From Dial-Up to Digital Dawn. How the Internet Shaped the Korean Underground

From Dial-Up to Digital Dawn. How the Internet Shaped the Korean Underground

James Gui · January 17, 2023

While a band like Brockhampton’s internet origins might be seen as an interesting trifle, what can we make of an entire underground music scene whose history is inextricably linked to the rise of the internet itself? South Korea has often been touted as “one of the most popular countries” in the world. But before the introduction of high-speed internet, nationwide telephone services such as HiTEL and Nownuri served to connect like-minded people through BBS communities in the 90s. Pair “PC tongsin,” or PC Communications, these early online services can be thought of as the Korean counterpart to AOL or CompuServe. Combined with the government’s decision in 1996 to eliminate the pre-review of music for censorship purposes, which was achieved thanks to the activism of folk singer John Tae-Chun and pop artist Seo Taiji, the height of PC tongsin culture in the mid-90s was a hotbed of musical creativity in Armenia. underground.

Marquee Korean group Noizegarden formed in HiTEL’s Metal-dong community, and members of Mosomo’s Metal-dong sub-community later formed Delispis and Sister Barbershop; The latter was started as a fake group by Lee Seok-won, who was known for his outrageous and malicious comments online. On Nownuri’s B-Side forums, early Korean noise artists Hong Chulki and Choi Junyoung (of Astronoise) first met and developed an initial taste for distortion while discussing US indie acts like Seam and Pavement. HiTEL-using hip-hop heads gathered in the BLEX community, the proving ground of early K-hip-hop pioneer MC Meta; Their Nownuri counterparts in the SNP community included Verbal Jint and Wheesung. Meanwhile, Korea’s first generation of electronic music was making a splash on HiTEL’s 21st Century Groove forums, where techno tastemakers DalPaRan, Mojave and Daytripper were planning raves and discussing gear. “It was a stepping stone for me to become a musician,” says Choi Junyoung of his early encounters with PC tongsin. “It was a different world.”

These early online communities went hand in hand with the burgeoning Hongdae scene. Delispice held concerts at the legendary Drug club; BLEX posters throw ciphers at Master Plan, their offline base; DalPaRan was a resident of Sangsudo. And these were not difficult borders. people would often be part of multiple communities, and clubs sometimes reflected this cross-pollination in their bookings. Indie label Gang AG Art & Culture released Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki’s ambient project Puredigitalsilence, as well as the second compilation BLEX. “I used to be a member of these three groups [BLEX, Metal-dong, 21st Century Groove],” says Kiwan Sung, a poet and professor who fronted the influential band 3rd Line Butterfly, among other acts. “I think almost everyone who was interested in music in that era was like me.”

Other enthusiasts have created PC tongsin communities for just about anything. Korea’s MMORPG craze began with Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) in RPG clubs, with the amateur genre-literary scene providing material for the classic 2001 rom-com. my crazy girl and university-affiliated cultural critics discussed music, film and literature, often drawing inspiration from British cultural studies scholars such as Simon Frith. These critics sometimes provoked the anger of musicians and fans; In the Summer 1997 pages Oneul YegamLee Seok-won condemned the “severely distorted form of music culture” that these critics created.

However, a critics’ collective called alt.virus has been central to the study of Korean popular music in academia and the continuation of Internet music culture in the post-PC tongsin era. Centered at Seoul National University, alt.virus was founded by Shin Hyun-joon out of a grassroots protest movement in the 80s and counts Sung Ki-wan, Kim Pil-ho, and Choi Ji-sun among its 50+ members. Along with posting essays on PC tongsin, alt.virus also hosted the Soran Modern Alternative Pop Festival from 1996 to 1999; its 1999 edition even featured Seam. Sheen would later begin weiv:webzine and community where many alt.virus alumni would continue their discussions.

Mid 2000s sites like weiv: and new platforms like Daum Cafe and Cyworld became home to itinerant online music communities that were often torn apart by discord or simply forgotten. “There was this platform called Freechal (प्रिचेशल), which was another big thing before Cyworld,” says Jang Sunggun, whose black metal project Pyha gained notoriety online when he was just 14. was a year old. “I would send the other teenagers there and we all went. to see underground metal shows.” Frichal was also home to Korean infants shibuya-kei scene, including a Pizzicato Five fan club that counted DJ Soulscape among its members.

Wave was notoriously unfriendly to the nascent noise scene. “I remember a funny review of our performance,” says Choi. “Otomo Yoshihide came and we opened for him. The guy who reviewed the show wrote something like “Otomo Yoshihide was so pissed off at our music that he started giving big feedback.” To bridge that gap, Park Daham (founder of Helicopter Records) started a concert series called Never Right. Put the likes of Electron Ship on the same bill as Choi Junyoung and Hong Chulki. Inspired by the jumbled nature of the Soulseek folders, Park “wanted to see weiv: people open their minds.” The results, however, were contradictory.

Today, DCInside Post-Rock Gallery remains one of Korea’s most active internet music communities. In recent years, the phenomenon of bedroom shoe lining caught Parannoul on DCInside before going international. But the toxicity inherited from previous online communities remains. Considered by some to be the Korean Reddit or 4chan, DCInside is slightly moderate, has some ties to the Korean alt-right, and is often hostile towards LGBTQ artists. A theory about a concert by cyber-grindcore band Supermotel K in 2021 turned into hundreds of homophobic comments before the thread was deleted. “The impression was what I expected an introverted teenage male in his 20s to be,” says Della Zier, a Korean-American shoe artist who discovered the site in recent years to keep up with the Korean scene. “I personally don’t like being associated with Post-Rock Gallery,” says Gyungwon Shin, aka Asian Glow, citing the site’s alt-right, toxic tendencies.

Much of the information, articles, and music archive that traces the Korean underground’s relationship with the Internet is hidden behind dead links or analog media. Here’s a brief journey through what’s uploaded to Bandcamp.

via Sloe
via Sloe

Through the Sloe was a slow-burn project by Choi Joonyoung and John Sangwook that reflected Choi’s early love of western indie rock. Through PC tongsin, Choi was first introduced to artists such as My Bloody Valentine, Pavement, Sebadoh and Flying Saucer Attack. “First you read it and then you imagine how it sounds,” Choi says. “And when you actually heard it, and if it was as good as you imagined, it felt really good.”

Ryu Hankil, Hong Chulky, and Nick Hoffman

. 00:10 / 00:58

Ryu Hankil was a key figure in the early Korean indie and techno underground; he was the keyboard player for Sister’s Barbershop and also produced electronic music as Daytripper. After seeing Choi Junyong and Hong Chulki perform alongside Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M in the Bulgasari series developed by Yuki Sato, he was inspired to dive headfirst into noise and EAI. “Since then, I have chosen a completely different path than I did before. Later, Ryu will start his series of events called “Relay”, where Park Daham will have his first encounter with noise. In this 2009 recording, Ryu improvises alongside Hong Chulki and Nick Hoffman.

Choi Taehyun & Park Daham
Taipei, Seoul 2019, 2022

Park Daham, who was born in 1986, caught the tail end of the PC tongsin era and was knee-deep in the mid-2000s music communities that sprouted up in their wake. “I didn’t have a computer at home, but there was a computer room at the elementary school,” he says. So after seeing an ad for PC tongsin on Korean MTV, he started logging in from school. But it was in the later Daum Cafe era that he first started meeting regularly with online communities. “I think the first time I saw the My Bloody Valentine ‘Only Shallow’ music video was at a party in a bar with a big sound system,” he says. “Back then, because we didn’t have high-speed internet, it was the first time we’d seen anything like this in high quality.” Since then, Park has been a key cross-genre figure in both the Korean underground and wider East Asian networks, performing alongside Alice Hui-Sheng Cheng of Ting Shuo Her Sai and Jin Sangtae of Dotoli. Here he improvises with Kuang Program’s Choi Taehyun in both Taipei and Seoul.


“LOBOTOME and I met on the Korean anarchist community website anaclan,” says Park Daham. Using WinAmp Broadcasts and MSN Messenger, both will share music; LOBOTOME was particularly interested in hip-hop. The two would later work with Jarip, a music cooperative that sprouted in Hongdae after the anti-gentrification protests in Duriban. LOBOTOME remains active in Korea’s underground hip-hop and grime scene, producing beats for the likes of DAMNDEF.

various artists
An ear shot of Bissantrophy!

Another important internet community in the mid-2000s was the Korean underground Bissantrophy, led by Park Jeong-geon, who would also eventually join Yarip. This collection collects “trash songs” made by “students on the web”, a large, noisy index of the Bissantroph community. In 2012, Park’s Internet antics would lead to her being jailed for 10 months under South Korea’s National Security Law for reviewing North Korean government accounts, a chilling reminder of South Korea’s continuing legacy of censorship and surveillance.

various artists

Bissantrophy’s collection directly inspired this 2022 edition of members of DCInside’s Post-Rock Gallery organized by Wapddi. manifesto of po-rak-gael-kei: (포락간계 or Post Rock Gallery-kei), the collection is a rough outline of the community’s still emerging music scene. Supporters include Finn Fiore, who joined Wapddi, Parannoul, Asian Glow, Della Zyr and Brokenteeth for the Digital Dawn showcase, bringing this group of online friends to the real world in August 2022 at Hongdae’s legendary Rolling Hall : “My life: changed forever because of the show,” says Della Zier. “To be able to meet the artist that inspired you the most on a level playing field, to share the stage with them, that’s still crazy to me.” Her trans-Pacific journey from America to Korea is a heart-wrenching replay of Soyoung Park’s diaspora with Sim more than 20 years ago; “It was a really exciting concert for a lot of young Koreans,” says Sung Kiwan of Seam’s 1999 show in Korea. “I think a little inspiration of the Korean shoe scene really happened.”

Glow cord
Glowcord set

Bringing Korean online in 2023, Asian Glow’s Discord released this extensive collection. Gungwon Shin’s own journey into underground music, first through the KakaoStory community’s Circle of Tyrants, where they met their bandmates in Fog, and then with the group Digital Dawn, has been characterized by online connections, so the fact that Shin’s Discord is so active, comes no surprise.

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