First published in Groove Korea magazine October 2014
As the expat community continues to grow and diversify, so too do the arts and music circles within. Over the last eight years, the scenes have welcomed new ways of thinking, creating, performing and sharing.
Costa Rican photographer Joe Wabe, who arrived in Korea 11 years ago, has seen the number of active foreign photographers multiply. “Social media has been an incredible tool that has tripled the amount of people that can be involved in any project, and that has made a huge difference.”
Canadian belly dancer and instructor Eshe agreed. “Everyone’s online presence has dramatically increased, so events are easier to find, book, promote and attend.” Eshe arrived in 2007, and within no time was able to begin teaching classes and forming her own performing troupe, Navah. The year 2010 saw an increased appetite for international activities, and this was the perfect time for Eshe to open Dream Dance Studio.
Social media has also created an opportunity for Korea to share its wealth of creative talent with the rest of the world. Over the years, music collective Loose Union has received international attention and they’ve used this to help promote other musical talents born in the Korean expat scene. “We believe in independent music and culture in Korea,” said Adam Brennan, one of the group’s contributing artists. His comments are obviously not an idle claim if you look at the Korean gigs and North American tours they have organized for expat bands based here.
As the cultural hub of both the Korean and expat art and music milieus, Hongdae has seen the rise of many artistic ventures. This is where the founding members of rock band Magna Fall first met and where they continue to play gigs. The band started playing five years ago and says a lot has changed since then. Members have come and gone, styles and influences have been transformed and personal musical abilities have developed and improved.
“It’s still tough to get your name out there and people at your shows,” the band’s drummer David Holden said. “But appearing on Korean TV shows like ‘Top Band’ has helped a lot,” added guitarist and singer Kevin Heintz.
In the television world, opportunities for expat entertainers are on the rise. Stars such as Robert Holley, Sam Hammington and Bronwyn Mullen have made waves over the past decade, as has British TV personality and sought-after MC Jake Pains. He said the hard work has paid off for him too, and now he is able to pick and choose which events he performs at. “As the first ever foreign MC to do real emceeing in big clubs, not just ‘are you ready, let’s go!,’ I’m proud to see how there is a real club culture for MCs now.”
Hip-hop artist Pinnacle TheHustler echoed Pains, saying he, too, now has more control over his career as there is more demand for hip-hop and other internationally influenced music. “The scene has developed considerably,” the American rapper says. “There are more creatives that are doing some great things in the expat community, and there are more Koreans taking risks.”
And although the arts continue to gain more recognition and support, artists still run into obstacles, with the language barrier obviously being a big one. Irish visual artist Aoife Casey explains that finding gallery space and getting permission to shoot in particular locations would be made easier with a better grasp of the language. “However, there are organizations like PANK (Professional Artist Network Korea) which help facilitate and curate group shows for artists.”
Mike Stewart opened Jankura Art Space, a place for artists to come together, create and learn in English, and said since he got his “artistic gears rolling again in 2006” he has seen more serious artists emerge. “It’s great to see people not giving up on what they had a passion for before crossing the sea,” he said — something all foreign artists and art enthusiasts in Korea can assuredly agree on.
Joe Wabe www.500px.com/joewabe
Loose Union www.looseunion.com
Magna Fall www.magnafall.com
Jake Pains www.facebook.com/beingjake
Pinnacle TheHustler www.planethustle.com
Aoife Casey www.aoifecasey.com
Jankura Artspace jankuraseoul.com