I really debated on writing this article. I thought long and hard; sat on it for a good while. I’m about to stick my foot in my mouth and probably burn a bridge or two. And you’re all coming along with me for the ride.
Every year I say I’m not gonna cover KCON. I avoid it like the plague for a multitude of reasons, mainly because I feel like I’m gonna die from a combination of frustration and physical exhaustion every time I step foot into this event with Empanada.
This year, the plan was to hipster the event. Avoid the convention, show up about 10 minutes before the concert starts, and snake some last minute tickets. Unfortunately, duty called via an indie showcase planned for Friday at the center stage. My plans changed when I found out my all-time favorite electro band was hitting the states via KCON. I couldn’t pass up this chance to interview some of the most eclectic indie bands from South Korea.
Who knew KCON would put on one of the worst indie shows I’ve ever seen through no fault of the bands?
This was to be a Friday event at the stage in the center of the convention hall. My covering this event was granted through the promoter who came with the bands from South Korea (not through KCON itself) in the hopes of giving some positive press to Korean music that wasn’t K-pop. We were both really excited to be able to do that especially for bands that I’m a fan of. I was scheduled interviews with each band prior to the showcase which was scheduled to start at 2 PM.
The bands were Dead Buttons, Love X Stereo, Sultan Of The Disco, and Eluphant.
Unsurprisingly, as it is every damned year at KCON, the whole event was a whopping clusterfuck.
So let’s start this bullshit recap shall we?
I broke speeding laws in two counties across Southern California to make my first interview on time, only to get there, hunt down the guy who scheduled it, and find everything had been pushed back for some unknown reason. Eluphant’s plane was delayed so who knows if that was even gonna happen at all, which was a total kick in the teeth. I’m a huge fan of the bluesy hiphop duo who doesn’t seem to give a shit for mainstream hiphop standards, and now … nothing.
So I wandered around KCON, the different vendor booths, the Flower Boy Cafe (which was sold out all three days), the contests, the artist corner. I was about to spend an ungodly amount of money on a giant knock-off YG Entertainment/KRUNK T.O.P stuffed bear when I heard the music cut at the center stage and I booked it. It was way past 2 PM and there was still no word from the promoter.
So I get to the stage to find ‘The Live Beauty Demonstration With Mr. Son & Park’ in full swing, which turns out to be a live infomercial for some “look wet all the time” facial water essence serum immortality balm, probably made from the tears of fangirls. I can’t find the promoter anywhere, though. I ask a guy with a headset on if he knows what’s going on and he starts to apologize profusely to me in a combination of Korean and broken English. He turns out to be the PD for this event, and he tells me to wait, and disappears through a screen that makes up the back stage. He comes back, physically ushers me (and by ushers I mean practically shoves me) behind the curtain, telling me I have time for one interview. I cross the black curtains into an area of sleeping artists. They are all destroyed. Jet lag has them comatose.
He passes me off to none other than Annie Ko of Love X Stereo, by far my favorite electro band from South Korea. No joke, I’ve been following them for about four years now. So, professional Yaaaaas had an internal battle with fangirl Yaaaaas as she looked exhausted but was super sweet to me, allowing me to set up my camera and interview her. I’m nervous. The questions are horrible. She’s patient. I am forever grateful. She hugs me and I silently fangirl and melt into a puddle in a corner surrounded by snoring Korean rockers splayed across chairs and tables.
Here’s where the real shitshow begins and where KCON completely fucks these bands over. There is no announcement. It just all begins like a surprise attack of sound engineering failure.
A few dedicated indie fans stand around the stage, waiting patiently for a show that’s now very behind. Dead Buttons has stepped on stage and setup. They are a two man rock band: one drummer, one guitarist.
They begin the sound check, and for the next 20 minutes we get to watch an epic war being waged between the PD, the band, and the sound booth. The band looks like they’re gonna scream, and not for musical drama. PD is trying to help the band get the sound right, but the sound booth can’t figure out where they plugged anything in and are chasing cords across the stage to the booth. I’m not kidding with you. It’s horrible. The band looks totally frustrated as they finally give up and begin to play.
It was … it was rough. They sounded like a high school garage band, and it’s so frustrating because they’re fucking amazing. I fight the urge to tell people around me that it’s not their fault, but they perform a few songs and leave looking like they desperately need a drink.
Next is Love X Stereo, and thankfully they take less time to sound check, as Dead Buttons already worked out half of the kinks. The PD is back, adjusting pedals and finding still not plugged in cords. They begin to play and sound not half bad, but it’s not half good either. The struggle is real as the band puts on a good face and plows through four tracks. Their presence alone carries the performance, but the sound struggles with their hard electro beats pounding away at the speakers and the thin crowd. They rocked the stage, made a statement of where you can find them online, and ran for their lives.
Finally, the craziest campiest Korean band I’ve ever seen steps on stage. The PD looks like he’s going to light the sound booth on fire as they blast K-pop between sets, blowing out the ear drums of fans like it’s a prank video gone wrong. He’s full on yelling at them across the convention floor at this point.
Lucky for Sultan Of The Disco, they finally iron out most of the bullshit. I’m staring at five guys in silk paisley print robes, house slippers, sun glasses, and a sweat band across their forehead as they begin to play. They immediately draw a crowd, and they sound like pure disco funk/trot which makes people want to dance. They attract a bunch of young girls and teach the crowd to sing about their balls in Korean. It’s hilarious. They don’t give a shit. One of the members is strictly a hype man singing backup vocals while he hops around the stage and flirts with the crowd. They got the only legit set in the entire show.
But just as fast as they began, they ended. There’s a loud pop like a firecracker as the sound booth blasts more K-pop at an extreme volume on accident scattering the crowd. The PD has his head in his hands as the band packs up and they disappear into the makeshift backstage.
There’s no way else to say this, so I’ll just say it: This was the worst live show I’ve seen in a long time. KCON did these bands dirty! Eluphant never made it to the interviews, and I didn’t get a single other interview with anyone, even though I did get to meet Dead Buttons. It’s was beyond frustrating. I finally found the promoter, and he and I had a little chat. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only one saddened by the utter lack of professionalism on the floor that day.
Fast forward to my birthday, and I’m drunk, eating ramen with one of the bands in Koreatown after their show. The conversation turns to the show at KCON, and I’m made aware that this band is in LA on their own accord. The other bands only got to come to the US for the days of KCON and were out by Monday morning, because the visas for the other bands were only sponsored for the convention and that was it. They didn’t even get to spend quality time here in the US, and plus they got screwed out of a good show and potential exposure here in the US.
Basically, they all joked about it possibly being the worst gig they’ve ever played.
So, good job KCON. Keepin it classy on the convention floor every damned year. This shitshow was in no way the fault of these bands. And really, one can only hope they get a real chance to come back and play legit quality shows for the indie crowd here in the US. Which is probably highly unlikely unless they get in for SXSW, which has very limited space.
Go on … ask me if I am going to cover KCON next year.