Just after 7:00 PM Thursday night, fans scrambled their way inside Elysium, packing themselves at center stage just in time to catch Korean band Eastern Sidekick kick off the third annual K-Pop Night Out at SXSW 2015.
With acts like Hitchhiker, Crayon Pop, and Epik High on the bill, the lineup did its best to live up to its name. Last year, 4Minute‘s HyunA was the only actual K-pop idol to perform (unless Jay Park counts, though I’m sure he would like us to believe otherwise), and even then the blanket marketing term “K-Pop” seemed misplaced.
This year gave us enough of a segment to at least satisfy the craving of a K-pop concert in central Texas. Better yet, the night was hot with diverse stages by artists that one wouldn’t usually expect to see come together under the same roof.
The time-traveling trio The Barberettes, whose 50s-60s inspired music is unbelievably hard to put down, had the audience clapping, stamping, and swaying to their charming nostalgia-driven presentation. A stark difference in energy and performance to the heavy setlist played beforehand by rock band Asian Chairshot.
But it was electronic performance group EE‘s appearance that really took the showcase to a whole different plane entirely. As they hinted to us earlier this week, EE succeeded in blowing minds and shaking the bearings of Elysium with their hyper-freaky stage performances. Intertwined with highly expressive body movements by two accompanying dancers, Lil E, who tumbled across the stage a few times, spat sharp and oftentimes shrill vocal rhymes at every chance she could. It was a chaotic scene, complete with glittered masked faces and feathered accessories, but a scene nobody could take their eyes off of. And if the loudness of EE’s art had to be followed up by anyone, the only artist on the roster who could properly get the job done was SM Entertainment‘s rogue producer Hitchhiker.
If Elysium didn’t feel like a true club before, Hitchhiker made sure to change pace immediately. The ‘robot’ spun one thumping track after another with haste, but what was most impressive about Hitchhiker’s stage had to be the fact that there was an actual human being inside a full bodysuit inside the sweltering building. Mind you, temperatures in the venue were high by the time he waddled to the board. Very high. Witnessing Hitchhiker blow through his entire club-ready set — “11” was a smash — and not pass out was a triumph in itself.
Even Crayon Pop noted the heat, who kicked off their setlist with “UH-EE” to cheers and fanfare, followed by a pause to pant, giving each other the slightest looks of regret for wearing black bodysuits and gloves to the show. But it was all part of their master plan. Crayon Pop came here with a mission: to treat SXSW with an exclusive first taste of their upcoming single, “FM“. The song, as every other they performed, was received with some of the loudest cries of excitement heard all night; the sea of hilariously loud fanboys in the venue made sure of it. By the end of Crayon Pop’s swan song, the beloved hit “Bar Bar Bar“, Elysium’s walls were packed to capacity in preparation for headliners Epik High.
Rolling in with “Born Hater“, Epik High closed out the night with some of their freshest music, most of which was lifted from their newest album, ‘Shoebox‘ — their cover of Taeyang’s “Eyes, Nose, Lips” was a particular favorite with the crowd. In true rebellious fashion, Tablo and DJ Tukutz took to dousing the crowd with water (take that, cool kids), while Mithra kicked back soju shots between songs. It was the perfect ending to the most interesting gathering of musicians at SXSW 2015.
K-Pop Night Out may be a ways away from being a true night of K-pop at SXSW, but with the showcase’s growing popularity as one of the most conspicuous events in the United States for Korean media, it shouldn’t be long before larger names in the game start hopping on the bill to get in on the action.