BUSAN, South Korea –In a wild turn of events, the Korean band, Nacho Pupa, rode a wild card ticket into the finals and won the 2010 Battle of the Bands by six votes over The Headaches. It was a crowd-pleasing finish to this year’s six week event with 16 bands playing sets of original music. Each of the five bands left standing Saturday night, put everything they had on the stage, but only one emerged with the votes to come from behind and be crowned an unlikely champion.
After the tight voting in Heat three’s competition, the organizers decided to allow two wild cards a spot in the finals. With the wild card comes the disadvantage of leading off the night when they bar is not as packed.
So, the eventual champs, the scrappy punk rockers, Nacho Pupa, took the stage first. With six members, they dominated their space on the stage and presided over an energy hungry crowd. Their fans, many of them large men, responded immediately and began stomping around in front of the stage.
During their last song, they captured the whole audience; an elusive skill for many entertainers. The band volume dropped low while their singer encouraged everyone in the room to get down. Incredibly, 90% complied, and then, erupted in unison for the energetic grand finale. The band obviously had a great time and finished strong which set the pace for the rest of the evening. They called it the “Volcano Song.”
Next on, Hajimama played with the crowd with their exclusive brand of cross-cultural poppy rock. They played some newer originals such as The Neverending Story & Chamchi Jigae as well as old favorites like I Want My F2 Visa. They finished with their anthem Uri Nara, set to a slide show of Korean images.
The South Bay took over and got the audience frothing. Their set list was comprised of a series of short crowd-pleasers, which were like shots of espresso, one right after the other, for the fans. A rare sight in the smaller venues on the peninsula, crowd surfers rode back and forth atop their fellow revelers, the largest crowd of the evening.
The Headaches took the stage next. Going into the final night, many predicted them to take the title, and they did not disappoint. Unlike some of the other groups, The Headaches brought an entirely new set list to the finals, including brand new songs never heard before. Robbie Wagner’s inspired solos and their driving, strutting rock rhythms were just plain fun to listen to.
The Defector Frequency, who started off the battle as the first preliminary winner, ended the competition with a bit of synth driven ecstasy. Since it was hard rock and punk bands that dominated the entire festival, this bi-cultural electro-pop outfit was refreshingly different. Their songs were skillfully composed to get asses shaking — and shake they did.
After the music had finished, it was not immediately clear which band had the best chance of garnering the most votes. Every group had played with heart and individual style. Organizers Russell McConnell and Dave Khimasia took the stage with the announcement everyone had been waiting to hear: Nacho Pupa were the 2010 Busan Battle of the Bands winners, with The Defector Frequency as first runner-up.
In some ways, many people were shocked. Nacho Pupa was a wild card entry into the finals and, despite playing two amazing sets, weren’t the first band most people would guess to win. But it came down to who gathered the most votes, and nobody can argue that Nacho Pupa didn’t command the most attention from their crowd during their short time onstage.
Singer and guitarist Oh Byeong Uk was just as surprised as anyone.
“We feel great, we didn’t expect it at all. I watched The Defector Frequency and decided we didn’t have a chance so I went to the soju bar,” he said. “Suddenly, I got a call that we won!”
After the news, Nacho Pupa sobered up the best they could to play an encore set. Many people stayed to cheer them on and their high level of exuberance came through in their performance. The South Bay joined them onstage for a couple songs and Robbie Wagner of the Headaches also jumped onstage to congratulate them.
His words, perhaps inadvertently, summed up the spirit of the entire festival: “You guys rocked. It wasn’t about the best foreign band or the best Korean band. We all should be proud of this night because everyone played great music.”
Brian Kilrain is the bass player for One Drop East–last year's victors in the first Battle of the Bands.
You can see more of Mike Dixon's photos here.
Special THANKS, from the folks at ALLiVE for putting the event together.