The following story appears in and graces the cover of Highsnobiety Magazine Issue 14
Though relatively under-the-radar on the world music charts, Korean indie singer Oh Hyuk, of Hyukoh, is a certified star in South Korea. Representing a new wave of more organic superstars—away from the bubblegum shackles of “K-pop”—Hyuk is ready to go global.
“Kpop” is a genre that easily lends itself to the rapidly-condensed viral culture that pervades various corners of the music scene. It has become synonymous with sugary bubble-gum pop, the kind that features choruses of pitch-shifted voices, booming dance beats and chic aesthetics that are represented by groups that more closely resemble a squadron of popular school kids than a band per se. This idea is so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget that there is a whole world of Korean music that is no way part of the onslaught of confectionary-techno tunes within the Kpop banner. And perhaps no better example of this fact can be found than Hyukoh.
Who are Hyukoh? In the simplest of terms, they are an indie/alternative band hailing from the South Korean capital city of Seoul and are so-named for lead singer Oh Hyuk. But those more familiar with the band know that they are nothing short of a sensation. Their story is one that is something of a Cinderella story; one that has seen Hyuk endure great pains and waded through a sea of adversity to thrive in the manner that he has. For starters, his family was vehemently opposed to his passion for music; so much so that he was forced to strike out on his own post-high school and was left to fend for himself in the harsh and often unforgiving world of the music industry.
And yet, he prevailed. After linking with his bandmates and releasing their debut EP 20 (named for Hyuk’s age) the band was given an opportunity that comes but once in a lifetime. They were featured on the Korean television variety program Infinite Challenge, and from there on out things spiralled quickly. Their proceeding full-length, 22, entered the Top 10 on Billboard’s World Albums chart, and their Youtube videos have racked up millions and millions of views. Fame never happens overnight, but in some ways, it really did for these boys.
Musically, their work is certainly not something one encounters often; any one of their songs seems a patchwork quilt of influences from various eras of rock history, with the uniting element arriving in the emotionally raw vocals from Hyuk. He sings in a mixture of both Korean and English, and as we learned in our conversation, it is something that only aids to their appeal in a way that other bands may find alienating. They have yet to release a proper follow-up to their last album 22, which arrived in 2015, but as a recent mixtape proves, we can expect bigger and better things quite soon. We spoke to frontman Oh Hyuk on the genesis of the band, breaking out from Kpop and differentiating between Korean and international audiences.
Tell us how you first got started in music? What are some of your earliest musical memories?
I was invited to sing at a birthday party for my friend’s younger sibling. I met my mentor there and started thinking about becoming a musician. My parents were very against it at first.
How would you describe your visual aesthetic? How important is it to your identity as an artist as a whole?
This is still very hard to describe. I tend to get attracted by something new and different. I could say my visual aesthetics have greatly influenced my identity, which have shaped my attitude and directivity. Stagnant water is bound to rot, so I shall be open to anything new and constantly absorb the good ones quickly.
What is something you hope to achieve professionally and personally by the end of 2017?
I’m hoping to get positive responses for the upcoming album, and want to experience worldwide market including Asia and beyond. Personally, I’m hoping for a happy year.
Have you found it challenging to distinguish yourselves in the Korean music scene?
I would say distinguishing ourselves wasn’t that challenging. Rather we were worried wewould sound too distanced from the scene.
For those who know little of it, how would you describe the music scene in Korea?
There are many great things about the scene, but the market changes very quickly. When saying ‘K-pop’, dance music tends to be the most famous. I recommend that anyone interested should try listening to bands or musicians like us, because you’ll find many awesome, unconventional teams in the scene.
Do you find a difference between how your work is received back home vs. abroad?
Yes. Back home we are mostly received as how we are shown in the TV shows or images we have in the broadcasting media. But abroad, it might be because we are not that exposed to those medias or shows, but it seems like our music and fashion-related content tend to get covered more.
What’s the most difficult part about your job? The easiest?
The most difficult part is that taking a break is not solely a break, but the easy part would be that comparatively, we tend to have a lot of time to rest.
What’s one of the strangest things to happen to you while performing/while on tour?
When we perform on stage, it always rains. It just always does, even in the dry season or area. It’s like a jinx.
Does Hyukoh have a band philosophy? If so, what would it be?
Let’s do something fun and be cool, for a long time.
If you could collaborate with any artist alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Elliott Smith or David Bowie. We might make something awesome together.