Written and photographed by Anastasia Traynin
I am not a musician. I have nevertheless always loved music, and throughout my university days, I developed a passion for the energy and ambience of live rock shows at small, intimate venues. The decision to come to Korea for me had nothing to do with the K-pop monolith, in which I still have little interest. My first year in the mountains of Gangwon-do necessitated trips to Seoul to get my fix for the local live music scene, and still, I barely scratched the surface. Since arriving in Gwangju in April 2013, I wanted to get a feel for the music venues this city had to offer. I’ve since learned that I missed by a few years the heyday of Gwangju’s indie rock scene, with many members moving up to Seoul or leaving music, and many promising bands starting and breaking up. Through participation in the online Angle Magazine project, I have expanded my enjoyment to bands from Seoul, Busan, Daegu, and other places. Yet Gwangju is still alive and kicking to this day, and I have enjoyed a solid run of shows, albums, and rounds of drinks. Here is a rundown of venues for seeing independent live music around the city and a peek at some of the Korean artists that call Gwangju home. Due to the limited space and my own limited scope here, I have focused on the most well-known places, only within the city limits, and I have excluded the recently covered open mic nights largely attended by expats. For regular updates on local concerts in Gwangju, contact the individual venues, musician social media profiles, and the Facebook page Bitnaneun Indi (빛나는 인디, Shining Indie), mostly in Korean. Though they may never see this, I extend a heartfelt “thank you” to all the musicians who have been so welcoming at their shows and who keep the independent music fire burning in this city.
Chonnam National University Area Venues
Club Boojik (청년 문화 공감 부드러운 직선)
Tucked away in a basement in the middle of the second-to-last road leading out of the CNU Back Gate area, a short walk from the Buk-gu district office bus stop, Boojik started in 2010 as the project of local youth pastor Park Il-nam, who wanted to provide a space for young local musicians to practice their craft freely. Beyond music, it doubles as a small church. Since officially registering as a theater venue, the space has hosted countless shows, particularly the loud and raucous Punk Day event that started in 2012. Sometime in early 2015, the venue underwent an interior change and became even smaller and more intimate, continuing with a variety of quality punk shows, acoustic sets, and hip hop acts, often bringing together Gwangju and traveling bands. This is a well-loved space, with young, local musicians helping Park manage the show bookings and sound.
(Note: Entrance fees run 10,000–20,000 won, depending on the acts. Drinks are allowed inside and are sometimes sold by the organizers.)
Address: (B1) 22-1 Hodong-ro, Buk-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 북구 호동로 22-1 (중흥동 275-4) B1
Another basement location in the CNU Back Gate area, in a building near the Yongbong Children’s Park, Epoche has a cozy café-style setting, hosting both film screenings and local musicians. It recently picked up more activity as a youth cultural space with collaborations between other arts organizations. Folk-rock, jazz, and blues are the usual style.
Address: 158-10 Yongbong-dong, Buk-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 용봉동 158-10 (전남대후문)
Guitar Salon You & Me
A third-floor music education space in the Back Gate area, run by longtime local blues guitarist and singer Kim Geo-bong, the salon hosts Kim and fellow musicians, both local and national, for live music nights. Christmas Eve concerts here are a nice way to ring out the old year and to hear some truly talented guitar playing.
Address: (3F) 152-50 Yongbong-dong, Buk-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 용봉동 152-50번지 3층
Facebook: 기타살롱 유앤미
Though not advertised often on social media, this impressively spread-out second-floor bar has a projector, stage, and sound system, and has hosted a number of live music nights, most notably Gwangju–Seoul band exchanges. This space is located further up the way from the CNU Sandae residential area towards the Biennale. Check out our coverage of the bar and its John Lennon look-alike owner in the November 2016 issue of the Gwangju News.
Address: (2F) 1405-11 Yongbong-dong, Buk-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 북구 용봉동 1405-11 2층
Peak Music (광주음악산업진흥센터)
The new home of the indoor Gwangju Indie Music Festival and the outdoor Soundpark Festival (formerly Sajik Folk Festival), Peak Music takes up the first two floors of the Gwangju Foreign Network (GFN) building at Sajik Park, with its indoor concert hall located on the far left side of the building near the stairs. Longtime Club Nevermind manager Nam Yujin started up this project in 2015 and has been going strong with a recording studio, incubating musician program, and a steady stream of rock concerts in a professional two-floor space. See our August 2016 interview with Nam about Peak Music, whose full name in Korean means “Gwangju Music Business Promotion Center.”
(Note: The festivals this year were free, but regular performances can run 25,000–30,000 won as they are often national touring acts. Drinks are not allowed inside the concert hall but are sometimes sold in the lobby, which becomes a lounge area during events.)
Address:17 Sajik-gil, Nam-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 남구 사직길 17 광주음악산업진흥센터
Email: [email protected]
Since opening in August 2014, this spacious basement venue directly across the street from the Asia Culture Center bus stop downtown has been busy with a wide variety of live music events, including national tour acts but primarily nurturing local musicians. In particular, its series of Wednesday night concerts, mostly taking place in spring and summer, have given musicians as young as high school age a chance to share their talents in a professional space. Led by local long-time musicians and supporters Kwak U-yeong and Kim Nam-guk, Bohemian also has a recording studio that puts out local releases. On January 27, rock vocalist Kim Chang-hoon of legendary band Sanwoolim will play an album release show with his new band, The Blackstones, with the opener being the Gwangju local singer-songwriter, Soyoung.
(Note: Entrance fees vary widely, between 10,000–15,000 for local shows and 30,000+ for national touring acts. A vending machine sells drinks, and sometimes musicians prepare drinks to sell in the lounge area.)
Address: 43 Munhwa-jeondang-ro, Dong-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 동구 문화전당로 43
Many people know of the Gwangju Cinema as the one and only arthouse movie theaters in the city, but few are aware of its backyard garden with a movie viewing room that also sometimes hosts local music concerts. The first- and second-floor lobbies of the theater, and the theater stage in cold weather, are used for post-screening talks with visiting filmmakers, which are often accompanied by live sets by Gwangju musicians. Last-Wednesday-of-the-month culture nights at the cinema have increased visibility of the city’s musical offerings. See our August 2017 issue of the Gwangju News for more information about the Gwangju Film Station project at Gwangju Cinema.
Email: [email protected]
This long-time downtown Gwangju foreigner bar has always been a popular live music venue, with Korean rock and punk bands frequenting a few years back. The bar has seen another serious uptick in almost weekly concerts with new ownership in 2017. Favorite all-girl band, Walking After U, has played several gigs here, and both Korean and international bands often hit the Speakeasy stage.
Address: (2F) Chungyang-ro 160-beongil 31-31 (Hwanggeum-dong), Dong-gu, Gwangju
Asia Culture Center Outdoor Music
The Asia Culture Center is now the most visible art and culture space in the city, let alone downtown, and the annual end-of-summer outdoor World Music Festival is now under the ACC name. Other regular outdoor music performances, professional and amateur performances, and busking take place along the bridge near the bus stop and out on the 5.18 Democracy Plaza. In May each year, a stage is set up on the square for nightly classic folk and indie concerts to commemorate the May 18 Democratic Uprising. Various festivals invite local musicians to play, and the ACC space seems to continue making its cultural mark on the city.
Address: 38 Munhwa-cheondang, Dong-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 동구 문화전당로 38
In The Groove
As the only regular live jazz club in town, In The Groove and its owner Joon host local jazz bands in this cozy, dark basement haunt down the street from Speakeasy every Friday and Saturday night. The extensive drink menu, particularly the 10,000-won cocktails, is the only price to pay for the always no-cover concerts. See our previous coverage of the bar in the August 2012 issue of the Gwangju News.
Address: 90 Hwanggeum-dong, Dong-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 동구 황금동 90
Yangrim-dong is a historical, Western missionary-based neighborhood that includes Sajik Park and now boasts an increasing number of small restaurants and cafes that welcome intimate local concerts. On Wednesday culture nights, Yangrim Salon opens the cafes to a full night of music around the neighborhood. See our August 2017 issue of the Gwangju News for more information about Yangrim Salon.
Address: Yangrim-dong, Nam-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 남구 양림동
Email: [email protected]
Hamel Art Hall
Also a recording studio and connected with a music hagwon, this basement venue that I first visited recently is in the middle of Bongseon-dong near the middle school. It seems to attract an older crowd but also holds concerts by young upcoming musicians, sometimes inviting talented foreigners living in Gwangju or visiting from abroad. It has a proper concert hall and bar feel, somewhat cozier than a rock venue but still boasting a good-sized stage and sound.
Address: 1041-6 Bongseon-1-dong, Nam-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 남구 봉선1동 1041-6
Phone: 010-2559-8544 // 062-671-8548
Dongmyeong / Gyerim
The folk-pop trio Badak Project (BDP) have been making their mark on Gwangju since 2013, starting out as buskers in the CNU and Daein Market areas, releasing two albums, and developing a regular last-Saturday-monthly Golbang house concert (골방음악회). Their performance space has changed at least twice throughout the years but has recently settled in at the café/restaurant/bar Barn Toom, opened by band leader Lim Woong earlier this year. The next monthly show will be the eighty-eighth running, with no signs of stopping. The Golbang house concerts are lively and fun, with plenty of banter and sing-alongs. See this month’s “Where to Eat” column for a review of Barn Toom’s food and drink selections.
(Note: Near the end of each month, a homemade poster goes up on social media, calling for seat reservations on Badak Project’s Naver Café. Reservations are not required but are appreciated due to the small space. Entrance is free and officially bring your own drinks, but after-parties with shared food and drink are common.)
Address: Donggyecheon-ro 83-2-beongil, Dong-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 동구 동명동 동계천로 83-2번길
Oreum Education Space
Gwangju has a network of small alternative high schools, with many teaching art and music to their students. Oreum (교육공간 오름) is a school particularly focusing on music, founded in 2009 with a variety of subject teachers and now including two dedicated music teachers, Park So-young and Choi Seung-min, who also formed Gwangju independent rock band Ian (이안). With an assortment of instruments and a small recording studio, nice weather allows Oreum to hold lively and relaxing rooftop concerts with local musicians, including the two teachers, using the basement space for student performances or a larger crowd. At Oreum, both teachers and students are able to network widely with other local artists and educators.
(Note: Entrance fees are 10,000–15,000 won, usually including shared food and drink after the concert, in a familial setting. Oreum is soon set to move out of Dongmyeong. Stay tuned for the new location.)
Address: (3F) 49 Dongmyeong-ro, Dong-gu, Gwangju
(Going from Jang-dong rotary towards Nongjang Bridge, it is located in the three-story building across from Gajok-hoegwan)
광주광역시 동구 동명로 49 (3층)
The revival of the traditional Daein Market, a few blocks from downtown near Geumnamro 5-ga, has resulted in the development of a weekly Saturday Night Art Market,
(대인야시장). Local music performances, ranging from folk, rock, and pop to classical and choral, take place at three main locations inside the market: Dreamers, the outdoor space across from the central parking lot (also referred to by regulars as the “main stage”), and the space near the side entrance. The market takes a break during the coldest winter months, but attracts a large number of people for the free concerts throughout the year.
Address: 190-7 Daein-dong, Dong-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 동구 대인동 190-7
West of Downtown/Sangmu/Gwangsan-gu
Youth Café This Is Oasis / 청춘 카페 여기는 오아시스야
A café that opened earlier this year as part of Yang-dong’s brightly colored Youth Balsan Village neighborhood revitalization project, This Is Oasis has already played host to a number of intimate local concerts. Notably, the café was this year’s venue for the Gwangju Neighborhood Music Festival (광주 동네 뮤직 페스티벌), an acoustic gathering of some of the best players on the local scene that makes a point of overlapping with the last night of the ACC World Music Festival. This year’s acts included Amazing Visual, Kim Tae-seung of Kim & Lee, and guitarist Pyeong Yeong-do, among others. See more detailed coverage of Balsan Village in the December 2017 issue of the Gwangju News.
Address: 12-16 Cheonbyeon-jwaro, Seo-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 서구 천변좌로 12-16
Email: [email protected]
Good news for those living farther west and not in the mood for the trek downtown. Rolling Stones, a brand-new live club in the heart of Sangmu, recently had a full opening festival season, with the first October 27 concert featuring local metal band Heavy Gauge and a November 25 indie rock festival with Seoul band Wasted Johnny’s, and local rock club regulars, Dirty Rockhon, Monkey Pee Quartet, and the newly formed Vincit Omnia. The venue seems to be off to a promising start, also including talk concerts and live jazz.
Address: (B2) 68 Sangmuyeonha-ro, Seo-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 서구 상무연하로68 (B2)
Sochon Art Factory/Gwangsan-gu Rock Festival
Suwan Lake, outside of the Lotte Outlet store, has been the outdoor scene of the mid-fall Gwangsan Rock Festival, which has featured a mix of national and local independent acts for a few years running. There did not seem to be a festival in 2017. See the December 2016 Gwangju News coverage of the 2016 concert, featuring full-band sets by the above-mentioned Amazing Visual, and Kim and Lee, and its takeover by the new Sochon Art Factory space, an emerging creative outlet working with the Gwangsan District Office to bring a more vibrant cultural scene to that expanding part of town.
Address: Sochon-ro 85-beongil 14-9, Gwangsan-gu, Gwangju 광주광역시 광산구 소촌로 85번길 14-9
Facebook: Sochon Artfactory (럭키 소촌)
Email: [email protected]
Culture Club Nevermind
2002–2017. Nevermind is the legendary, premier Gwangju rock club. After fifteen years of hosting over ten annual Gwangju Indie Music Festivals, incubating several local bands as “Nevermind” bands and releasing their records under the Nevermind label, Nevermind has said goodbye as a regular venue, though there will still be occasional performances at the club on a smaller scale. See various coverage of Nevermind concerts in back issues of the Gwangju News.
Under99 with AlterEgo Sound
2013. This was a small and properly dark basement venue on a side alley of Art Street that held a wide variety of shows, including a unique traveling performance by San Marcos, Texas experimental band This Will Destroy You. The AlterEgo Sound Studio related to this venue moved to the Once Music Studio and music hagwon, located in Gwangsan-gu’s Suwan district, run by Gwangju electro-rock trio Rubber Stick. Performances have moved to the other existing venues.
Sept. 2014 – April 2016. Located in a first-floor space off the beaten path on a quiet road across from Gwangju High School, Salt Gallery held the only experimental open mic day in Gwangju, modeled off of Hongdae Yogiga Gallery’s Bulgasari, as well as a variety of local and traveling performances by Koreans and internationals that mixed with the art on the walls. Stay tuned for a possible upcoming reboot. Check out the story about Johan Ahn’s short-lived but fruitful Salt project in our March 2015 issue of the Gwangju News.
Anastasia (Ana) Traynin is the co-managing editor of Gwangju News. She has been a contributor to the magazine since fall 2013 and has been living in Gwangju since spring of that year. After teaching for three years at Hanbitt High School, she became a GIC coordinator in May 2016. She has passions for Korean social movements, alternative education, live music, languages, and writing.