Words by Anastasia Traynin
Photos courtesy of Speakeasy
With the start of spring this year, there are two important dates in the Gwangju live music scene. The first was the March 4 Boozapalooza Night, celebrating the new ownership and relaunch of the well-established downtown bar Speakeasy. The second is the same venue’s upcoming April 15 concert, the start of Seoul-based Korea independent music webzine DoIndie’s monthly music series. Bringing down Seoul punk band DTSQ and featuring Gwangju-based electronic rock trio Ruberstick, DoIndie’s Patrick Connor hopes to put underground Korean music back in the spotlight in Gwangju.
Connor, who has already organized and played a few shows at Speakeasy, has called the bar one of his favorite places to play music in Korea. “Speakeasy has a great vibe,” Connor said. “It looks like the new owners plan to take music pretty seriously – which is a great thing. I hope that we can send down quality music from Seoul each month and make the show that everyone is looking forward to.”
Sitting down at the bar with the new owner on the night of the Thursday trivia restart, he confirmed the revival of Speakeasy as a live music venue and emphasized branching out with new genres: “Myself and Patrick would love to get people interested in different music. We know foreign bands that just do covers, bring a massive crowd, and that’s great, but it would be good to get a sort of diversity in the music.”
As a longtime Speakeasy regular before taking over from the former owner, he said that he knows what the crowd likes. He listens to every booked act and promises “no boring bands in this place.” With that in mind, the April 15 gig highlights different but complementary styles that should get everyone off their feet.
“DTSQ are one of our favorite bands,” Connor said. “They make great music and put on an awesome, energy-packed live show. I think they will be the perfect fit for Speakeasy. As much as possible, we always want to have a local band on the bill as well, and Ruberstick came well recommended to me by some friends in the area and some friends in Seoul as well. Their music and energy will be a perfect fit with DTSQ.”
Ruberstick’s sampler and vocalist Seo Jeong-hoon is also a concert organizer, putting on monthly Seoul–Gwangju music exchanges between Hongdae’s Freebird Club and various venues in Gwangju. Beyond playing and making shows, he also operates a music academy, a recording studio, and the media company Once Music Production in the Suwan district. He hopes to continue playing with other bands in various places around Gwangju. “Making good music and performing, we hope to have an enjoyable time with everyone. Ruberstick will become more and more active.”
For DoIndie, who formed three years ago, the expansion of concerts beyond the Hongdae mainstays is part of their overall long-term mission. “I have always wanted to get bands playing outside of Seoul,” Connor said. “DoIndie’s aim is basically to help the scene grow in whatever way we can. I personally think that helping bands travel around and developing the scene elsewhere is one of the most important things we can do.”
This traveling around with musicians will take Connor back to his native England this May, with several Korean bands playing Liverpool Sound City, Focus Wales, and the well-known Primavera Festival in Barcelona.
Closer to home, Connor also co-organizes Seoul’s annual fall Zandari Club Festival, featuring international and Korean acts. From this year, they plan to scale back the number of bands and focus on quality. “The monthly series will help me with Zandari bookings for sure as I will get to see some more bands from Gwangju live in person.”
As for Speakeasy, beyond the DoIndie monthly concerts, the new management has been working hard booking gigs, and the weekends are now full through the end of June. “We’ve started this idea of ‘Gwangju Live,’ and we are starting [Friday, March 10]. People who go to the open mics around town are obviously quite talented, but they have nowhere [else] to show off their talent. What we are planning on doing is getting those guys to play a whole set on Friday and Saturday nights.”
The relaunch includes an update to the bar’s overall look and feel, with clean toilets, a strictly enforced ban on smoking in the building and escorts for women who may feel anxious taking late-night taxis. The upstairs area is now a dedicated sports zone.
“It got a reputation as a bit of a dive bar, and I don’t mind that. It is a dive bar, but it can still be clean. We dropped the prices across the board. We’re not interested that much in making thousands of dollars. If people can come in, have a great time, and we make a little bit of money, great. It’s all about music and sports. After all the feedback we got from people who came here for Boozapalooza, I truly believe we can continuing making this place great.”
DTSQ & Ruberstick @ Speakeasy
Date & Time:
Saturday, April 15, 10:30 pm, FREE
Facebook: Speakeasy and DoIndie