Last year, Jisan Valley Rock Valley held its inaugural event to roaring success. Bringing top-end acts like Oasis, Weezer and Patti Smith and set in the beautiful Jisan Forest Ski Resort, in Icheon (90 minutes Southeast of Seoul), the upstart festival claimed the crown as Korea’s largest music festival by maxing out its 20,000 person capacity.
In two weeks, give or take a day, (July 30th through Aug 1st), Jisan will return once more. Once again, Jisan has stacked its line-up with immensely popular acts, both international and local. One thing that I thought was flawed with last year was the somewhat discordant line-up of Korean bands, something that the organizers have corrected for the 2010 edition of JVRF. While perhaps more of a mellow roster than the previous one, there is, in my opinion, a much better flow between acts.
Like last year, Jisan will be divided into three stages-The Big Top Stage, The Green Stage and The Electric Stage. The Electric stage is the 12am-4am showcase reserved for electro, DJs, and dance artists, including DJ Antwone, BioMechanix, Starsheeps and DJ Travice and should be a nice complement for those whose musical tastes veer away from the guitar/base/drums/vocals quartet of rock and roll.
For the purposes of this review, we’re going to break it down by each day since some of you may be planning to pick up a one day pass rather than going for all three.
FRIDAY JULY 30th
BIG TOP STAGE: Massive Attack, hipster favourites Vampire Weekend and long-time indie music idols Belle and Sebastian comprise the headlining spots of the opening night on Jisan’s biggest stage. Joining them will be Lee Seong-Yeol and two of this year’s Korean Music Award Winners: Seoul Electric Band and Best New Band co-winners Gukkasten. Seoul Electric Band mix modern rock and psychedelic rock and as an interesting footnote, include none other than two sons of Shin Joong-Hyun, the Korean Godfather of Rock, making them somewhat of a ‘Legacy’ band. Gukkasten also delve slightly into psychadelia and have quickly gained a buzz around them in the last year or so.
Green Stage: Korean Mellow/modern rock act Broccoli, You too? (don’t ask; I don’t understand the name either), take the pole position as headliners on Jisan’s second stage. Interestingly enough, they will be followed by two international soul-based acts, American Diane Birch (who mixes Soul and Blues) and Martina Topley-Bird (UK) who has gained a lot of acclaim for her brand of soul-infused trip hop.
The recently returned to action 3rd Line Butterfly continue to stake their claim to prominence among the Korean Indie scene. I’ve been enjoying them a lot ever since I saw them at this year’s Wild Women’s Festival in Seoul. They’ve got a very cool mix of alternative, grunge and psychedelic with just a tad of noise thrown in. So far this year, they’ve re-released their three previous full length albums as a box set as well as an EP after a several year hiatus. Acoustic driven mellow indie rockers Bulnabong Sausagestar club will also be among the Korean acts on this stage, but I have to admit I’ve never been terribly impressed by them. Also playing among the Koreans are the fairly mediocre Romantic Punch.
SATURDAY JULY 31st
Big Top Stage:
The UK’s synthpop legends The Pet Shop Boys hold claim to the top spot on what just might be the biggest night of Jisan. Korean indie rockers Jang KI ha and Faces join them. I’m kind of on the fence with them, maybe a bit too mellow for me, but then there’s no accounting for taste. Japanese alt rockers The Friction bring a little teaser of Japan’s formidable rock music scene to Korea for a spell. I’m looking forward to seeing them as 2010 will mark their 30th anniversary. Korea’s ‘only authentic ska band’ Kingston Rudieska will be pulling double duty this year on both Pentaport and Jisan, and why not? For my money they’re one of the most entertaining bands around and are always capable of putting on, and quite possibly stealing, an excellent show. Saturday’s Big top stage will be rounded out by emo rockers Vanilla Unity and Mate (neither of which get me overly excited).
The Green Stage:
While technically, the green stage is the ‘Second stage’ of JVRF, the Green Stage’s Saturday night line-up might be my favourite of the entire festival.
Internationally, we will be treated to American post-rock band Mutemath. Following that is the ‘Crazy for Crash’ line-up within a line-up, headlined by, well, obviously, Crash. During the late 80’s and early 90’s Korea experienced a hard rock/metal ‘boom’. Today, Crash is one of the few bands from that era not only still performing, but still carrying the clout from those days. They are among the most influential Korean bands for contemporary Korean metal, hard rock and punk bands and still held in high esteem in those circles. They are joined by the wickedly cool Art Of Parties, the new band formed by Korean Rock Legend Kim Bada, a mix of hard rock, experimental rock and garage and just straight up high-energy. Somewhat less impressive is the Linkin Parkish, Nu-metalers PIA. Before ducking out to skip Pia (which I kind of suggest you do, unless you really, really like Nu Metal), make sure you stick around for Apollo 18. In an interview with koreagigguide.com, Stephen Kim, the founder of JVRF said of Apollo 18 “Hands down (the best band in Korea)” and I would have a hard time disagreeing. Apollo 18 shared the 2010 Korean Music Award with Gukkasten for Best New Band and won the EBS Rookie Music Award (2009) for best indie band. Their mix of post-rock, hardcore, groove and psychedelic rock have won them critical acclaim not only in Korea, but also abroad. Also keep an eye out for Taiwanese reggae rock band Matzka.
SUNDAY AUGUST 1st
Big top stage:
The talk of the town for this weekend, and maybe the summer, MUSE will headline the Big top stage. There is very little denying that Muse are one of the biggest bands in the world, although I’ll leave it up to you whether or not their title of the ‘official band of teenage movie soundtracks’ (thank to their contributions to the Twilight series OST’s) is something to be proud of. Renowned, although slightly passed their peak popularity-wise, Britpop artists Kula Shaker will be joining Muse along with Third Eye Blind, who, to be honest, I thought had disappeared a long time ago. Oh well. J-Rock stars, The Hiatus (who I was a little disappointed to find out were not the much better English band of the same name) and ‘Meh’-worthy Korean industrial metal band Schizo will also be performing. Aside from the big acts, Sunday’s Big Top is highlighted by two of Korea’s finest bands, the Rockabilly/garage band The Moonshiners (think The Rock Tigers with less cutesiness and a bit more bite) and the phenomenal Galaxy Express (who according to rumours may be headed to the US and Canada in the fall for a North American tour). What more can I say about The Galaxy Express?’ Iggy meets Zeppelin’? ‘The MC5 meet Black Sabbath’? How about ‘straight up awesome’?
The Green Stage:
British Soul/ R+B artist Corrine Baily Rae takes the headlining spot (hmm..more Soul?). Toe, an excellent Japanese post-rock band precedes her. An interesting note about Toe- they recently played their first two shows in Korea and actually sold out both, something that even the acts brought over by Supercolorsuper rarely do. Korean ‘modern pop’ songstress Taru will also be performing. The other Korean acts that evening will be synth-pop band The Neons (who I’ve been warming to recently) and Achime (another band who has been slowly growing on me). All in all while Sunday’s Green Stage has a lot of interesting acts, I have to admit it shares some of the disjointed quality that I thought detracted from last year’s JRVF overall effect. All said though, a lot of acts worth seeing even if you’re among the several thousand there who will be there just waiting for Muse to come on.
In addition its worth noting that there is a 12:00-12:20 slot reserved at the start of each Green Stage day for ‘Rock N Roll Superstar’. Although it doesn’t say specifically I’ve heard rumours that among the performers will be Chosun Punk pioneers Crying Nut and reggae fusion stars Windy City. Like I said, just rumours, but if true will deepen an already dynamic line-up.
To summarize, lets weigh the good with the bad. Since I’m genuinely recommending taking part in all three days (ummm..Spoiler alert?), lets start with the bad:
THE BAD: There is a surprising lack of rock music this year, we can argue all day about the value of diversity of genres and what not, but, not for nothing, it is called Jisan Valley ROCK FESTIVAL and as such, I would expect a bit more high energy rock and roll especially with the number of really cool Korean bands that fit that description being left off (Rux, Phonebooth, South Bay, The Rock Tigers, Cocore, National Pigeon Unity and more). Also, big name bands=big name band prices. One day will cost you W99,000 with 2 and 3- day passes running you W143,000 and W176,000 respectively, so if you’re looking to take in a big festival this year, but are somewhat stretched for cash, you may want to choose your days wisely. Camping however, is only fifteen bucks a day.
THE GOOD: While I’m a little disappointed at the lack of ballsy rock and roll, I have to admit the Jisan people have done a much better job of building a cohesive festival and making sure that the Korean acts are built around the foreign headliners. I think people who come strictly on the merits of the headlining acts will enjoy the festival as a whole more so than last year, which is saying a lot because the reviews of last year were pretty good.
Music aside, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Jisan will once again hit the 20,000 mark in terms of attendance making it unquestionably one of the biggest parties of the year in Korea. That alone might make it worth the price of admission, even if you’re not overly enthused about any of the bands.
And lastly, according to one of the admin’s of a facebook group, you can bring alcohol into the camping area…so..there’s that.
All in all, Jisan is going to go down as the centerpiece of Korean music festivals. Bookended by two of Korea’s other better festivals (Pentaport the weekend before, Busan International Rock Festival the weekend after), one thing is for sure- for music lovers in Korea, the weekends starting in late July to early August are going to be a treat for the ears..and a curse upon the liver.
And the Jisan Valley Rock Festival, may well be the high point of it all.
For more info visit: http://www.valleyrockfestival.com/ (includes English pages)