Possibly the loudest band in Korea
On a side street in Seoul’s Mullae-dong, Yuppie Killer is mixing up the riot punch. Like the witches of Macbeth, they add their ingredients to the bucket: vodka, two bottles of soju, red wine (a gift), two cans of Hot Six, Sprite and peach juice. The contents are then ladled out to thirsty punks.
Yuppie Killer has been playing outstanding, head-splitting, pogo-jumping, slamming-into-your-neighbor hardcore music with their current lineup for six months now. Tim from Ottawa sings, Iain from Toronto plays guitar, Jay from Saskatoon plays bass and Graham from California plays drums. Together, they insist they are “the loudest ... band in Seoul.”
We’re doing the interview on a roof in Mullae while enjoying the riot punch. For unexplained reasons, they won’t do the interview unless everyone takes his shirt off. They can be difficult that way
Yuppie Killer is a great band, which has not gone unnoticed in the rest of Korea. In Daegu, they were booked into a GI club because, in their words, “we play Journey and Kansas.” Jay can neither confirm nor deny that he has a restraining order filed against him there. In Daejeon, they played at a Mexican bar in front of four paying customers, but those customers left after Tim dropkicked the couch they were sitting on. They did Busan too, but had to “get out in a hurry because, you know - bottle fights.”
In Seoul they play the DIY venues that punks have reclaimed: old warehouses, abandoned storefronts, empty garages and the like, with their friends the Veggers, the Kitsches, Les Sales and others. They play in a mutually supportive and energetic hardcore and punk scene that exists as a literal screaming argument against manufactured Korean music.
“The glass ceiling here is crushingly low for anyone who doesn’t have an entertainment company behind them,” Iain says. “The great genius of hardcore is that the audience and the band are on absolute equal footing. You cannot have one without the other.” In truth, however, they often perform without much of an audience.
Hardcore can be difficult to comprehend for those who are new to the music. “To the untrained ear, hardcore sounds like a bunch of white boys making noise for no reason,” Graham says. “But there are actually very complex song structures, very fast movements; it’s not just the same three chords.”
“Hardcore is sometimes seen as a lesser art because it’s more direct and it’s noisier,” says Iain. But to him, the genre “is like other music, without unnecessary punctuation.” Indeed, you do not attend a Yuppie Killer show to kick back and relax. The songs are loud, short and fast.
Tim’s lyrics, if you can understand them, express different emotions and are heavily layered. “I write songs that are very superficial on the surface but have a great deal of meaning,” he says. The song “Hate Crimes” is about their generation not knowing what they’re doing. They have songs about winter, asbestos, homelessness, lowincome housing, corporate greed and drug-loving Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
A trip last year to Dokdo inspired them to write “Dokdo Revenge Trilogy.” “As far as I can tell by the police presence there, it is certainly Korean land,” says Tim. “We had several warnings about our conduct.”
The punk scene in Korea is fun, supportive and lively, but it is also very small. It’s not uncommon for the only people at the shows to be the other bands performing. Tim says they see a lot of kids around in Ramones shirts and punk clothes, but not at the punk shows. “It’s very discouraging,” he says. “If you like the music and you support the music, then you need to be an active participant in it.”
They insist they do it because it’s fun. That’s what people always say; but in the case of a hardcore band in Korea, it might just be true.
“We don’t make any money doing this,” he adds. “There’s no prestige. We don’t get beautiful women. We don’t get paid. We don’t get social status. People don’t recognize us on the street. All we get is self-satisfaction and I’ve honestly never put as much hard work into anything in my entire life as I have this band.”
And what happens when they leave Korea and go back home? “Who’s leaving Korea? From an international resident point of view, we’ve used this band very nicely to see the country, to meet new people, to meet locals,” Tim says. “We’ve done it in a very different way, through hardcore music. We’re seeing new things people have not seen, things that you donít read about on an Eat Your Kimchi blog.”
“All we do is what we’ve always wanted to do. We just do it here. Find your own Korea.” More riot punch, please.