The Legendary Vinyl Underground Celebrates the Big 10


BUSAN, South Korea — It was ten years ago when bar owner, Dongha Kim, decided to take a chance opening a bar around Kyungsung University, an area that hadn’t established itself quite yet as a foreigner hangout. He had done well with his bars around the PNU area, but this was a big move.

The neighborhood, Kyungsung Dae, had a few places that the expats enjoyed to go out and party at -– The Rodeo, Jacks, and Bar Code to name a few, but none of them, save for maybe the Rodeo, had such an effect on the rising of the area as Vinyl Underground (also known amongst Koreans as “Banana Bar”) which ended up ushering in a new era of Busan expat nightlife.

“Back then, really the only foreign bars were up near PNU, and they were mostly Dongha’s,” remembers Soo Park. “Dongha was kind of the godfather of the expat bar scene so when he decided to open Vinyl, he already had a customer base.”

Dongha never planned on opening a bar in KSU, it just sort of happened.

“My friend Lee Byung Eun, the famous blues guitarist, told me about the space but I didn’t really listen to him. Then one day, I found myself in the area and decided to check it out.”  According to Dongha, it was love at first sight.

I have only been here two years and seen some great acts come through. As a musician and sound engineer, Vinyl Underground has been the proverbial sun around which many of my weekends revolve. Even in the short span of two years there have been too many memorable moments to mention in one sitting. Sadly I missed the golden years.

Ten years ago, the area known as Kyungsung Dae was mostly parking lots, empty fields and junk yards. After Vinyl moved in, hordes of foreigners – not always on their most upstanding behavior – shattered the peace.

Hyejin Go, Vinyl Underground’s manager for five years, remembers the madness. “People would do naughty things in the kitchen and bathrooms. There were fights and sometimes the police would come. Back then, live music and dance clubs were illegal. Sometimes, the police would just show up for no reason other than to shut us down.”

Dongha estimates he had paid over seven million won in fines during the years Vinyl Underground was technically illegal.

But that didn’t stop Vinyl from being the dance club in Busan. Big-name DJs touring through Seoul would frequently stop by unannounced and spin a couple sets. A regular night involved 300 people inside and another hundred mingling on the street waiting to get in.

Vinyl Opening Night 2002

“You couldn’t move in there during the weekend. I’ve never seen anything like it,” recalls Matt Sidgreaves.

More recently, Vinyl Underground has been ground zero for Busan’s recent musical renaissance. On any given weekend, you can find bands from all over Korea performing to appreciative crowds. Only two weeks ago, San Francisco’s Two Gallants played to a packed house.

Kelsey Smith, local songstress and lover of music thinks of Vinyl Underground as “a musician’s music space.” She explains, “It is rare to find a venue where great talent and large crowds co-exist.”

Her favorite event was World Music Night where practically every musician in town explored different styles of music from around the world. “I couldn’t believe how many people were there [to listen]. And they all dug it,”said Smith.

Vinyl Underground’s future remains bright. Competition has come and gone, but Vinyl remains the best place in Busan to see live music or dance to amazing unknown music from international DJs. Dongha has plans to start hosting movie nights on Thursdays and incorporate a relevant live performance. And of course, you can always check out the best music that Busan has to offer every weekend.

Vinyl Underground’s 10th Anniversary Party goes down this Saturday at 9 p.m. and the lineup is stacked with One Drop East, Poko Lambro, Klickitat and Wakeup. For only 5,000 won, you can go back in time and experience the madness that was Vinyl back in the day. It will be jam-packed, so get there early. After the music, Dongha himself will spin from his personal vinyl collection of vinyl and disks.


Below are some fond memories of Vinyl Underground from Busanites. If you have a good story about Vinyl lurking around in your past, post it in the comments!

Gus Swanda "The Bar Fight"

Being a bouncer in College, I have seen my share of bar brawls. But never one this bizarre. A friend of mine, let’s call him Ricky, was chatting up two nice young ladies that had worked up the courage to come over to our table and talk to us. Their Korean ‘friend’ suddenly came over and proclaimed to us that he had cornered the market on Korean Girls that night, by saying, “they’re all my girlfriends!” Just before I could make some inebriated smart-ass remark, Ricky said something, that I still don’t understand to this day:

“One time, OK. Two times, Fuck you!” Of which the guy only heard , “Blah blah, OK. Blah blah Fuck you.” Clarifying, the Korean guy said, “Fuck you????” Which Ricky took as the gravest of insults, and lept over the table and on top of this guy and proceeded to beat the sense out of him. Just before I was about to pull Ricky off this guy, because he had had enough, Two Korean Guys unrelated to the incident jump in to save their fellow countryman. At that point, it was on like Donkey Kong. Bar fight!” I yelled as I jumped on the pile of bodies swinging wildly. And the swinging would continue until I had enough. At one point I accidentally hit Sean Archer in the face.

Just when things were winding down emotionally and physically, it happened. Four guys (apparently listening to police scanners) came down the stairs in unison wearing matching black turtle necks, dark sunglasses and fatigue pants (they may have even been wearing berets). After doing several practice Tae-kwon-do moves to warm up, they dispersed to try and beat up all the expats they could find. One tried to round house ricky but came nowhere near connecting, and Ricky laid into him. Most of them were fighting dirty. Throwing cue balls and hitting people with pool cues. One got me right across the back and it broke in two. I used the two halves and kind of sissy beat him in the body and head. The police finally came and rounded us all up. I remember being very indignant to the cops until they took out the hand cuffs. Some people went to the pokey, but no one spent the night! Good times, good times!

Ken May: "Butter and Jelly"
In the early years of the Vinyl (2002-5), there were these two guys named, Butter & Jelly. At the time, they were the biggest drinkers in Busan.

Among other things, Butter was famous for stripping naked on Haeundae Beach at 10am & when a large pack of pre-schoolers came tooting along with their little yellow backpacks he shouted out, "Back to Nature!" as they gasped in horror at this strange guy wearing nothing but a straw hat.

I. Butter

Once at the Vinyl, he had a large oaf of a student meet him at the Vinyl on Thursday night. The student in question bumped into Butter on the street & wanted to discuss getting a passing grade even though he hadn't attended a class all semester. Butter told him this, "Banana Bar, Thursday night, 9pm," which was when Butter was usually there to talk about fantasy sports & yuk it up with the regulars.

Well, the oaf showed up & Butter told him this: "If you drink 4 Pina Coladas you get a C, 6 for a B, & 8 for an A!" These were not regular Pina Coladas. These were Hye-Jin's super thick & fattening Pina Coladas! As you might expect, a crowd gathered around the table–Butter on one side & the oaf on the other. 2 were ordered immediately & the oaf put them down. Korean-style clapping by the oaf's friends & Butter's friends. 2 more ordered up: these went down slower & Butter pestered him with questions: "How old are you? Where are you from?" Do you like Korea?"

The Oaf requested a break & that only one more should be ordered. Butter said, "OK, one more now! 3 more later." The 5th one arrived & by this time there are nearly 20+ people with interest in seeing what grade this Oaf ended up with. The Oaf could barely finish the 5th one & after he put the glass on the table he gave the Korean wave signaling, "No Mas." Butter was up in (mock) arms: "One more! You can do it! One more & you get a B! You are better than C+! Come on!" But the Oaf was done. Butter offered him a handshake & the Oaf took his hand & gave Butter a weary nod.

The Oaf made his way out with his friends following him. Butter turned to everyone & said, "That was fun! Poor guy doesn't know that I've only been to three classes all semester myself! Uproarious laughter from everyone!

II. Jelly

Jelly was a hockey player. We used to call him John Rocker before he acquired a bevy of nicknames. Once, he went on a Thai vacation for two weeks & before leaving his home he stuck a gunky fry pan in his fish tank for his fish to feed off while he was gone, saying: "that oughta hold'em." When he came back two weeks later, they were all still alive!

Jelly liked to waltz around the Vinyl drinking Long Island Ice teas out of a 1700cc beer pitcher with three straws stuck together. His Vinyl nights were taking a toll on his body & he was down to two sets of clothes: a bronze suit bought in Thailand & a T-shirt & Budweiser sweat pants. He had pretty good command of the pool table that used to be in there & did a decent job of chasing girls into dark corners. Unlike Butter, Jelly was famous for scaring people out of the Vinyl. Butter always had folks follow him there for a night of carousing.

So Jelly arrives to Vinyl right around 7:30 to get his early beers in. He's sitting there like the holder of answers munching on his chicken burgers from Popeye's. His phone rings. He answers: "Yeah, I'm here. Just come into the building." He hangs up. Bites his burger. Swigs his beer. His phone rings again; he answers: "I was inside but now I'm outside because I thought you couldn't find me. Just come outside. He puts his phone down. Talks baseball for a sec between chicken and beer. His phone rings again; he answers: " this is getting old. I told you here. I'm ready to teach but you can't find me! I've been waiting here at Busan Station for over an hour! I tell you what–I can't put up with your incompetence so I'm leaving. You better put my pay into my account tomorrow or I won't teach the next day!".

Jelly is the only expat to be at vinyl and get paid for not teaching while drinking beer.

III. Butter & Jelly: The Conclusion.

Eventually, these two carousers had worn out there welcome at every single teaching establishment in Busan. It was time for them to go back to there homelands.

So, I go into the Vinyl one night. Hyejin comes up to me & says, "I haven't seen Butter for awhile. Where is he?" I said, "He's gone back to his country. He won't be here anymore."
"Oh," Hyejin mutters, "He has a bill." I ask, "How much" being highly curious. Hyejin responds, "800,000 Won" I laugh my ass off then ask her about Jelly's because I knew he was drinking all those pitchers of Long Islands. Hyejin, although very reluctant, tells me, "1.500.000 Won."

And that was it. They blew in. They blew out. Butter probably had his bill covered by all the people who eventually paid for their bills. But Jelly, well, Dong-ha will be waiting for eternity to get that bill paid.

Vinyl Opening Night 2002

DJ B.B. Gibbs of Better Magic Music Company: "The Rainy Night"
I remember when we did our 3rd or 4th Funked up party at Vinyl. It was July, 2010 and it was my 24th birthday. We invited a few of our DJ friends from Seoul to rock with us that night – so it was me, Brucie Russell, Split Kick and we had Oil Can Boyd, Nuphonique and Black Ilumin with us as well. The stage was packed and loaded with all kinds of gear: turntables, CDJs, controllers, laptops, effects units… and we were swimming in a sea of cables. The club started to fill up fast, there were people everywhere – dancing on the stage, jumping on the tables. More and more people started filling every the space, and the heat was unbearable. It was literally a sauna down there. If you've ever been to Vinyl, you know that the ventilation/air conditioning is iffy at best, and this was in the middle of summer. With the stage lights, it must have been like 40-50 degrees (celsius) on stage – some of the DJs stripped down to their underwear out of sheer necessity. It had also been raining that night and slowly, the downpour began to intensify while we were on stage. I looked to my right and there was a massive rush of water cascading down the staircase that leads up to the bathroom. The waterfall was moving quickly and we were worried that we would lose power or worse yet, burn down the club or something. So, a few of the guys rounded up some cardboard boxes to soak up the rain water, but it just created this nasty pulp that clung to the floor as the water kept coming. Eventually we did manage to seal off the door a bit and kept going with the show, but Dongha had to replace some of the floor boards that were warped completely after that night.

I'm not sure if it was the heat, the rain or the music – probably all three – but it was an unforgettable party.

Old photos by ‘Kranky Pete‘courtesy of Jeff Lebow at Korea Bridge.



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