Two of the coolest things about being involved in hardcore and punk are first, that you have some crucial interests and views in common with what would otherwise be a totally random stranger, and second, there is a great possibility of having already had paths cross, have mutual friends, or just had been in the same room as someone before. I thought I had never talked to Ki from Korean straight edge hardcore unit The Geeks before this interview, yet here we were, people from opposite sides of the Pacific, talking about hardcore, traveling, what makes us different, and also what makes us the same. It turns out I actually did meet Ki and the rest of his band when they were in the Revelation Records office a decade ago.
The Geeks are celebrating their 20th Anniversary together and have a new EP coming out on Six Feet Under Records called The Constant. So, as a bonus component to the following interview, the label has blessed us with the exclusive premiere of "PMA," a track from the forthcoming EP.
What can you tell us about the history of punk and hardcore in Korea?
It all started in the late 1990 with the first wave of punk band concurrent with the global Neo Punk advent. I would say the real hardcore scene begun in 1999. To that point, it’s still fairly a young scene. There’s been ups and downs, and it's still small, but very tight and strong, gathered under one vision that we are all in this together building our scene with our bare hands.
And The Geeks started pretty soon after, right?
We started in 1999, which leads to our 20th anniversary.
Check out the track "PMA" from The Constant EP below:
Wow! So, who were the bands in Korea that you saw when you were first getting into hardcore?
From a purist point of view, there weren’t really hardcore hardcore bands. Mostly punk bands. We were one of the first breeds of hardcore. We believe we were the first real old school/Youth Crew hardcore band in Korea.
How did you find old school/Youth Crew hardcore bands back then?
It had to start from how I discovered punk in the first place. My first exposure to rock music was Nirvana, which changed my life entirely. Studying Kurt’s influences from his interviews lead to punk and we took things further and ended up finding classic bands like Minor Threat, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, and 7 Seconds.
How did I get exposed to Nirvana? Through a guy who was sitting right next to me in junior school 3rd grade. He was trading tapes with other kids in other classes and it got me interested in checking it out. The rest is history. We became great music friends. All we did was listened to and discussed music.
We ended up playing in a band together. Me on vocals and him on guitar. That band is called The Geeks. And it was pre-Digital Era, so it took a lot of efforts and money to find and buy hardcore and punk CDs as they were all imported. We saved up as much money as possible to afford buying them.
Were American bands coming to Korea back then?
Not really. Korea was a pretty closed off, unknown country. The first American hardcore bands that came to Korea were Kill Your Idols, Ensign, and Champion later on. My life was never the same after seeing them play.
When The Geeks started playing, what did kids on Korea think? What was the reaction like back home?
They seemed shocked. We were the only Youth Crew/old school sound band and the scene was inspired by heavier hardcore and Korn-styled music back then, so people found us weird. I guess we grew up on them and we started to have our own following and friends.
When did you start getting contacted by American record labels?
Back when I took my first hardcore trip to the US, more specifically Boston back in 2004. Prior to that, I was serving my mandatory military duty and begun my hardcore social internet activities (trading, message boards, etc.) and made new hardcore friends from the US. The main purpose was to catch the first Insted reunion show, see The First Step and go to Posi Fest. While I was there, I met Larry from Think Fast! at a Have Heart show. That’s how it all started! They offered us a record deal after that because he was deeply inspired by the same dedication and belief to the hardcore core regardless of where you are from and proved it to the rest of the world. (US-Asian united through hardcore if you will)
Talk a bit about the mandatory military service you had to go through.
Every man in this country has to service military duty of two years by law as we are practically still at war. (To be exact, in a state of armistice) I did choose to join a department of assistant polices instead as an alternative to the regular army. It was practically a living hell. However, I got lucky and drafted to administrative department so I had a lot of computer time. I created a webzine called This Is Our Time (In My Eyes influenced) and started my international internet journey as I mentioned.
Then I took an internship to Hyatt Hotel located in Maryland for about an year and started going to a lot of shows. That allowed me to make new friends in DC/Baltimore area and make our first US tour possible with Outbreak and Down to Nothing in 2005.
Side note: I was pretty much the only Asian kid at those shows, if not one of a few and was from South Korea, which was not put on the global map in mind of most of American people unlike now, so I guess it was super refreshing to a lot of kids back then.
What kind of knowledge did you bring back to Korea after your American stay?
I learned how DIY ethics gets into practice and how hard bands needed to work to achieve their success. Most importantly, the whole experience was a manifesto that hardcore can truly bring two different worlds together. It inspired other bands in Korea to tour outside of Korea more more.
What are some current bands in Korea everyone should check out?
There’s a new wave of great bands: No Shelter, Turn for Our, Things We Say, The Kitsches, End These Days, Scrumraid, Burn My Bridges, All I Have, Combative Post, Flush!
More recently, what bands have come from America or Europe to play in Korea?
To name a few, Turnstile, No Turning Back, Sick of It all, Obey the Brave, Turnstile, Xibalba, Wolfdown, Magrudergrind, Trash Talk, Safe State, RDP and many more.
The Geeks have a new record coming out on Six Feet Under and are still going strong. What makes you want to keep doing it?
In life, it’s imperative to recognize what really drives you and hold on to it despite all the sacrifices that come with it. As they say “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” and “believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.” The older we get, the more we realize how important this band means to our lives. Extraordinary values and emotional bonds that tie us together. This is what we’ve built that most of the people we interact with would never understand. Yet, this is our own brand we started, nurtured, and developed that does not only gives us strength to carry on in our lives but also inspire other kids to do something productive and create their own world.
On a more practical level, putting on a record on SFU was something I never thought it would happen, but here we are. It’s finally happening. I’m viewing this as a reward of perseverance.
Is there anything you have not done yet that you would like to, as a band?
Europe and South American tours, if time allows us.
I am surprised you have never been to Europe! How many times have The Geeks played in USA?
- 2005 Dec-2006 w Outbreak and Down to Nothing + other shows across the nation
- 2007 w Bane, Modern Life is War, Down to Nothing, Ambitions across the nation
- 2012 SXSW + Texas / Boston / Philly tour
- 2015 This Is Hardcore
And what have you noticed are differences between those shows in North America vs shows in Korea?
North American shows are much more crazier and aggressive. Although we are a origin country of Taekwondo, our shows are more friendly [laughs]. Bigger singalongs!
Are there shows in Korean cities other than Seoul?
Yes. There are hardcore scenes in other cities like Busan, Daegu, Cheonan, Cheongju, and Gwangju. They are all much smaller than Seoul. Out of those, Busan is the most active.
What is important to you and The Geeks?
Wow, that is a tough question. One of the most important things when it comes to The Geeks is invisible values that we all feel as hardcore kids but can’t be measured by any social norm. A sense of belonging. The pride that we built this scene from nothing. The inevitable smiles I put on my face whenever I see a new band growing and carrying the torch. Feeling connected with friends all over the world. Still to this day, I feel overwhelming and humbled that what we created together as a team has been influencing kids all over the world.
Now I’ve really come to think of it, the deep connection and friendship we have with each other in The Geeks is the most important thing. 20 freaking years! This can’t be taken for granted... There’s been so much trouble keeping us from continuing. Yet we overcame all of them and are standing here stronger than ever, always trying to push the envelope the best we can and respect from me to them
Do you have any message, or something you believe in, that you would like to share with our readers?
What hardcore has taught me is this. If you believe in something and you work your ass off, you will make it happen no matter how many obstacles that are thrown in the path. Be the change you wish to see in this world.
I think I’m good with the interview. Do you have anything you want to add?
Shout out to Dave from SFU for this great opportunity. We are working on an upcoming world tour schedule for the next year post the album release. Looking forward to seeing you all!
The Constant EP is available for pre-order via Six Feet Under Records.
Tagged: the geeks