Seoul shindig: 'It's always a chaotic and fun feeling'
On certain nights at a little club in Hongdae, you'll hear and see something different from the norm. Hidden among the rows of loud restaurants and clubs pumping out sugary sweet K-pop and throbbing dance hits, you'll find Club Myoung Wol Gwan - holed up in a little building with a different kind of atmosphere.
Inside, the first thing new people often notice is an interior that looks more like a basement than a traditional club. It's a little dark, a little dusty and on certain nights it features a soundtrack that most clubs would never dream of playing.
This isn't a normal club and this isn't a normal party; this is Seoul Shindig, where music and nostalgia keep things going long into the night. Here, the songs of yesterday are the soundtrack that fuels the party. A little bit of Motown, a little bit of British rock - if it-s from decades ago and fun to dance to, it-ll most likely be played here.
"It's all about the love of great music, cutting loose and tearing it up on the dance floor," says Shindig head James (Hawkeye) Dawkins. "When we do a '50s and '60s night, it's like throwing a party in your grandmother's basement, listening to her old vinyl stash; a bunch of cool people show up and everyone has an amazing time."
Originally the brainchild of Jerry Stiles (also known as Rev. Stiles) and Mikey Harrison, Seoul Shindig is now headed by Dawkins.
"We have eccentric tastes and we want Shindig to reflect that," says Dawkins. "We'll play rockabilly, Motown, surf rock, psychedelia, Northern soul, doo-wop - all manner of stuff."
In addition to playing a wide variety of music, Shindig has hosted numerous themed events like tiki nights, live belly dancing and a retro-themed homecoming with '80s and '90s music.
"There used to be this thing back in Austin, Texas, called the Second Sunday Sockhop. It was this event that played music from the '50s and '60s," says Stiles. "I felt that, at the time (when we first started), things weren't being fulfilled in Seoul regarding older music."
It was this idea that inspired Stiles and Harrison to create the first Shindig. The event turned out to be a success and over time began spreading through word of mouth, eventually achieving a cult following.
"It was such a harebrained idea at the time. To this day, I'm still convinced that no one is going to show up," says Dawkins.
Stiles and Dawkins strive to make the events accessible to Koreans and foreigners alike, stressing that Shindig is intended for everyone to enjoy.
"Ideally, we'd love to have a 50/50 split between Koreans and Westerners, just to keep it diverse and interesting," says Dawkins.
He says that Koreans don't always have the same nostalgia for the songs that the expat community has, but he is still seeing more native Koreans arrive alongside the familiar faces from the expat crowd that show up to each event. Sometimes, they even play music that tugs on nostalgic Korean heartstrings.
Dawkins says they discovered that Korea had a lot of girl groups in the '60s, so they started playing that, alongside some obscure psychedelic stuff.
"We usually find the music from personal sleuthing and Korean friends," Stiles says. "I've had older Korean people come up to me after an old song, telling me how they couldn't believe we played that song and how it's been years since they've heard it."
Both Dawkins and Stiles credit the people and the location for giving Seoul Shindig such a welcoming atmosphere. Both agree that it's the high energy of the people and the comfortable "grandma's basement" feeling of Club Myoung Wol Gwan that make it an entirely unique experience.
"None of this would be possible in a bigger or more traditional club venue," says Stiles. "We like that 'rough around the edges" look. Everyone is kind of pushed together and everyone is involved. There's nowhere to hide, and it just makes all these people come together and dance until the sun comes up."
While the parties can get somewhat crazy, things never get out of control; it's more like that wild house party you went to in college rather than an overcrowded club.
"We've had people jumping around and dancing on chairs. It's always a chaotic and fun feeling."
For both Stiles and Dawkins, their love of music and the people it reaches continues to be the main motivation for keeping Shindig alive.
"Korea can be an unwelcoming place for foreigners here. Teachers come and go every year, and there can be a strong disconnect between society and themselves," says Stiles. "It's an incredible feeling to have people come up and hug you, telling you that this one event takes them away from their loneliness and the stress of work."
In the future, the two creators intend to expand Shindig to include more local artists and clubs, live music events and fundraisers.
"But it will always remain focused on the music and the people," Dawkins says. "That is something that will never change."
The next Seoul Shindig is on Feb. 14 at Club Myoung Wol Gwan in Hongdae.
Address: Seoul, Mapo-gu, Seokyo-dong 362-12
Find them online at facebook.com/seoulshindig
Groove Korea website