The Evolution Of Freebird
While the indie music scene in Korea has been around for over 20 years, one of the biggest hurdles that many live venues face is staying power. Few clubs have made it past a few years.
However, Freebird has been one of those few live venues that have made it, becoming a staple club in the indie music scene.
MAAN member Kim Perry said that this staying power is the most important role Freebird has played.
“I think the most important role of Freebird in the past and now is that it’s remained… I want to applaud those that have survived from the early days of indie music to the present and thank them,” he said.
Opening in 1995, Freebird has been run since 2007 by Skyler Jeong. He said he bought the club because at the time he had found his career as a producer in pop music unfulfilling and he needed something new after he was first introduced to the indie rock scene. Freebird just happened to be the first indie rock venue that he visited.
Before moving to its current location, it could be found down a small alley near Hongdae Playground, the one rock club located in a sea of bars and dance clubs. He said this location made things difficult for the club, as only “kids who wanted to dance” would come around. Not to mention, the rent was very expensive.
The old venue gave off a bar atmosphere and was much smaller and more intimate, something that bands and musicians such as Nils Germain from the group Wasted Johnnys enjoyed when playing there. “It was small but that way, even if many people came to the show, we felt very close to them and the atmosphere was always great,” he remembers. “Now that it’s moved to a bigger place, Freebird is struggling to gather a lot of people and we can feel it on stage; people are spread away, some go to the second floor, so it’s hard to see everyone and feel them.”
Jeong said what drew him to the new location was its unique design and larger size. Upon walking into the new Freebird, one feels as though they are entering an underground cave with high ceilings, rock pillars and nooks and crannies where one can sit and enjoy the music from anywhere.
“I am a sound engineer so the room acoustic and ambiance are very important for sound,” he said. “And, I don’t like modern style. Many clubs in Korea are too modernized and I think the downside of that is it’s uncomfortable. I like vintage and old-style; even my house is old… So, when I got here, I thought, ‘This is the place!’”
Jeong’s main focus has been to create a live venue that is part-bar, part-club, with the sound quality of a big concert hall. He wanted to create a new type of music, and for that, it required a better sound system, operating system and more space. However, he does feel that for newer bands or shows, the size is sometimes viewed as an obstacle since they worry they cannot fill the space.
And the effort has paid off, with bands and concert planners alike taking notice. Shin Gi Yeon, head of ROK Gi Yeon Promotions, confirms that the improving quality of the space is something that he has enjoyed about the club. “As a true music lover, Skyler has always put the music first. As such, sound at Freebird 1 was always improving and with the move to the new venue, the equipment has been set up to fully utilize the unique space and acoustics. As a music fan, I have always been impressed with how fantastic the bands sound from the floor, and the current location has made for some truly beautiful live music.”
Not only has the sound and look of Freebird changed, but Jeong believes he has opened the club up to more diversity. Freebird was always known as a live rock venue, but over the past year, it’s hosted an electronic music festival, world music events, burlesque shows and hip-hop shows. Believing it was important for him as a venue owner and music lover to bring variety to the venue, they can host live music concerts, DJ sets, parties or a mix of all three.
“I want rock musicians to come here and listen to hip-hop music and vice versa with hip-hop musicians. I think it is very important for musicians to exchange, mix and communicate with each other’s music for the development of the Korean music industry. And it can also create new music,” he said.
aho Yang from Oops Nice said the club has brought cultural diversity to the indie scene by hosting various stages and styles of performances for rookie musicians.
The venue and its workers have also always been willing to invest in the indie scene to help it grow. Germain from Wasted Johnnys said club manager Ryu Shin-hong loaned the band money to make their first EP, then called them for performances, which allowed them to gain exposure and a fan base. Eventually, because of his help, they were able to perform at Ansan Valley Rock Festival in 2013.
Shin of ROK Gi Yeon Promotions believes Freebird has played two major roles for bands and the scene itself. He said that it is a one-of-a-kind venue in rock that puts on shows nearly every day of the week. Also, it’s “a recording studio, learning space, developing studio and more for rising bands in the Hongdae scene.”
“They know talent when they see it and they use their resources to further these newer bands on the scene,” Shin said. “It’s amazing to watch these bands grow so quickly with the help of this club and its staff.”
For owner Jeong, he said Freebird is still not done growing and evolving. He plans to put in wood floors and have the venue function as a music bar when there are no live shows scheduled. He’s also recruited the main DJ from legendary club Hodge Podge to man the music.
And more than that, he wants Freebird to be a place where all music lovers, foreign and Korean, can come together.
“Many clubs in Korea have their own color. Some clubs only have Korean visitors and the others only have foreign visitors… I think it is very bad. I think the good thing about music is that you can listen to it together and exchange your opinions,” he said.
It’s this idea that Jeong has followed since the days of Freebird 1 and plans to continue working towards in the years to come by consistently upgrading the club’s quality and creating more new experiences for music lovers of all kinds.
Check out Freebird’s Facebook page for more details
Emma Kalka is a freelance writer who runs the blog “Discovering the Korean Underground” on Tumblr, which focuses on the Korean underground hip-hop scene.