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Pentaport Rock Fest this Weekend



BUSAN, South Korea – The 2009 Pentaport festival was a bit of a contradiction. Under heavy competition from the star-studded upstart Jisan Valley Rock Festival on the same weekend, Pentaport’s turnout was deeply disappointing, and yet, the festival itself was a lot of fun. High energy performances and a cohesive line-up anchored by The Deftones and fleshed out with some of the best bands in Korea’s contemporary music scene made for a deeply satisfying and unforgettable weekend.
Audience-pleasing though it may have been, however, there was no doubt that a repeat performance, box-office-wise, this year could finish it once and for all. Accordingly, several changes have been made this year; the festival has been moved a week forward (July 23rd-26th) to avoid going head-to-head- with Jisan, and the location has been changed. Still in Incheon, Pentaport has now moved to Dream Park, a move that definitely counts as ‘trading up’ from the Motor Fields where Pentaport had been traditionally held. Also, while last year the organizers went for a more niche-oriented, cheaper festival, they have gone once more to getting bigger bands with broader appeal (and slightly more expensive admission fees).
But this is about the music, so let’s get down to talking about that.

A Strong, strong line-up makes up the opening night of Incheon’s summer festivities. Welsh rockers, The Stereophonics headline the Friday, and while they may not have quite as broad a fan base as some of the Jisan headliners, they do have a very devoted following. Korean Punk Rock pioneers Crying Nut, will also lead the charge for local acts, expect a lot of energy, a lot of sing-a-longs and a lot of fun for their set. Singer/songwriters Jo Deok-Hwan and Kang San-eh should bring lots of Korean fans out. The ever mighty Galaxy Express (awesome, awesome, awesome) will unload balls-out rock and roll by the boatload alongside Yun-Hee band and Nu Metal act PIA (although I’m not crazy about either of the last two bands). California based alt.rock band The Like will be representing the good ‘ole USA on the opening evening. An interesting addition in Wu Bai And China Blue, who after looking at their website I learned nothing about, save that they have appearances on movie soundtracks and commercials. That does not bode well for them, but chances are they’ll get a lot of Koreans out. Fans looking for something with a harder edge should enjoy Korean metalcore band Ninesin and skate-punk s The Strikers (whose Japanese fan-base, ironically, far exceeds that of their home audience in Korea). Rounding out the line-up is DJ YODA, East Collective, 2E Love and Inside Core (according to the website a ‘club scene duo’).


Hoobastank are headlining Saturday. Personal revulsion aside, that really shit song they had as a hit back when you were in middle school (‘The Reason’) is still immensely popular here, so financially, they actually probably make sense. What I don’t understand is why they’re headlining on the same night, that hipster-litmus-test band LCD SoundSystem are also playing.  Long Time Korean favourites YB are bringing their stadium rock/pop-punk sound as the Korean Saturday night headliners and that should be fun. The first of many, eclectic Japanese acts to appear at Pentaport this year, Saturday  will feature J-Pop stars Kishidan. 2010 Korean Music Award co-winners of Best New Band, Gukkasten will bring the rock to a rather short-on-rock Saturday night along with fellow Han-gookins Biuret, Daybreak, Ynot? and 10cm. I’m  glad to see that Hong-Dae favourites Phonebooth are starting to get some love from the Korean festival circuit. They’ve been dousing the scene with energetic indie rock for a long time and I hope more people will get a chance to take a look at them.  Admist all that ,Korean Hardcore/deathcore pioneers Vasseline will deliver a full-on a sonic assault to the audience. Mad respect to these guys for kicking so much ass for so long, in a country that’s not always receptive to aggressive music. Fans of Electronic music might want to keep an ear out on the 24th for Astro Voize, Pendulum and Wagdug Futuristic Unity


You are not mistaken if you have been reading this and finding Pentaport’s line-up to be somewhat..eclectic, and nowhere is that more striking than the Sunday line-up. Stone Roses fans (of which there seem to be many in Korea) will be delighted to see frontman Ian Brown doing a solo set in the top spot on the final day of the festival. Dir En Grey is a band whose reception in Korea I’m curious to see. Musically, sort of a glam band, they’re hugely influential on Japan’s famous harajuku scene of Visual Kei, Cosplay and GothLolitia, so it will be interesting to see if they hold the same sway in a country where, fashion-wise, counter/youth-culture is much more subdued. Korean headliners, Kim ChanWon band are a longstanding favourite with a cool, classic rock-style vibe that should complement Dire En Greay and Ian Brown nicely.

Sunday will also be seeing many (and in my opinion, way too much) electronic and DJ-based bands like Kap10Kurt, Mongoloid, Revolver 69 and J-Path. I couldn’t care less about any of them, and I’ll rant about that below.

Among international acts that actually play instruments, rather than diddling computers, The Grates are a fun Aussie band and Kiwi rockers Opshop should also put on an enjoyable show if their rep holds true. Along with Dir En Grey, coming from Japan is Ego-Wrappin’ a jazz fusion band (see what I mean about ‘eclectic’?).

The rest of the Korean line-up looks really good. Although Simple Plan-esque Super Kidd do nothing for me, Kingston Rudieska will be tons of fun, and dub reggae band I+I Djangdon is another great act that along with the aforementioned Kingston Rudieska should get some asses moving. Huckleberry Finn is a K-rock band that I quite like, especially the earlier grungier stuff. While by no means, one of my favourites, funk-fused modern rock band, Serenghetti were entertaining last year at the Busan International Rock Festival and should put out some good energy this year at Pentaport as well.

Perhaps, the most interesting choice this year is The Orgeltanz, a band based out of Korea but compromised mainly of ex-pats. They do a sort of world music/folk/indie fusion complete with Bellydancers. Its nice to see some recognition on these big festivals finally going to ex-pat musicians living in Korea. All in all there are some great acts on Sunday, but it seems really scattershot for a festival that was tight in that aspect last year.


THE BAD: There’s no question that last year Pentaport didn’t do well at the box office, but they did put on a great show. If you went to Pentaport last to see The Deftones you probably enjoyed 60-70% of the festival, there was an excellent balance between diversity and cohesion that seems to be lost on this year’s roster. Furthermore, I hate the fact that there are so many electronic artists and DJ’s at a ROCK festival. Called me old-fashioned but If wanted to go to a club I would, or, I would have gone to the World DJ Festival last year (which I didn’t). If I pay to see a live performance, than I want to see someone play music live, not just ‘in person’. I’m not saying there’s no place for it here, but do it the way Jisan is with the ‘club scene’ acts playing at a special stage after midnight.

For me quite frankly, I think they’ve missed an opportunity to carve out a unique place among Korea’s music festival circuit as a smaller, more affordable and ‘edgier’ festival, especially now that they’re not going ahead on the same weekend as the better connected Jisan Valley Rock Festival.

THE GOOD: I definitely think they’ll get a better draw than last time. Stereophonics, Ian Brown and LCD Soundsystem may not be international household names, but chances are that 90% of the people in Korea that like them will be there, so if you’re one of them you’ll find a lot of fellow fans. They’re all ‘those kinds of bands’. Also while I think the Korean line-up leans a bit too much to the ‘diversity’ side of the scale over  ‘cohesion’, band for band it is a fairly deep line-up (maybe not quite as good as last year, but strong nonetheless).

Pentaport is also reasonably priced. To go for one day costs you W77,000, while 2 and 3-day passes go for W99,000 and W121,000 respectively.  The sharp decline of the per-day cost of one day vs.3 days (for example a one day pass at Jisan is about 50% of a 3 day pass, whereas here a one day is about 2/3 of a 3-day pass) makes me believe that the Pentaport organizers have the same concerns about the disjointedness of the line-up as I do, otherwise why frontload the revenue stream on the one day pass, unless you were counting on the majority of the drawing power coming from people coming to see one band on one day in particular, rather than staying for the whole thing?
Camping prices are also cheaper than Jisan, at W10,000 rather W15,000 a night.
Finally, I’m glad that they’ve changed locations. I was always kind of nonplussed by the old location and I think the move to Dream Park will give Pentaport a fresh face after last year.
So overall, do I recommend it? Yes. Despite any misgivings I may have about the line-up and what I would have liked to have seen them do this year, it is a solid music festival. For ex-pat English teachers reading this, its just affordable enough that you could reasonably do both Pentaport and Jisan festival, sacrificing only a night or two at the bar and I think overall its going to be a fairly good time (and hey, Busan International Rock Festival is just a subway ride away (a long subway ride, mind you) at Daedapo beach and its so free, so might as well hit the trifecta).

See you in Incheon.

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