Some people are still arguing over whether “indie” constitutes a real genre on its own, but for the sake of clarity, K-indie can be understood as an umbrella term for certain subculture music genres of South Korea—whether hip-hop, R&B, alternative rock, or another genre in nature. K-indie music is produced by artists who work independent of the major producers and entertainment corporations on the scene in Seoul, such as the “Big 3” companies: SM, YG, and JYP Entertainment. Admittedly, some of these artists attain fame or popularity on par with artists from these three major labels, as evidenced by indie rock band Busker Busker and their takeover of the Korean music charts—the Gaon, MelOn, Bugs, and Mnet charts just to name a few—with the release of their sophomore album in September. However, indie groups are often unknown by outside audiences. Here are some underrated K-indie artists worth exploring, especially those who offer a break from the upbeat, flashier K-pop tunes that are constantly churned out.
Jazzyfact (Beenzino & Shimmy Twice)
Jazzyfact is the brainchild of two artists, underground rapper Beenzino (임성빈)—of Illest Konfusion and Illionaire Records—and music producer Shimmy Twice, who met in New Zealand during their high school nearly 10 years ago. Though he is not represented by a major record label, Beenzino has garnered a deep following among hip-hop fans as well as the respect of many of Korea’s popular artists, resulting in many features, such as with hip-hop groups Epik High and Dynamic Duo among others. Jazzyfact stay true to Beenzino’s hip-hop roots, but mixed with the creative genius of producer Shimmy Twice, their music is refreshing and incorporates elements of jazz (as the name suggests). Check out the track “Always Awake.”
Busker Busker (버스커 버스커)
This group took second place on the third season of “Superstar K,” a survivor audition program much like American Idol, hosted by Mnet and CJ E&M each summer. Made up of two native Korean singers and guitarists and an American drummer native to Ohio, the group became unlikely regulars to the music scene after vocally rejecting the K-pop “formula”—refusing to sign infamous 10-year-long contracts, declining training with a major record label, and never accepting cosmetic surgery. Their raw talent shines in their music, which combines a soft rock vibe with husky vocals. Check out the track “벚꽃 엔딩 (Cherry Blossom Ending).”
Also known as the Clazziquai Project, this band experiments with multiple genres—electronica, jazz, and house—to achieve its unique sound. Clazziquai unofficially debuted in 2001 through leaking their music online, and with much positive reception, they were able to record their first album in the underground scene three years later. Their music has since been widely used for movie and television series OSTs as well as in commercials, and they have collaborated with Japanese artists as well, such as M-Flo. Their music spans a wide range of sounds, but is often characterized by calm and sweet hooks, which may explain why Clazziquai’s music often features in romantic-comedy television series. Check out the track “Blessed.”
Perhaps the least known on this list but surely not the least talented, female singer-songwriter Fromm recently released her first album “Arrival” last month. The record is described as a portrayal of trivial daily routines through unconventional melodies. She is supported by Mirrorball Music, a channel dedicated to publicizing up-and-coming Korean indie music artists. Her indie rock sound is refreshingly light and soulful. Her arrangements are exquisite and intricate, yet pleasant and easy on the ear. Check out the song “Arrival.”
Verbal Jint (버벌 진트)
Another influential rapper who started and helped shape the underground hip-hop/rap scene in South Korea for nearly a decade, Verbal Jint hit mainstream fame even though he did not start his career through a major record label. A member of hip-hop crew SNP, Verbal Jint cites 2Pac as a major influence. His songs “Good Morning” and “충분히 예뻐 (You Deserve Better)” climbed their way up to the Top 10 on Korea’s major music charts in the summer of 2012, which helped solidify his hold on the hip-hop scene, and now he is a DJ for the radio station KBS 2FM.
—Staff writer Soy Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.