If you’re looking for a group that’s more typical of music festival fare (at least style-wise), Seoul-based rockers No Brain may be the band for you. It is not hyperbole to name them one of the godfather groups of Korean punk – this four-man outfit composed of vocalist Lee “Bulldeagal” Sungwoo, guitarist Jung “VOVO” Minjun, bassist Jung “Bbogle” Wooyong, and drummer Hwang “Hyoonga” (or “Dolly”) Hyunsung, has twenty years of rocking under their belt. No Brain’s latest, released in November of last year and titled 20 in celebration of their anniversary is only the latest in an impressive discography of no less than 74 EPs, LPs, compilations, and collaborations that includes nine full solo albums. The only Korean punk groups still around that can claim a longer lifespan are fellow grungers Rux and Crying Nut, the latter of whom hold the title by only a few months. It’s no coincidence that No Brain and Crying Nut released an entire mini-album in collaboration back in 2014 – titled 96, for they year they both officially debuted.
This said, if you’re a person who is in any way into anything we might call Korean indie music of any genre, then seeing No Brain is seeing a piece of Korea’s modern musical history. Their style, commonly called Joseon Punk (a term coined by the leader of Crying Nut), is credited as being the first to truly incorporate popular musical styles from outside of Korea into their songs while still maintaining the essence of what makes them quintessentially Korean. No Brain, along with Crying Nut, Rux, and The Geeks, were the first of their kind. The convention of blending Western influences with Korean styles and sentiments was adopted by most genres of Korean music over the following decades, and it’s certainly served both Korean pop and hip hop well. The punk scene, comparatively, has remained small and constantly on the brink of collapse, but the tight-knit community aspect of Korean life has kept it alive for decades. That is also one of the things that keeps it truly Korean Punk. Punk is very real in South Korea – these bands hold true to the spirit of nonconformity, venting frustration, vehement political criticism, and above all rejecting the mainstream. No Brain’s name, for instance, has two meanings – the ‘No’ is both a romanised version of the Chinese character meaning ‘anger,’ and an indication that the rockers want their audience to leave their prejudices and rational thinking at the door.
Along with their discography, they’ve also garnered 10 nominations and awards and logged more than 3000 live shows in Korea as well as across the globe. This will be their third time at SXSW, and the prolific career and high quality of their work has allowed them to develop a solid international reputation. At a Toronto music festival in 2013 they caught the discerning ear of Sire Records cofounder Seymour Stein, the man behind acts like Depeche Mode, Madonna and legendary punk band The Ramones. Months later he purposefully saw them a second time in Brooklyn, New York and they accepted an offer to sign with the Warner Brother’s owned label. They were set to release a well reviewed and anticipated English EP in 2014 or 2015, in the hopes of bringing Korean Punk to a wider Western audience. Tracks were recorded and set to be produced by Sire’s equally prolific Julian Raymond. Unfortunately it seems the project never came to fruition, but that certainly hasn’t stopped them from going forward with their Korean work.
So if in the end you’re just around looking for some old school guitar riffs, hard hitting drums, and exhilarating, catchy choruses, then this may be the band for you. No Brain counts Green Day, The Sex Pistols, Nirvana, and Metallica as their main influences, but over 20 years of making music their own sound has grown, shifted, and evolved as well. Brainless, their mid-2016 release was the first after their 2014 collab and the first solo album since 2011. It showed both their growth and a return to their signature sound. Most tracks are their usual work; catchy, up-tempo, hard hitting rock like the dual titles ‘My Leather Jacket’ and ‘Paycheck to Paycheck’, or the no-holds-barred ‘Anyway’. And there’s the standard rock-ballad ‘Whiskey Blues’ – check Bulldeagal’s verses out here if you’re into sultry, raspy vocals. And there is also ‘Mommy The World is Scary’ featuring rapper Jtong, a deviation for their norm but a seamless track of punk, rock, and hip hop that is irrefutable proof of exactly how skilled these Korean Punk rockers are at blending styles together.
Along with the links above, check out No Brain perfoming live at the 2013 LA Korean Festival –
Or their positively awe-inspiring performance of ‘첫 인상’ on Immortal Songs that features guitarist Vovo playing with his teeth –
Be sure to check in with Officially Kmusic for more on No Brain, The Geeks, Crying Nut, and more of your favorite Korean Punk bands!
Edited by: Alona Sass