compared with great bands of the past. Of course, it would be a problem to be seen as a copycat.I always try to reject any of my music that sounds too familiar or too comfortable to me. I can’t control how other people look at me or their thoughts about my music.
DI: The music scene in Seoul is extremely diverse, talented, and creatively vibrant; however it feels like no one has any money. In Korea, the problem seems to be a bit worse than elsewhere in the world as there is the perfect mixture of negative factors. These are a smaller than average fan base per capita, governmental policies which seems to reward big businesses and discourage independent culture, and a culture obsessed with popularity and the mainstream. How, as an independent artist, do you survive in this environment? And are there any creative solutions you have found especially useful to help you promote and spread your art?
TC: I guess it is a never-ending problem that will be with me my whole life. I think if you focus only on becoming mainstream / 'popular' it can become an obsession. Before the Duriban concerts (a sit-in demonstration in protest at the proposed demolition of a set of buildings / businesses without adequate compensation to the owners) I think the underground music scene was not as good as you describe in your question. In the short time since, I have been able to meet with and watch many musicians and artists. Because of this I have had a thought. That is that even without promotional and capital support art can survive on its own. Actually, for me, I have no choice. My art must exist like that.
DI: One final question. Have you ever found a place where you feel comfortable, as in a place you exactly belong? If so, what is the most comfortable place you have ever been?
TC: There is no place I feel fully comfortable enough to assimilate. The venue '꽃땅 [Ccot Ddang] (Flower bed)‘, a pub and music venue run by Taehyun Choi and his friends, was a very comfortable place for me to be. In that place I met lots of my musical friends and colleagues, and I could invite anyone there when that place existed. Other than Ccot Ddang, I have a strong affection for clubs that are outside of Hongdae. However, there are not many of those around any more.
Thank you very much for answering our questions.
Interview by: Alex Ameter
Translation By: Park DDang / Patrick Connor
For more information / news about Kuang Program, check them out on Doindie or at the following locations: