Interviews

Pandemic Profile: HeeJin Kim

In this latest entry to his ongoing Pandemic Profile interview series, Devin Boudreaux speaks with his friend from the hardcore scene, HeeJin Kim. —Carlos Ramirez (No Echo)

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Please introduce yourself to the readers and your connection to hardcore.

My name is HeeJin Kim. I’m 31-years-old and was introduced to hardcore at around age 13/14. This older punk kid made me a mixtape and it just went from there. Going to record stores and shopping for CDs in the same section of certain bands, I’d usually just try to take a chance and buy something that had cool artwork, or whatever was on the soundtracks for video games.

To start things off, how was your 2020 going prior to the pandemic hitting? Did you attend any shows, do any traveling, or anything really worth sharing before shit hit the fan? 

Mannn, my 2020 was a busy one. I was living in Vegas then moved to Tallahassee, FL for a 15-month job contract in October 2019. There had been a little hiccup with a contract with the architect (I should probably mention that I’m a National Safety Director in construction, both residential and commercial) which put the project on a weird standstill for 6 months.

Without all the contracts lined up that meant mine was up in the air too, so for the first 6 months I actually lived in a hotel. Insane experience, living out of a suitcase sucks ass but I like looking back and knowing I did it.

Anyways, I spent the first few months exploring the South a bit, hiking with my dogs, hit a few local shows and experienced that FYA Fest in Tampa for the first time. The pandemic hit heavy during that March, I was definitely feeling the weight of that stress due to living in a hotel and feeling like I was constantly near too many people.

So when cases first started popping up in the US I don't know if anyone thought it would sweep through as fast as it did, or maybe they did and no one wanted to admit it, either way, do you remember what you're thinking or feeling when everything went into lock down? How was your area handling it when it all hit? What was going through your head? 

I remember just feeling immediate stress for my family back home in California, my parents are older and I was nervous for their general health. I was already far from home and alone so I had to keep busy, I think I just took my dogs to the park every single day for hours at a time. 

I do remember the whole fear at the start causing everyone to just go insane with the overbuying of toilet paper, general cleaning products, and then you had those assholes trying to capitalize off that by buying out everything for resale.

Just like anywhere else in the US, I feel like the category of people were evenly split into four sections—the non believers, the sociopaths buying out all the products due to fear, the ones that strictly stayed home and turned into hypochondriacs, and those just going with the flow.

From the get go of the pandemic, the racist rhetoric and hate perpetuated towards Asians was disgusting. Whether it be from our own govt or even individuals, it was/is fucked up and embarrassing. I don’t think it’s fair to pretend to be shocked or surprised since it’s not anything new in America at any level but it seemed to ramp up.

How was being a Korean female in the south when the pandemic first hit/throughout the whole ordeal? I’d love for you to use this opportunity to speak your mind, share your experiences, and really off on whatever you want.

I have been waiting for this one. I grew up in a predominately White and Mexican city in California, my family were used to the targeted harassment and xenophobia. For too long we were kind of just like, "Let’s just work hard, mind our business, we will win them over with being good people." That’s kind of an older gen mindset, I’ve since grown from that.

The xenophobia from COVID-19 was a different kind of thing though. I didn’t share nearly half of what I experienced with friends or family because I didn’t want them to worry about me. 

The hotel I stayed at actually had to kick out two different people because they were harassing me, calling me all these slurs, and following me around. I finally moved into my high-rise condo building mid-April but not a goddamn thing changed. I was living in this building that I’d be working at, full of rich entitled people (nearly all White, and since it was across the way from the State Capitol and Supreme Court building it was definitely a different breed of entitlement where I was living at).

But anyways, other than having slurs and wild ass shit yelled at me in public, one of my least favorite moments was someone following me from inside Publix just yelling obscene shit. Your classic “Go back to China," “Take the China Flu back, you fucking zipper head” (this one actually made me laugh because that’s an old-school slur I hadn’t heard in such a long time). It was weird though, people would either actively go out of their way to avoid me (in such an obvious way), or they would try to get as close to me as possible to say their nonsensical piece.

No one spoke up or came to aid me ever, the only people I found safety with were the entire staff who worked in my building. The entire staff were made up of Black men and women who were constantly talked down on by unit owners in the building. They made my living situation easier, and eventually became my friends. 

But like I said, this stuff really isn’t new to me, but I am finding that a lot of the younger gen Asian kids are experiencing this level of harassment for the first time and having difficulty navigating their newfound “activism” around it. There’s a nuance to what I’m saying here but I’ll just end it with a reminder that the root of xenophobia, sinophonia, and the model minority myth is white supremacy. 

A lot of people, especially from the get go of the pandemic, we’re left either job-less, furloughed, or having to work from home. Since your career is in a male-dominated field, and one that didn’t stop during the pandemic, how was it working there being a Korean woman?

Working in construction as a woman is hell, working in construction as a woman of color, the deepest depths of hell [laughs]. I love my job though, it’s incredibly fulfilling, and I like breaking that bamboo ceiling. That building I was both living in and working on was in the center of all the government buildings so it was especially quiet during the pandemic due to everyone working from home.

All the rich people fled to their country homes, including a lot of people in my condo building. It made maneuvering around the project easier for us. Less people to harass my crews on site and all that.

Being that so many of my favorite activities were sidelined due to covid, I found myself diving more into reading, going on walks and exploring Idaho,and revisiting video games. How did you find yourself occupying your time outside of working? Did you find any new hobbies or return to old ones? 

Ah, I’m one of those people who just overwork themselves to death. I know that it’s bad for you and you have to find healthy boundaries with yourself and work but I kind of thrive off that kind of stress. I think for about half the time of work I was pulling 70-75 hours a week.

Any free moments I had were dedicated to my dogs. I’d take them to the dog park to socialize and run around freely for about 4 hours, then I would just try to catch up on sleep, or try new recipes. As I get older it gets harder for me to hold onto hobbies due to work but I do love cooking.

Circling back to music, what were some of your favorite musical releases of 2020, hardcore and beyond. Let’s hear 'em!

I’m definitely a “I listen to everything” type of person, but here are a few of my favorite releases from 2020 (some are just short EPs)--

BTS, Map of the Soul 7
Pop Smoke, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon
Drain, California Cursed
Freddie Gibbs, Alfredo
Flo Milli, Ho, Why is You Here?
Take Offense, Cause and Effect
Sunami, Sunami
Junny (he released a bunch of singles, not an album, but I’m including him on this list)
Leon Bridges/Khruangbin, Texas Sun EP
Younha, Unstable Mindset EP
Agust D, D-2
Charley Crockett, Welcome to Hard Times
Mindforce, Swingin Swords, Choppin Lords EP

Since the pandemic really sidelined the in person aspect of hardcore, what did you find yourself missing most about the in-person hardcore experience? Was it more so the live musical aspect? The community/friendship aspect of hardcore? 

I know it’ll be corny to a lot of people to not put the live musical aspect first but I definitely miss the community part more than anything. I’ve been around long enough to where I gained many meaningful relationships with people from all over.

Fests and shows feel like all the best parts of a summer camp (and when I say fests I just mean Sound and Fury). Since I’m based out West I really only hit shows in Vegas or LA (occasionally the Bay Area too). I have everything I could ever need out West, including fun shows.

You and I both enjoy media..whether it be movies, music, etc. I found myself getting more familiar with older movies and albums since there was a reduction in newer content. Some things I found either a new appreciation for; older emo and post hardcore records, and other things not really enjoying but not mad at watching; really bad direct to streaming action movies.

Were there any older albums, movies, tv shows, etc that you found yourself enjoying during the pandemic? 

I think being so far from my family and any kind of Asian cultural things (very limited on foods in Tallahassee, FL—I’ve never lived somewhere that didn’t have some kind of a Chinatown) it made me homesick for even the smallest things I took for granted, like nice large Asian grocery stores.

I was also used to living in areas where I heard many different kinds of languages, so with that I went really hard on my intake of foreign films. Mostly Korean. I rewatched a lot of old K-dramas and movies—Parasite’s release and hype from Awards season definitely put Korean cinema at the forefront of Film conversation for a while it seemed.

I found myself getting asked quite often for recommendations (a few of my personal favorites being: The Handmaiden, Burning, Memories of Murder, and The Vengeance trilogy).

It’s no secret that the pandemic really fucked with people’s mental health at various levels. Being in a new state away from a lot of your friends as well as an Asian American, if you feel comfortable, how was the whole experience and did you find any tips or tricks that helped you cope with the isolation and the racist environment of America? 

The answer is kind of mixed in with an earlier question, the only thing that helped me through the time in Florida were the lobby people of my building (the staff were made up of Black people and the rich white tenants of this building constantly harassed us all so we kind of found common ground with that—which sucks.

They’re really good people though and I’m still in contact with them now. I had no tips or tricks, I worked so much I had no time to feel too sad.

A constant conversation is that the pandemic has forced the hardcore community to not take itself for granted. Do you think when “normalcy” has returned, folks will take greater care in their scene and shows and nothing will be taken for granted or do you think this will be momentary and it will return to business as usual shortly after? 

I don’t want to sound pessimistic but being Korean in the US has only continued to show my family and I that this country is mostly filled with “independent thinkers.” It sounds good on the surface but no one wants to do things that involve the ‘greater good’ or care to be aware enough of how what they do will impact others. Being part of this scene doesn’t make people exempt or better.

But, I will say, that they are more open to at least hearing each other out. This is also a bit of a biased answer because I was raised in California, and I’ve attended shows my whole life from LA to the Bay Area, but the people who participate in CA are very passionate. Every city's scene is different from the next one over, there will always be faults of some sort, but the passion to want to do more and better is always there. I’m appreciative of that. 

It seemed like in 2020, you saw “cancel culture” finally reach the mainstream and in 2021 the right wing see’s any sort of accountability as ``cancel culture''. It seemed like hardcore specifically in recent years esp during the pandemic has started to hold people more accountable and is trying to be more progressive and as inclusive as it claims to be at the surface.

Being that you’re non-cis white male, as well as not in a band, does hardcore feel like it’s moving in a more inclusive direction based on your own experience? What would you like to see continue to happen or change? 

This is a loaded question. I ride the line of hating “cancel culture” or what its been watered down to, and also rocking with it because unfortunately people will put themselves up on a pedestal and think they’re untouchable.

It’s also hard to say if it’s getting more inclusive or not, I started going to shows during the era where you were definitely aimed at for violence just because you were a woman, but what does being inclusive in hardcore even mean?

Yeah, there are more women, more openly Queer people, more people of color, etc. But I’m still hearing a mountain of stories of assault allegations, heavy abuse, anti-Blackness, transphobia etc. Visually it looks more inclusive, and maybe we’re on the right route, but we gotta be doing more to support some of these people and not just throw shit like ‘Racism Sucks’ on a shirt.

Whenever folks are vaxed and shows return, are there any particular bands you’d like to see right out the gate? Any specific venues? 

Throw every single California hardcore band and Cold World on it, I’m there. 

Cold World (Photo: Angela Owens)

Regardless of the negatives that occurred during the pandemic, I do think it forced many people to reevaluate their priorities, grow as individuals, and pay more attention to what’s happening in the world as well as their own communities, and educate themselves.

Would you say anything to folks who want to continue bettering themselves, their communities, and pushing for things to be more inclusive and equitable moving forward? 

Community doesn’t mean just within the hardcore community or your circle of friends. That’s the one thing I want people to repeat to themselves. Every moment of your life is a ripple to a greater wave that will impact you and many others around you. Make your moments count, because we only have each other.

I know a lot of us lost friends at such a young age, it happens fast, we don’t have promised days so do whatever makes you happy and try to make your decisions with purpose. 

I don’t want everything to be doom and gloom, did you have any positive experiences or things worth sharing happen for you during the pandemic? 

I love my job, I love what I do, it was kind of a crazy thing for me to just pick up and drive across the country to live there for 15 months. I’m just really proud of myself for having done that.

I like to end these with some easier to digest/fun questions so let’s go:

Favorite California hardcore band? 

At the moment it’s Drain.

The best hardcore show you’ve attended in Vegas? 

A lot to choose from but I’ll go with one from a few years ago. Blackpath Booking had The Beautiful Ones, Vamachara, and Drain.

Favorite year you attended Sound and Fury? 2009 and 2010?

Hard to choose between the two but they just had my personal more favorite lineup of bands.

Most underrated boba tea flavors?

Yakult and kumquat. 

Desert Island meal?

Korean BBQ, baby!

Nike or Adidas?

Nike

Fav era of hardcore? 

I love all the eras Cold World has been in, that’s it.

Fave places to travel?

I haven’t traveled much but Korea and Japan will always be it for me. Within the US I think seeing the Smoky Mountains was just incredible.

Disneyland or Disney World?

Disneyland

Favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie? 

Princess Mononoke 

Thank you so much for speaking with me, I truly appreciate it! Any parting words/ wisdom/shout outs? 

Liberation on all fronts, love and protect one another.

Reiterating what I said earlier--
Life is much shorter than we think. Be open with the people you love, find joy in things, and do whatever makes you happy.

 “Life is suffering. It is hard. The world is cursed, but still you find reasons to keep living.”

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Tagged: pandemic profile

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