Photography Jennifer Cheng

the rising female musicians of seoul's underground scene

Five singers, producers, and DJs creating a wildly imaginative, creative new scene in South Korea's dance clubs.

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Jan 13 2018, 2:27am

Photography Jennifer Cheng

CIFIKA, musician and singer

How did you get into music?
I was lost in my life and was looking for a chance to be a new person by doing the thing I was most passionate about. I started learning basic music theory and how to produce about two years ago, and soon began uploading on SoundCloud under the account name CIIFKA. I felt confident; I felt holy. I decided to come back to my home country (I had been living in LA) to start a new life as a musician.

What is it like being a part of the underground music industry in Korea?
It’s warm and cold at the same time. Korean people have a tendency to bond strongly with one another, and there’s a lot of support. But the market itself can be cold. It’s small and, naturally, people can be aggressive and competitive.

What has the support been like?
Support has always been around me. After I came back to Korea to pursue my music career, I was offered a stage at Henz club, in Hongdae. Since then, musicians, DJs, and producers from across Korea have reached out about collaborations. Next year, I’m going to perform at SXSW, and that’s like my Olympics.

Where in Seoul do you go to listen to music?
I go to my fellow producers’ studios. Moodchula’s studio has nice acoustics for listening to electronic music.

Sol Lee, aka LEEVISA, 25, DJ and producer

How did you get into music?
Nobody, including me, thought I was on the path to music. But as I became more interested in nightlife, I began to realize the important role music can play in the sociocultural context, and I started exploring sounds. Making music, for me, is like training myself how to resist.

What is it like being a part of the underground music industry in Korea?
It’s like writing new history every day. All my fellow artists here are very passionate and talented, and it’s an honor to be their contemporary. It’s especially wonderful that there are more and more women and LGBTQIA artists in Korea. The scale of this scene may seem small, but huge things are going on.

What has the support been like?
I get pure love and support from my parents and friends. Particularly, Free Collision (an art and music collective based in Seoul and Lausanne).

Where in Seoul do you go to listen to music?
The Itaewon neighborhood.

Minju Lee, aka MUSHXXX, 28, DJ and model

How did you get into music?
In elementary school, I performed samulnori, a Korean traditional percussion quartet. I played the drum, so I fell naturally into minimal beats and bass. I also did band vocals in high school. Music brings me joy — especially when I find a gem of a song that exactly captures my feelings while I’m DJing.

What is it like being a part of the underground music industry in Korea?
There are more and more underground clubs and bars here. I’m looking forward to the future.

What are challenges that you face?
To produce sounds that feel like me. I’m not skilled enough yet, but I’ll keep learning. It thrills me to think about finding my true colors.

Where in Seoul do you go to listen to music?
Underground clubs like Contra, Cakeshop, Pistil, and Soap. And the LP bar Fingas Zone in Apgujeong, which has an amazing sound system.

Closet Yi, 25, DJ, graphic designer, and party organizer

How did you get into music?
When I look back now, I think I was so into clubbing in my early twenties because I wanted to escape the hard times when my dad was fighting cancer. Raving and dancing were the only things that could make me forget about it. Luckily, I had a DJ friend who had good taste and he put me on the right path. Instead of commercial, big room kind of clubbing, I slipped genuinely into the underground scene. Music, for me, has a chemistry that boosts my energy and DJing stimulates my desire to discover new music and cultures.

What is it like being a part of the underground music industry in Korea?
There is still a lot of space to try new things here, compared to other cities that are already crowded with artists. At the moment, a lot of Korean musicians have moved towards techno and bass music, so my duo act (C’est Qui) spotted a niche. We started a deep-house music party this summer, booking DJs from overseas such as Nachtbraker and Ray Mang, and it's been a great success.

What are challenges that you face?
We don't have a big pool of loyal house music followers yet. So the biggest question in my head right now as a DJ and promoter is: How are we going to bring more people into the scene? Also, a majority of Koreans don't have an exact idea of what a club DJ is because we don't have a long history of dance culture. But it's a challenge I accept.

What do you want the world to know about Korean music?
I hope people don’t create their own stereotypes about Korean music and think everything is like pretty, bubbly, happy-happy K-pop idol stuff. There are so many different musicians that are carving out their own paths successfully: Yaeji, DJ Bowlcut, and Soulscape.

Jvcki Wai, 21, rapper

How did you get into music?
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a singer-songwriter or rockstar. But then I encountered hip-hop. I was fascinated by how complicated it was to make rap lyrics and how rappers could have many different flows to express their skills. Hip-hop has a certain lack of formality that excites me.

What is it like being a part of the underground music industry in Korea?
I think there is no underground scene in Korea any more. Korean hip-hop culture has changed in weird ways since several big corporations transformed it a to a business. Many rappers dream of making it big by appearing on corporate produced platforms.

Where in Seoul do you go to listen to music?
Faust. It’s the best techno club in the city.

This article was originally published by i-D US.