8 MIN READ
Since the 1990s, Korean artists have congregated in clubs and venues to discuss, produce, and perform Hip-Hop. Each performance venue that has allowed these musicians to showcase their talents has been significant in helping Hip-Hop, and artists, grow. If you are interested in learning more about the venues which helped found Korean Hip-Hop, please listen to Seoul Therapy's Podcast episode, 'Club Master Plan, The Birthplace of KHH & Fana "FANATIIC" Album Review'.
Hongdae - a district within South Korea - is often referred to as an imaginary hometown for musicians. It has become a geographical equivalent of an identity, a symbolic space which represents the “real” Hip-Hop and underground scene.
Since the 1990’s, Hongdae has been a community playground for artists, a tangible place for creative production and consumption. It was the location in which an “authentic” (re)branding of Korean Hip-Hop occurred and still occurs to this day. Korean fans of American Hip-Hop would discuss the cassettes and CDs, which relatives and friends brought back from the US, via personal computer systems. They began to meet offline in Hongdae to host monthly meetings where they bonded over American Hip-Hop and the lack of a Korean Hip-Hop scene.
For some artists, like JJK, they distance the beginnings of their career from Club Master Plan and Soul Company - two significant establishments of Korean Hip-Hop - and praise the streets of Hongdae for the beginnings and growth of their musicality. For example, the weekly open mic competition Everyone’s Mic that was hosted by MC Meta. Offering new artists a platform for their music, the competition allowed underground musicians to perform freestyle raps based on beats played by DJs. Competitions, such as Everyone’s Mic, are still present today due to the absence of physical spaces which bring Hip-Hop artists and fans together.
Club Master Plan
South Korea was depleted of venues for Hip-Hop artists in the late 1990’s. However, Club Master Plan (1997-2001) located in Hongdae, became famously known as the “Mecca for Korean Hip-Hop”. The club continuously offered Hip-Hop enthusiasts a chance to gather and discuss music, make connections, perform, and live out their dreams of becoming rappers. The venue was a hive of activity, which brought together and raised many musicians. One such example is Naachal meeting MC Meta at Club Master Plan and the two forming the duo, Garion. It was from the connections made and relationships built upon at Club Master Plan that allowed Hip-Hop fans to grow into Hip-Hop artists.
Club Master Plan has become a legendary establishment within the community. Many of the first generation, like MC Meta and DJ Wreckx, debuted there, while the teenage second generation would visit to watch performances and freestyle during open mic - since no alcohol was served on the premises. For the third generation of rappers, Club Master Plan is only known to them through the stories and memories of the older generation.
Iconic Venues 2000s
The founding of the Haja Centre in 1999 allowed workshops to be offered to youths and young professionals in creative fields including film, music, online, and design. One of the workshops offered by the centre was run by MC Meta. While MC Meta did not explicitly teach those who attended how to rap, he did tell fun stories about old Hip-Hop and impart experience and knowledge about the scene. A few of his students included The Quiett, Kebee, Fana, DC, and Creiz. These students would often meet at the Haja Centre and befriend other Hip-Hop fans, like Jerry.k and Makesense, who later became the duo Loquence. In retrospect, it seems like Soul Company came into being because of the support and connections the Haja centre offered.
A more relaxed venue, which ran from 2005 till 2014, was Club Spot. It served as a sanctuary for counter-culture artists and fans. Performances from varying genres such as Punk, Ska, Hardcore and Indie Rock, as well as Hip-Hop were welcomed within the walls of Club Spot. However, due to rising rent and dwindling crowds, the last punk rock club in Hongdae closed its doors in 2014.
More Recent Venues
Hongdae is still viewed as a musical hub which underground artists prefer to perform at due to its history and familiarity within the Hip-Hop community. One such popular performance venue is Rolling Hall founded in 1995. With a capacity of up to 400 people, the venue creates an intimate atmosphere for both performer and audience as the stage is close to the seating area. Music from big artists as well as Indie and underground musicians transforms Rolling Hall into a space for creative production and consumption.
However, in recent years it seems Hip-Hop has outgrown Hongdae. “Real” Hip-Hop no longer only exists within Hongdae due to the genre's increased popularity and opportunities to perform in other areas of South Korea. University campuses, Korea University and Seoul National University to name a few, have recently become attractive venues for Hip-Hop artists to perform at, since teens and young adults are the largest consumers of the genre. A couple other venues include: Soap Club and The Henz Club.
Soap Club, a music venue and club, which opened in Itaewon in 2017 has become a paramount location for the underground community. Soap Club invites both local talent as well as international DJs and artists to perform. CHANGMO, DEAN, and PENOMECO are a few notable names who have performed at Soap Club and in 2020, the club even launched its own label: Soap Records.
Another well known venue which also created its own label, is The Henz Club in Mapo-gu. The club caters to the underground scene by inviting Hip-Hop artists and DJ Crews like Deadens Movement, Back N Forth, 360 Sounds, and Dipicon, to perform.
The Ugly Junction, founded in 2015 and located in Mapo-Gu, is perceived more as a cultural space than a club, but is yet another important Hip-Hop spot in Seoul. Founder Fana describes it as an "autonomous ecosystem for cultural creators"* which hosts concerts and ceremonies for musical acts, exhibitions, screenings, lessons, seminars, workshops, flea markets, and other communal purposes.
While these clubs and venues have helped keep the underground scene alive ever since Club Master Plan closed its doors in 2001, independent Hip-Hop labels have become an alternative meeting place for artists.
Independent Hip-Hop Labels
As independent Hip-Hop labels came to the forefront, artists tended to look to them for a place to create music and work with fellow musicians. 2004 saw the emergence of Hip-Hop labels with the growth of the second generation Korean Hip-Hop artists. Record labels founded between 2004 and 2011, such as Soul Company (2004-2011), Amoeba Culture (f. 2006), and Hi-Lite Records (f. 2010), helped introduce Hip-Hop to a new demographic of fans, namely teenagers and females, which increased awareness of the community.
It was upon returning from a trip to Tokyo, Japan in 2004 when The Quiett decided to create his own label, Soul Company. The founders of Soul Company included first generation Korean Hip-Hop artists such as The Quiett, Kebee, Fana and Jerry.k. Through its music and artists, the label brought awareness of Hip-Hop culture to the public.
The founding of Soul Company also allowed the second generation of artists, who were in their late teens and early twenties, to appeal to peers through their music. These musicians helped immortalise Soul Company as the first independent Hip-Hop label to successfully introduce Korean Hip-Hop to mainstream consumers. Soul Company even managed to have its artists perform at YES 24 Live Hall (formerly known as Ax-Hall), Korea's first concert hall made for performing pop music. Up until 2011, it was extremely rare for Hip-Hop shows, especially underground Hip-Hop, to be held at Ax-Hall so this was quite the feat for the company and its musicians.
One label that helped notably with stabilising the popularity of Korean Hip-Hop over the past decade, was 1LLIONAIRE RECORDS. Founded by The Quiett and Dok2 in 2011, the label made a statement by acting against the norms of major labels and the K-Pop industry. Rather than giving the money earned by artists to the company to pay bosses, managers, and staff members, 1LLIONAIRE RECORDS stated that they are “the bosses” (The Quiett). Dok2 flaunts his riches through flashy music videos and lyrics like, “You wanna know success? Then come over to my house // Two white foreign cars, ten necklaces and a gold watch”**, to portray his lavish Hip-Hop lifestyle to the public all the while displaying 1LLIONAIRE RECORDS attitude towards wealth.
Video: 1LLIONAIRE RECORDS, 연결고리 (YGGR) / Source 1LLIONAIRE YouTube Channel
Currently, there is an undeniable popularity for Korean Hip-Hop, which the size of concert venues where artists are now performing at prove, these venues nowadays tend to exceed those in Hongdae which hold a maximum of 400-700 people. However, Korean Hip-Hop remains "homeless" in the sense that the few clubs or venues that host Hip-Hop shows and open mic nights are disappearing or hard to find.
What are your thoughts; can Korean Hip-Hop still be considered as “homeless”, or is “homelessness” embraced by Korean Hip-Hop artists?
Check out Soul Therapy’s Podcast for the latests on Korean Hip-Hop.
- Catherine Parker