Zandari Festa 2016 Review

Last year I attended Korean showcase festival Zandari Festa for the first time. I’d been hesitating about going for weeks, but ended up having such a great time that this year I made sure to plan a trip to Korea in time for Zandari Festa 2016. As this was I had prepared a bit better, taken the time to figure out which Korean bands to see for the first time and also listened to some of the international acts scheduled to play.

Fortunately this year all the venues were all within 10 minute walking distance of each other which made it a bit easier. The showcase part of the festival also lasted for three days instead of just the two, but with so many excellent acts to choose from there were anyway a ton of scheduling conflicts.

Zandari Friday, September 30

I had arrived in Korea just a day before the official start of Zandari Festa and had made sure not to make any plans that would interfere with my attendance. As soon as I reached the artist lounge I was reminded that I had neglected to inform a majority of my friends in the country that I had actually returned for a few weeks. As expected, however, the Zandari Festa opening party turned out to be a great place to meet both old friends and new acquaintances.

Opening Party

Having misjudged the time it’d take to pick up my Zandari wristband I ended up missing festival director Dalse‘s Zandari opening address. I did however manage to catch a bit of French act Colt Silvers–the first of the bands invited to set the stage for the long weekend ahead. Night Marks Electric Trio were up next, but after quickly realizing that this was not for me I headed outside MUV Hall to join all the other people hanging out on the sidewalk.

While planning which showcases to watch I’d been struggling to figure out how to fit some National Pigeon Unity into my schedule so I was excited to learn that the duo would also be playing the opening party. I headed back downstairs in good time to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And it was so very good.

The two NPU members entered the stage to the sound of H.O.T.‘s “전사의 후예 (Warriors Descendant)” with Kim Dong-Hun even lip syncing to part of the rap. When their set started I was immediately brought back six years in time, thinking they were starting with my first album favorite “환”. It turned out to be a re-arranged version of “Like A Light” but I loved it all the same. The rest of NPU’s set was equally captivating and the band clearly had a following in the audience already. An excellent start to what turned out to be a great festival.

Come Sugarmen I decided it was time to give up for the evening. I liked what little I heard, but knowing I’d anyway get to see the band at the British Night a day later I reckoned I should follow my own advice from last year and get some rest instead.

Zandari Saturday, October 1

While I had somewhat failed in my attempt to attend the full Zandari Festa opening party I was much more successful in making my way to Steel Face for the special DOINDIE stage the next day, entering the venue exactly two minutes before the first set.

DOINDIE Introducing

Because of scattered venues/scheduling conflicts I never got around to catching Busan surf rock band Say Sue Me during Zandari Festa 2015, but I wasn’t going to miss them another year. Although the focus was on the band’s first album songs rather than the Big Summer Night tracks I was more familiar with, they delivered on my expectations and even played a new song. Definitely worth seeing even with the substitute drummer.

Perfectly timing my arrival in Hongdae had meant skipping breakfast, but as luck would have it a couple of Monoban members had placed themselves on the Steel Face rooftop selling sandwiches from their Salt House venture. I ended up getting the best pastrami sandwich I’ve ever had before heading downstairs for more music.

Next up was Estonian band I Wear* Experiment. I was immediately smitten by their electronic pop and found their performance interesting throughout. The mic chord had been strangely arranged so that the vocalist had to crouch over her keyboard while singing, but she anyway managed to deliver both vocally and with her gestures. As the band finished the set with “Spring Is Cold This Year” I was thoroughly impressed. Living in Sweden, I do hope I’ll also get a chance to see this band closer to home sometime–Modern Sky Helsinki seems like an excellent fit.

Things at Steel Face were running exactly on time during the DOINDIE special stage on the Friday, so I could catch most of Ahn Dayoung‘s set. I had really wanted to see her and her band both because they did well in Hello Rookie this year and because she received a lot of hype from several directions just ahead of the festival. Turned out to be much less in the post-rock direction than I had hoped for, but there was something about Ahn Dayoung’s presence that anyway made it clear that all the attention has been well-deserved. With one song left to go, I headed out of Steel Face towards the Kangol store to check out the acoustic stages ahead of the official showcases.

Kangol Acoustic Stage

Billy Carter was one of the bands I really wanted to see during Zandari Festa this year, but as they were scheduled to play the same time slot as one of the bands I’d otherwise be less likely to catch while in Seoul I had to satisfy with the trio’s acoustic stage. Radically different from how I’d seen them before, yet even with all three members comfortably seated anyway managed to bring a lot of energy and offered a great set. The most memorable part came when Billy Carter brought out the most rocking version of “Row Row Row Your Boat” I’d ever heard.

Following Billy Carter was the international act I’d been looking forward to the most: Magnolian. For his first ever performance outside of Mongolia he had brought both a guest vocalist and a guest guitarist. Before the festival I had listened excessively to the Mongolian version of “Banquet“, so I was delighted when the English version opened the set. Thanks to the soft, female vocals of Enkhjin, Magnolian’s songs were even lovelier than I’d recalled from record. If only the time-table had allowed it I would’ve definitely gone to see also Magnolian’s official Zandari showcase the next day.

17:00

After running around trying to see as many artists as possible the year before, this year I’d decided to focus on full sets so as to be able to enjoy the performances more. It was only about half an hour before the start of the official showcases that I had finally settled on which would be my first for the day and the choice had fallen on howaho.

It was a simple enough setup with just eeeho and Mohho on the stage at Veloso performing over a backing track. Every song was prefaced by some reading–the title of the performance being A Novel From Unknown Origin–and each song had its own video projected behind the two women. During “춤 (Floating Flower)” bellydancer Demian entered the stage to treat all in attendance to a captivating performance.

Although I had enjoyed howaho’s debut EP Unknown Origin I was not at all prepared for how much I would enjoy howaho live. After the last song they took some time to thank the individual crew members that had helped make the performance possible, making the duo even more likeable.

18:00

Even though things at Veloso had begun 10 minutes late I was still able to make it over to Rolling Hall where everything was starting right on time. I’d been very impressed with the half set from Unchained I’d caught the year prior and definitely wanted more of their Busan grunge. They delivered above expectations with the music while also just looking casually cool.

After playing what should’ve been the last song vocalist Kim Kwang-Il asked permission to continue beyond the band’s allotted time for what turned out to be a tribute to Noizegarden vocalist Gunn Park, who had passed away from cancer earlier the same week. Unchained had quietly honored Noizegarden with two of the members wearing Noizegarden band shirts on stage, but after seeking approval also from Noizegarden leader Yoon Byeongjoo, who’d been in attendance for the entire show, Unchained proceeded to cover “미련” in a performance that brought several audience members to tears.

19:00

Next up at Rolling Hall was Noeazy. And wow. During Zandari Festa 2015 I had been impressed by how much Noeazy had grown since I’d last seen them, but this was even more breathtaking. More awesome than ever they were loud and heavy, bringing an imminent feeling of doom. There should’ve been a mosh pit, but unfortunately it never happened in spite of a very good mood in the audience. Playing both old favorites and newer material I still haven’t fully immersed, Noeazy offered the best showcase I saw during the entire festival.

20:00

As soon as Noeazy had finished I rushed over to Freebird for TENGGER. In spite of frequent Europe tours I hadn’t seen the experimental duo live since they went by the name 10, so I was very curious to find how they have evolved since. After watching the first few minutes I sat down in the sofa at the top of a flight of stairs to just enjoy the music.

From my comfortable seat the stage view was mostly blocked, but I was instead entertained watching the couple’s son RAAI as he was running around, dancing around, and eventually playing with a balloon. During the balloon play he spotted me, and though we’d never met before he decided that I should be his playmate for the remainder of the show. It was so much fun, but distracted me enough that I will definitely need to see more of TENGGER and pay better attention then.

21:00

Hollow Jan‘s showcase was my favorite at Zandari Festa 2015 so I was very excited to see the screamo band close another Zandari Festa day. Although last time they’d been playing at Sangsang Madang and used the full hour, this time they’d been sent to Gogos2 and as it turned out only played for the expected 40 minutes. With the small stage and low ceiling the venue was not really optimal and I found the first part of the set list to be rather dull, but everything was forgiven by the last two songs.

The audience screamed along to “Blaze The Trail” and it was beautiful. Come closing track “Empty” the audience did even better, also offering a bit of moshing. On request from Hwan Takk a makeshift circle pit was created with half the audience present running around the tables that were placed in the middle of the floor. Incredibly festive.

British Night: Sound City Takeover

When the official showcases were over it was time to head back to Freebird for Zandari Festa’s British Night where Liverpool Sound City had invited five UK bands to play. My expectations had been low, but I began to warm up to the idea after She Drew The Gun took the stage. As the venue had run out of draft beer, room tempered beer cans showed up in the bar for free and it turned out to be quite the party until the toilets went out of service. All in all a great way to finish the day although it was the company, the drinks, and the overall mood rather than the music that left the biggest impression with me.

Zandari Sunday, October 2

Owing to an unofficial after party my Zandari Saturday came to extend into Sunday morning, but as the weather prognosis promised rain throughout the day I opted to skip the special stages outside of the Kangol store to get a couple of hours extra sleep instead. Making my way towards Hongdae as soon as I woke up, grabbing a quick bite at a convenience store after arriving, I was ready for the official showcases just as they were about to start.

17:00

The Zandari Sunday 5pm slot had the most scheduling conflicts for me with almost all the venues hosting a band I would like to see for the first time. With two of my five choices for bands I was extra curious to see that’s where I had to put my focus.

I started with Drinking Boys And Girls Choir at Gogos2. Unfortunately a full 12 minutes passed before the showcase started and considering that I had to leave halfway through I was also a bit stressed by all the talk between the songs. What little I did see, however, was fun and energetic punk, and I was happy to hear both English and Korean spoken from stage.

Eventually I had to run over to the Steel Face Rooftop, but it was only when I had made it to the 7th floor that I saw the note about the stage having been moved to the artist lounge by MUV Hall for the day. Dashing through the rain, navigating between umbrellas, I made it to MUV Hall just as You Are Amanda had finished my favorite song of theirs. The members all looked rather disengaged as they continued to play their guitar pop tunes, but the music was great and they even played a new song.

18:00

Staying till the end of You Are Amanda’s showcase unfortunately meant missing a few minutes of Wings of the ISANG, who were playing at Rolling Hall where things appeared to be running on time also during the Sunday. Although the vocals could not be heard well the sound engineer had made sure that all other elements forming the band’s post-rock sound came out excellently. Unfortunately the band did not play my favorite song, but the performance was anyway enough to for me to realize that Wings of the ISANG has become one of my very favorite bands.

wingsoftheisang_zandarifesta2016

19:00

The rain had stopped when it was time to make my way back to Steel Face to see The March Kings for the first time. The band opened strong with “봄의 실루엣” and continued with more of their delightful guitar pop. The bassist from Drinking Boys And Girls Choir was in the venue to support the fellow Daegu band and she was dancing wildly to many of the songs, making the performance even more energetic.

I had intended to sneak up to the Steel Face Rooftop during the hour to catch a little bit also of Busan based duo B9, however with the stage being moved I stayed put watching The March Kings till the end.

20:00

Returning to Rolling Hall it was time for metalcore à la Vassline. It was all very good and appropriately loud. Unlike Noeazy the day before, Vassline did inspire a lot of moshing. The audience got especially ecstatic during “Memories of One” and it was all such a joy to see. By the end of the show Son Dong Woo had torn one of the strings on his guitar.

21:00

I’d hesitated a long time before deciding which showcase to finish with on the Sunday, but ended up going for Biuret at Sangsang Madang. I considered myself a fan in the band’s earlier days, but somehow lost track after the first album. As such I was surprised at how many of the songs I already knew and loved, especially considering that Biuret had released third album The End of The World just a month earlier. Mun Hyewon was radiating and managed to bring forth strong vocals for the majority of the show.

I’ve often found pop/rock bands to be great on record without being able to live up to it in front of an audience, but Biuret turned out to be a really strong live band. When the showcase was supposed to end the fans called for encore and Biuret seemed happy to comply.

French Night: Esprit Français

As the showcases were over on the Sunday it was time for the special French Night at MUV Hall. Assuming the timing would be similar to the British Night the day before I ended up missing Teleferik. Instead the first French band I got to see was Colours in the Street and they were fantastic. Great songs throughout, and a very good job at getting the audience to sing along to a much extended, gorgeous version of “Birds“.

The rest of the evening continued in the same good spirit. Colt Silvers returned to the MUV Hall stage stating it was kind of their release party as they’d put out a new album just two days ago. Madagascar’s The Dizzy Brains were super fun to watch as the vocalist moved across the stage. From the look of it the French embassy in Korea had done a really good job, making the evening a success.

Zandari Monday, October 3

With no rain as excuse for sleeping in, the last day of Zandari Festa started at 1pm.

DOINDIE Introducing

The Zandari Monday came off to a psychedelic start thanks to the second DOINDIE’s special stage at Steel Face. Blue Turtle Land were first out, expressing gratitude for meeting so many people during the festival and having a great 4-day party. Unfortunately it seems they enjoyed the party a little bit too much, ignoring the gestures asking them to stop their performance on time.

Next followed Hellivision with psychedelic rock like no other band in Korea. Something that must be experienced live. This was the best I’d ever seen Hellivision. Unfortunately they only played two songs finishing after just 20 minutes–I’m assuming to compensate for the 10 minutes lost to the first band of the day.

With everything back in order Ironic Hue could start right on time. It’d been a few years since I’d last seen them and they impressed by sounding even better than I could remember.

17:00

After a late lunch it was official showcase time again. I couldn’t make up my mind about who to see, but ended up starting with a but of Ego Function Error at Freebird. I’ve never really been able to get into their music, but something about them makes me keep trying. Seeing them live for the first time I found them incredibly entertaining so from now on I’ll need to try even harder.

Even so, I was curious to check out also April 2nd and left early. Once I reached Sangsang Madang I realized that I’d made a mistake. I can’t recall what it was that first made me take notice of the band’s name, but actually hearing their music I was reminded of Daybreak–music that has the potential to attract a lot of fans, just not something that works for me.

I quickly headed over to Evans Lounge to instead catch the final part of Sweet Revenge‘s showcase. Another girl punk band with nasal vocals, but while not as entertaining as Ego Function Error anyway brought a lot of charm with music that I find more accessible.

18:00

As evening was about to fall I headed over to the Steel Face Rooftop to finally see Earip live for the first time. I’ve loved her voice since her Sweater days, so it’d been a long wait. She was accompanied by cellist Lee Hye Ji and together they played a combination of 5th album songs and new songs. The ambience from Hongdae as the sun set made a perfect backdrop for the performance. Exceptionally lovely.

earip_zandarifesta2016

19:00

Next up on the rooftop was bbdTrio. I’d never seen Big Baby Driver live in any capacity, but this evening the sound turned out to be more like what I’d expected from her as a solo artist than the more shoegazer-esque musings I had been lead to believe I’d hear from the trio.

After a while I headed downstairs to get ready for the next time slot. Aseul was still playing, but as so often with electronic music performances in Korea I find it weird that there is somebody essentially playing dance music without anybody actually dancing. The songs were all good though.

20:00

At 8pm came the performance I’d been waiting for the entire festival: PAKK!!! I’d been longing to see them live since the first time I heard their debut EP and they did not disappoint. In addition to the songs from the EP a couple of new songs were played and it was all in a similar vein of somewhat psychedelic, somewhat experimental, super awesome loud rock.

21:00

The last official showcase I attended during Zandari Festa 2016 was that of Kwon Tree. His brand of folk music was a perfect match for Veloso, where both the sound of his voice and nylon stringed guitar came out great. Similarly, the steel stringed guitar played by his friend got such a clean sound even after enhanced by the venue’s sound system.

After playing for just 20 minutes Kwon Tree jokingly announced that the last song as coming up. With just three minutes to go of the time officially available he asked if it as ok to continue, and with that ended up playing until almost half past ten. And what a great time it was!

Kwon Tree’s songs were even prettier live, especially with the viola, and it could barely be felt that so much time elapsed. The highlight for me at the time was to hear “어릴 때” live, but the more lasting impression was that of final song “너를 찾아서 (Finding You)” that I ended up playing on repeat for several hours non-stop in the days that followed.

Zandari Highlights

There was so much to like about the many showcases that took place during Zandari Festa 2016. I’ve made a crude attempt at summarising the most memorable parts in list form.

Top 5 Zandari Performances

I got to see a lot of great performances during the days that Zandari Festa lasted, but some were more outstanding than others. Here’s a heavily cropped list in chronological order:

  • howaho – True to concept and lovely throuhgout
  • Noeazy – Metalcore at its very, very best
  • Wings of the ISANG – Amazing music meets great sound system
  • Earip – The perfect way to spend a sunset
  • PAKK – Peak awesomeness

Favorite Zandari Moments

Throughout Zandari Festa there were also the small things here and there that has made the festival extra worthwhile for me.

  • Best lyrical delivery: Enkhjin singing “Someday” during Magnolian’s acoustic set. Specifically the part when she sang the line “I just want to fuck” and looked up at the audience with a somewhat embarrassed smile.
  • Most touching: Unchained covering Noizegarden in honor of the recently deceased Gunn Park, driving the audience to tears.
  • Best party: Hollow Jan engaging the audience during “Empty”. The most fun circle pit I’ve ever witnessed.
  • Best sing-along: Colours In The Street turning “Birds” into an epic group song. I’ve spent at least an hour trying to find a similar version online.
  • Best groove: Hellivision doing their thing at the DOINDIE Introducing stage. 20 minutes that could well have been doubled or tripled even if it had just been improvising around the same two tunes.

Zandari Takeaways

My Zandari Festa 2016 experience was even better than that Zandari Festa 2015. Partly because I had planned ahead better, partly because the festival had made it so much easier to catch more artists.

Tips for Visitors

Last year I shared some advice to enhance ones Zandari Festa experience. Whereas I myself did wear sensible shoes this time, I failed to adhere to points of not carrying heavy things around and to make time for food. I still think those are important, however, and will try better next time. Sleep is also very important, but with Zandari Festa offering so much fun it’s a tricky thing to balance. Focusing only on Zandari Festa related activities did help though.

Tips for Musicians

I’d also like to rehash my advice to musicians from last year: if you are playing Zandari Festa for a chance to go abroad, make sure to have delegates attend your showcase and try to say a few words in a language they’ll understand when they do. Additionally it’s a good idea to take part in the surrounding events. Go to the opening party, go to the after party, network, spread promotional material. It does matter.

This year, from what I could see there was no label booth and as a result it was much more difficult for me as a fan to buy CDs during the festival. From all the venues I visited, I only saw Odaeri offer a selection of different releases whereas Wings of the ISANG and Biuret were selling their latest album. There were many more artists I would’ve happily bought music or merch from if it’d been available.

Festival Feedback

From a visitor’s perspective, Zandari Festa 2016 was already an improvement from last year. Limiting the venues to a smaller area was really helpful in making it easier to move between showcases. Further, placing the international events after the regular showcases was a great idea to increase the attendance and give everybody a common place to meet up every night.

The website was useful to put together a personal time-table, but it is riddled with bugs that makes it less user-friendly. Some of the information is outdated (wrong venue addresses, links not working, artists that weren’t playing, etc.) and the English description for all the Korean artists disappeared sometime in the weeks leading up to the festival. Fixing such issues could go a long way in improving somebody’s perception of the festival arrangement.

It was good that alternative venues were prepared when rain rendered some unusable. It could however have been helpful to those that don’t know Korean if the information about the move was spread via social media in English in addition to Korean. It might also be a good idea to note already in the information material what the new location of an outdoor stage would be in case of unruly weather, just to be on the safe side. Personally I missed the acoustic sets on the Sunday because I woke up too late to see the Twitter announcement about the event being moved indoors.

 
If there’ll be a Zandari Festa 2017 I’ll definitely try to attend again. Although the long weekend was somewhat exhausting, it was a ton of fun well worth repeating.