The return of Club Day
Many long-term expats in Seoul will have memories of Hongdae Club Day: Club-hopping taken to the extreme on the one night a month when KRW 15,000 could get you into nearly every club in the university area.
For almost 13 years, the event has been run by the Hongdae Club Tour Association. It was a way to help bring money into Hongdae area and aid in its development, according to Kim Jung-hyun, chairman of the Hongdae Culture and Tourism Association.
But then, for “many reasons,” Club Day stopped roughly three to four years ago. Kim said it had a lot to do with financial obstacles. However, it didn’t help that at that time clubs lacked legal status.
“In Korea, clubs were not regulated, which means they were not really protected by law… Because they weren’t protected by law, technically they were illegal,” he said. “The clubs were falling under constant inspection and getting involved in bribery and that sort of deal.”
It was because of this that the club association was initially established to help protect the clubs in the area.
Under Korean law, clubs technically fell under the same category as adult entertainment establishments such as room salons because of three main components – alcohol, dance floors and female hostesses – despite the fact that the clubs did not hire hostesses. Permits for these businesses were limited to designated areas. Hongdae did not have one.
It didn’t help that after the Sewol accident in 2014; the government shied away from large events over safety fears, according to Kim. The club event was almost permanently barred last year due to these concerns.
Luckily for Hongdae clubs, a law passed in 2015 granting them legal status separate from that of room salons that goes into full effect in February this year. With the law came legal protection and safety regulations.
“Now clubs will be different and are distinguished from adult entertainment establishments,” Kim said.
After the law passed, the club association decided it was time to bring back Club Day, now renaming it Club Tour, which Kim said is to create easier access for foreigners.
It started in August 2015 with just a handful of clubs in the area, but now Club Tour boasts 18 clubs in its lineup, ranging from small to large, hip-hop to EDM and even a few live clubs. Kim said they are constantly adding new names to the list, which can be found on the Club Tour website, www.theclubtour.org.
It takes place every last Saturday of the month, so as not to interfere with an event run by a separate organization on the last Friday of the month – Live Club Day. Tickets are KRW 25,000 and allow entry into all clubs on the list for the entire night as well as discounts at certain businesses. They can be bought online at the website or at the main ticket booth in front of SangSang Madang.
After running Club Day for so long, the association drew from its experiences to make more changes. In the past they focused more on providing material aid to the clubs, but now are putting more emphasis on helping develop content.
“Instead of just dancing at a club, we’re trying to develop actually experiencing the arts and different kinds of music and performances,” Kim said. “And during the daytime, the clubs are empty, so we’re trying to use those spaces and do new things… We’re trying to bridge between the artists who need a space and the people who have space.”
More than that, Kim said he and the organization don’t want clubs to become only about making money, but also about building up the community. It is about helping different types of artists, such as DJs who are not considered artists in Korea like other countries, and the scene as a whole.
“We gave freedom to the club owners to play whatever music they want or do any sort of artsy stuff that they would like to do. We’re basically trying to make the club scene bigger than it’s been in the past,” he said.
He also hopes that Club Tour becomes a non-age restrictive place where people of all ages – not just the young – can enjoy a night out.
“I, myself, am in my 40s, but I still enjoy going to clubs,” he laughed.
Kim’s desire to help protect and develop Hongdae stems from growing up in the area. He attended school there and watched it transform from an abandoned rail line to a mecca for artists of all kinds. Before taking over as chairman of the culture and tourism association, he spent over a decade working as an assistant to a lawmaker trying to pass the new club law.
He said there is still more work for the Hongdae association to do. Next up, they are working to develop tour packages focusing on food, shopping and music in tandem with the more than 200 registered guesthouses in Hongdae. Also, they are creating an app that will help users tour hidden gems in the area that might be difficult to find down small side streets. It will be available in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese.
The tour packages and app will hopefully help Hongdae become “a well-known tourist spot worldwide.” For now, Club Day is sure to help uncover the thriving music scene that Hongdae has to offer.
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.
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