The Rise and Gentrifying of K-Punk

This week we saw the film, Our Nation: A Korean Punk Community. The genre of punk was very well received in the country and the young people claimed it as their own expression form.  The fans refer to the genre as a “refreshing” alternative to what they were already listening to.  But as we hear from the band members and the people of the lifestyle, we can see that punk has an entirely different meaning in Korea compared to places like Britain or America.  While both regular punk and Choson punk (as it is known in Korea) sing about rebellion and youth, Choson tends to be less about anarchy and angst, and more about prejudices and problems that comes with being young.  Choson allowed young Koreans to become one with the music and the messages that were being played and that was the real appeal of Choson.  Of course, the punk music of the 90s did lead to some rebellious attitudes among the young people and they fought against their oppressors.  They wanted to make the statement that they would hear in their songs.

While on the topic of other countries, punk would not have existed if it were not for places like Britain and America.  The bands that had heavily influenced Korean musicians came from these countries and manifested into cultural icons like Nirvana, Sex Pistols and Green Day.  The aesthetics of the genres were kept the same when Koreans were trying it out for themselves, but because they did not have the same issues as the British or Americans, they wrote songs that were relevant to their society.  Some people do not feel that their music deserves the label “punk,” due to the fact that it is pieced together from bigger subjects into something unique.  It is something that the youth of Korea could call their own.

The venue, Drug, was talked about in the film as it was the center for all things punk in Korea.  Bands such as Crying Nut, Supermarket, Yellow Kitchen and others were featured at the venue.  To compare, Drug is similar to what CBGB’s was to New York City and the new age rock scene.  Another similarity of the two venues is that they both went through a period of social gentrification.  That means that Drug experienced a change in community when punk started to gain more recognition in media.  The kind of people that were attending concerts at Drug were not the ones who appreciated the art of punk, but more so went and listened “because it’s cool.”  And with the expansion of television networks like MTV, Choson punk was going to be globally recognized.  Because of this, the genre was starting to lose touch with its original fan base and the spirit that drove the music.  In the recent years, the rise of Neo-punk has been a topic that has entered Korea.  The fans have said that it is a very political genre and does not have the same rough edge that pure or Choson punk has.  One thing is for sure about punk; it is prone to many types of influence, whether it is through the culture or the current events.

A final note about punk in Korea is the subject of gender.  The fan base is a fair mix of male and female.  The women tend to not be as involved as the men when listening live because the crowd can sometimes be violent and rough.  It is also seen as distasteful and un-ladylike for a girl to listen or be a part of the punk scene.  The band, Supermarket, happens to be an all female punk group and one of the only for that matter.  It has been difficult for them to be recognized or taken seriously because punk is a very male oriented genre.  Even though there are some inequalities with the performance of punk, it is a fairly integrated and welcoming environment.  Without the genre, the Korean youth would be a very different type of person.

From the readings…In reference to Mythologies, structuralism and semiotics can be applied to the film as well.  Our group did admittedly have a hard time at first, but we figured out one very important sign: Drug the punk venue.  Since Drug is the sign, the signifier is the youthful energy, independence and rebellious attitude that resonated with the fans and the performers.  The concept, or the signified, is the punk culture and music itself along with the influence it has on others.  When Drug was becoming gentrified, most people did not see or understand the concept and only took the signifier as a type of social appeal.  The “because it’s cool” factor as I stated earlier.

Written by: Christina

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