I love cultural festivals because the quality ones provide an opportunity to spend a day or two just lavishing in the beauty and richness of a culture from a different part of the world. And of course you know I love me some Korean culture, from the history to the food to the music, I’m here for it!
So, of course when Asian Junkie was offered the chance to participate in the Los Angeles Korean Festival, I jumped! Not only did we get to run our very first ticket giveaways, but we were given all access to four days of Korean culture, two of those with two major concerts.
So let’s dive right in.
Beyond stuffing our faces full of Korean street food like giant corndogs, tteokbeokki, bbq’d squids, other meats on sticks, and of course Chilly Ribbons watermelon cloud slushies, we did some light shopping with the street market setup. Why yes, yes I did buy citron teas, a whole bunch of local banchan, and sweet potato candies. With vendors like Koogle TV and KORE Limited in the house (as well as the numerous K-pop vendors), I’m lucky I didn’t bottom out my bank account.
But the musical artists are what you want to know about, and Friday’s concert kicked off with Late Lee (formerly As If of Odd Folks) opening the event and hyped up the initial crowd. I’ve seen him perform before at KCON and other local stages, but this was definitely different, as he felt dominant and crowd drawing. He started off with a few tracks from his upcoming album ‘Elevator‘, and performed “Nothing“, which is his viral track released everywhere, and then brought out the fam. After Hours hit the stage with him and they performed “Morning Backwoods“, “Who Dat Boy“, and of course my new personal anthem, “BITCH“.
Bumkey stepped on stage lookin’ fly as hell, fresh as a daisy and ready to party. Just in case you didn’t think Latino culture isn’t everywhere, dude straight up wore a Stigma brand Vato Squad pullover on stage in the middle of LA. He’s from here, he knows what he’s doin’! He sang his hits, stopping to talk about how happy he was to be back in his hometown. Bumkey then introduced his DJ who turned out to be his wife, and he did a cover or two and reminded everyone why he makes girls hearts melt.
After Bumkey, everyone turned to the keyboard set up on the far side of the stage and the great Verbal Jint stepped out. In all his broody nerdy sexiness, he thanked everyone for being there and was happy to be back in LA. He talked about new music coming out and performed a collection of his own hits, as well as bringing a freshly braided up Bumkey back on stage to perform their collabs together. His deep lyrics and bluesy hip-hop reigned throughout the park.
Finally, Friday night’s headliner was KSHMR fresh from performing in South Korea. The crowd was a huge mix of EDM fans who filled the venue, and they were ready to dance. LAKF went from cultural festival to rave real quick. He performed mixes from “Magic” and drove the crowd into a dancing mass of partying ravers. I’ve come to the conclusion that regardless of how you feel about EDM, once you’re in the thick of it … you can’t help but to party hard. It’s hypnotic.
Saturday night took a decidedly different turn. The show opened with TRUEUNSOL at the DJ booth mixing a hardcore hip-hop set list in her Scream Queen hoodie to hype up the crowd. She was no joke as she went hard as hell, and it was a solid DJ set that had me Googling her on the spot.
SAAY took the stage next, and let’s just stop right here and take a moment to thank her for bucking every stereotype of Korean women in entertainment. Not only was she bold, ballsy, and loud, her decidedly strong voice reigned supreme as she absolutely killed it on stage. She was the surprise highlight of the night, performing songs from her debut album such as “OVERZONE“, “Rainbow Car“, and “Circle” in this wild, rave-ready, two-piece crop top and stovepipe holographic pants outfit. The last time the US saw SAAY it was her debut performance at IDENTITY LA last year. This year, she damn near lit the stage on fire. Not only can she sing, but she’s a hell of a dancer as well. She then went back to her original mixtape for “Quiet Down” and finally performed “ENCORE” as her encore song. I’ve decided she might be my favorite soloist in Korean hip-hop currently.
Rad Museum had a seriously dedicated fanbase of girls in the audience that screamed at a bomb threat level the moment he stepped on stage. His sound tends to run in a darker circle, tapping into the more alternative side of r&b with deeper lyrics and gritty imagery. He performed songs from his 2017 album ‘Scene‘, and melted the collective audience panties clear off. Rad Museum’s backdrop was a statement of nature and technology with the classic Windows blue screen of death littered with cherry blossom trees, a fantastic juxtaposition of natural beauty and today’s version of death. With songs like “Dancing In The Rain“, “Over The Fence“, and my personal favorite, “WOMAN“; he tapped right into my love of trip-hop and lo-fi. Of course, he performed “Tiny Little Boy” with our final act, DEAN.
So finally, it was time for DEAN. For a brief moment, I held my breath as the crowd collectively flexed in anticipation of his set. The barrier between the stage and the crowd was looking more and more like a spider web and less like a protection fence, but to my surprise, the massive crowd of over 2000 people were on their best behavior as the wild child of Korean r&b stepped on stage. The screams could be heard for blocks across Koreatown as he stepped on stage in black comfy-looking genie pants, a black hoodie, and grey-toned overshirt. His hair was lookin like ‘Encino Man‘ about to hit the prom, and his Chrome Hearts rings were glittering in the stage lights. The man is a trip!
I’ve seen DEAN on stage before, and he tends to be shy and a bit cutesy with his movements. Not tonight. His stage presence was cranked up to tip-top levels as he jogged around the stage, smiled, flirted, and laughed with the audience, and danced like a man who really enjoys his own music.
DEAN didn’t just perform his new music, however, as he also went in deep with collabs and early works that had everyone in their feels. He performed the new indie classic “Instagram” to a sea of cell phone lights that lit him up in soft lighting as he crooned. He then went all in as we got “D (Half Moon)“, “I Love It“, “I’m Not Sorry“, “Bonnie & Clyde“, “What 2 Do“, “21“, and “Love” just to name a few. He even performed “Put My Hands On You“, which I never thought I’d see that live! By the end of the show, everyone in the venue was grooving hard to his performance and was quite sad to see it end.
Most major cities in the US (and some around the world) have Korean festivals, but for a solid 45 years, LA has really done South Korean culture justice. I can’t possibly thank the Los Angeles Korean Festival Foundation enough for allowing Asian Junkie to participate in this event, and I can’t wait for next year!