Great music, lights, yet lacking atmosphere
Incoherent setting robs Idiotape, Korea's hot indie act, of another opportunity
By Kwaak Je-yup
Idiotape, self-described as an “electronic shoegazing band,” are arguably today’s hottest and most creative non-mainstream music act in the country. (Shoegazing refers to virtual non-movement by the band and the likewise effect on the audience.)
Having performed in major festivals here and overseas, including the famous South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, they are enjoying unprecedented popularity. The group was even invited to play on a popular network TV show recently, a rarity in the K-pop-focused industry.
But the gig Friday at the KT&G Sangsang Madang seemed to suggest room for improvement than celebration of early success — mostly due to the members of the audience.
It certainly had several positives. Carefully calibrated color lights swirling around the smallish jam-packed venue and a giant screen behind the band screening intricate computer generated imagery, made the concert an unusual visual thrill. As expected, the band, consisting of DJs Dguru and Zeze and drummer DR, were pitch-perfect and did not miss a beat. The hits from the first studio album “11111101” delighted the audience and moved their feet.
That was the evening’s fundamental problem, ironically. While the band was playing a non-mainstream genre, the audience seemed to be dressed up for a swanky club in Gangnam, Louis Vuitton and Gucci purses hanging on girls’ shoulders. It looked like a party where head-rocking and hollering took precedence to the music. The rocker guests Galaxy Express and Telepathy added further confusion, as the introduction of a totally different genre relegated the evening’s main act to a back up for too long.
Starting about half an hour late, the show began on a promising note, with a dependable rendition of their hit “Pluto.” With a sample playing on a loop, their signature scratchy electric sound slowly progressed upward, modulating the note higher and higher. As this was a pattern pretty much repeated on every one of their original tracks — thanks to subtle nuances lost in the crowd’s party vibe — most of them sounded similar to each other.
While the sound system had much oomph, it worked to the drum set’s disadvantage; it was barely audible at times. And that killed one of the most distinguishing factors about the band.
Despite the loud volume of their music, Idiotape are best characterized by the delicate balance between the three artists. On this night, there was little in evidence; without that, it is hard to appreciate its true merit.
Listening to their tracks, which are mostly devoid of human voice, one naturally comes to wonder how effectively a singer could be integrated into their buzzing sound. One would imagine a true master of voice, one who can manipulate his natural sound to the extent that the band does to the sound machine.
Galaxy Express and Telepathy were not the right partners for Idiotape, however. Their bad-boy attitude and throaty vocals clashed directly with the main band’s Fred Perry-clad members and even, clean sound. The cover of Korean bands like Sinawe and Sanullim simply did not work.
The concert, which was repeated the following night, was sponsored by clothing brand Fred Perry in its subculture series.
Turn Up the Radio (Sinawe)
Techno Shoes (Telepathy)
Fantastic Love (Telepathy)
I Want the Real You (Galaxy Express)