Category Archives: music

May I have this silent dance? *Korea Silent Disco*

Hongdae, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Seoul, Korea, is known for being loud and full of music. Every night you can count on the area’s public spaces to be full of spontaneous and talented performers and one can not ignore the deafening beats blaring from the many clubs that line Hongdae’s narrow streets. But one random night each month is reserved for a different kind of party.

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My friends grew tired of me trying to coordinate our plans so that we would be in Hongdae for this infamous soiree. After a few missed dates due to conflicting dinner plans and bad weather I thought it just wasn’t meant to be. With just over a month left living and teaching in Korea, I eyed my Korea Bucket List with satisfaction and shrugged off the 2 scribbled words in the bottom right hand corner: Silent Disco. You can’t do it all… Or can you?

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And then, as life goes, when I wasn’t looking I full on stumbled into a quiet mess of headphones, swaying bodies, balloons, and all sorts of dancing.

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The Korea Silent Disco is widely known in the city and has helped to make the Hongdae playground a fantastic meeting place for friends and those looking to enjoy the fresh air, the talented local performers, and of course the cheap convenient store beer and soju.

The Silent Disco is not exclusive to Korea. This type of party is widely known around the world and it is a disco where people dance to music listened to on wireless headphones. The DJ’s music is broadcast via an FM-transmitter and the disco-ers wear headphones that pick up the signal.

We found our way to a small booth where a handful of Korean women, who I swear were K-Pop stars, took our money (about $4.00) and IDs and issued us bulky headphones.

For the next few hours we danced and admired the diverse crowd of dancing Koreans and foreigners. Each disco participant seemed to have a different style of dance, but no one seemed to mind. Between every few songs I managed to let the headphones slip down to my neck and I relished in the peaceful party that surrounded me. It’s a very strange feeling to experience a full-blown dance party with no sound. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the disco, I believe the oblivious people passing by got the real show. They curiously laughed and pointed at us and some dancers kindly allowed the strangers to wear the headphones for a brief few moments.

Toward the end of the night the disco leader led the party out into the streets. We followed him as he dodged inbetween traffic, past packed restaurants, and through the busy shopping alleys of Hongdae for what is called an ‘open air love parade’.

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This night was a quiet one, but one I will surely not forget anytime soon. Make sure to check out the Silent Disco Korea Facebook page for their monthly party dates and times. I promise, you have room for this one last thing on your Korea Bucket List.

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Get your music on this summer in Seoul.

I’m all about the music. I am up for any concert, just ask. With only a few days left before I leave (tear tear), lately I’ve been reminicing about all I’ve managed to experience while teaching and living in Korea (Are you ready?). I am amazed at how much I have done in such a short amount of time, especially when I think about all the concerts I’ve attended. It seems like ages ago, but at this time last year I was preparing to witness Lady Gaga’s first and very controvercial world tour stop in Seoul. A short while later I joined happy-go-lucky young Koreans lounging on Nami Island for the annual Rainbow Island Festival with Jason Mraz as the headliner.

A friend surprised me the next month with tickets to Korea’s famous pop music countdown show, Inkigayo. I was able to live out my childhood TRL dreams and be schooled in K-Pop all in the same day. Later in the summer I hopped from one stage to the next at Super!Sonic where I was able to inch my way to the front of Foster The People, Gotye, New Order, The Vaccines and other stages. Also, during the summer and fall I spent many a weekend night with a beer in hand in Hongdae park where young creative college students performed for large spontaneous crowds.

Oh, and how could I forget, I basically had a date with Psy last fall. He paid for everything, soju was chugged, and his shirt came off.

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 *****

 After stumbling out of Hongdae’s Rolling Hall a short time ago with ringing ears and sore feet I sadly realized this particular night probably marked my last big Korea concert. But I couldn’t think of a better act to end with.

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Claire Boucher (aka Grimes) is a Canadian musician who has learned to successfully mix just the right amount of electronic pop with beautiful vocals to create dance-worthy and uplifting beats. Her Seoul trip was a special one becasue she is a huge K-Pop fan and apparently a few big Korean names, including G-Dragon, were present at the March 23 show.

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photo from @supercolorsuper

I may have a year or so on the small yet fiercely blonde music-maker, but her stage precense was uniquely uplifting and powerful. I think one reason I enjoy live music so much is that I love witnessing people doing the one thing they are meant to do in life. Grimes is a musician and she is made for the stage. I left the show with a desire to continue dancing and an even stronger apprecition for my decision to wear flats on this particular night.

Here are a few resources you should check out to ensure you do not miss the next big show in Korea. So many fantastic acts grace Korea with their presence each year, you just have to be on the look-out for information regarding each show.

1) SuperColorSuper ‘makes concerts’ and brought Grimes to Seoul. Check out the other shows they are working on here.

2) The Korea Gig Guide is a great resource for small and big acts performing in Korea. While browsing this guide last year I stumbled upon the Lady Gaga show information. You can also skim it before venturing out on a Friday or Saturday night to see which bars will have live music.

3) Interpark is kind of like the TicketMaster of Korea. I used this site to buy Super!Sonic, Lady Gaga and Rainbow Island Festival tickets. The site is easy to navigate and you can sign up for emails to inform you of upcoming shows.

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Get your music on this summer:

June 7-9: Rainbow Island Festival

June 14-15: Ultra Korea

July 26-28: Ansan Valley Rock Festival (I am so jealous, The XX will be there this year. Check out the promotional video here. It makes me want summer in a bad bad way.)

August: Super!Sonic will return this year, but the specifics have yet to be released. Keep an eye on this page for more information and don’t miss it.

  Enjoy. And wear flats.

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My 2012: While you were busy Googling ‘What is a Gangnam?’…

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Any worries I had about ‘losing touch’ during my year abroad in Southeast Asia were quickly shattered one July night while I lay in a hostel bunk-bed in Taiwan. I opened my iPad to find an adorable yet slightly chubby Korean man decked out in hip glasses, a funky suit and an irresistible smirk busy bombarding every one of my bookmarked websites. That moment and many more in the following days and months reassured me that my move to Korea would not hinder my mission to stay relevantly informed about all things social. I could in fact keep in touch with friends, family and my growing passion (slight obsession) with social media creation and strategy. Gangnam Style gave me a slight home-court advantage. While most Americans were busy Googling: ‘What the heck is a Gangnam?’, ‘Where did K-Pop come from?’ and ‘Who is Psy and is that his real name?’ I had time to catch up on my backlogged and favorited Tweets from Mashable, Gawker, Social Media Examiner and more.

At first my fellow teacher friends in Seoul eagerly posted the horse-dance video, just for kicks, to all available social wall space. Then, when the YouTube view count refused to plateau, I casually mentioned the video in Skype conversation with a friend who was enjoying the summer in New England. She giggled at the elevator dance scene and commented, “Wow Devan, Korea looks like a fun time.” A week later a second reply was digitally served, “So, you know that video you showed me? It’s here. It’s everywhere. It’s blowing up.” And although I scoffed at my real-life and Twitter friends who continued to miserably misspell ‘Gangnam’ in posts and had never been out clubbing in the song’s swanky section of Seoul, I was proud of Psy and the small yet fiercely determined, extremely successful, technologically advanced and warmhearted country that I chose to call home in 2012.

As I prepare to return home to NH in the next few months and further my career in social media strategy and communications, many details are uncertain. Job searching is a job in itself, but throw in 7,000 miles and a 14 hour time difference between you and your target professional setting  and it becomes almost as challenging as mastering the horse-dance while fumbling through a few Korean lyrics about “a girl with that kind of twist”.

I know some may question why I up and left a marketing job in Boston to move to Korea to teach ESL and eat kimchi at every meal. I don’t think I will be able to answer this question fully for another few years, but I can say I am happier now than I was a year ago and I spent 2012 in close proximity to one of the year’s biggest social media stories. My time in Korea will always and forever be smack dab in the middle of ‘The Year of Gangnam Style’. Or maybe I have that mixed up: Psy’s year of fame just happened to occur during ‘Devan’s Korea Quest.’ Please, just for now, let me believe the latter to be true.

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photo credit

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My Date with PSY: soju chugging, shirtless dancing + some singing

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I almost missed my date with PSY, but I have a long subway ride and my love of Twitter to thank for getting me up front and personal with the man who brought Gangnam Style (722,762,395 views as of 11/15) to the world.

Five days on an island will leave you feeling disconnected. Although armed with a smart phone and tablet, I spent a long and blissfully detached getaway on Jeju this fall. I snapped a few pictures with my phone and did read a bit using my tablet, but for the most part I managed to stay away from the black hole that is the internet.

We arrived back in Seoul on a Wednesday evening with the Jeju travel group and from there I still had to venture further north to my city of Uijeongbu. I sat squished next to my vacation companions on the subway with little left to say to each other after five days of bonding. I took this time to catch up on my Twitter obsession and scrolled aimlessly through a few days worth of updates. All of a sudden I was bombarded with a blast of tweets about a free show Psy was promising his Seoul fans if he made it to #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. I had to piece together the news, but I gathered that there would be a free concert in Seoul that following night and that Psy might be shirtless at some point during the event. Less than 24 hours later I was on the same subway heading back into the city to finally meet the man who had recently, in the eyes of my family and friends, made my move to Korea an impressive one.

My friends and I decided to play it safe and we made our way into Seoul around 4pm for a 10pm concert start time. As we climbed the stairs to the Seoul City Hall subway exit we realized that the early arrival game-plan was not exclusively ours. The Seoul municipal government closed off streets around the exit and security and safety officials were already directing fans of all ages as they clamored to find the right sitting spot to wait out the early evening. We managed to find a small patch of grass to claim for the next few hours and the atmosphere continued to intensify as time ticked by.

At first I was impressed with the patient and orderly Koreans who sat quietly waiting for the right time to stand and enjoy the show, but then things got hectic. The section we were sitting in got closed off because too many people were trying to walk through the seated audience members. My friend who had gone in search of food was told she couldn’t rejoin us. Older Koreans who had been waiting for hours grew tired and had to be carried out of the crowd. I even witnessed one older gentleman faint in the middle of arguing with a security guard. One moment I was on the phone telling my detained friend to duck under the security tape and make a run for it and the next moment the Korean crowd simultaneously decided to stand up and rush the stage. Picnics were trampled as little children were scooped up. My other friend grabbed my arm as we were pushed forward and my constrained friend used the instant of confusion to dart into the moving crowd. A few minutes later we found ourselves smack dab in front of Psy’s stage. My lost friend found us and we all stood in silence admiring our close proximity to greatness.

It was only after the fact that I learned of the crowd’s staggering statistics. More than 80,000 people came out to see Psy perform for two hours. Psy was very humble on stage and there was more than one moment where he seemed to stop and just stare at the crowd in disbelief. He laughed and told us, “I did not get here because I was worthy of it. I’m here because of all of you. I’m just a fat man with two kids.” The Seoul concert was an elaborate thank you to Psy’s Korean fans, who supported him before the horse dance was a phenomenon.  I admit, I did not know many of Psy’s other songs, although all were dance-worthy, but I was most curious to watch Psy perform, and boy did he. The crowd loved him and he took many opportunities to thank them for their continued support. He ran back and forth along a long stage that extended into the audience, only stopped dancing at one point to chug an entire bottle of soju, graced us with two versions of Gangnam Style and went shirtless at the end of the show, as promised. I went from watching the video (with no volume) on my iPad back in July, to being a few inches from the front row security guards with my surprised waegook face plastered all over the big screens. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah, that happened. I love life.

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Check out the girl with the yellow ears at :43-:45.

some of my own pictures
5pm arrival for a 10pm concert start
The security men were all business.
smokey stage after surprising stage fireworks
dance moves for hours
a tad ecstatic
looking right at me
Do you know the lyrics?
Psy must have missed drinking soju during his US media tour.
no shirt, as promised

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“Like, what should we do this weekend?”

As an English teacher in South Korea, when Thursday rolls around each week I usually itch for my upcoming weekend plans. I have learned to take full advantage of my weekend time in Korea and I hope to continue with this new approach to my free time when I return home. I love the tired yet accomplished feeling of a Sunday night following a jam-packed weekend of experiencing new things and people in Korea. When I find myself without plans midweek, I use the following 5 resources to find inspiration for weekend outings. I hope you find them helpful and please feel free to comment with alternative ideas. I promise, armed with these resources you won’t find yourself uttering the annoying answer to a friend looking to have a memorable weekend, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

1) Expat Websites and News Sources: Some of my favorites include Groove Korea, Seoulistic, Chincha and 10 Magazine Korea, but there are many more. This past weekend I attended a rocking block party in Hongdae that was hosted by Chincha. I had a blast: I met some interesting people, enjoyed great live bands and had a bit too much fun with the prop-packed photo center. Today in 10 Magazine Korea I read about all the Halloween events happening in Seoul.

2) Twitter: Many of my friends continue to make fun of my Twitter obsession, but it has proved to be a helpful tool in Korea. Even if you don’t want to Tweet, if you follow the right people you can stay informed about events going on in Korea. I can thank Twitter for letting me know about the free Psy concert I attended a few weeks ago. Thanks Twitter.

3) Travel Groups: Before coming to Korea I remember how comforted I was to find a Facebook page for Adventure Korea. Because Korea is a popular place for foreigners, there are a handful of companies that focus on planning excursions for this demographic. I have gone on three trips with Seoul Hiking Group and I can not speak highly enough of these mini vacations. After a week of teaching it is lovely to go on a trip that is completely organized for you. Who didn’t love field trips when they were younger? I have seen some great places in Korea, including Jeju, and I have also met some great friends from all over Korea. When In Korea (winK) is another great website.

4) Personal Blogs: I did extensive research before making the decision to move to Korea to teach and I believe a majority of the helpful information came from personal blogs. I felt reassured reading about real experiences from real people living and teaching in Korea. I know each person has a different story to tell of their time in Korea, but there are many shared experiences that I have encountered in blogs. I remember finding an extremely helpful diagram of a Korean heating panel on a blog back in February when I was shivering and baffled by the 4 buttons near my light switch. I have a list of about 10 blogs that I check weekly. There are some talented bloggers in Korea who are informative and also put a creative and comedic spin on the Expat experience.

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5)  Facebook (of course!): Facebook is not just for procrastinating. Facebook has helped me stay in touch with other Chungdahm teachers who live in different parts of Korea. With the help of Facebook I was able to plan a Busan beach weekend to visit a few friends from teacher training. I can also thank Facebook for a handful of friends in my city of Uijeongbu. In the first few weeks in my new city I came across a Facebook group for foreigners. I joined the on-line community, attended a weekly ‘Waegook’ dinner that was advertised on the group page and walked away from the first dinner with new friends. The Facebook group is also a place where people post event invitations and community information.

These are just a few resources I use. Where do you go for answers when someone asks, “What should we do this weekend?”

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Everybody (still) Wants To Rule The World, right? -Super!Sonic in Seoul-

I live for live music. A perfect night for me consists of a few friends, an awesome outfit, a cold beer and front row standing room at a concert, preferably one with a performer who doles out dance-worthy beats. As soon as I arrived in Korea I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Seoul is a hub of fantastic music venues. I snatched up Lady Gaga tickets for the first show of her Born This Way Ball in late April, I aced ‘KPOP 101’ when my friend brought me to an exclusive taping of Inkigayo in Seoul, I ventured out to Nami Island to dance with Korean hippies and listen to Jason Mraz sing sweet nothings in June and I jumped for joy when I realized I could attend Seoul’s Super!Sonic show in August. I originally thought I would have to miss the two day music festival because it was scheduled for mid-week (Tuesday and Wednesday) in Seoul, but I soon realized the Wednesday was not just any Wednesday, it was Korean Liberation Day, so I had the day off and attended my first mid-week music festival at Seoul Olympic Park.

Super!Sonic is the sister festival of Japan’s famous Summer Sonic. I missed the festival’s first day line-up (due to work) which included The Smashing Pumpkins, Gym Class Heroes, Idiotape, Soulwax and more. As much as I wanted to see The Smashing Pumpkins, Wednesday’s line-up impressed me with New Order, Gotye, The Vaccines, Tears For Fears and Foster The People. What was supposed to be another rainy and humid summer day in Seoul turned out to be surprisingly sunny and comfortable. My friend and I spent the day shuffling in an orderly fashion (that’s how it’s done in Korea) between two stages where bands performed back-to-back sets.

Music keeps me sane, and especially in Korea where you can sometimes feel a bit out of place, concerts remind me that (as corny as it sounds) we’re all in this MAD WORLD together. When I burst into song upon recognizing the familiar lyrics to my favorite Foster The People ballad, I was amazed that all the Korean fans were singing right along with me, and not just the chorus, they were belting out each lyric with passionate perfection. Just last spring I watched the same band rock out in downtown Boston, and I have to say the Korean fans proved to be the more enthusiastic bunch. They weren’t afraid to dance and show the band how much they loved their music. Although many of the bands confessed it was their first show in Korea, I am quite certain due to the lively and devoted Korean fans it will not be their last. If you’re in Korea next summer make sure to check out Super!Sonic, I promise it will be a perfect day in the land of kimchi: Grab some music-loving friends and your umbrella and raincoat (just in case) and enjoy a few cheap beers paired with an authentic collection of dance-inducing acts. Oh, and most importantly, get right up there in front of the stage. You WANT TO RULE THE WORLD, doesn’t EVERYBODY? (Tears For Fears references there, sorry if you didn’t catch them.)

Tears For Fears

Foster The People

Gotye

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Skype Me Maybe, I’m in Gangnam.

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So, before Gangnam Style‘s PSY becomes even more of a household name outside of Korea, perhaps with help from Justin Bieber (hold on, I will get to that), I feel the need to blog about this song, well really, the video. I first viewed the viral video while I was laying in the top bunk of a hostel room in Taiwan during my recent vacation. It was late, but I couldn’t sleep and I was quietly enjoying the hostel’s free WiFi and using my iPad to scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I had been disconnected from all forms of social media for a few days (I recommend trying it) and I was itching to catch up on all that I had missed. All of a sudden I was bombarded with posts about the Gangnam Style video, so I clicked on a link and was sent to YouTube. Being on the top bunk with my luggage below, I had to manage without my headphones and I watched the video in silence. The silent video was spectacular, and you can’t say that about most music videos. I was unaware of how big PSY’s comeback hit was at that moment, but I found myself entertained and impressed by the singer’s outlandish dance moves and the bizarre places he chose to display his skills. The next morning I experienced the real thing. I set up my iPad for a public viewing and my travel companions circled around to watch Gangnam Style, this time at full volume. Then we watched it again. And then a few more times after that.

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Park Jae Sang, called PSY in Korea, is known for his entertaining and original dance moves and quirky sense of humor. Being from New England, I am proud to share that he is a Berklee College of Music graduate. Gangnam Style, from PSY’s 6th album, was released on July 15, along with the video. The song instantly became a K-Pop sensation, but what was interesting was that the video saw 2 million hits in just 5 days. The song itself is, from what I gather, about the swanky and affluent Gangnam district in Seoul, particularly the women in this area. The idea is that the women are proper and appropriate during the day, but they also know how to enjoy a good party come nightfall. Some translated lyrics (below) help in the understanding of PSY’s words:

A girl who is warm and humanle during the day

A classy girl who know how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee

A girl whose heart gets hotter when night comes

A girl with that kind of twist

Throughout the video PSY dances his way through Gangnam. He parties in a bus, shimmies on the subway, gallops with his now famous “horse-riding dance” through a stable, distracts women practicing yoga, entertains onlookers in a pool and has a dance-off in a deserted parking garage, just to name a few. Among others, ABC and CNN have shown interest in the viral video and the well-known media blog Gawker.com wrote on July 30: Did This Underground Hip Hop Artist from South Korea Just Release the Best Music Video of the Year? Twitter blew up with tweets about the video and the artist’s work received praise from fellow musicians. T-Pain (@TPAIN) tweeted: “Words cannot even describe how amazing this video is.” and Josh Groban (@joshgroban) told his followers: “It’s a Gangnam Style world, we’re just living in it. Amazing video.”

Just yesterday, as I bonded over a popsicle and pop music with a student at my school, the topic of PSY came up, as it should. “He will sing with Justin Bieber!” the girl proudly announced. I almost fell off my swivel chair. She was so excited, so I went along with the story and waited to Google the claim’s validity at a later time. I understood Gangnam Style‘s popularity in Korea and the video’s few days of world-wide fame, but I was surprised to learn that PSY will in fact meet with Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, while he is visiting the US in the near future. Perhaps a PSY/Justin Bieber collaboration is in the future, or maybe Bieber is just a huge fan and is looking to learn more about Gangnam Style from the source itself. All I know is that Braun and Bieber were responsible for signing Carly Rae Jepsen, and we all know (whether we like it or not) how that went down. Skype Me Maybe, I’m in Gangnam.

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