They are rightly regarded as one of Korea's best underground bands, and Apollo 18 have taken their high-energy performances across the USA, through England and Wales, Japan and up to Russia, gaining high praise and fans along the way.
GigGuide caught up with the band's guitarist, Hyunseok Choi, to talk about Korean indie music, the beauties of Russia, and… even Psy.
You played at Beastie Rock a couple of years ago, and you're coming back this year. What are your memories of your last visit to Taiwan?
I remember it being really, really, really hot outside during Beastie Rock in 2011. And I remember the audience at the festival being totally awesome. Everyone at the festival seemed really excited and passionate about music. We were totally blown away by how great the audience’s reaction was during our set. They were a lot of fun to play for.
Since Beastie Rock in 2011, we’ve gotten a lot of emails from people in Taiwan asking us when we would be coming back to play again. Beastie Rock invited us to return last year, but we couldn’t make it then. We’re so happy that we can play in Taipei again at Beastie Rock 3.0. We just found out that we’ll be performing on Beastie Rock’s Smelly Oil Depot stage on Saturday, September 28 from 7:25 – 8:05 pm. We hope lots of people can come catch our set!
Besides Beastie Rock, will Apollo 18 be doing any other shows in Taiwan?
Unfortunately Beastie Rock will be our only show in Taiwan during this visit. After playing at Beastie Rock, we’ll be making our way to China to play at the Canal Kylin International Music Festival in Beijing on October 2. But we hope we can get back to Taiwan again after Beastie Rock and play some more gigs.
Do indie bands in Korea receive any support from the government?
A government-funded organization named KOCCA (Korea Creative Content Agency) has started providing financial support to some bands who have been invited to play at overseas festivals. Bands can submit an application to KOCCA if they will be performing at an international festival. If their application is approved, KOCCA helps by paying for their airfare to the festival. Apollo 18 was able to travel to Canada in 2012 to play at the Pop Montreal festival thanks to KOCCA’s financial support.
What is the independent music scene like in South Korea? What are some of the difficulties that indie bands there have to overcome?
The indie scene in South Korea is small, but there are a lot of good bands. And more of them are slowly beginning to get a bit more exposure at home and in other countries, which is great to see. The difficulties Korean indie bands have to overcome are the pretty much the same difficulties that indie bands in all countries have to overcome. Being an indie band is tough. Getting more exposure for your music is often challenging. And finding the money for recording and touring can be difficult too. But like I said, this is something all indie acts face, no matter what their nationality is.
We’ve been pretty lucky so far. We won a few awards in Korea, and have been able to get a fair amount of Korean and English press. We’ve also been able to tour throughout Korea and gig overseas in the US, Canada, England, Wales, Russia, Japan, and of course, Taiwan! We’re really grateful for the support people have given Apollo 18 so far. We hope that more Korean indie bands with get to have the same experiences that we have had.
On the other side of Korean music, what do you think about Psy and K-pop?
I think Psy is funny. There are a few catchy K-pop songs, but I don’t really pay much attention to the K-pop scene. Idol acts operate in a completely different realm than we do. The one benefit to the popularity of Psy and K-pop is that more people are learning about Korean music. Some people dig deeper into Korean music after being exposed to K-pop and discover bands from the indie scene as well.
Last month you played at V-Rox, an international music festival held in Russia. Were your preconceptions of Russia and its music scene accurate?
We were invited to play at V-Rox in Vladivostok, Russia in August. It was the first edition of the festival and acts from Russia, the US, Korea, Japan, China, and Singapore performed there. Along with us, the Korean bands No Brain and Goonam also played during the festival.
Before going to the festival, we knew nothing about Russia’s music scene so we didn’t have any preconceptions. We were just excited about being able to experience something new. When we got to V-Rox, we discovered that Russian people really like hard music. We played two gigs during the festival. One show was an indoor club concert, and the other was on an outdoor stage. The crowd at the club concert was really wild, and was a lot of fun to play for. One person even showed up at the venue in a homemade Apollo 18 T-shirt! He had taken a white T-shirt and written our band’s name in Korean on it. It was awesome to see! We weren’t expecting anyone in Russia to know about our band.
What are the highlights from that trip?
Along with the great crowds, other highlights from the festival were getting to drink lots of really good vodka and see many beautiful Russian women! People had told us beforehand that Russian women were really pretty. They were right!
Earlier this year you set up your own label, Gogol Records, and have released albums by Korean indie rock bands Modsdive and Romantiqua (who also play Beastie Rock this year), with another by Juck Juck Grunzie (who toured Taiwan earlier this year) due out soon. You have also been working on Apollo 18's next full-length. Will that be released on Gogol Records?
Apollo 18 are currently signed to a label called 9 ENT, and they will be releasing our next album. We started Gogol Records this past spring to help out some friends’ bands. We’re hoping we can use the things we’ve learned in Korea and during our overseas tours to help our friends’ bands grow. There are four acts on the Gogol Records roster right now: Modsdive, Romantiqua, Juck Juck Grunzie, and National Pigeon Unity. Romantiqua are an instrumental rock band. We issued their debut EP in the spring. The band are working on their first full-length right now. As you mentioned, they’ll play at Beastie Rock on Saturday too. They are a really good band and we hope people come and check them out! Modsdive play post-rock. They put out their debut album in the spring as well. And Juck Juck Grunzie play noisy psychedelic rock and post-punk. Their first full-length will be out this fall. National Pigeon Unity are currently completing their mandatory military service. But they plan to put out a new album when they finish their army duties next spring.
Your previous releases were called 'The Red Album', 'The Blue Album', 'The Violet Album' and 'The Black Album' ... what's next?
I’m not sure when our next album will be out or if we’ll keep our color-themed names going. We toured in the UK this past spring, and a producer there saw us play and liked our sound. We’re interested in working with him, but it’s going to be expensive to do that so we don’t know if it will be possible or not yet. For those who are eager to hear new music from Apollo 18, Hyundai Card Music released a brand new track and music video from us in early summer. The song is called “Spontaneous Human Combustion.” It’s a pretty heavy track. People can check it out here:
Is playing music and running the label a full-time job for you all?
No, we’ve all got other jobs that we do in addition to our music-related work.
What other Korean bands should know about?
There are lots of good Korean bands that people should know about! Galaxy Express and 13 Steps are both definitely worth checking out. Jambinai is really cool too. Goonam were awesome when we toured with them in the UK this past spring. And please give Modsdive, Romantiqua, and Juck Juck Grunzie a listen as well.
You can catch Apollo 18 at Beastie Rock Festival this weekend on the Smelly Oil Depot stage on Saturday, September 28 from 7:25 – 8:05 pm.