In the past few years, Gimbab Records has been steadily garnering a solid reputation for itself amongst Seoul’s vinyl enthusiasts and concert aficionados. Apparent in both the cornucopia of indie vinyls stocked at Gimbab’s record shop in Hongdae and the impressive repertoire of musical acts that the company has booked, Gimbab Record’s founder Young-Hyuk’s (who goes by the English nickname John) arduous approach to the music business unwaveringly mirrors his genuine passion for the medium.
In just a few years, Young-Hyuk’s earnest zeal for beloved American artists has resulted in their regular appearance in Hongdae. With an earnest love for music, Gimbab Records has already promoted a slew of excellent shows: St. Vincent, Mac DeMarco, Sun Kil Moon, Television (w/ Kiha & The Faces), Julia Holter, Ducktails, and Perfume Genius to name a few. These concerts have both cured the musical homesickness experienced by numerous expats and simultaneously pleased Korean fans longing to watch their transnational musical idols perform in the flesh. With a dogged work ethic and a tenacity to withstand the often-finicky music industry for the benefit of servicing music lovers, Young-Hyuk has improved the once hapless indie rock calendar in Seoul and gratified numerous indie rock fanatics by doing so.
Gimbab’s founder Young-Hyuk’s history in the music business is characterized by diversity. He was an employee in the marketing and new business department at Sony Music until 2012. While working for Sony, he started the first ever “Seoul Record Fair,” published a music magazine, and then began promoting concerts for popular artists like Beirut. Young-Hyuk soon combined his promotional efforts with the help of Round & Round (a collective of Hongdae indie labels). His first booked show was around the same time he parted company with Sony. Put on in collaboration with Round & Round, this initial promotional gig was a concert featuring The Pains of Being Pure at Heart in February 2012. Thereafter, Young-Hyuk found himself fielding many requests to book more concerts and to start a small label to release local albums. Soon Gimbab Records was founded, coined after Young-Hyuk’s cat’s name and the widely popular Korean sushi roll.
The record company’s first LP release was Glen Hansard’s solo album Rhythm & Repose in August 2012. After his search for an office-slash-vinyl warehouse fortuitously led to a first-floor business space, Young-Hyuk soon realized he had discovered an ideal spot in Hongdae where he could both work and allow local music lovers to hang out, listen, and buy records. By August 2013, he’d combined a collection of his personal favorite records with an array of imported albums from friends’ labels and a small record shop was opened. A scene soon germinated. Between 2014 and 2015, Gimbab began to increase its stature, booking one great show after another.
Recent standout concerts billed by Gimbab Records have included popular acts like Perfume Genius, U.S. Girls, and Destroyer. Perfume Genius, fronted by solo artist Mike Hadreas of Seattle, came to Seoul this past winter and impressed with a set comprised of songs mostly from their latest album Too Bright, a brazen expression of queer identity. With confidence, vulnerability, and a powerful ethos, Perfume Genius’s performativity and artistry, relocated for an evening in Hongdae, showcased the legitimacy of Gimbab Record’s recent lineup. It is clear that Young-Hyuk favors substance, authenticity, and aesthetic sensibility over pure economic gain.
U.S. Girls, led by the Illinois-born and Toronto-based artist Meghan Remy, came to Seoul in early Spring this year. With a mix of hazy doo-wop, lush vocals, and grooving dance moves, U.S. Girls seamlessly conjured mesmeric melodies. From their psychedelic songs to some 70’s-era disco flavored ditties, U.S. Girl’s bewitched the Hongdae crowd with an enchanting idiosyncratic style. The varied range of rock n’ roll allusions prevalent in the U.S. Girls fuzzy lo-fi DIY sound alone — sprinkled with infectious yet muddied Motown surges, handclaps, and drum machines —highlighted the eclecticism of Gimbab Record’s aesthetic range.
A more recent headliner of a Gimbab Records gig was Destroyer, who played Hongdae’s V-Music Hall in April. From the show’s lurid yellow special edition posters to the golden tickets designed to parallel the poster’s iconography, the assiduous attention to detail was obvious on multiple levels. With top-notch equipment, expert techies, and sound production, Gimbab Records proved with the Destroyer show the caliber of their sound crew. From the engineers to the stagehands, the show was seamless. The sonic calibrations conducted by the soundboard engineer can be equally important to the band itself in creating auditory bliss for concertgoers. Destroyer’s musicians perfectly blended with the vocals in the sound mix, each sharp note exquisitely harmonizing with singer Dan Bejar’s sanguine lyricism. The high-end equipment and tech team captured the poetic and jazzy vibe of Destroyer with crystalline transparency, simultaneously conveying Beyar’s crisp vocal delivery with utmost limpidity.
Growing up in a close-knit music scene, I often observed the unacknowledged work that goes into producing a memorable concert. Shadowing booking agents, techies, and promoters, I slowly fostered an appreciative knowledge for the background efforts responsible in putting on an unforgettable show. Pondering over all the facets in which Young-Hyuk oversees, it is easy to ascertain that he has an unglamorous yet crucial job. It is not always easy to be on the business side of the music industry. Artists are notorious for preaching idealist politics entailing unrealistic anti-capitalistic pretenses. But underlying this dogma is the glaring reality that the music industry is fundamentally a business. A promoter willing to risk capital, to dedicate themselves to the entrepreneurial side of the arts, and to publicize nuanced musical preferences is an invaluable figure that informs the musical zeitgeist.
Living in Seoul, many expats often feel alienated from their homeland: from comforting foods, family, and friends. For many, the paucity of available and familiar live music is a tough reality. By successfully importing musical specialties to Korea, Gimbab Records has attenuated a gloomy facet of expat life, teleporting the musical equivalent of home cooking into the Seoul metropolis. With its growing resume of fantastic concerts, they are building a reputation as a beloved promotional company and booking agency in the Seoul indie scene. With a founder-owner who exhibits a sincere zeal for music, the tenaciousness to book eminent acts, and the keenness to rent high-end venues with exemplary production value, Gimbab’s concert experiences sync at maximum amplitude.
In the future, Gimbab Record’s main objective is to continue to deliver artists to Seoul audiences. Young-Hyuk plans to keep booking at a steady pace, estimating that he’ll promote about 4-5 acts per year. With a fairly meager indie rock constituency in Seoul, the goal is to simply appease famished aficionados. Young-Hyuk is the first to acknowledge that the local music scene is not something that can be expanded easily. He is regularly forced to listen to mainstream chat in the entertainment industry and business world about how the music market is dying. But as long as he sees passionate young music lovers at the Gimbab Records store, local venues, and at the annual Seoul Record Fair, he believes it is his prerogative to offer concerts at reasonable prices. Hopefully, Young-Hyuk noted, with incentives aimed particularly at younger people — including student discounts for both records and shows — a new generation will slowly materialize that can at the very least sustain the small independent music scene for decades to come.
For more information on Gimbab Records, visit gimbabrecords.com.
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