SXSW 2019: XXX talk problems with the Korean music scene, their influences, and artists needing support in interview

On March 13, XXX was one the six highly diverse artists who performed at KOCCA‘s Korea Spotlight at SXSW. The very next day, they opened day two of an already jam packed Fader Fort (The Fader’s massive festival stage at SXSW) to a crowd who embraced the experimental sounds of the South Korean hip-hop duo with excitement. A few hours later, they met with me at the SXSW press lounge where we got to chat, laugh, and just hang out for the following interview.

Read on and learn a bit about the soul of Korean hip-hop: the underground.

Note: Kim Ximya responded to me in English, and was translating for FRNK as well. I will do my best to distinguish who is who during the interview. If you see ‘XXX’ that means they discussed and that was their collective answer.

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XXX: iTunes, Spotify, YouTube,Instagram, SoundCloud, Facebook
Kim Ximya:
Instagram
FRNK:
Instagram

Asian Junkie: Please introduce yourself to our readers.
XXX: Hi, we are XXX.
FRNK: I’m FRNK. I DJ and produce.
Kim Ximya: I am Kim Ximya with vocals.

AJ: How would you classify the genre or sound of your music?
XXX: Hip-hop.

AJ: Where do you find the inspiration for your music?
FRNK: Production wise, we try to put our emotions into it which makes our daily lives the inspiration for our music.

AJ: And for the lyrics? The lyrics are highly charged…
Ximya: Right. So for the lyrics it’s from my daily life, but since I live in Korea, I experience the Korean music scene and I have many problems with it.

AJ: With the mainstream?
Ximya: Well, the mainstream … also the underground. They both have problems and we have problems too.

AJ: Do you feel like there is room for expansion for a counter culture movement in Korea that goes against the status quo?
Ximya: What’s ‘status quo’?
AJ: Like the standard in Korean culture.
Ximya: Ah, I guess there is a tiny bit of room for it. In Korea, hip-hop was not that popular, then it hit mainstream and blew up. For any genre, there’s wiggle room for the genre to actually blow up but I guess it’s all about timing.

AJ: What about the more politically charged side of hip-hop? We see a lot of mainstream hip-hop seems to be more like new school party hip-hop where as the underground scene has a lot more vocal opinions about society and culture. Do you foresee that moving forward into the forefront?
Ximya: I could imagine in the States that could happen, but back home, no, not really.

AJ: It seems like you’ve been frustrated with the lack of momentum you’ve been able to generate in Korea with the topics of your songs, how do you deal with that?
Ximya: I guess … what happens happens. We have a hard time dealing with not being able to make a breakthrough in the Korean market, but we concentrate on the music and production to actually make the breakthrough, which is really hard if you turn back to the media and the hype.

AJ: What do you think about the direction Korean hip-hop is currently headed in?
Ximya: I guess it is similar to the hip-hop in the states, following the same trends.

AJ: I know that here there is a lot of subject matter that isn’t touched until you go deeper underground. If you could change the culture and how hip-hop is seen now, what would you do for more visibility?
Ximya: We’ve never imagine the scene being transformed before…
FRNK: Since our status right now is not that great, I just want to concentrate on the music at the moment.
Ximya: I could say if people who make any genre could turn similarly … if everybody gets their shine … equality. [He is referring to the industry equally showing favor across the genres.]

AJ: In your songs you sometimes rap about not wanting it to be about money but needing to put food on the table, how do you find an effective balance between art and money in your life?
Ximya: [Laughs] We haven’t found it. Right now we are talking about art and we’re working hard to achieve the money part, but I think if we think about the money, we chase money. So right now we concentrate on the art. We think our art needs to get better to achieve money. I think this a simple equation, but back home in Korea, this equation doesn’t work. We either need to find another equation or we stick with this and take a second or third job.

AJ: When you create your beats is there s certain mindset you need to be in? What is your process?
FRNK: Since we’ve been doing this for a long time, making beats is like breathing. When I mix or master tracks, I concentrate on making beats. I enjoy just random unexpected sounds. To me, making beats is like speaking; telling a story with sounds.

AJ: Your sound is very reminiscent of experimental beats of the 80s and 90s. When you think about beat making what do you listen to?
FRNK: From a young age I was in an environment where I could listen to a lot of different genres of music, since the knowledge stacked up, when I make music, I don’t actually find sounds from certain songs. I find sounds that I like which were influenced from the music and sounds that I heard from a young age.

AJ: Who was your favorite artist when you were a kid?
FRNK: J Dilla.
AJ: Riiiiiight. Nice. [I laugh at such a classic choice.]
FRNK: Yeah. [He chuckles shyly.]

AJ: I spoke to the head of KOCCA yesterday and he gave me a little insight on how the artists are chosen for the event here at SXSW. He told me that the artists were hand chosen that they felt would represent Korea in a diverse light and that they want the US to see that Korean music is not just one genre but all these different genres. Being a group that has been picked to come out here to represent Korea with a sound that isn’t mainstream, how do you feel about that?
XXX: [After much deliberation…] Thankful. Very thankful.

AJ: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about XXX?
Ximya: For Korean artists who make music back home, I think it’s a really hard time right now. It’s a hard period because you have an environment where you need to make a certain type of music to actually feed your family and feed yourself. Everyone understands that art is way after money. Money is way before art. We need money to do stuff. Nobody is blaming anyone for just making the obvious, cliche music. But now that it is getting too big, and people who are trying to make original music are actually starving, I think people who are already famous and have big influence … they gotta change. The people who make original music, we don’t have the influence. We don’t have the power to actually change anything.

AJ: So you need the support?
Ximya: We need the support, but I don’t want them to just support us. I want them to change. I want them to actually make music that since they have such a big impact, when they put out something, people would listen to it and then people would actually open their eyes to different music. Listeners will start finding new stuff and the market would be more healthy.

AJ: Wow. that’s amazing. I once asked an artist this same question and they told me their favorite color.
Ximya: FRNK’s favorite color is yellow!

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I think the best part of this conversation was the realness. XXX are so real. They bare their souls in their music and aren’t afraid to confront difficult of controversial topics within their lyrics and sounds, providing non-stop honesty in their answers.

I could have talked to them for hours about the various subjects in and out of the industry, but I feel very lucky to have been granted the short time we had together.

The best part about this whole experience was after our interview, they hopped on a plane and took the long flight home, just in time to attend the Korean Hip-Hop Awards and win Album Of The Year for their album ‘Language‘!

Hopefully this is the start of gaining recognition within the industry back in Korea. Congratulations to XXX for reaching that next step. May it bring them the influence and power to trigger the changes that would create a more healthy environment for artists within hip-hop.

XXX: iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, Facebook
Kim Ximya:
Instagram
FRNK:
Instagram

About Yaaaaaas

Yaaaaaas
I'm not drunk enough for this.