“Diverse” was the quintessential word getting tossed around at The Belmont on Wednesday, as Korea’s widest assortment of exports left their mark at K-Pop Night Out.
The lineup was stacked this year, and from heavy metal band Victim Mentality to mainstream juggernaut MAMAMOO, K-Pop Night Out at SXSW delivered. Fans and the curious showed up en masse early, which proved that the decision to move the event from the terribly small (and also terrible) Elysium to the larger Belmont location was a smart one. The venue filled up quick with K-pop fans, industry peeps, and what was probably the entire Korean community of Central Texas.
Doors opened at around 7:30 PM, and the night kicked off with indie band Bye Bye Badman. The band’s Brit-pop vibes were a delightful way to open the show. The crowd, which at this point in the night was relatively young, loved these guys. Their synth-y, playful music was a great fit with the majority of the lineup, but as far as it flowing nicely into the next act, well there was just no smooth way of doing it.
— Bye Bye Badman (@byebyebadman_) March 17, 2016
Victim Mentality took to the stage soon after and were an immediate breakaway from the indie waves that preceded. As promised, the band slayed. Dressed in all black — thick eyeliner, studs and all — Victim Mentality took the show back to the 80s in full hair metal fashion. “American Junk Boy“, “Don’t Spit On Me“, and “I Hate Hiphop” all had the crowd going wild. In their last boisterous ode to metal, Victim Mentality closed out their set with the anthemic “Heavy Metal Is Back“.
Electro rock duo Love X Stereo brought a freshness to the lineup that resonated strongly with a lot of the people at The Belmont. In fact, they might have been the one group the audience was pleasantly surprised to hear. “I really wasn’t expecting that sound from them,” said one fan I talked to, and truth be told, Love X Stereo played with a lot of heart Wednesday night. Vocalist Annie Ko poured a little more energy into every performance as the group’s set unfolded, culminating in a visibly emotional rendition of their synthpop release, “Hide And Seek“.
— LOVE X STEREO (@loveXstereo) March 20, 2016
Then came MAMAMOO, who had one of the largest turnouts of the night, and for this, MAMAMOO’s fanservice was dialed to 100. I’m sure the people at K-Pop Night Out who weren’t familiar with MAMAMOO — and there were a surprising number of them — didn’t expect to watch four women belt their lungs out while simultaneously winking, posing, and body waving through smooth choreography.
The group sang through most of their singles, ending on the particularly interesting “Pride Of 1 CM“, leaving many wondering how a girl group could get so turnt at the drop of a hat.
Electronic artist HAIHM came and went in a rather steady DJ set, which, given the place and time, could have benefited from a bit more variety and a lot more oomph.
Of the night’s lineup, DEAN made the most rounds at SXSW 2016, performing at three official showcases: Spotify House, K-Pop Night Out, and HYPETRAK @ House Of Vans. For a rising artist, a schedule like that at SXSW is huge.
And at least while at K-Pop Night Out, DEAN was a hit. The crowd went apeshit for “Put My Hands On You” and “Pour Up“, in which he rapped Zico‘s bit to applause. DEAN also took advantage of the opportunity to premiere “Bonnie & Clyde” off his upcoming EP. The groovy R&B number, along with the rest of his short setlist — he only performed four songs — was a welcomed change in pace to the night.
The crowd wasn’t thrilled that DEAN’s set was over before they knew it, but the little they experienced of the charismatic soloist was worth the wait.
By the time Zion.T hit the stage, the venue was brimming with both excitement and drunken craziness.
Zion.T and The Session provided the best showmanship of the night, as their live takes on some of Zion.T’s biggest hits translated beautifully in a live environment. To hear songs like “Yanghwa BRDG” and “Spin Spin” in the hands of a live band was pure gold, as well as their way of making The Belmont feel remarkably intimate.
Also magical was watching Zion.T’s nuanced allure effectively hypnotize all of the drunks in the house, which was straight up sorcery all on its own.
K-Pop Night Out, which is in its fourth year, is now the go-to event for those looking to dip their toes in Korean music at the festival. Rather than rivaling the indie-centric Seoulsonic outing, which has been around much longer at SXSW, K-Pop Night Out has gradually evolved into a complementary spectacle with the flash and appeal to finally live up to its name.
With performers like Zion.T and MAMAMOO traveling stateside for a festival like SXSW, and emerging artists like DEAN taking full advantage of the festival’s industry appeal, it’s only a matter of time before bigger names in the game step foot in the Lone Star State to see where their reach at SXSW can take them.