Friday, March 21, 2014

SXSW: Notes from Jambinai, Crying Nut, Big Phony Showcases

[Note:  The Korean is aware that SXSW is over. He hopes to punch out everything SXSW-related by this weekend. Thanks for waiting and reading.]

With another successful Seoulsonic showcase, the Korean is more excited than ever to see how Korean acts will do at offsite venues. His day began with Jambinai's daytime show, a highly anticipated event given the numerous positive coverage that Jambinai has received in the last few days.

Jambinai's venue was offsite. It was on the northern end of University of Texas, several miles away from the downtown Austin where SXSW official events were taking place. The venue itself was pretty neat. It had an outdoor patio set up as a pleasant garden decorated with vintage signs and paraphernalia. The beer was dirt cheap. Given the location and timing, however, I temper my expectation as to the size of the audience. The crowd did eventually build up to over 40 people--not a bad turnout for a daytime, offsite show.

Jambinai came on, and as they usually do, mesmerized the crowd.

With the vintage background, geomun'go-ist Shim Eun-yong gave me one of my favorite pictures from Austin.

(It's hard to see in the picture, but Shim's geomun'go case has a small embroidered Korean flag on top, and stickers that say: "FUCK THE SYSTEM". Bad ass.)

The crowd was absolutely amazed. Some of them seemed to have heard of Jambinai, as they listened to the band with knowing smile. Others were regular university types who were there to hang out, and were blown away by what they were hearing. Once Jambinai began playing, the crowd grew very quickly as more people streamed in from outside. By the end of their set, there was an excited buzz among the listeners. Several people asked me about the band and the instruments they were playing.

As I was leaving the venue, the bouncer at the entrance (who could not see the band from where he was standing) chatted me up:

"How many people are in that band?"
"Really? It sounded like there were about ten of them!"

The bouncer wasn't wrong, actually. Lee Il-woo plays three instruments at the same time and the other two members play two instruments at the same time. Speaks volumes about Jambinai's complexity and versatility.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

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We move onto the next venue, where Crying Nut was supposed to play. There, the Korean spots this horror show.

This was the strangest venue, with the strangest band playing for the strangest crowd. The venue itself had potential. It was a large parking lot covered with a tent. With beers and wooden benches, it could pass for an Oktoberfest-like atmosphere. You know, except for the music and the people. 

This all sounds very unfair, but I swear to my life that I am only describing what I saw. Everyone in the venue, including the band, seemed to live for the sole purpose of confirming every single stereotype about rednecks. The band included two women who neither sang nor played any instrument; all they did was to dance around the stage, and really, nobody needed to see them dancing on the stage. The band was not even playing its own music; rather, it was covering what might be called the "white people classic," with a healthy dose of Born in the USA and the like. Later, I found out that the band was called "The Gay Sportscasters." What the hell.

And the crowd. Oh, the crowd. There must have been around 100 people around the venue; the over/under for the total number of teeth was around 300. (The Korean would take "over" only because he counts his full set of teeth.) Every last redneck stereotype was being represented: mustachioed men in cowboy gear, dirty-blond women with huge boobs spilling out, shirtless slackjaws wearing jorts, you name it. 

I don't know whether to laugh or cry; I am sure I alternated between both. I feel terrible for Crying Nut. I know Crying Nut is arguably Korea's greatest live band, and it has played at plenty of shitty venues and in front of strange audiences. Even still, this gaggle of rednecks has to be one of the weirdest crowd in front of which Crying Nut ever played. To put it kindly, this audience did not look like a well-traveled group of people. Five Korean guys are supposed to get in front of this crowd and put on a 40 minute show with Korean songs?

Incredibly, Crying Nut handled themselves and then some. For the first few songs, the audience was tentative, looking askance at the three short Asian guys on the stage. Then Crying Nut's energy gradually won them over. Finally, Crying Nut very smartly played 마시자 [Let's Drink]--a hoedown-like number--the crowd went freakin' nuts. Spontaneous dance parties erupted in various corners. Several of them made a point of walking over to the merchandise stand to buy Crying Nut t-shirts.

I could not believe my own eyes. I will never doubt Crying Nut again. These guys could be dropped into an island full of cannibals, and would play their way out of the cauldron.

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Later that night, I attended Big Phony's solo performance.

The venue was the hotel bar at the Intercontinental. In many ways, it was the perfect venue. Big Phony is at his best indoors before a relaxed, respectful and older crowd that is ready to focus on his sad lyrics and playful banter. The classy atmosphere of the venue suited Big Phony perfectly. I settled into a very comfortable chair. Next to me was Buldaegal [불대갈] from No Brain. The screaming vocal of No Brain was leaning back, quietly absorbing Big Phony's songs with a glass of fine red wine. Although in a way very different from Jambinai and Crying Nut, Big Phony kills it. Another successful night is in the books.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Sorry, is Jambinai's geomungo player named Shim Eun-yong, or Shin Eun-yong? The Jambinai interview credits her as "Shim", but "Shin" is typed up the second time you mentioned her name in this post.

  2. Thanks for all the posts about Korean bands at SXSW. Jambinai definitely are standouts for me. I would go see them if they come to NYC. Perhaps Smacksoft as well.


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