Undoubtedly the most popular hardcore band based Korea, The Geeks should be one of the first coming to mind when you think of Asian hardcore. Among the "K-Pop" permeating the entire country – Rain, Big Bang, Wondergirls– the substantial hardcore scene causes a great sigh of relief. Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, The Geeks sit tight on both Korea's Townhall Records and Florida-based Think Fast! Records. Their brand of positive melodic hardcore does well in both hemispheres. While they rarely get a chance to visit the West, their LP Every Time We Fall is available for your listening pleasure on their Punknews profile page, and they are currently working on a new EP. Recent Korea resident Stephanie Thornton talked with lead singer Ki Seok So about The Geeks' reputation, the hardcore scene in Korea, and cultural differences playing into the same international scene.
Think Fast!âs website claims "The Geeks is to Asia what Youth of Today was to American Hardcore." What are your thoughts on this heavy statement?
I agree with you that it is a heavy statement. I do not think we have changed the Asian hardcore scene as dramatically as YOT did to American hardcore. However, I am certain we did make an impact on Asian kids to some degree.
We put every effort we can into this and luckily we put out records on an American hardcore label and went on tours with leading hardcore bands around the world. I believe it showed the rest of the world that hardcore exists and how it is done in Asia and clearly left a positive impact on some Asian hardcore kids.
I mean, people love fast-core bands from Japan like Gauze, but it is a different scene from the one we are in. This scene existed for a long time but it wasnât recognized at all. Call it old school hardcore, call it youth crew hardcore, call it straight edge hardcore, call it whatever it is, people generally do not know much about other hardcore scenes in Asia besides Japan. There werenât many bands doing what we do before us and FC 5. In terms of that, I am proud of our achievement and some kids in Asia must feel proud of that. Asia Hardcore Pride.
You guys are on Townhall Records in Korea and Think Fast! Records based in the U.S. Since you canât often make it out to the states, what is The Geeksâ "long distance" relationship like with Think Fast! Records?
The relationship between TF! and us has been really tight since day one. We still get in touch with each other pretty often. Sometimes I just call Larry from calling cards to see how heâs doing. For instance, Larry just sent me a message right after YE Yangâs surprise win. Even though we haven't released an album nor been on tours in the US for about two years, we have been actively playing shows inside and outside Korea and gotten involved in many things - Hong Kong Tour, Japan tour. Plus we brought Have Heart, Terror , and Down to Nothing to Korea. Whenever we are on the road, we try our best promote TF! Records and let people know how sweet they are.
TF! has done a tremendous job getting our names out to the world over the past years, and we tried to promote TF! In other countries we were in - especially Asia. We always move forward to come up with new projects and it just worked perfectly for both of us. So I think itâs really mutually beneficial and solid "long distance" relationship.
I know itâs hard for you all to find much time off. How often do you get a chance to play abroad? Does this have any effect on your goals for the Geeks?
Yes, it totally affects us negatively [as far as] what we want to achieve with the Geeks. In our dreams, we should be touring all over the world as we speak, but you must face reality and adjust to it. The situation is really unfavorable in Korea where even taking more than three to four days off is a very tough task. I want to play abroad at least one or two times a year. If the schedule is set two months in advance, chances are better. We still need to come up with good excuses though because we can't just tell them we will be on tour in a Korean working environment.
[Itâs our goal to go to] Europe and South America, more countries in Asia where we have never been before â exchange views and make new friends. We all know that life is hard but we will try our best to squeeze as much time as possible for touring.
Where have been your favorite places to play outside of Korea?
Baltimore, Boston, Seattle, Florida, California, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Tokyo, Japan would be my personal favorites.
Obviously you all are a positive straight edge band, drawing comparisons to American bands like Youth of Today, but do you feel Korean culture has had a big impact on your attitude and lyrical content to a noticeable point? What, if any, differences do you notice between your lyrics and those of Western bands?
This is a really tough one. I have been to many countries and studied their cultures for both academic and personal reasons and I concluded that Korean culture is really unique in its own way. Very different from what is widespread in western culture. Due to hardcore music, Iâve had several chances to realize and compare the differences. Based on those assessments, I managed to create my own standard of what to take and what [to leave], what should be changed or kept.
I donât want to get political in our lyrics although I do really care. Sometimes I feel that something must be done to an educational system in this country where kids are forced to sit at the table and study all day. So I try to address those issues in our lyrics.
As the country adhering to Confucianism more than any other, Koreaâs society tends to be strict and conservative in various ways. How has your band managed to gain popularity under these conditions?
Your assessment as to Confucianism is absolutely correct. However, what Confucianism does to this difficult environment is small and limited. There are other factors combined with a historical and social background that created a tough situation for anyone involved in the music industry, including mainstream and underground scenes. As Korea went through a military government period and an economic development period (often referred as Miracle of Han River), our grandparentsâ and parentsâ generations had to sacrifice everything. Work, work, work to support family and speaking your mind can give you a hard time. I think there formed this typical view that considers chasing your dreams and living your life a bad and amateur thing to do in someoneâs life. Mandatory Military Service definitely made an already bad situation even worse. I have given a lot of thought to how it is what it is, so I can go on and on, but the bottom line is itâs just tough. How did we manage to gain popularity? I think thatâs because we never gave up, and people really appreciate that.
Drinking seems to be a popular evening and weekend past-time amongst most Koreans - is that fair to say? Although itâs not a major point in your lyrics, youâre still regarded as a straight-edge band. What sort of reactions to you get on the straight edge side of things?
Yes, it is absolutely fair to say that the whole culture revolves around drinking for the most part. The most common question I get whenever I tell people I donât drink is "How can you live?" Korean people donât understand the concept of living an alternative lifestyle (it can also be applied to the case of vegetarianism). I am not saying people are ignorant or anything like that. People just arenât aware of those lifestyles.
It was really hard for me to keep my edge status in the first stage, especially in the first year of college and in mandatory military service. In the military service, I almost got beaten by this crazy old-timer for refusing to drink. It has been and still is a struggle on my end, but this is how I choose to live my life. Fun comes from taking control!
My perspective on Straight Edge is that it is a personal choice. People are entitled to choose how to live their lives and I do not want to force anyone into this lifestyle. I think other ideas floating in the scene are the same in that sense. Although Straight Edge is not a major subject of our lyrics, what I am trying to address in my lyrics is to make people open their eyes to these ideas that are shared in the scene and realize there is so much more in this world than just living a life carefree. I have massive hatred for ignorance that some stupid assholes have, though. I absolutely hate it when people are trying to mock me. But thank God things are changing now. With the internet generation, people have become more individual so it is getting gradually accepted. For the rest of my life, I think itâs my mission to make people understand that itâs ok not to drink!
How does the hardcore scene promote itself and grow in Korea? What are your thoughts on its current state?
Environment for any type of bands playing rock music in Korea is in a severe condition. There are not enough infrastructures and not enough people to understand and support this music. It is very closely connected with the drinking that was already mentioned. People rather just sit down in the bar and play drinking games to just get wasted until they pass out. They think spending 10 to 20 bucks on any creative and cultural thing is a total waste whereas I think spending 200 bucks on the bar is worthless. So we are struggling.
Even bands playing mainstream music are having a hard time. Needless to say, hardcore music has a worse situation. But our scene is great. Itâs just pure and awesome. It is very frustrating sometimes but making our best endeavor to keep this scene existing is something we all are proud of.
What Koreans bands would you recommend to those unfamiliar with the scene here?
Things We Say, No Excuse and Burn My Bridges are outstanding bands from South Korea. If you are looking for fast but melodic youthcrew, Things We Say is your answer. Revelation Records indicated that Things We Say is my side project band, but it's completely wrong. I am more of like what Walter [Schreifels] was to Youth Of Today to Things We Say. If you are looking for mid-tempo hardcore, No Excuse and Burn My Bridges are your perfect choices. No Excuse is Ku Seok from Townhall records singing and J from Things We Say playing guitar. Burn My Bridges is pure awesome.
I know Terror was in Korea this September. How often do Western bands get a chance to play in Korea and what are your thoughts on that rate? What do touring bands do for the scene here?
When it comes to hardcore, it is not rare to have Western bands play in Korea. It just requires so much money and effort to do so. The real problem is we do not have scene that is big enough to cover the expenses. Even with bands covering some portion of their flight tickets, we lose so much money from doing it. It may sound like I am whining and bitching about this but it's true that it costs us a lot. We do have a great scene here but that's why we promote shows to normal rock audiences. Hardcore kids and normal crowd are aware of how hard it is for them to play shows here in Korea. So they are just very appreciative of that. Through these shows, kids were inspired and learned that hardcore is not about making money and becoming a rock star, it's something we work for together. Thatâs the spirit of passion and inspiration. What they do for the scene is priceless.
What bands have been personal influences for you and what bands influence The Geeks overall?
I can't speak for other members but Youth Of Today is the one for me and I am sure they have been one of the biggest influences for us along with other Straight Edge hardcore bands from 80's and 90's. But over the past years, bands that we became friends from touring and playing shows together have been bigger influences for us. I am not going to name all of them but we found the real value of hardcore by making unforgettable memories and exchanging our views.
The Geeks cover "Shiner" on the Kid Dynamite compilation. How was that opportunity presented to you and how do you feel about the finished compilation?
It was given by our good friend Charles from Get Outta Town Records who put out CDs for this project and also released our LP in the US. He's the one of the best guys I've ever known and has always helped us a ton. I love Kid Dynamite and respect what they have done. Also I know they deserve all the respect shown in this complication. So we are honored to participate in this.
When can we expect to hear something new from the Geeks?
We are working on a new EP with Think Fast! (US) and Townhall Records (Korea). I don't know exactly when it gets done, but hopefully soon. The process is really slow. It was supposed to come out around this time, that was our initial goal anyway, but things have delayed. The biggest constraint is that all of us are heavily occupied with our full time jobs, and even during our free time one of our memberâs lives really far from Seoul. We will get things done soon. More details will be announced when it is ready.
The Geeks are in their tenth year. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Out of all our accomplishments, there are two things that I feel most proud of. Firstly, the Korean hardcore scene we have right now, no matter what the size is. We worked really hard with our friends and have put our every effort into this to keep that going. Sometimes it is frustrating but I just appreciate that I am surrounded by the people who care about the meaning of this music and its message. Second is the fact that we have positively changed (or inspired) some people's lives around the globe on some level. You see it is really hard to influence just one person in your life so it is such a privilege to have that opportunity.
What sort of goals do you have for the Geeks at the moment? - short term and long term.
Short term : 10th anniversary show and a New EP
Long term: To keep playing shows as long as we can. To tour as many other countries as possible.