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Korean Rock Bands

Updated on July 4, 2016

As the Korean Wave, or Hallyu, sweeps through the world, Korean entertainment is becoming an increasingly popular choice for people. Those poorly acquainted with foreign films can sometimes rattle off the names of one or two Korean films. There are growing pockets of fans devoted to Korean dramas, and Korean pop groups have started touring worldwide. While fans may discover a smidgen of Korean entertainment which appeals to them, there are few easily accessible guides to help fans move beyond the stock genres marketed abroad by Korean companies. There seems to be particular void for fans of rock music, and this guide seeks to fill that void.

Kim Taewon performing at the Green Plugged Festival
Kim Taewon performing at the Green Plugged Festival | Source

Boohwal

Started in 1985 by Kim Taewon, Boohwal was one of the pioneers of heavy metal in South Korea. Following their second album (1988), the group parted ways for a time until Kim restarted the band in 1993 with vocalist Kim Jaeki. The band also transitioned from metal to melodic rock at that time.

Through much of the '90s, the band experience on and off success along with other rock groups as dance music gained in popularity. In 2002, Lee Seungchul, the vocalist on the first album, rejoined the band releasing a new album. This reunion spelled success for the band as they were able to rekindle interest from their older fans. The band became popular once again in the late '00s as Kim Taewon appeared on a variety of Korean television shows.

CN Blue

CN Blue is one of the newcomers to the Korean rock scene being founded in 2009. Though the band was originally from Seoul, the first real success they experienced was on the streets and in the clubs of Japan where they recorded two EPs, one in English and the other in English and Japanese. The second of these EPs, entitled Voice, brought the group exposure in the Korean music industry, and shortly thereafter they released a Korean EP. Their success was almost immediate. They have since released a two full studio albums and played shows in Korea, Japan, and the United States.

For such a young band, they demonstrate a surprising level of musicianship and breadth of influences. While some label the band as pop rock, one can easily find influences of Latin, hip-hop, '60s pop rock, and modern rock spread throughout their songs. This is one of the more refreshing modern groups, and it will be an interesting to watch them develop. One can only hope "the industry" doesn't ruin them.

Pia

This nu metal band started in the beautiful coastal city of Busan in 1998. After playing in the club scene for a few years, they relocated to Seoul in 2001 and released their first album. They would begin to discover success when they were picked up by the label Goesoo Indegene, operated by Seo Taiji (see below). With the release of their second album in 2003, they were invited to open for Linkin Park and subsequently Limp Bizkit on the Korean legs of their world tours. They were again asked to open for Linkin Park in Hong Kong and Singapore in 2004.

Since that time, the band continues to write music and play shows around Korea and Japan. They have released three more albums since 2005 plus one EP. They band has experimented with alternative rock, but their core sound is nu metal. They are often one of the headline groups at the various Korean rock festivals held throughout the year.

The RockTigers in concert (2011)
The RockTigers in concert (2011) | Source

The RockTigers

This quintet of rockers brings something few would expect to see in South Korea, rockabilly. That's right. You read that correctly. The RockTigers are the premier rockabilly band in the Republic of Korea, but perhaps rockabilly isn't quite the right term. In fact, the band prefers to bill themselves as "kimchi-billy" to pay homage to the popular Korean side dish, kimchi.

The RockTigers have been rocking out the club scenes in Japan and South Korea for over a decade. They bring an energetic act with all the pizzazz you'd expect to see of a rockabilly group, and they come with the names to prove it. The members include Velvet Geena as lead singer, Tiger and Eddie Tarantula as guitarists, Roy as the flame-top double bass thumper, and Jack "The Knife" on drums. They have released three full albums and three EPs, including one in English, during their tenure, and they continue to rock on.

Did you know?

When written in the Korean script, Hangeul, Korean names are written surname first and given name second. This is a common convention among the East Asian languages. This article follows that convention when transliterating Korean names into English.

Seo Taiji

Few artists have influenced the Korean music industry like Seo Taiji. Starting in the early '90s, he was the lead member of the dance group, Seo Taiji and Boys. Their unique blend of music propelled their first album to the top of the charts where it sat for 17 weeks, a record which has remained untouched since. With the second album, the group began to experiment with elements of metal and rock and continued to develop their fan base.

Controversy would strike when the group released their third album. Turning away from dance, the group used rock and metal to drive home criticisms about the Korean educational system. The controversy would grow even deeper with the release of their fourth album that included a venture into gangster rap and was almost censored. Fed up with the pressure to produce too much too soon, the band finally called it quits in 1996, and Seo Taiji decided to take a hiatus in the United States.

After a couple of years, Seo Taiji embarked on a solo career. Over the next few years, he released three albums which mainly fall within the nu metal and alternative rock categories. Each of his albums have been successful and have often outpaced all other Korean groups. With the completion of his third album, 7th Issue, in 2004, Seo Taiji went on another hiatus that would last four years.

Seo Taiji returned to South Korea in 2008 to release, in three parts, his latest work 8th Atomos. This work displays his creative genius as he moves away from his metal and dance roots into an experimental form he calls "nature pound." He would later organize a couple of concerts and perform some of his works with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Seoul.

Vanilla Unity

Vanilla Unity is one of the best emo or indie rock bands in South Korea. They were founded in 2004 and have since released four albums under the Gom Entertainment label. They have also won a number of awards at rock festivals in Korea. The band members consist of Lee Seungju (singer), Jo Daemin (guitar), Jang Jimi (guitar), Kim Woonghwan (drums), and Lee Yohan (Bass).

The biggest problem with this group is that there is scarcely little English information about them on the Internet. Thus, for those not able to read Korean, it can be difficult to find out more about them. Fortunately, their albums are readily available on the sites provided below.

Where to Find Korean Rock Albums

It can be difficult to find and purchase albums from Korean rock artists. The best two places to begin are Amazon and iTunes. They will offer the best prices when compared to other distributors, but they don't always carry specific albums or bands. If they do not have what you're interested in, then a couple of great alternatives are Hanbooks and Yes Asia. Their prices are higher, but they usually offer a much better selection as they deal specifically in Korean and Asian entertainment. Finally, you may need to turn to a Korean-speaking friend to help you order through a Korean website, or find someone in South Korea willing to purchase and ship products to you. Keep in mind, some of the older albums and bands can be difficult to find even in South Korea, so you may be out of luck in some cases.

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    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 5 years ago from Thailand

      A fun hub. I just finished a year over there and I have to admit, they have some amazing groups ... actually, most South Korean products/exports are quality!

    • sandonia profile image
      Author

      sandonia 5 years ago

      @billybuc,

      Thanks!

      @ChristyWrites,

      You're welcome. Hopefully, it'll be the first of many.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank-you for introducing me to this music!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting hub!

    • sandonia profile image
      Author

      sandonia 5 years ago

      The oldest Korean rock artist I know of is Shin Junghyeon. He was playing with a '60s psychedelic rock flair during the late '60s. So, I'm guessing any Korean rock band would have to beat that by a few years. :)

    • sparkster profile image

      Sparkster Publishing 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      I recently found a band who claimed to be the first Korean rock band ever - I think you just proved them wrong!