Are you one for chill indie jams? Head-banging rock jams? Jams that span three languages and even more musical styles? Throw that all together with a carefree attitude and near-godly vocals and bam. You’ve got Hyukoh, my friend.
South Korean indie rock band Hyukoh is comprised of four members: vocalist and producer Oh Hyuk (and who the band was named after), lead guitarist Lim Hyunjae, bassist Im Donggeon, and drummer Lee Inwoo. The band has a sound all their own—personally I’ve thought of it as kind of a wholesome, yet raw and lighthearted sound, if that makes any sense at all—with various cultural influences. Their songs even vary in language: Korean, English, Mandarin Chinese, etc. The group likes a variety of Western artists, as well, such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Ray Charles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Whitest Boy Alive, Mac DeMarco, Stevie Wonder, and John Mayer. Frontman Oh Hyuk mentioned in an interview with Highsnobiety Magazine that, given the chance to collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, he’d choose “Elliott Smith or David Bowie. We might make something awesome together.”
(Also in the interview, Oh Hyuk talks about the formation of the band, their general aesthetic, how they distinguish themselves from the commercial K-pop scene, and the differences between Korean and international audiences and media. It’s an insightful read.)
But anyway, Hyukoh has been around for a few years now, having debuted with their EP 20 in September 2014 (Happy 3rd Birthday, 20!). The EP brought about a moderate amount of success, mostly selling out small venues and such, but the band’s popularity grew more widespread in 2015, after they performed at the Summer Music Festival on the popular Korean show Infinite Challenge. They got an influx of positive reviews from critics and the public alike, prompting their next release, EP 22, to make it into the Billboard World Albums Chart Top 10.
Since then, the band has signed with independent label HIGHGRND, performed at various music festivals and on variety programs such as You Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook, written songs for OSTs (including the fast-paced rock head-banger “MASITNONSOUL” for the Korean drama Entourage), and just this past April released their first full-length album 23. The LP’s title track “Tomboy” placed second on Melon music charts, and first on Genie and other digital charts, while the whole album took sixth place on Billboard’s World Album Chart in May.
Currently, the band is in the midst of the North American leg of their world tour—aptly and cheekily entitled ‘tour’, quotation marks included—and yours truly had the incredible pleasure of attending their NYC stop at Irving Plaza last week. Hyukoh had already made several stops throughout Asia and North America, and are set to tour Europe as well in the upcoming months before returning to perform at “Seoul Again,” as the tour shirt with the list of stops claimed.
Now for my personal concert experience—alright friends, here we go.
First of all, Irving Plaza is an all-standing, GA venue. Not too small, but not very big, either. There were VIP tickets, which granted you a signed poster and the chance to watch the performance from the VIP balcony. My group and I got GA tickets. Once we got into the venue, we realized that it was going to be rather difficult to see, since the floor wasn’t slanted up very much. Along the side of the main floor, though, was a raised platform which you could stand on if you upgraded your ticket. We figured, what the heck, and were able to stand against a railing, unobstructed, and enjoy the concert comfortably. Also, we were able to get a free drink from the bar in the back. Not bad.
By the time the concert started, the venue was pretty packed. (Apparently, they’d sold out. Also great!) Straight from the beginning, the band was fantastic. Their sound is amazing on recording, don’t get me wrong, but live? Phenomenal. Each song was full of energy and had my friend group and me dancing and singing along (or attempting, at least; my Korean is not great by any means). You could feel the heart and soul put into each track, honestly, cheesy though it may sound. (It’s interesting to note, by the way, that many of the audience members didn’t share the same enthusiasm, rather reserving themselves to instead record the performances on their phones and nod along. Rather tame reception, but that’s none of my business, I suppose.)
Oh Hyuk’s vocals were, as I said previously and as my friends and I praised him for days afterward, godly. There’s a roughness to his voice, but also an unexpected softness that makes it incredibly unique. And let’s not forget the incredible skills of the other members—Lee Inwoo went hard on an extended drum solo for “Reserved Seat” while Lim Hyunjae shredded the “MASITNONSOUL” intro at nearly double the speed. The quartet performed most of the track list for 23, along with some of their other popular tracks from past releases. One of the songs for their encore, “Wi Ing Wi Ing,” was especially well-received. Personally, that was the first song I’d heard by the band, so it was somewhat of an emotional moment. (Speaking of emotional moments, the softspoken frontman mentioned before playing “Tomboy” that it was his favorite song.) Overall, the Hyukoh concert was a wild ride and I am looking forward to the day they come back to New York!
Hyukoh’s band philosophy is, as Oh Hyuk said in that Highsnobiety interview, “Let’s do something fun and be cool, for a long time,” and they seem to be on the right track, wouldn’t you say? You can check out more about Hyukoh by following the links below!