Paradise City. (Photo by Lim So)

Townie Talk

Fuck New York, Move to Busan

South Korean indie rock band Say Sue Me school us on their local scene. Spoiler: It’s nice!

by: Maria Sherman

June 20, 2022

Welcome to Townie Talk, where musicians tell CREEM all about their cool local scene so our editorial staff can forget that they're sitting in a coworking space featuring toilets that always have just a little bit of strangers' pee on the seats. First up: Say Sue Me from Busan, South Korea. (You read that right⁠—it’s CREEM overseas.)

For the uninitiated: Say Sue Me is a good band, deeply informed by other good bands like Yo La Tengo, Pavement, and Seam, but also Dick Dale and the Beach Boys. “They have a vibrant sound, and we liked that,” Sumi Choi, the band’s singer, tells CREEM about their influences over email. “We live near the beach, so that reverb-filled surf guitar sound seems to suit us. But we're not really followers of Surf rock music and we don't know how to surf.” I also don’t know how to surf! Maybe we could learn to surf together. Are we going to become best friends? (No comment.)

CREEM: Hello Say Sue Me! What’s the indie rock scene in Busan like?

Byungkyu Kim: The indie rock scene in Busan is simple, small but cool. Both musicians and the audiences are easy going. [The] focus has always been on Seoul, so we keep going our own way and supporting each other. In Korea, the indie music scene is concentrated in Seoul and many people do not know that an indie music scene exists outside of Seoul. When we perform in Seoul, I always say "We are Say Sue Me from Busan," to emphasize that there are bands in Busan! There are some long established bands in Busan, but rarely full-time musicians.

Bands from the U.S. tend to be obsessed with where they are fromthat’s why there are million exceedingly boring songs about Brooklyn, an exceedingly boring place to live. Do you write songs about Busan? Like “Old Town,” right?

Sumi Choi:
"Old Town" was made when we first started working on our album Where We Were Together around 2016, so it feels like a song from the past. After graduation, I started working at a job that was far from my dream, but a handful of close friends I always hung out with left Busan and found positions in other areas or countries. I began to feel as if I were the last person left in this city. I was in a chaotic state for a long time, both wanting to leave the city and wanting to stay. Actually, at first, we didn't think we'd release the song because Byungkyu didn't even want to put it on the album. However, we noticed that everyone seemed to like it, so in the end we decided that we'd include it and it even became the lead single on that album.

BK: Our instrumental track “The Night of Gwangalli,” is a direct mention of Busan's beach in the song title. Even if not directly, a lot of our songs must have a feeling of Busan because this is where we are and where we come from.

There are an innumerable amount of songs about wanting to leave your crappy hometown for opportunities—pop-punk is founded on the idea, right? But growing up in New Jersey feels like a far cry from Busan. Is it common for people to leave the city once they hit adulthood?

Sungwan Lim: Many young people move to Seoul to realize their dreams. Seoul is about four-and-a-half hours by bus and about two-and-a-half hours by KTX (train) from Busan. It is not far away, but the atmosphere of Busan and Seoul is very different. The indie music scene in Korea is called ‘Hongdae scene’ which is a neighborhood in Seoul, and all of Korea's famous venues are gathered near Hongik University in Seoul. It is also the town where young people gather the most, and many musicians are based there.

What is Busan like? Someone at CREEM said it’s like South Korea’s Cleveland, but that can’t be right.

Jaeyoung Kim: Busan is rough and beautiful, famous for its seas and harbors, mountains, and temples. It is a city where many young people leave, but is holding on as well. People in Busan might seem a bit blunt, but they’re honest, do not express their feelings easily, appear to be strong, but have soft hearts. It’s Korea’s second biggest city after Seoul, but it has a more easy-going pace.

"Blunt with a soft heart" is going on my dating profile. What are some good bands/musicians from Busan that we should know about?

SC: Busan’s ‘inevitable genius’ Kim Ildu is our best friend and senior, and he is the musician we know who has been doing music in Busan the longest. He is a punk, a poet, and sings about our beautiful lives. Soumbalgwang is also a band that does rough but beautiful punk music. Their second album, which was recently released, was produced by Byungkyu and is receiving favorable reviews. Bosudongcooler and Hathaw9y are also nationally recognised indie bands from Busan. We are happy and reassured just by the fact that we have these colleagues in Busan.

What are your favorite venues in Busan?

JK: There are not many places to perform in Busan. We played at the pub a lot. There is only one place called Ovantgarde that really exists for indie bands. Ovantgarde near Kyungsung University is a good place for checking out local indie bands live.

Hey, that’s like New York! Well, we had a lot of DIY venues but then they became headquarters for wack publications that sell counterculture to people who don’t care about music. Do you and your friends go out after a concert? Where do you go?

SL: We usually eat Korean pork belly barbecue, chicken, and beer. We couldn't eat with many friends due to COVID-19, but now the restrictions have been lifted, so we think we can make a big group to eat together. Unfortunately, there is no place in Busan that focuses on records. We want to introduce Gimbab Records in Seoul, not Busan. It introduces various records from Korea and abroad and invites good musicians to make performances.

SC: There is a bar [in Busan] called Yougiche (meaning an organism in Korean), which plays music with a large screen and video. It's small and dark, and before you know it, you get drunk with music and alcohol.

What is your practice space like? I heard it is close to the beach.

BK: It is our rehearsal space, and also recently our recording studio and HQ for ‘Beach Town Music’, the label we set up for ourselves to release our new album in Korea. It is a short walk to Gwangalli Beach.

Do you think you’ll ever leave Busan? What should we know about it?

JK: No. I've never thought of that. This is where the people we love are.

SC: Say Sue Me lives in Busan. Dwaeji-gukbap (pork rice soup) in Busan is really delicious. There are beautiful seas in Busan.

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