Monday, August 23, 2010

The Hot 6 go to a Korean Rock Festival

I don't understand Korean too well, but I understand music and they say music is the international language. (Or maybe that's love, or Esperanto, or if we're being perfectly honest... English) Anyone who knows the Grey Duck, knows that I love me some liiiiiive rock and/or roll music, preferably of the festival variety. Well it just so happens that my P.O.E. school's vacation coincided with the largest summer rock fest in Korea, "Jisan Valley Rock Festival."  Needless to say, the capital of Florida is Tallahassee.

Renting a van in the land of the morning calm is a decidedly more difficult task when you don't speak Korean, or have an international drivers license, or appear particularly dependable. In fact, I think the only reason the rental agent deemed us trustworthy enough is because this van, by the looks of it, had previously been rented exclusively to child molesters. I'll never know if that was the case though, because the two parties involved couldn't really understand each other. Evidently there was a rule involving a diagram with a box and three lines indicating something we were to ABSOLUTELY NEVER DO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, and I'm assuming we never did that forbidden thing because none of us are dead or in Korean jail... yet. But this... this was the opposite of jail. This was freedom! Not quite sure of where exactly we were going, how to get there, or which side the fuel tank was on, six sweaty men boarded the new mystery machine and roadtripped to somewhere near Seoul for a musical experience that was simply.... jajirajida.

Jaji is Korean slang for penis. At first it might seem immature to shout "JAJI JAJI JAJI JAJI!!!" at your friends, strangers, or police, and in retrospect maybe it was a little childish, (No, we didn't actually yell it at strangers) but the more one screams that delightful word, the more fun it becomes. Somewhere during the car trip to the festival we all became obsessed with "JAJI!" It's surprisingly addicting, and it just seems so whimsical and harmless that in the back of my mind I didn't even believe that Koreans would be offended if I shouted it from the mountaintops. Try this: get some friends and have everybody start replacing certain words with jaji. Call the remote control the jaji, and at Starbucks ask for a Venti Jaji. Say it instead of "hello." Remember, you have the advantage of not being in Korea. So say jaji a lot, and if you don't really see what the big deal is, congratulations; You're an adult. But us being us, we used our phones' dictionaries to find an obscure Korean word "jajirajida"* (say it with me now "Jah-ji-rah-ji-dah) that means exquisite, or brimming over in overwhelming ecstasy or laughter. Well, this led led to more dirty humor throughout the weekend than I'm proud of, but also one of the funniest sentences I've ever heard anybody utter. Are you ready? Here it is: "My rigid jaji is jajirajida." I'm guessing you had to be there, but I was there and it made me jajirajida.

We were the first people to arrive at the festival. It was my idea to arrive early, because I wanted to get a good camping spot, but it was unnecessary. Out of the roughly 30,000 people who would eventually attend, maybe 10 nonstaffers showed before us. Equipped with our packs, rent-a-tents, inflatable whale, 90,000 Won (75$) worth of bubble blowing paraphernalia, and boombox cranking techno bullshit (not my decision), we trekked twenty minutes through the blistering heat, blinded by the bright sun and the salty sweat in our eyes, to our new home where we set up camp after ringing the work juice out of our shirts. I'd never felt more disgusting, and this is coming from a guy who once...nevermind, my parents read this. We cooled off with some brewskis and the night before the festival, unlike it would have been in America, was pretty low-key and relaxing.

There are a few major differences between American and Korean festivals, most of which stem from Korean people being less rebellious, more conformist, and in a way more normal than Americans. Koreans to their credit are law-abiding citizens for the most part, and have ostensibly won their war on drugs, and the green menace is considered as bad as crack here. Now, I condemn the use of all drugs**, but the fact is that at American festivals, ganja is ample. Users don't need to look for it because traveling vendors pedal it like peanuts at a baseball game. At Jisan Fest ganja is rare; more like ganja at a baseball game. For the record, absolutely none of us were looking for or using any illegal substance. Smoking weed in Korea would be incredibly moronic. It would be like opening a dog-soup restaurant in downtown San Fransisco, but worse because instead of people hating you, they throw you in jail for a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time. Yet still, more than one group of Koreans we met that fateful weekend were mining for nuggets, yet clueless as to their whereabouts. These sad souls who once lived and experimented abroad and were now hopelessly addicted to the devil's lettuce, returning home to wander the grounds of a music festival in a fruitless search for their fix. Pitiful. These criminals however, represented only a small segment of an otherwise decent Korean population.

The first effect of Korea's national unstonedness on J.V.R.F. was fewer funky festival folks. Don't get me wrong there were still people dressed as underpants gnomes, women in chicken suits, chickens in woman suits, and too many wannabe hippies (cough-me-cough), but just not quite as many as I was used to seeing. It's possible I have my cause and effect reversed, but I'm pretty sure hallucinogens make people strange.

The second effect of a drug free Korea is that those who would be opening the doors of perception with non-amino acids, instead deadened their senses with alcohol, which was served by vendors in sandcastle buckets. Not as in, a bucket full of beers; more like, a bucket full of vodka. If you've never had a bucket of vodka, good job. Do yourself a favor and keep it that way.

Another cultural difference at J.V.R.F. that had nothing to do with substance abuse was the nature of late night campsite jam sessions/singalongs. I'm not sure if hippies exist here or not, but the people with guitars, at least the ones we found, were all typical Korean dudes. Koreans, the hospitable folks that they are, try to accommodate the waygooks (Korean for gringos) in any way possible. This means that at the circle they were playing English songs, and they all know and love the same one: "Wonderwall." You won't believe me, but I heard "Wonderwall" 30 times over the course of the festival. Maybe only once I passed any campsite guitarist playing anything else, but I was fine with that. It's a great song.

There were three nights of music, punctuated by days filled with Korean bands you've never heard of (Guckkasten was really cool and pretty hardcore) and lazy sunny hours spent at the Jisan resort's pool, complete with waterslides and giant inflatable jaji shaped rafts. Indeed this was probably the only rock festival in history with a Club-Med style resort. +10 luxury points, -10 street cred points. I tried to see more Korean daytime music, but the resort was a Siren, luring me to the water that was not very well chlorinated and would eventually give Derek and me different types of ear infections. I got fungal and he got bacterial! But the nights, the nights were all about the music.

Okay, I've made you wait long enough. With no further ado, reviews of the bands! (Besides the cover bands which included The Ramones, ZZ-Top, and  The Beatles)


Belle & Sebastian: I've been a casual fan of these guys ever since Shugs introduced me about six years ago. They were nice and mellow sit down on your beach towel with your bucket of vodka and enjoy the evening music. I prefer listening to their studio stuff. **1/2

Vampire Weekend: Despite their teenybopper, I'm an emo poser who's read the whole "twilight saga" three times band name, these guys ROCK and put out the happiest vibe possible without the vibe becoming a little too happy and hence a bit creepy. I judged these guys harshly because of their name, but I was absolutely wrong. They were Paul Simon-ey, but with just a dash of The Strokes. Vampire Weekend was a perfect band for sunset to just watch and dance and blow bubbles while wearing a pink feather boa and a Zorro mask and no shirt, all of which I did. I'm serious. I'd like to say I was just supporting my good buddy who recently came out of the closet, but I'll be honest and admit that it had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with BUBBLES!!! Our guns were showering the adoring crowd with thousands of soap bubbles, some of which made it on stage and were shown on the megatron. We basked in the band's reflected glory and for the rest of the festival we were called out by happy festivalgoers as the guys with the bubbles. (Not to be confused with when my friend Steph used to call me Bubble Boy, but that's a different story all together) If you are a festival-head, bubbleguns are a must. ***1/2

Massive Attack: Wow. I knew about MA from my musician (well, drummer at least) friend Grant, and I should have known to expect greatness cause Grant, like Shugs, has jajirajida taste in music. Massive Attack had sort of a hypnotic STS9 (Soundtribe Sector 9) vibe to them, mixed with RATM's (Rage Against the Machine's) political anger, the combined effect of which left me somehow more liberal without knowing exactly how or why. I felt like I was brainwashed, but I was sort of okay with it because I was being brainwashed to believe something I already believed. It was a lot like the Obama campaign in that respect. Musically, these guys straight up won me over. I know Aaron felt the same. They just sort of draw you in, playing not songs but music. The stage effects massively attacked with a giant stock ticker and scary anti-goverment/corporate facts scrolling across the marquee in English and Korean. It was trippy and absolutely riveting. ****


Petshop Boys: Before the festival, I only knew three things about Petshop Boys: 1)They sing that one song Westend Girls (parody) as well as a song from the World Cup here 2)They peaked in the 80s, and 3) They are super-gay, allegedly with eachother. I now also know that Koreans love these boys, like... way more than you would think. I'm pretty sure I know why too. You know how when you think of Asia, you think of just really bizzare pop-cultury stuff? You know, like the strange and dangerous gameshows called "Happy Fun Time Danger Zone", or robots playing baseball against monkeys in suits, or tentacle-sex anime porn? Well, most of that stuff is Japanese, but I think all East Asian countries have a bit of a soft spot for goofiness, and Petshop Boys were goofy. They had these synchronised dancers who dressed as office buildings, and then put blocks on their head, and a lot of other stuff. It's exhausting trying to begin to explain it, but if you've ever seen a Flaming Lips / Blue Man Group / Rick Atsley show, it was like that but not as good. Just watch this. **1/2 (for effort)

Night #3

Third Eye Blind and Kula Shaker: Yeah, not bad I guess. **

MUSE: I'm just gonna get this out of the way. ****1/2!!! These were the guys I was waiting for. I have wanted to see Muse badly for such a long time, and they ROCKED! Koreans and foreigners alike went so absolutely nuts during this show that you could feel the energy shooting into your solar plexus and back out your mouth, leaving a gelatinous puddle where your skull once was. There were guitars, lasers, giant bouncing eyeballs... the works. When they played Uprising I messed myself. When they encored with Knights of Cydonia I got so hyped I took a machine gun and just started firing into the crowd. I must have murdered like 80 innocent people! It was beyond belief, and when they finished, the festival went out with a literal bang. There was a giant fireworks display with all kinds of Korean fireworks which probably won't premier in The States for another five years. I'm talking Lord of the Rings party in the shire type fireworks. These things were like Weezly's Wizard Wheezes, or fireworks from any other dorky fantasy story I've neglected. As we speed walked to the candy-van as to beat the traffic for our 5 hour all night drive back South to Busan, so rapidly driven to our destination (we had to work the next morning) that we barely had time to absorb any of the fireworks or scenery, I congratulated myself on my decision to come to Jisan. As I listened to the fireworks cracking in the cool midnight air, beside me in the sea of exiting fans was my friend Dominic. At peace with the world, I turned to him, smiled, and screamed "JAJI!"
Grey Duck

*actual pronunciation is "jajiroejida" which isn't quite as fun to say, so we don't say it that way