Zandari Festa 2015 Review

Beginning of October 2015 I happened to be on vacation in Korea. I had already been there for a couple of weeks of vacation, meeting friends and going to various shows, without being able to make up my mind about whether or not I should go to Zandari Festa the last weekend before going back to Sweden. When I had just decided not to go, I was persuaded otherwise. Luckily so as it turned out to be a pretty great weekend during which I learned several things that will make my next Zandari Festa experience even better.

I already wrote a little something for DoIndie about my top Zandari related discoveries. If you care for photos, the least bad from what I captured with my smart phone camera can be found on Indieful ROK’s Facebook page. Here’s what more I was up to during those few days.

 

Zandari Friday, October 2

I had already made plans for the Friday evening when during the afternoon I all of a sudden found myself with tickets to Zandari Festa. After meeting a friend over coffee I eventually made it to Westbridge to pick up my festival wristband and a timetable. With some time to spare I headed down to the basement where European disco duo The KDMS occupied the stage–a rather entertaining performance even if the music wasn’t really for me.

The KDMS’ performance went over time and Liverpool’s The Tea Street Band took on the stage 20 minutes late. A suspicion that the schedule would not be kept was one of the reasons why I had originally decided against attending Zandari Festa and with this kind of delay–3 bands scheduled to play 30 min sets each prior, 10 minutes in between each–I wasn’t very impressed. Although appealing more to my taste, I could only catch 1 song from TSB before resuming my original plans. Those seemed even more important to stick to with the Zandari wristlet on my arm as those included seeing bands I would then be more confident to skip during the official Zandari showcases.

 

Zandari Saturday, October 3

My Friday night came to extend into Saturday morning, but knowing that Jambinai would play at the Seoul International Fireworks Festival around lunch time I could only allow myself a few hours of sleep before heading out again. On the subway from Nowon to Yeoui-do I took my first good look at the Zandari Festa timetable, trying to map out my schedule for the evening.

When I closed in on Hongdae later that day it was just in time to catch Uhnellys on the outdoor stage shared with Wowbook Festival which also took place that same weekend. Or so I thought–even with just 2 prior performance the set started 15 minutes late and I again found myself worried that the weekend would turn into a complete mess of missed gigs and ensuing disappointment. Japanese duo Uhnelly came highly recommended by Korea Gig Guide, but unfortunately the eclectic mash of styles came off rather stress inducing to me. I soon set out to find the label booth on the other side of Hongdae, engaging in some CD shopping while also getting lucky enough to see a couple of members from Phonebooth put on a special performance.

With not much else to do before the real showcases started at 5pm I headed back to the outdoor stage in hopes of catching UK band Fizzy Blood. Predictably things were still delayed, so unfortunately I could only see them on stage for the soundcheck before it was time to head to my first proper Zandari showcase: Noeazy at SangSang Madang.

17:00

zandari2015-noeazy
During my first few trips to Korea Noeazy was one of the bands I would most often catch live, but since then I had somehow forgotten just how awesome this band really is. In front of a ridiculously small audience they gave their all and proved to have grown quite a bit technically since all those years back. As a special treat the metalcore band offered a new song, hinting at the release of mini album Bioshock a month later.

As much as I enjoyed Noeazy, I had planned on making the most out of my Zandari experience so I wanted to catch at least a couple of bands every hour so before the set was over I headed out towards Cafe Unplugged. By the time I reached the venue–far on the other side of Hongdae–I had already gotten a couple of blisters, but I did at least manage to catch a few songs performed by Amazing Visual. As implied by the name the band did offer some rather amazing visuals while performing light-hearted and fun music, also playing a few jokes among themselves.

18:00

At Cafe Unplugged I realized that while the timetable for the evening was divided into 1 hour slots, the bands would only perform for 40 minutes. With sore feet and a stiff neck I made my way towards Kuchu Camp nearby to finally see Wings of the ISANG. I’ve been a fan for years and intrigued by them even longer, but somehow had never gotten the opportunity to see them before. It was everything I could’ve asked for. “상실의 시대” is one of those songs that I can play on repeat forever and ever and having it played live, just a meter away, for the first time was so special. Atmospheric and dreamy rock of the kind I seem to never get enough of.

19:00

My original plan was to leave Wings of the ISANG midway to go check out Atmo at Club Ta–another hike across Hongdae–but I was already suffering enough from poor choice of footwear and with sets just 40 minutes the idea suddenly seemed rather preposterous. When the set was over I anyway ventured slowly towards Sangsu, where I had planned to spend the next few hours. On the way I dropped by Westbridge to have a look at hipster jazz saxophonist Kim Oki. As I’m neither big on jazz nor saxophones I predictably didn’t enjoy the music itself very much, but there’s something about Kim Oki that anyway makes watching him on stage worthwhile. I still couldn’t make it very long, however. Having not had anything proper to eat since the wee hours of the morning, at this point I was getting rather hungry and set out to find some food.

20:00

After a pit stop at Monster Pizza I was finally ready to go to Club Ta. Until this point the evening showcases had all been on schedule, but that wasn’t the case at Ta. Fortunately so, as it meant that I got to see a bit of Morrison Hotel. Since I’ve never stayed in Korea for more than a few weeks at a time I had planned the official Zandari showcases so that I could see only bands that I already knew but hadn’t seen live previously (or bands that are so awesome I can’t miss a chance to see them during a trip). Morrison Hotel was an all new name to me, but surprised greatly. It was exactly the kind of comforting rock that I needed at that moment.

Shortly after Morrison Hotel it was time for Daegu based post-rock band November On Earth to perform. In Korea I’ve only ever gone to music shows in Seoul, so I tend to miss out on a lot of the great music made by bands from other parts of the country. This was an opportunity not to be missed and they did not disappoint. Such a treat.

I stayed for most of what November On Earth had to offer, but wanted to see if I could also catch a bit of Storyseller at Gogos2 next door before heading to my next schedule. Storyseller are very special to me in that it was the first band I ever interviewed (although known as Bloody Cookie at the time) yet I had consistently failed to see them in person. Fortunately the schedule had been running a bit late also at Gogos2, so I did manage to catch a couple of songs before hitting Didim Hall.

21:00

At Didim Hall I was going to see Busan based grunge band Unchained–another treat for the capital and another first for me. Most awesome, quite stylish, and definitely a band I will want to see properly some time. But I could only stay for so long as I didn’t want to miss too much of Vassline at.

Vassline had the biggest audience I’d seen that far during Zandari Festa. Except for Kim Oki it had been a dozen, twenty people at the most everywhere I’d been, but Vassline managed fairly well to fill SangSang Madang. It had been quite a few years since I last saw Vassline live as well and I’d always only seen them in venues way too small for their talent and stage presence. This made more sense. Black Silence has been one of my favorite albums the past couple of years so I was beyond happy to finally get to hear some of those songs live. It seems SangSang Madang had done a good job keeping the timetable as Vassline’s set ended much too soon.

22:00

Just before 10pm I arrived at AMP Live Club to see TheThe. Contrary to SangSang Madang, AMP Live Club had not committed as strongly with Crying Nut still on stage, even accepting the calls for encore. AMP Live Club turned out to be the largest out of all venues participating in the festival and Crying Nut had it completely packed with energetic, enthusiastic, and ecstatic people. This was also the showcase during which I saw the most music business people in attendance, no doubt encouraged to come by No Brain‘s Lee Sungwoo who appeared to take excellent care of his guests. There was great energy and enthusiasm coming also from the stage, especially with biggest hits performed during the encore.

Once Crying Nut’s gig was over the venue emptied and TheThe began to set up. I loved TheThe when Park Hye Kyung was still the vocalist and continued to listen also when Han Hee Jung took over, but somehow haven’t paid much attention since. I didn’t even know who the vocalist was anymore, but was anyway excited at the prospect of hearing a few of my old favorite songs live. The current vocalist turned out to be Mamalady‘s Lee Hyun Young, who unfortunately had a cold that evening. When they finally came out I couldn’t help but be disappointed. The vocals were clearly affected by Lee Hyun Young’s condition and I barely recognized the songs. After hearing “I Never” I figured I’d at least gotten some of what I came for and decided I’d had enough.

zandari2015-thethe
Jambinai were playing nearby at Westbridge so I headed there instead. It was rather crowded but easier to breathe than at AMP Live Club, largely thanks to some AC units blowing very cold air into the room. Having already seen Jambinai live earlier that day, everything perfectly mixed by the band’s own sound engineer Cho Sang Hyun, it was suddenly obvious to me why he is so important to the band. This evening engineer Cho had to prioritize family and somebody else stepped in. In comparison the sound fell flat, the sound of the traditional instruments almost drowned behind the guitar and the drums, and much of the dynamic was lost. I did hear some positive voices around so I imagine it was just me, but we are talking about my very favorite band here. I could only take it for so long before I decided it was time to say goodbye to Zandari for the evening and meet up with some friends instead.

Walking back towards Sangsu I passed by AMP Live Club again and then I heard it. TheThe were still on stage and they were playing my favorite TheThe song! I ran down as fast as I could and caught most of “It’s You“. Other TheThe 90’s hits followed and my faith in TheThe was restored.

 

Zandari Sunday, October 4

Much like the evening before, my Saturday night came to extend into Sunday morning. I had planned to start my Zandari Sunday with Summer Never Comes on the outdoor stage ahead of the evening showcases, but getting out of the house took longer than expected and I had to stop by Hyang Music for some serious CD shopping firstly as I had neglected to do so earlier.

16:00

Wise from the day before I had planned to confine myself to one side of Hongdae during the Sunday. My first target was SangSang Madang. Walking from Sinchon I first passed Salon Badabie, where TsuShiMaMiRe had already started playing. I’d already seen them at Skunkhell a couple of nights before so only stopped briefly outside before continuing. Next I came to Gopchang Jeongol and knowing that Beach Ball Trio was playing I just had to go downstairs to see what they were like live. Turned out to be a very charming visual group. I would’ve loved to see more, alas I was determined to finally figure out what all the hype around DTSQ was about.

zandari2015-beachballtrio

Throughout the weeks I’d been in Korea I’d seen DTSQ’s stickers pasted not just all around Hongdae but also at subway stations elsewhere around Seoul. I’d seen the band’s name around even before as they’d been doing well in various rookie band competitions, but hadn’t really listened to them myself. When I finally got to SangSang Madang I got it. Sometimes indie rock, sometimes dance rock, sometimes something else, all the while hugely entertaining and engaging well with the audience. Not just fun, but also great music. This was the showcase during which I saw the most foreign band members in attendance. DTSQ was also the first band I saw during Zandari that spoke any English between songs.

17:00

DTSQ only played until 16:35, but as I was set to see Apollo 18 at SangSang Madang right after I stuck around. Perhaps the most important band to me ever, Apollo 18 were awesome as always. It used to be that I would see them several times a week when I visited Korea, but nowadays they don’t play as often so I count myself lucky to see them at all. This time they played not just 1, but 2 new songs making me hope that new album isn’t too far away.

As Apollo 18’s set was coming to an end I headed towards Steel Face Rooftop 3639 to check out Noisecat Drone Spacelines. I’ve been quite fond of Noisecat’s previous work so was very curious to hear what he’d make under this new project name. It was all quite interesting and with the rooftop setting there wasn’t much to complain about. I particularly liked how one of the samples he mixed in were of a cat meowing. Noisecat kept at it all the way until 6pm leaving little time to hit the next venue.

18:00

Since I didn’t get to see Summer Never Comes earlier in the day, I headed to Club Ta for their big showcase. A post-rock band out of Gwangju, Summer Never Comes was another treat I hadn’t expected to get a chance to see in Seoul. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for long as I was much too curious to check out su:m.

When I reached Evans Lounge su:m were just about to start, 20 minutes late. su:m have been playing so many of the same international events as Jambinai and also do the modern traditional Korean music thing, though way different. I imagine that I could have enjoyed their music more under different circumstances, but compared to everything else I’d seen during Zandari Festa I found su:m to be rather dull. A couple of songs in I went outside to grab myself something to eat instead.

19:00

I returned to Evans Lounge after some street food and a cloud latte. 25 minutes after the scheduled time Bo Whang and her Smacksoft were ready to start playing. Since I first got into Korean indie music Bo Whang has been one of the biggest heroines. Her first full-length album from 1998 is required listening for anybody claiming an interest in the scene. Yet this was my first time seeing her perform live. And wow. Just wow. The performance was mind-blowing. There was even a special performance of a song from her second solo album, released back in 2001. I can’t understand that I had gone without seeing SmackSoft live for so long. For sure I will take every chance to see them again. Besides DTSQ, SmackSoft was the only other act to speak English between songs.

zandari2015-smacksoft

20:00

After SmackSoft I set off towards Didim Hall where National Pigeon Unity should’ve already started. As I arrived I encountered a large group of fangirls with Zandari wristbands that had both me and the acquaintances I met outside confused. The previous slot in the timetable was empty and it didn’t seem likely that they too were there for NPU. The next day I found the likely explanation to be that the empty spot–previously reserved for brave men run–had been used by idol band Day6. A pity it wasn’t announced properly (much like their Club Day performance a week earlier) as I’d been curious to check them out myself, but I assume it to be a way to bring Day6 some manner of legitimacy as a Hongdae band without really committing to the cause.

NPU started some 20 minutes late but were well worth the wait. This is yet another band I used to see a lot of, but hadn’t seen at all for many years. I loved their music already back then, but they’ve really improved since. Just the two members on stage and a wall of sound. Everything awesome. Their rendition of Sanullim‘s classic “기타로 오토바이를 타자” stayed with me long after they stopped playing. This was the showcase during which I saw the most Korean musicians in the audience.

21:00

I was originally planning to make Kwon Tree my last showcase of Zandari Festa, but I had run into Hollow Jan‘s drummer outside Didim Hall the day before. When I told him that I’d seen Hollow Jan play during the Wowbook Festival a day prior he expressed embarrassment over their performance and made me promise to come see them again for the official Zandari showcase. I’m glad I did.

Hollow Jan is another of those bands I could just watch forever and ever. I love their music on record and love it even more when performed live in front of me. They played for a full hour and I was there for all of it. Every single bit of it was fantastic. Right up until the final performance of “Empty“, which was the best I’ve ever experienced it. It was really the perfect showcase to end Zandari Festa with.

 

Zandari Takeaways

All-in-all, Zandari Festa 2015 turned out to be much better than I had expected. My initial concern about missing bands because of delays was never an issue and overall delays, that seemed to occur only in certain venues, were not as bad as I had expected. After having been very sceptical towards the event in the past without ever attending myself, I’m now thinking it’s a rather good festival anyway. Attending Zandari Festa in 2015 also provided me with some valuable lessons for future editions of the fest.

Tips for Visitors

A lot of what I learned is common sense, but it never hurts to get a reminder or two when some small, simple things can do so much to improve the experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Wear sensible shoes. There’s bound to be a lot of walking and the days are long.
  • Don’t carry heavy things around. SangSang Madang has cheap lockers. If you have to, use a backpack.
  • Make time for food. You’ll need energy to make the most out of the evenings.
  • Leave time to recover. You’ll last longer if you take time to rest between the days.

Additional Advice

Since I didn’t really plan to attend Zandari Festa I didn’t have time to do my homework and prepare properly for the festival. There’s literally several hundreds of bands playing at Zandari Festa, and even if you already are familiar with most of them it may be well worth trying to get to know also some of the names new to you. I had never heard of Jungles!!! until their Skunkhell performance the day Zandari started, but that was one of the best performances I saw during 2015. To think that I would have missed them otherwise just because I didn’t do my research.

Word has it bands bring their very best to Zandari Festa, so if you like a band go see them again even if you’ve seen them before. There are lots of music business delegates around that could mean a ticket for the band to perform at a festival abroad as well as other opportunities. I had already seen and been very impressed by Billy Carter at Skunkhell, but was told they were only at 60% of their capacity then and would bring their A-game at Zandari the next day. And Hollow Jan, as much as I loved seeing them too that Friday (so much so that I stayed for too long and had to take a taxi to Skunkhell), really were much better on the Sunday.

Attend the after parties if you can. Since I had already made other plans with friends I didn’t even go to the Saturday night showcases at Big Bird, but next time I likely will. When the showcases were over on the Sunday there was another after party for musicians and delegates. I had a morning flight and bags to pack so I had no thoughts to go there, but anyway ended up hanging out on the street outside while waiting to say goodbye to a few friends. And how I wished that I didn’t have to leave! I’m terrible at networking so I just hang out with people I already know, but it was anyway a ton of fun. Everybody were in such a great mood. Maybe next time I’ll finally gather the courage to introduce myself to some of the members from Wings of the ISANG…

Also, taxi in Korea is cheap. If you’re too tired to walk but need to get from one end of Hongdae to the other it’ll only cost you a few thousand won. If it’s a band you really want to see, that’s nothing. I wish I had thought of that sooner.

Tips for Musicians

I imagine musicians apply to play at Zandari Festa for a number of different reasons with various expectations. As an international fan, I’m hoping for more attention internationally for the bands that I like so that maybe, just maybe, one day they’ll come play somewhere closer to where I live.

What I realized is that, sadly, just playing at Zandari Festa is not enough to get noticed. The people looking for the hot new bands to bring to their festival or other event overseas won’t just show up out of nowhere. Bands need to actively seek out the music business people (or have friends do it for them) to have them attend their showcases.

I was also rather surprised that I heard so little English spoken from the various stages. Now I would never expect a band to start speaking English between songs just because some member spots the 1 foreigner (me) in the audience. (It always makes me feel super awkward when that happens.) But if you’re in a band with ambitions to go abroad, and you’re playing a showcase festival with international delegates, and especially if you see some of those delegates in the audience, then it could be helpful to have a phrase or two in English (or Polish, or Russian, or the primary language spoken by whichever other delegates are of most interest) prepared.

Festival Feedback

Like I already stated above, overall I’m very happy with Zandari Festa 2015, but there are a couple of things that I think would make the next festival even better.

Venues need to stick to the timetable. There is a fixed time to start and a fixed set length. It’s possible to make that work (SangSang Madang knows how to). If the timetable is followed visitors can plan their time better. Even though I didn’t have any negative experiences because of delays, just knowing that there were likely to be some made me skip some showcases–I really, really wanted to see Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans again during Zandari, but when NPU started their set 20 min late and I wanted to see at least a few songs of theirs before moving on I couldn’t risk leaving in case Nestnada had things running on time so that Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans would’ve finished before I even got there.

Also related to the timetable, the layout could have been more helpful. With venues placed so far apart, it would be more intuitive to present the time tables so that venues with close proximity have their lineups presented next to each other. Makes planning for visitors so much easier. As it was now, SangSang Madang was next to Salon Badabie; Evans Lounge next to Kuchu Camp etc. This meant eyes darting back and forth trying to figure out what would be the more optimal route while keeping a mental map of what is where.

 
Zandari Festa 2015 was a great festival. I’m already looking forward to when I can attend next time.