Monday, March 30, 2020

Discussing Korean and Japanese 1960s and '70s rock on 'Idolcast'

I was contacted by the blogger Filmi Girl late last year and during the ensuing email conversation I found out she knew a lot about 1960s Japanese 'Group Sounds' bands and was interested in Korean bands from that time as well. She asked me if I'd be interested in appearing on her podcast, 'Idolcast,' and our resulting conversation, interspersed with lots of music, can be listened to here.

A list of the songs included can be found here.

Part of our conversation in which she explained the history of the mid-to-late 1960s Japanese band the Tigers was cut from the conversation because she's already done two podcasts about them (with a third to come). They can be found here and here.

Korean rock bands in the late 1960s (well, 1969) and early 1970s were also referred to as 'group sound,' which clearly was influenced by the Japanese term. Just what other influences may have came from Japan I'm not sure. While some Korean singers like Patti Kim did concerts and recorded in Japan, the ban on Japanese cultural products (only partly lifted in 1997) would have made it difficult for Japanese performers to come to Korea. One exception to this was the 'Asia Vocal Team Competition' mentioned here in July 1969. Sunday Seoul referred to it as the 'Asia Group Sound Competition' and stated that it took place from July 16 to 20 at Citizens' Hall (where Sejong Cultural Center now stands, and where Cliff Richard would play to screaming fans three months later). Groups from the US, Japan, Korea, and Indonesia competed, including the Astrojets from Japan and Spookies from Indonesia.

Below left is ' Miss Morita,' a member of Japan's go-go dancing team.

The top photo below is of Japan's Astrojets under 'psychedelic lights,' and below them are the Key Boys.

The question of cultural links between Korea and Japan at that time would be interesting to explore. Many thanks to Filmi Girl for an interesting conversation!

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

1975: The year synth-pop broke in Korea

My latest article for the Korea Times is essentially about the session band 동방의 빛, or ‘Light of the East,’ who recorded over 30 albums between 1973 and 1975, including the 14-volume ‘Golden Folk Album’ series and albums by Lee Jang-hui, Kim Se-hwan, Song Chang-sik, 4월과 5월 (April and May), and the duos Two Koreans and Hyeon-gyeong and Yeong-ae. They also did the soundtracks to the premier youth culture films of that era, the best-selling ‘Heavenly Homecoming of Stars’ and ‘March of Fools,’ both based on Choi In-ho novels. The music could be described as folk-rock, but it also incorporated synthesizers, and one song in particular, Kim In-soon’s ‘여고졸업반’ (Girls’ High School Graduating Class) predates the OMD song ‘Electricity’ by 4 years and stands out for me as the first synth-pop song (particularly since it wasn’t some obscure song – it was a number 1 hit). Unfortunately, though the film it served as a soundtrack for was a breakthrough for teen actress Im Ye-won (who became the ‘nation’s little sister’ for the latter half of the 1970s), the film itself was representative of the safe, inoffensive entertainment preferred by the dictatorship in the late 1970s, in contrast to the (then) new sounds found in the song.


I mentioned in the Korea Times article that the group was known as ‘Light of the East’ "retrospectively," but it seems that's not true - I did find a reference to them here in 1974 saying that Song Chang-sik was going to take over temporarily as the group's leader after Lee Jang-hui was injured a motorcycle accident, suggesting that they were more than just a session band (the guitarist for the band, Gang Geun-sik, played guitar on or arranged songs on some of Lee's earlier albums).

As well, this youtube page has two of their more experimental instrumental albums, while the Golden Folk Album series have all been uploaded to youtube (Volume 1 is here).

And last but not least, the person who tipped me off to 동방의 빛 being the group behind all of these albums (not sure if he wants to be named here) has uploaded a number of 70s mixes of Groovy Psych Folk, Psychedelic Go Go, Female Funk, and Jazz here.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Podcast: Music, Dictatorship and the Rise of 1960s/70s Youth Culture

Andre Goulet interviewed me for his podcast The Korea File last week on the topic of 'Music, Dictatorship and the Rise of 1960s/70s Youth Culture.' Andre first interviewed me about five years ago, so it was fun to be back and talking about a topic related to what we discussed last time, though more focused on music and youth culture (and its suppression) this time around.

The podcast can be found here.

One topic I focused on is the importance of the novel, film, and soundtrack of 별들의 고향 (literally "ancestral home of the stars" but known as "Heavenly Homecoming to Stars"). The serialized novel was written by Choi In-ho and completed in September 1973, the film directed by his high school friend (and Sinchon drinking buddy) Lee Jang-ho, and the soundtrack was made by Lee Jang-hui, who also attended Seoul High School (though was two years behind them), and Gang Geun-sik (who never gets enough credit for the soundtrack).

Choi In-ho appeared in the 'Hope' feature (which usually featured someone gaining attention in the cultural or sports world) of the April 8, 1973 issue of the Weekly Kyonghyang. His novel 별들의 고향 had begun its year-long serialization in in the Chosun Ilbo in September 1972 and was a hugely popular. (One of his early stories is translated by Brother Anthony here.)

Choi had wanted to tell the story of a woman who was "killed by a city," namely Seoul, which was then daily drawing hundreds of people, particularly young women, from the countryside. Below is a photo of two new arrivals carrying bundles at Seoul Station from an April 2, 1972 Weekly Joongang article criticizing these young women who "thoughtlessly" followed a "spring wind" to cities and ended up being tricked into working in red light districts.

Another photo of Choi from Weekly Kyonghyang, November 18, 1973.

Sunday Seoul published this photo of Choi and director Lee Jang-ho working on the film adaptation of 별들의 고향 in its February 3, 1974 issue. It was a high-profile project, and there was some grumbling over the fact that Lee, a first-time director who had worked under Shin Sang-ok, had gotten the opportunity to make it.

The March 24, 1974 issue of Weekly Joongang reported that a trailer had been released a week earlier (at four minutes long, longer than this one) that featured the Lee Jang-hui song below, a 'hard rock' song that made older audience members turn away wondering 'what kind of song is that?' but which brought a smile to young people's faces. Near the film's beginning, the main male character gets an antibiotic shot and is told to stay away from booze and women for awhile, leaving him bored out of his mind. What follows is set to Lee Jang-hui's aforementioned 'hard rock' song:

The music video-like quality of those scenes made the film stand out as something new for young audiences, while its traditional melodrama tropes drew in older audiences, making it the biggest film in Korean history at that point, selling over 450,000 tickets, which shocked director Lee. Lee also immortalized his friend in the film. The man on the swing with a toddler in the clip above is none other than Choi In-ho:

The aforementioned March 24, 1974 issue of Weekly Joongang also stated that the film featured Korea's first 'original soundtrack disc,' which isn't true - off the top of my head, Shin Joong-hyun made soundtracks for the films 'Green Apple' in 1968 and 'Mabu' in 1971, though perhaps not every song was used in the film. The 별들의 고향 soundtrack was released a few weeks before the film to draw more attention, and was described by the Weekly Joongang as 'avant garde.' (When, in 2015, I interviewed director Park Kwang-su, who had worked as an assistant director under Lee Jang-ho in the mid-1980s, he told me that what he learned from director Lee was how to promote a film as part of a package before its release; I can't help but wonder if Lee was already pursuing this strategy with his first film.) While I'd heard some songs from the soundtrack before, I'd never listened to it in its entirety. A few weeks ago I found the soundtrack to 1975's March of Fools (another film based on a Choi In-ho book) and the record shop owner suggested the 별들의 고향 soundtrack as well, so I decided to pick it up. This was a wise decision. After the ballad that opens the soundtrack, the following tracks are indeed more experimental, mixing in synthesizers with the guitars and beats. The song I linked to above was briefly in the top 10 chart, while 한 잔의 추억 (track 6) remained on the charts from June to October 1974 and hit number one for three weeks.

The day before the film was released on April 25, 1975, Choi In-ho also published a 'Declaration of Youth Culture' in the Hankook Ilbo. Whether this contributed to the appeal of the film I don't know, but after the film's success 'youth culture' became a hot topic in the media. Numerous weeklies published one-off articles or series on youth culture, while the monthly Shin Donga spent over 50 pages discussing the topic in its July 1974 issue.

There had been earlier media 'gusts' on this topic starting in 1969 and coming to the fore in 1970. This peaked with the first crackdown on youth culture in late August 1970 which was best known for its forced haircuts of those with 'hippie' hair, as well as some arrests for too-short miniskirts. These continued throughout the early 1970s but peaked in 1975 after Emergency Measure 9 (May 13, 1975) and the bans on songs that followed. 1970 also saw the criminalization of marijuana at the behest of USFK, which was turned against youth culture and the folk and rock music scene in late 1975.

Among those who were arrested and banned from working for years?
Singer Lee Jang-hui and director Lee Jang-ho.

The arrests and bans on recording and performing put the careers of some of the top talent of the day on hold. While Shin Joong-hyun was the best known target, by 1974 the torch for innovative music had been passed from the rock'n'rollers who cut their teeth playing for US troops to the university students who were increasingly mixing folk music with other genres, including rock and funk, and who were also mixing synthesizers into their music (as heard on the above soundtrack). So much musical and cultural - and political - energy was emanating from the universities, and though the music often was not overtly political, the government spent the latter half of 1975 hacking off the various heads of what they perceived as a hydra coming from the universities. Emergency Measure 7 closed Korea University (others followed), EM 9 criminalized all dissent, all student clubs were banned and all students were enrolled in the Student Defense Corps, songs 'threatening morals' - many of the favorites of the young - were banned, and finally, in a wave of arrests as the government abruptly began enforcing the habit-forming drug control law, many of that generation's top musicians were tarred as drug addicts and banned from recording or performing.

If we look at this picture of Lee Jang-hui's wedding in July 1974 (published in the Weekly Kyonghyang), everyone to the left of the bride in the front row (l-r: Kim Se-hwan, Yun Hyeong-ju, and Lee Jang-hui) were all arrested and faced performance bans.

In the middle of the back row is Song Chang-sik (standing next to Lee Seong-ae), who, along with Yun, formed Korea's first folk duo, Twin Folio, in 1967. He went on to record songs for the the next movie made from a Choi In-ho novel, 'March of Fools,' released in May 1975, though I think I'll save that story for another post.

Once again, the Korea File podcast can be found here.