The Geek's Kiseok Seo Talks Making Hardcore Music in Korea

By Bryan Grogan, September 18, 2018

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If you like: Sick of It All, Champion, Down to Nothing, this band might be for you.

The Geeks have often been described as the best hardcore band in Asia. Having formed in 1999, The Geeks quickly made a name for themselves outside of their native South Korea when they signed with US label Think Fast Records, following up with frequent tours around the globe. 

2014’s Still Not In This Alone stands out amongst their releases as emblematic of the passion and positivity that persuaded the guys to help establish their band, and later, a thriving hardcore scene in Korean capital, Seoul. The 12 track album showcases their excellent, high octane rhythm section and raw, gut-wrenching vocals, with frequent references by vocalist Kiseok Seo to the idea of self-determination – a recurring theme in their work. 

We caught up with Kiseok Seo to talk about K-pop, becoming straight edge and their upcoming tour of China as part of hardcore music festival CNHC, where they will play alongside the likes of Struggle Session and Anti Dogs.

This is the The Geek’s first tour in China, what do you all know about Chinese music and what are you looking forward to from this experience?
Yes it is. Unbelievable. I’ve been to Beijing and Shanghai before and I have friends who could have helped us set up a tour. Well, there were a few times it was discussed but never came to fruition. The fact that we all are tied up with our full-time jobs, family responsibilities and other projects didn’t really allow us to make time. 

After all these years, the Chinese hardcore and punk scene is really strong now. Stronger than ever. I was also told that this is the best CNHC line up consisting of the best Chinese bands. Add to that, we are playing in two different cities. Now we get to engage with different kids from different towns. It is particularly awesome given how big China is.   

You have talked before about how making music in Korea can be somewhat difficult in amongst such a work driven society, do you think that situation has changed in recent years? 
Yes, it has changed a lot. In three-five years, dramatic changes have happened. However, I think the state of band music is in a worse spot. When I was growing up and playing in The Geeks, there was social pressure from the establishment. You shouldn’t waste your time playing music, study more and get-a-job type of pressure. However, there were a lot of suppressed kids who wanted to get their anger out at shows. So the scene was thriving. 

Nowadays, the social oppression has slowly declined due to the rise of digital technology. The problem is that the underground music scene is not in a good place, it is making things difficult for younger people. Plus, social media has had a negative impact on the underground scene here… Kids are just too busy with something else rather than coming to shows… perhaps too busy with dance clubs and EDM. It is a different era. 

"Kids are just too busy with something else rather than coming to shows… perhaps too busy with dance clubs and EDM. It is a different era."

You guys are straight edge, can you talk about how and why you all made the unconventional decision to abstain from alcohol? 
I can only speak for myself as this is my personal choice. My reason was simple. I wanted to live and feel my life as it was without any help from substances. I had music. I wanted to take full control of my life. I didn’t want to rely on smoking and drinking that would eventually ruin my body and soul. It sounds very simple but it’s always been an uphill battle. I never gave up because this is my belief. I wanted to prove a point there’s always a better way to live your life. 

However, I would like to reiterate that this is personal. I completely respect other people’s decisions. It’s their lives. No disrespect. This is just my way of living my life, which was in fact aligned with the original intent of Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye. 

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Image via Ken Robinson

Having once erroneously been described as a K-pop band at SXSW, do you think that the emergence of K-pop has cracked open the doors for Korean artists who deal in different genres to make their music known on the world stage? 
It is funny you mentioned that. It was definitely the most awkward moment in our career. Great experience, though. 

As far as the real K-pop goes, it put ‘Korea’ as a country on the map, meaning it raised awareness to an unprecedented level. On the flip side, what’s been happening here in Korea is that it really killed spaces for other genres to grow. It is now almost impossible to gain any commercial success if you don’t play K-pop. No air time… The entire commercial industry is geared towards K-pop.

Beijing: Sat Sep 22, 7pm; RMB120 (early bird), RMB150 (presale), RMB180 (door). 13 ClubSee event listing. Tickets.

Guangzhou: Sun Sep 23, 6pm; RMB100 (early bird), RMB120 (presale), RMB150 (door). SD LivehouseSee event listing. Tickets.

[Cover photo via Ken Robinson]

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