Any conversation about South Korea can lead one to the world of K-Pop, pop music originating from South Korea. Although many are still unfamiliar with the high-pitched choruses and dance moves, K-pop groups have had a cult following for decades now. Each year, the k-pop industry debuts a new group, and artists within these groups are called, “idols.”
The various management companies in the k-pop industry invest lots of money to make sure their groups are heavily marketed; Every corner of South Korea, there are photos of idols, merchandise in various stores and fans who want to eat at the spot their favorite idol ate at. For an outsider, it made be easy to equate Korean people to the world we see represented by k-pop. There are many genres of music coming from South Korea, however they are overshadowed by pop due to the power of the k-pop management companies.
South Korea has no shortage of artists, however they are all overshadowed by k-pop. Due to lack of exposure, different music genres that aren’t pop may still fall under the k-pop umbrella playlist. K-pop groups are very tough acts to follow and given the power of this subculture, the immense success of HYUKOH- an indie band, comes as a surprise.
HYUKOH: The Surprise Success
HYUKOH is an indie band formed by four friends, singer Oh-Hyuk (오혁), bassist Dong-Gun (동건), guitarist Hyeon-Jae (현제) and drummer In-Woo (인우). The band is named after the lead singer and songwriter, Oh-Hyuk. Although born in South Korea, Oh-Hyuk spent nearly two decades living in China with his parents, who were university professors. In 2012, Oh-Hyuk decided to move to Seoul and attend Hongik University, a hub for young creatives. Against his parents’ oppositions, Seoul is where Oh-Hyuk met his band mates and pursued a career in music.
HYUKOH’s sound is nothing less than eclectic, and can some days match the calmness of a plant-filled room. The indie band demonstrates an disinterest in fitting into the k-pop music mold. The group first introduced themselves to the world in 2014, with the release of their EP, 22. They soon became the first act to be signed to HIGHGRND, an independent label. The group released two more albums, 22 and 23 in 2015 and 2017. The name of the albums is to reflect on the emotions and obstacles the band mates experienced in those various ages of their lives. With each album representing a period of the band’s life, we are able to see their growth.
“We like all genres, so we mix them together. We just make what we want and don’t necessarily think about what people will like.” -OhHyuk
Although k-pop groups come to find success, their management companies heavily curate them and creative control is a rare occurrence. HYUKOH has freedom over the clothes, the collaborations and the music they produce. Their fan following shows that there is room in South Korea for individuals who dare to pursue artistic freedom. An indie band succeeding in the Korean music industry and embarking on a global tour can come as a surprise. In an industry where pop dominates and then hip-hop follows, indie artists may feel discouragement or pressure to change their sound.
Since their debut, the band has garnished a fan following and managed to sell out shows all over the globe. In addition, they’ve caught the attention of various media outlets such as Hypebeast, Highsnobiety, Double Dot Magazine, Noisey and 88rising.
What makes them different?
HYUKOH may not be the first indie band out of Korea, but it’s the first to experience this level of success. The success of the band can be due to their ability to be far more relatable to young Koreans than a curated k-pop group. Melodies in K-pop songs can be traced back to sounding the same, but the sounds of HYUKOH are unfamiliar and fresh.
The song “TOMBOY” written by OhHyuk explores the idea of youth, insecurity and fear of burning out too quickly. The themes in their music, and their art of self-expression resonate with people their age. A k-pop group can garnish screaming teenage fans, but it is far more important to make music that resonates and has substance.
The shy group maintain reserved personalities in interviews, and are only loud with their music, hair and fashion. Their music is a direct reflection of the group’s diverse upbringing and interests. OhHyuk’s exposure to both Chinese and Korean culture allows him to produce songs in English, Korean and even Mandarin. The bassist is inspired by Led Zeppelin and Nirvana, the guitarist enjoys soul and the drummer likes hip-hop. Pulling inspiration from various cultures and genres and accumulating what they like to their music makes HYUKOH a breath of fresh air amongst k-pop.
“We’ll do what we like, do what we want to do, and we’ll work very hard on it.” -HYUKOH
HYUKOH proves that there is room in South Korea for music beyond k-pop. They pull inspiration from various subcultures and express themselves in the music they create. The unconventional indie band diversifies the music scene in Korea and hopefully paves the way for other acts to follow. With no intention of becoming idols or role models, HYUKOH remain true to their sound and dare to diversify.
5 HYUKOH Songs for your Playlist: