This is the story of two bands first visit to South East Asia. Or in one case, their first excursion outside of the UK. The two bands in question - Eyre Llew and Crosa Rosa - both hail from Nottingham, having also formed around the same time during the latter part of 2014. For both bands, the past couple of years has seen them steadily develop into two of the most accomplished outfits to emerge from the East Midlands increasingly vibrant music scene in a very long time. How they came to be in this part of the world can be put down to two distinct facets: lots of hard graft and being in the right place at the right time. Earlier this year, both played on the Drowned In Sound stage at May's Focus Wales, an event that's fast becoming the UK's most prestigious when it comes to showcasing new talent. While there, Seoul-based promoter Patrick Connor offered both slots at South Korea's Zandari Fest having been blown away by their performances in Wrexham. Having acquired sufficient funding from the lovely people at PRSand, in Crosa Rosa's case, Liverpool Sound City - Zandari Festa's UK partners in the festival market - both bands set about putting together their first tour of South Korea. Here's what happened...
Wednesday 27th September
Having arrived in Seoul the previous night and inadvertently sampled a local delicacy concocted out of chicken feet and the hottest chilli sauce known to man, Eyre Llew's first Korean show takes place this morning. For the three-piece, often compared with Nils Frahm and Sigur Ros among others, it's a massive step into the unknown. While their fusion of classical, ambient, post-rock, and metal has found its place in the UK and mainland Europe, there's an air of uncertainty, albeit an excitable one as they get ready for the five-and-a-half hour train ride to Busan.
Situated on the south east coast of the country, Busan is the second largest city in South Korea, boasting a population of over 3.5 million people. Tonight's show will take place in the HQ Bar - previously an office block - four storeys up with the incredibly scenic Gwangandaegyo Bridge as a backdrop. The venue, run by St Louis native John Meyerriecks, serves as one of the city's prime live music hotspots. Situated overlooking the Haeundae beach, it's probably the only place in this part of South Korea you'll hear Huggy Bear and Nation Of Ulysses blasting through the speakers be it morning, noon, or night.
Sharing the bill are local four-piece Bosudong Cooler whose set comprises of both originals and covers, something we'll find a regular occurrence on our travels. After a few teething issues with the vocal monitors, Eyre LLew's set goes down a treat with an attentive crowd largely made up of American immigrants. Afterwards, a local promoter Steve C (check out his band, Genius) offers them another show in Busan for the following evening and they duly accept.
Thursday 28th September
After a heavy night that quickly turned into daybreak, sore heads turn into sunburned legs where Eyre Llew guitarist Jack Bennett is concerned, having fallen asleep on Haeundae beach in the scorching morning sun.
Nevertheless, with another six days to go, the show must go on and tonight will see them play in a venue called The Basement. Situated just around the corner from Busan National University, it's pretty much as it says on the tin; a basement bar popular with students that also hosts a dartboard - something we find is an increasingly popular sport over here - and a dancing pole. Initially booked as the third band on the bill, it turns out tonight's headliners have pulled out over a dispute about payment so despite having only just been added to the lineup, Eyre Llew find themselves elevated to headline status.
Owner Liam Cullivan - originally from New York - tells us how the Busan music scene has grown in the 15 years he's been here. "It's more vibrant now than it ever was, especially when western bands come over." With the room already packed - partly we're informed because it's ladies night and single girls get free cocktails - there's a buzz of anticipation around the room. On hearing some familiar sounding accents, we're introduced to a guy called Ben Griffin, himself from the North Nottinghamshire town of Worksop and currently teaching at Busan University. He reaffirms the owner's enthusiasm for the city's music scene and it only takes a couple of songs into Eyre Llew's set before they've captured an entire room. While debut album Atelo isn't officially released until 19th October, the songs they choose to play off it are already capturing imaginations here, particularly with those seeing them for the second night in a row.
It's a triumphant evening made all the more exultant when yet another promoter offers them a third Busan show in his venue Someday) for the following evening.
Friday 29th September
Crosa Rosa also made their South Asian live debut the previous night at Busan's Club Cynic, and while their tour partners will stay on the coast for one more evening, the rest of us head back to Seoul for the first day of Zandari Festa.
Having only started in 2012, Zandari Festa has already earned itself a reputation as South Korea's most prestigious showcase event for both homegrown and overseas artists. Similar to The Great Escape or South By Southwest - albeit on a much smaller scale - in concept, it takes place over three days in the Hongdae area of the Seoul. Spread across over twenty venues all within a short walking distance of each other, it also counts as one of the most compact multi-venue festivals we've ever attended. Housing conferences and panel sessions in the daytime as well as live music in the evenings, it offers a more relaxed vibe than its UK and US counterparts even if the business needs of many in attendance are the same.
For Crosa Rosa, tonight's show is at the MUV Hall, which with a capacity of 800 is also the largest venue in the festival programme. Playing as part of a showcase for Liverpool Sound City alongside six other UK acts from all angles of the broad musical spectrum.
Because so many artists have been squeezed into such a short time frame, the showcase doesn't run as smoothly as one would have hoped and sets are cut short abruptly, including Crosa Rosa's who are forced to finish two songs early due to time constraints.
Although feeling somewhat deflated, they're soon buoyed by the positive feedback conveyed after the show not to mention the adoring Korean following they seem to have picked up after two shows.
Saturday 30th September
With Eyre Llew having travelled back to Seoul through the night, physically wrecked but ebullient all the same, both theirs and Crosa Rosa's batteries are recharged for the busy day that lay ahead.
Walking through Hongdae's market we encounter some of the most incredible street food we've ever tasted. While not necessarily the most ideal place to eat if you're vegan - as Crosa Rosa drummer Kegan Clark discovers all too well - the selection of mouthwatering meat and fish dishes cooked while you wait at ridiculously low prices are too good to scoff at, and numerous kebab skewers are devoured accordingly.
We've also become quite accustomed to Soju, a locally brewed alcoholic beverage made from rice extracts that's approximately 16% proof, particularly the grapefruit flavoured variety that tastes like pure fruit juice and therefore goes down far too easily. Costing around 1200 Korean won (that's approximately 80p in UK sterling) per bottle and available in every supermarket (or 7/11) we pass, it becomes the drink of choice not only with our group, but pretty much every overseas visitor we encounter too.
Onto tonight's shows, and Crosa Rosa's second appearance at Zandari Fest in the Sangsang Madang Theatre's spacious confines couldn't go any better. With a number of people in attendance wowed by their performance the previous night, they play a dazzling forty minutes long set culminating in a mini moshpit down the front which we're told is something of a rarity on these shores. After the show, selfies are taken, setlists are signed, and the band find themselves mobbed outside the venue too. "This kind of thing certainly doesn't happen in Nottingham!" says singer and guitarist Joe Weatherall, not only a first time visitor to South East Asia but also a first-time flier having previously only been on a ferry to France before.
In the meantime, DiS catches up with Otley born musician David Thomas Broughton, himself a resident of Seoul. Having spent seven years in Korea - three in the north and four in the south - he tells us about the difficulties, mainly due to language barriers, for western artists particularly when it comes to booking gigs. Based here on account of his wife's current work circumstances, Broughton admits both he and his partner cannot wait to get back to the UK before joining us for the remainder of the evening.
For Eyre Llew, tonight represents their first taste of the festival. Playing in a mostly seated club called GoGos, it's a far cry from the venues they're used to back home but with a near capacity crowd in waiting, it doesn't take long for the band to get into their stride. While sunburned guitarist Bennett is physically struggling and drummer Jack Clark's kit slides around the floor at every beat, they're undefeated to the point vocalist and fellow guitar player Sam Heaton gives away free copies of the album to those in attendance as a thank you for the rapturous reception they've received so far.
Jubilant, we're herded to several afterparties where copious amounts of Soju are consumed while DJs from the likes of South By Southwest and Australian Music Export play Confidence Man and LCD Soundsystem, which goes down a treat.
Sunday 1st October
Today is technically a day off as neither band has a show for the time since we arrived here. For Crosa Rosa and Sam from Eyre Llew, this presents them with an opportunity to check out Seoul's Gangnam district; essentially the South Korean equivalent of Manhattan.
It's also the final day of Zandari Festa and with some of our favourite acts on the bill set to play this evening, the rest of us witness scintillating performances from the likes of AF The Naysayer, Campfire Social, and Kimoki Fucking Madness.
Monday 2nd October
It's day seven of a trip that began a week ago (it really doesn't seem that long!) and for Crosa Rosa tonight will be their last show here. They play at the excellent Club FF, a venue we've already frequented on several occasions due to its late-night license, incredible drinks selection, and awesome DJ playing anything and everything from Ride and My Bloody Valentine to Pulp and the Pixies.
There's an admission fee tonight (15000 won - which works out at around £10) but with four bands on the bill and numerous drinks offers throughout the night including free cocktails between 11pm and midnight - the only stipulation is to bring one's glass back for it to be refilled - it's easy to see why this is one of the most popular music venues in Hongdae.
Promoter Narae Yoon acts as a host for the evening and while it isn't the be all and end all of what being in a touring band's about, all of the bands are treated impeccably well this evening. Although Crosa Rosa are billed as headliners there is no hierarchy; all the bands share a dressing room and as a result, a level of camaraderie builds before anyone has even taken to the stage. Both Nottingham bands strike up a particularly strong bond with the excellent 57, a duo based in Seoul whose music isn't a million miles from that of Crosa Rosa's, albeit with a very different dynamic.
Taking the stage around just over an hour before midnight, the energy Crosa Rosa exude onstage quickly rubs off on those out front and before long another sweaty moshpit ensues which quickly spreads onto the stage, culminating in more bodies sharing the band's platform than on the dancefloor below. It turns out to be Crosa Rosa's most satisfying show of the tour, not just because of the spontaneous stage invasion, but by way of the genuine adulation bestowed on them hours after they've left the stage. More merchandise is sold and duly signed. Photos are taken with numerous members of their newly acquired fanbase, many of whom attended all three shows in Seoul. It's a humbling sight and one which Eyre Llew will also get to experience the following evening.
Tuesday 3rd October
And now, the end is near... and someone has misread the leaving date on the Air BnB contract, meaning everyone has to be out before midday. It wouldn't be so bad had the celebrations from the night before not lasted until 9am this morning, and soundcheck for tonight's show not taking place before the venue opens at 6pm.
Of course time to kill presents an opportunity to buy... presents, and it wouldn't be right without mentioning the delightful Artbox where a small fortune is spent by all and sundry on an array of weird and wonderful gifts including Moomins perfume and a rubber lamp shaped like a cat that also doubles up as a cushion which illuminates when sat on.
With the guitarist's sunburn having gradually become a heavily infected swollen mess, there are initial doubts as to whether Eyre Llew can play tonight but being consummate professionals and no doubt buzzing off the adrenaline fuelled by the reception they've attained since being in South Korea, messrs Heaton, Bennett and Clark proceed to the stage for the final time on this tour.
Beforehand, singer Heaton is presented with gifts by a girl who first saw them in Busan and has followed them ever since. It's an overwhelming show of gratitude and again, the band put on a dazzling show. As with the previous night at Club FF, members of the audience stay around long after the evening's entertainment to talk music, buy merchandise, collect autographs, and pose for selfies with the band.
All in all, it's an incredible experience that's far exceeded the expectations of all concerned: The sheer devotion shown by people who this time last week had probably never heard of either band; the gratitude shown by promoters genuinely thankful these bands have played their venues; the welcoming nature of everyone we encountered.
Zandari Festa, and South Korea in general, are wonderful. It goes without saying any band or artist presented with a similar opportunity should grab it with both hands. South East Asia may be an untapped market as far as the music industry is concerned, yet there's a healthy scene happening right now just waiting to explode.
10 More Of The Best From Zandari Fest...
3rd Line Butterfly
With five studio albums over eighteen years, 3rd Line Butterfly aren't technically a new band. However, to these ears having stumbled across their experimental shoegaze-tinged wares, they were a real breath of fresh air. Hailing from Seoul, songs like 'Spring Breeze' and 'Zero' went down a storm on the first night of the festival with comparisons to Blonde Redhead and The Boxer Rebellion not too wide of the mark.
Hailing from Jeonju but now based in Seoul, 57 - they named themselves after their favourite Biffy Clyro song - have already made waves in Europe with numerous shows under their belt this summer including a memorable performance at the aforementioned Focus Wales. Playing noisy garage rock that reminds us of a lo-fi Smashing Pumpkins, they're a band we expect to be hearing more of in the not too distant future.
This South London based rapper and MC first came to our attention five years ago with the 'What Took You So Long' EP predating grime's upsurge in popularity by several years. A brief hiatus brought on by parenthood saw him disappear from the spotlight for a while but now he's back with a bang courtesy of recent single 'LITW'. We caught two of this three shows here and on both nights his way with words, onstage presence and incessant beats courtesy of DJ Uncle Yems made them one of the most sought-after acts.
AF The Naysayer
New Orleans based musician and producer Amahl Abdul-Khaliq aka AF The Naysayer is another act that first caught our eye at Focus Wales, fusing influences as far and wide as Flying Lotus, MC 900 Ft Jesus, Dalek, and Clouddead. His sonic palettes for eerie overtures and beat-laden compositions stand him out as one of the most unique acts on the festival's already eclectic line-up while his collaborative performance alongside Hamburg based producer Iwan Wani and Korean hip hop artist Bluechan ranked as one of the weekend's finest that even a brief powercut couldn't ruin.
This Chester based five-piece remind us of a young Broken Social Scene and their feelgood indiepop instigated a riotous response in the Freebird venue on the final night of the festival. Currently at the forefront of the North Wales underground which is buzzing right now, you wouldn't bet against them becoming household names before long.
Green Flame Boys
This Korean four-piece have been around since 2013 yet only put out their first LP Greenroom this year. Inspired by the UK street punk sounds of Oi! from the early 1980s, they're a welcome respite from the deluge of American punk-pop that seems to have infiltrated most of the Asian market and in singer Cho Ki-Cheol, possess one of the angriest young front men this side of Johnny Rotten during his teenage delinquent phase.
Named after a Pink Floyd B-side, this Seoul based trio play expansive psychedelic rock in the vein of early Verve and Tame Impala. With songs like 'Sleep Paralysis' and 'Minor Ecstasy Blues' sending the small but enthusiastic crowd wild, their powerful excursions into reverb-laden blues make for interesting explorations from the norm.
Kimoki Fucking Madness
The brainchild of saxophone player Kim Oki, the Kimoki Fucking Madness stage show has to be one of the most unique performances we've ever witnessed. Improvised in places and featuring a cast of musicians from various other Seoul based bands, their psychedelic fusion of jazz, funk, soul and hip hop all held together by Kim Oki's distinctive sax makes for an invigorating set that's rarely bettered the whole time we're here. Now on his fifth album Fucking Madness - hence the moniker of his latest project - Kim Oki has been likened to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis and on this showing, it's not that difficult to see why.
Say Sue Me
Say Sue Me formed in Busan five years ago and can boast of being one of the few South Korean bands that haven't relocated to Seoul. Highly regarded and respected in Busan for staying close to their roots, they've steadily amassed a healthy live following throughout the nation as a result. Musically they're a hybrid of C86 bands and shoegaze whose music has already crossed over to the UK having recently opened for Japanese outfit Taffy.
This Newcastle based four-piece make discordant, danceable post-punk that sits somewhere in between the angular rhythms of fellow Tynesiders Kubichek! and the floor filling nuances of The Strokes. Recent single 'Moonlight Dancing' was the highlight of their set in the vast confines of the MUV Hall. We suspect you'll be hearing a lot more from them before the year's out.