The UhUhBoo Project is a Korean indie band you may not recognise by name, but if you’re a fan of Korean cinema, it’s likely you’ll have heard their work more than once. Made up of original members Jang Young-gyu and Baik Hyun-jin, when performing live they’re joined by their band. With a totally unique style and sound, their music ranges from the dark and atmospheric to a slightly flamenco Spanish sound with touches of Gypsy music in there too. Not held back by any constraints or boundaries, they’re free to make the music they want, how they want. As veterans of the Korean indie music scene and with years of experience under their belt, they’ve always stuck to the sounds and styles that suit them, and the resulting music they make together is truly one-off. Before their gig at Scala in London for the K-Music Festival, we got a chance to catch up with them and have a quick chat to learn more about them as a band…
Jang Young-gyu and Baik Hyun-jin are two chilled out guys. Looking like they could have just stepped off a hipster movie set, we started off by asking them how UhUhBoo Project began and how they came together to form the band, as well as a bit about their music. Baik tells us he and Jang met in 1994, and having been introduced through cousins, Jang was expecting to meet a lady due to Baik’s given name, Hyun-jin, which is frequently a woman’s name. At the time, Baik was an art school student and Jang was already a musician. However, Baik always liked music and from there he and Jang started to hang out at Jang’s house, where they started to produce music together and things naturally progressed from there.
As for their band name, UhUhBoo Project, it may sound unusual to our English ears, but in Korean, it has lots of meaning. The word ‘uhuhboo’ is related to the words for fisherman and fisher’s father, and when written in Chinese characters, a play on words is created. When asked how they would describe their own music, all they said was: “it’s music”. This charismatic and hipster duo said they thought defining their songs should be left to the listener and that they themselves shouldn’t say what they sound like. Baik said he hoped people listening to their songs could choose their own words and thoughts in describing what Uhuhboo’s music was like.
Both Jang and Baik have prolific careers in the arts outside of the UhUhBoo Project. Jang has a project group, Be-being which has performed in London before at the KCC UK’s previous festivals. When asked about how he felt performing with the Uhuhboo Project in London, and how he thought it would be different, he didn’t seem fazed in the slightest and seemed ready for any eventuality. As both members have so much on their plate work wise, both with UhUhBoo Project and their own solo work, they said even though finding time to balance everything can be hard, they always manage to find a way to get everything done in the end, even if things seem desperate at times.
As UhUhBoo Project is one of the first generation of Korean indie bands, we asked them about their thoughts on what the current indie scene is like in Korea. Baik spoke about how Korean indie, and the term Korean indie, formed during the 1990s. He described how in the 90s, indie bands had a lot of references they could look to for inspiration and for their music, and by the 2000s, the number of Korean indie bands had greatly expanded. Currently Korean indie bands are able to create solid identities for themselves and now is the time when a true indie scene is forming. Baik seemed very positive about the Korean indie scene at the moment, saying that there were a lot of really good and fun groups out there and that he thinks there’s a good future for indie music in Korea. Jang and Baik would recommend listening to one of our own favourites, Goonamguayeoridingstella, who you might remember from the Korea Rocks tour earlier this year. UhUhBoo Project also said giving new Korean folk and blues singer, Kim Il-du, a listen to is a must as he’s very unique. As for places to catch the best Korean indie music around, Jang and Baik said Seoul’s Hongdae area was the place to go to.
As mentioned briefly earlier, UhUhBoo Project and Jang respectively have had a lot of involvement in films with their music. Uhuhboo Project has created music scores for Director Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Night Fishing, as well as Director Kim Ji-woon’s The Foul King. At the beginning and towards the end of Night Fishing, UhUhBoo Project even makes a on-screen cameo. When asked how they got involved with Park and Kim’s films, Baik mentioned that as directors Park and Kim have now become very famous, they find that they’re often asked about their involvement with the directors. They told us that when they made the music for their films, it was earlier on in the directors’ careers and they weren’t as famous as they are now. Back then, both directors were already fans of UhUhBoo’s music, and when they started making films, they collaborated, and that’s how it all began. Jang and Baik revealed that at one point, Director Park Chan-wook intended to film a music video for them in addition to their cameo in Night Fishing, and even had funding from a big company! Nowadays, Jang Young-gyu is a very respected as a solo composer in the Korean film industry, having composed for films Woochi, The Yellow Sea, The Front Line, The Thieves and Southbound among others.
We finished off the interview by asking them about performing in London. Baik told us that when UhUhBoo Project perform live, there are five of them on stage, who have been performing together since the mid-90s. Baik also said that the thing he was enjoying most about this trip was that the five of them were able to spend time together and explore places like Hampstead Heath in London (a London spot that Goonam was also very interested in). In terms of how they’d decided on their set-list for London and performing for a foreign crowd, they’d thought back to their experiences performing in Colombia two years before. The duo felt that even though their audience might not speak Korean, they didn’t feel there was a need to pick songs in a different way and that music was a universal thing. With our last question, we asked them if they had any British bands they were particular fans of, to which they immediately answered Joy Division; they both seemed very keen fans and you can hear some similarities in some of the moodier songs from both bands.
Once our interview had finished, we killed some time before their gig started. After a fun stage by Pere Ubu, who were supporting UhUhBoo for the night, it was time for the main event. Taking to the stage amid a dramatic backdrop thanks to a smoke machine, UhUhBoo Project started their gig. Immediately, we felt like we were transported to some moody and atmospheric Korean film where the main characters would be drinking away their sorrows in some garish bar in the countryside. Their music has such great depth and individuality to it, yet it also seems very familiar, nostalgic and comfortable to listen to; possibly because we’re quite big Korean film fans. We could picture a lot of their music being quite at home in films like Waikiki Brothers or White Night. We kept looking around expecting to see the fabulous Hawaiian shirts of the Waikiki band.
The crowd seemed rapt with UhUhBoo’s performance, and there’s no doubt that they’re an enigmatic band, able to make music that connects to you, albeit it could be a rather dark connection that makes you want to go drinking and become a troubled protagonist of a gritty Korean film. UhUhBoo used a variety of sounds during their gig, from a more gypsy feeling to a more indie style, and at one point what we can only describe as dying pig impressions were filling the venue. UhUhBoo’s music is definitely something you should try listening to; their songs are all very different yet they still manage to have their own distinctive ‘UhUhBoo vibe’ to them. Their London gig was stylish, dark and evocative, and they had the audience swaying to their uniquely styled songs almost in a hypnotic state.
This is the first K-Music Festival event at the very atmospheric Scala at Kings Cross, so don’t forget that indie rockers Kang Jiha and the Faces and Yi Sung Yol will also be performing there this Thursday! Tickets for this event can be purchased here.