Keeping the underground alive
From a small, hidden basement in the middle of Hongdae, the sounds of hip-hop waft out to the street, mixing with the aroma from Monster Pizza next door.
During the week, the atmosphere is chill – seeming more like a bar than a club by its select group of regular visitors. On those nights, you are more likely to hear tunes from the golden age of hip-hop rather than club bangers. Those are reserved for weekends, where live underground hip-hop and its more energetic vibe is embraced.
Visit any night of the week (the club is open seven days a week) and you’ll find the same man either sitting behind the bar or in the DJ booth. Always wearing a white shirt, a backwards hat and jeans, sometimes with glasses, sometimes not, the only thing that really seems to change is the length of his sleeves depending on the weather.
His name is Onesun, an OG rapper and producer from the first days of the underground scene in Korea. Back then he performed weekly at the renowned Master Plan club. And it’s this experience that led him to open up his club, In2Deep, three years ago.
In homage to Master Plan, he started the weekly show Shining Ground prior to opening In2Deep. However, when the club he hosted it at decided to shut down, he was faced with a dilemma. “I was thinking about how can I continue the show and what I want to do about [it. So] I bought the club with my friends, who are not involved with this culture,” he said.
In the years it’s been open, Onesun says his biggest struggle has been finances. Like any other small business in Korea, the influx of big business in Hongdae has also presented challenges for him and other small clubs in the area. “Hongdae used to have its own color with various genres of music and artist, but it’s changed since funds from big companies flew in. That changed the market and business in the area; there’s a possibility that Gundae or Sinchon may be the destination of Hongdae in the end,” he explains. “There’s some movement to defend and keep the cultural traits of Hongdae but I don’t think the main group of the movement realized what they gotta do for it exactly.”
His main goal is to make In2Deep a musical and cultural base for hip-hop and R&B in Korea. And this is where Shining Ground comes to play. The weekly hip-hop show is in its fourth season and is audition-based. Onesun said he usually gets two to three teams weekly who are interested in performing and a couple get chosen for the show.
“If somebody does hip-hop, they have no stage to show their own,” he says. “We gotta make our ground first… That’s why I started Shining Ground. It’s for everybody. Every musician. I’m going to give chances to everybody who wants to be on the stage.”
By everyone, he does mean everyone, from performers to listeners, foreigners to Koreans. Some of the regulars include Part Time Cooks, Dnt Stop, Feloney, Diamond Tree, KeeBomb, Joe Rhee, Dwang and even some well-known artists including P-Type, Vasco and San E.
“We have to have ground to show and do it – to live. I told [SG artists] that music is living. When you make, when you show, when you believe, when you are doing with all music, you’re always living,” he said. “Music is living. For the listeners too. They need ground when they want to enjoy the show live.”
In a natural next step, Onesun is kicking off his own label, dubbed Shining Music Group. He said that since leaving the Master Plan label, he needed a company that could take care of his music and other artists. “I judged that establishing a company on my own is the best way to actualize what I wanted to do for artists in Shining Ground,” he states. “I prepared a single to release, found some artists who can be involved, so I proceeded.”
The label will feature hip-hop, R&B, jazz, soul – basically any artist that he wishes to work with. His goal is to have a label that is fair to everyone involved. The first single up for release is his own, “K.I.R. (Oh La La La),” his first since 2007. He says that with the club, he couldn’t focus on music, which is why it took him so long to come out with a new song. He produced the beat four years ago, inspired by “time and experience.”
The final release date is currently not set as Onesun still needs to get clearance for some of the sampling featured on the track. But the second single from the label by a different artist is also set and ready for release.
Onesun remains confident and comments that there is much more to come from the label in the future. “I’m [going to] keep it rockin’ till the end. Actually the label is focused on singles, [so] each song is going to be what we do best,” he explains.
Any artist that is interested in auditioning for Shining Ground should send a simple profile and original music (at least three tracks) with the lyrics, producer credit and contact information to Onesun at email@example.com. He will then contact them with the next step.
The show takes place every Saturday, with doors opening at 10pm and performances starting at around 10.30pm. Entrance is usually KRW 10,000.
To follow updates on Shining Ground or In2Deep, visit the show’s Facebook page:
Emma Kalka is a freelance writer who runs the Tumblr blog “Discovering the Korean Underground,” which focuses on the Korean underground hip-hop scene.
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