Over 100 acts to play 10 venues in Itaewon, HBC over 2 days
By Jon Dunbar
Block Party, a multi-venue music and performing arts festival, is coming back this year after a successful debut last September.
“It’s 10 venues this time, instead of five, so it’s double the stages,” Jamie Finn, chief editor of Platform Magazine and organizer of the festival, told The Korea Times. “But it’s also two days, instead of one. So it is quadruple the size. Also, we have even bigger names playing this year!”
On Oct. 7 and 8, Block Party offers upwards of 100 acts, including not just music this year but also drag, comedy, spoken word poetry, pro wrestling and more.
It’s quite an expansion from last year’s event, which Finn estimates had about 700 ticket buyers, guests and performers. Last year took a lot of planning, but it ended up going without a hitch.
“What I learned from last year is that this kind of thing was possible and that there was an audience for it,” Finn said. “I learned that so many of the venues are really great to work with and want to help make projects like this happen.”
Block Party is held in central Seoul’s Gyeongnidan and Haebangchon (HBC) neighborhoods. The lineup mixes regular locals including Geoffrey Lewis, Tracy Scott and Lucy Valentine, while also bringing in bands from further afield, including the Hongdae music scene, as well as all around the country and even overseas this year. Drinking Boys and Girls Choir is coming from Daegu, and Goths on the Beach will also leave the comfort of Busan for their second Seoul show.
Saturday’s headliners include established Korean bands Leenalchi and Galaxy Express, plus dream-pop band Nice Legs who will be flying in from Japan. Sunday features 87Dance, Kim Oki Saturn Band and Kirara.
“The act I am most excited to see is Kirara. She is almost certainly my favorite musician in the country, and I damn near begged her to play one of our shows before she finally said yes,” Finn said. “I’m also excited for my friends Nice Legs to return to Korea! We actually tried hard to get them last year, but it wasn’t possible. They were one of the first bands we contacted for Block Party 2023. And of course, it’s a big honor to have Leenalchi playing, too. I’m also really happy that we could include so many creative people and organizers from our local community!”
He also gave a shout-out to Fog, Sil-A, Jina0King, Chorion, Beacon and Lizz Kalo. “Honestly I could really go on,” he said. “I’m really excited about us having so much non-music stuff, too. I’m a huge wrestling fan and having Pro Wrestling Society (PWS) involved is a big one for me.”
Expanding the festival to include other types of performances fits the venues well, and fits the community well. HBC and Gyeongnidan are awash with standup comics, drag artists, DJs and various other performers.
“Not to brag, but there really isn’t any festival in the country doing what we’re doing right now,” he said. “Some other festivals will include more than one kind of performance, but nobody even comes close to the kind of range that we have.”
Many of the participating venues are better suited for these smaller acts rather than full live bands with amps and drums.
“During our planning of last year’s Block Party, a few smaller venues approached us about being involved,” he said. “They were not ‘band ready,’ though, so we were unable to work with them. So, one of the main reasons for including a wider variety of performances was to try and include more of our favorite venues from around the area.”
Last year, the five participating venues included The Hidden Cellar and Phillies Basement, both of which have since been closed down. Although Phillies moved to a new location, it is unsuitable for live music.
“A few of the venues we used last year have closed or moved in the last year alone, which is a drag,” Finn said. “The gentrification of Haebangchon has been a pretty big motivating factor in putting so much time and effort into making this party. We want to help get this area back on the map and back in the hands of artists and creatives.”
Though hit by the loss of two basement venues capable of supporting loud performances, the festival was able to include Togul Studio as one of the venues. Togul, located in the former location of Bedrock, is operated by Jun Bum-sun, lead vocalist of the Yangbans, who will be playing on Sunday.
Finn himself will also be among the performers this year, doing a DJ set on Sunday as Scouse Ramen, his DJ name. “I’ve been DJing indie discos since I was about 19 and honestly cannot believe I am still doing it,” he said. “I play at Pet Sounds twice a week and occasionally manage to trick other bars into letting me play there. I am not good but I do know a lot of music.”
Presale tickets for Block Party 2023 are going fast. Advance single-day tickets are sold out, but weekend tickets cost 60,000 won. More tickets will be sold on-site on a first-come-first-served basis. Visit blockpartykorea.com or follow @blockpartykorea on Instagram for more information.