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.


Kevin Kim said...

Is "동방" a common expression for band names? I'm thinking specifically of 동방신기, or Eastern Gods Rising. (I've read and heard certain haters derisively refer to them as 동성신기, i.e., Gay Gods Rising. I've never heard their music before, so I have no opinion.)

matt said...

I don't think it's that common, but then my knowledge of post-1970s groups is pretty limited, so who knows? (I thought of 동방신기 as well, despite having never listened to them).