Friday, June 02, 2006

Seoul: The Scene

In San Francisco and the cities I've lived in, I've thought of myself as a bit of a scenester. I can't make any grandiose claims, but I know the clubs and the weird fringe events and the best local bands and so forth. I had every intention of keeping the noble tradition up when I came to Shanghai, but I think Shanghai's nightlife is pretty much non-existant unless you are looking for a prostitute or have extremely low quality standards. I'll have more to say about it later.

For now, suffice is to say that Seoul's night life is much better, and I have pictures to prove it! I'll start with this one:

That photo was taken near the City Hall, but really there's half a dozen districts that I could have shown pictures of, areas that are intensely populated and brightly lit at night, even late on a weekday. The obvious comparison is when I've visited Tokyo, and comparing the two I think Seoul comes up short to some of Tokyo's districts. But in terms of being bright and crowded and having lots of people around, it definitely beats anywhere in, say, New York City or San Francisco.

Maybe the nightlife isn't all to an American's taste, however. It's dominated by bar-restaurants like a Japanese izakaya, the idea is you eat a bunch of Korean food and drink a lot of soju and beer while you're at it - separating nightlife from my update on Seoul's food is a little artificial. A lot of the places say "Hof" in their name, as in "Hof Brau." I haven't been to Germany or the UK, but I think an English style pub might be a better comparison.

Some of the places are massive or even chains, but as you can see above a lot of the places aren't much more than cubbyholes that might not be able to fit more than a single group of people. I'm sure once you know your way around it's a lot of fun.

But I didn't always take pictures of everything, and this blog is dictated by the pictures I take. I can't much talk about, say, Itaewon, a district dominated by foreigners, where even the city's official (and undeniably excellent) tourist brochure admits "a certain amount of risque entertainment is also available here." The only pictures I took were of the big fireworks show that happened in the middle of the district.

My memory was better with music. I wouldn't say Seoul has a great music scene, but at least it has a scene, and can even support music that's a little weird, or not related to the mainstream. The first music I saw was at Live Club Ssam, a somewhat hidden club with an art-warehouse feel, near Hongik University. Click on the link to hear crazy Korean pop music - basically if the club re-located to Shanghai my quality of life would go up at least 75%. I saw the band Strawberry 60's TV Show. Their blend of J-Pop and early 60s girl-group music (complete with choreographed dancing) was surprisingly catchy and natural and not-annoying, although maybe they were a little stretched to perform as a main act.

Afterwards I kind of wandered into a music club nearby with what I guess was a house band, a very technically talented group playing 80's hair metal type music. I couldn't tell if it was performed in irony or not, but the band was completely over the top and the music was fun.

As part of Seoul's Golden Week celebrations, there was a pretty large concert given near the World Cup stadium. It was raining and not many people came, but it was still a fun time. Particularly for me, as some San Francisco indie-pop kids were playing concerts there! Folk-rocker Mike Park, and Sonawon with Jenny Choi.

I had seen both of them before. I hadn't particularly cared for either of them, and seeing them again didn't change that. It was still fun to hear music from the old scene, though. Don't know if their music was a success, indie-pop isn't the sort of music that caters to outdoor stadiums, especially as the crowd that was mainly waiting for the Japanese band Nine. They're a bunch of asexual stars with an act aimed at teenagers, they had really good rapport with the audience and were generally fun, but their music was too cheesy and at times obviously canned.

My clear favorite was the Korean band that played. I'll try to get someone to help me romanize the name from the flier I took - my Korean is a little, uhhh, non-existant. However their music was fun 90s style rock. Their lead musician looks like a classical musician with his nylon guitar and conservative jacket, but the music was real bumping.

Oh! And the cafes were crazy, often selling coffee for $5 on up. Even Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, a common America-based chain that I thought might be a little cheaper, was selling at a price too expensive for me to ever pay for a cup of black coffee. Still, many of these cafes were very busy late into the night.

1 comment:

Cỏ Tím said...

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is starting to be like Starbucks; it is everywhere