10 Korean Rock Bands You Should Know
While Korean rock music has been largely overshadowed in recent years by the vibrant world of K-pop idols and the burgeoning mainstream Korean hip-hop scene, that’s not to say the genre has little to offer in comparison. In fact, there are many hidden (as well as not-so-hidden) gems within the Korean rock realm, some of which have been slowly but surely gaining popularity both domestically and internationally. Will K-rock ever overtake K-pop? Seems unlikely. Even so, you’re missing out if you aren’t listening to Korean rock bands. Read on to find some bands that are a must for new and inveterate K-rock fans alike.
Please also note that while I adore bands like DAY6, The Rose, N.Flying, and so on, I’ve opted to highlight groups that are a bit further removed from the K-pop scene instead. You shouldn’t sleep on any of the more mainstream or idol-like bands either, though, because they’re just as fantastic as the ones I’ve included here.
Winners of the 2018 Shinhan Card Rookie Award, SURL have quickly been carving out a space for themselves in Korea’s rock scene over the past couple of years, and given their catchy songs, superb musicianship, and overwhelming talent, SURL is sure to continue to charm listeners near and far for years to come. I mean, how can one not be mesmerized by the way in which the gorgeous melodic guitar lines seamlessly intertwine with the singer’s warm vocals? Plus, SURL knows a thing or two about creating imaginative music videos.
Would any K-rock list be complete without Nell and their gloomy, often psychedelic sound? Even if you aren’t familiar with this band, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard one of their songs: “Time Spent Walking Through Memories,” which has been covered by numerous K-pop idols, including NCT’s Doyoung, INFINITE’s Sunggyu, and Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon. This critically acclaimed group has been credited with playing an integral part in shaping Korea’s rock genre, with many fellow rock artists having cited Nell as a source of musical inspiration and influence.
Jaurim is an alternative rock band with over two decades of experience under their belt and a clear liking for the styles of artists like The Cranberries and Alanis Morissette. Though they were criticized as lacking originality when they initially began to cement themselves in the Korean rock world, they’ve long since developed a breadth and depth to their music that, despite still sounding very reminiscent of external sources, is somehow uniquely Jaurim.
O.O.O (which stands for Out of Office) is an indie band with a lot of character and a distinctive sound, making them one of my personal favorites. I especially love O.O.O for their lead guitarist’s phenomenal riffs, which he always makes look so effortless. Plus, one can’t help but be drawn in by O.O.O’s rich vocals, particularly when it comes to the band’s softer, more pensive tracks, such as “Drunk Again.”
Hyukoh may be a rock band, but one would be remiss to describe their music as simply rock. Because the members like all types of music, they often mix and match elements from different genres to create novel soundscapes, with the focus being on what they themselves want to make — not necessarily what the masses will like. Although it’s tough to neatly characterize their sound, what I can say is that many of Hyukoh’s songs have a laid-back, dreamy feel that just might lull you into a deep sleep.
What do you do when you want to listen to rock music but feel like you’re currently living out the most heart-rending part of a K-drama? Listen to some Buzz, of course. Known for their emotional rock ballads, Buzz was one of the first rock bands to achieve widespread popularity in Korea in the mid 2000s, serving up a number of hits that became karaoke staples at the time. Give one of their songs a listen and you’ll quickly understand why it’d be hard to not want to attempt to sing like Min Kyung Hoon, whose impassioned voice is sure to captivate most listeners.
Bursters is a metalcore band, meaning you can expect to find heavy instrumentation and lots of screaming in most of their songs. While this style might not be for everyone, there’s no denying that it grants the band’s songs and lyrics a certain emotional depth that wouldn’t be there otherwise. That said, Bursters do have some great slower, more ballad-like songs that those of you who aren’t into a lot of screaming might still enjoy, such as “Wherever You Are.”
Not to be confused with Korean hip-hop artist Huckleberry P, Huckleberry Finn is an indie band that’s been on the scene since the late ’90s. Fans of classic rock may appreciate the band’s early works, which have a decidedly old-school sound, while those who enjoy a more modern sound will likely prefer their latest couple of albums. Personally, I hope they continue down the atmospheric, post-rock path their most recent album follows.
Whether it’s an upbeat track or one that’s on the mellower side of things, one can always count on Dasutt to deliver. Truly, when it comes to producing groovy, feel-good rock tunes, Dasutt is one of the best, what with their melodic guitar motifs and soft, velvety vocals. If you’re a Hyukoh fan, then you’ll likely enjoy Dasutt’s music as well, given the bands’ similar vocal styles and musical ideologies.
The way that Guckkasten’s vocalist (Ha Hyun Woo) so powerfully and clearly belts high notes will never cease to amaze me. And while Ha Hyun Woo’s strong, full voice is enough on its own to set this band apart from many others, Guckkasten’s energy and passion don’t stop with the auditory. They also like to play with bright, psychedelic visuals and fun, sometimes whimsically creepy, imagery that take their music to an even higher level of greatness.
Which Korean rock bands do you recommend?
seheee is a software engineer by day and an avid K-pop concert goer by night. She also occasionally makes an appearance on Twitter (@_seheee).