Festival Morph

Enjoyable Feast of Raw and Cooked Talent

Festival Morph:Full Review– Nights 1 and 2, Friday and Saturday, August 15th and 16th

For two long evenings, Festival Morph took place in the open basement cave of Club Freebird 2 in Hongdae. It was a weekend journey into the shadowy spaces of electronic creativity, with the Koreanhosts providing the stage and soundspace for their Japanese counterparts.

Nightclub owner Skyler Jeong used his newly remodeled Club Freebird 2 to host his first 2-day EDM/IDM festival, and enjoyed the hard work of a group of Indie music fundamentalists who provided the inspired talent from Japan, Korea, and one incredibly motivated Australian, Andy Weir. It was Andy’s efforts in both nations that brought the concept from a glimmer of possibility to the final full festival event, along with the relentless and dogged logistical support of the WATMM (We Are The Music Makers) organization.

In a measure of total unselfishness and sincere support, Skyler Jeong is to be much commended for his paying out of pocket for airfare and lodging for the majority if not all of the Japanese musicians. And certainly WATMM and their massive work of festival organization, media marketing, advertisement and master soundboards and video gear must be highly praised as well. And let’s not forget Andy Weir’s heroic efforts, “this has been the three most difficult months to get this accomplished”, and “Bumpy road? Hell, there was no road, just a huge forest to plow through!.”Monumental effort – all. And we are the beneficiaries. More please, if you will.

It was a mixed lineup of Korean and Japanese musicians; some of them with more material in their portfolios than others, some with production and music label management in their range of experience, and some only recently inspired – but all were no doubt encouraged, stimulated and encouraged by the range of talent and creativity of their peers. A 17-track mix is now on Soundcloud for those who would like to get their sample festival and then explore the artists from there:

There was a lot of collaboration in the house; as a small community, these musicians were manifesting their partnerships and alliances, across the miles and national borders, across their own individual styles and creative impulses. Enjoyable, inspiring – and surely this was implied in the title of the festival, the morphing of sound and energy amongst us as human musical beings.

The prearranged set times were only 40 minutes, and I missed a few early performers, such as YUKARI, and MOSKITOO; YUKARI (Korea) being the newcomer, having released her 10-song digital album Echo, with remixes from WATMM seniors DAMIRAT, and Japan-only releases as well, in December, 2012. MOSKITOO (Japan)has been on the Indie scene since as early as 2007, with her internationally exposed album Drape, and a musical resume that includes plenty of vocal work that demonstrates her superb talents as a vocalist major as well.

Word has it that both were superb, and I will not be late for them again if I have the chance.

Night 1 Lineup (Friday 8/15)

KWON BYUNG-JUN– (Korea) is a young experimental artist who lived and studied in the Netherlands but now is back in Seoul. He showed his unique sensitivity to creating distinctive electronic sounds, and I enjoyed the industrial-strength show, mainly because he kept a nice rhythm going – and you know it’s all about the rhythm for me. This scene was a perfect venue for experimental compositions, with the crowd tuned to individual expression, and the gracious support of humble and like-talented performers spread throughout the crowd.

TRISTERO– (Japan)  was a duo that showed up as one due to commitments of one of the team, but young Takuro Ishikawa was totally in form as a solo act, putting on a great set, based primarily on their recent releaseSo Close Yet So Far. He was especially keen on the irregular beats, such as 3/4, 5/4 and 7/8 time. The really cool thing about TRISTERO was you could choose the slow wave of the synth or the double-time of the bass & snare to catch your groove – sweet, and talented. As a bonus, he matched up with the floating vocals of Japanese female artist PEACHONFUSE, who would play the next night.

GISULBU –(Korea), real name Ki, Sul-bu, is an expanding artist with two EP’s under his belt already, and looking to surely increase this number. His set was really enjoyable, and his showmanship and crowd sense showed as he started with a simple, slow beat and progressed through triplets moving up and down the staircase of notes, increasing the soft pops into staccato barks and wolfs. A definite crowd pleaser, he finished with a few reggae riffs and brought on the heavy bass to finish it off. Excellent work.

FRAGMENT – (Japan), Kussy and Deii, a duo with a lot of experience, including performances with the likes of NINE INCH NAILS, MY BLOODY VALENTINE and SKRILLEX, and including their own label and a stable of artists [look for the upcoming ELECTROW interview with this pair, over a few beers in a nearby café]. These guys pushed the electric envelope all over the spectrum, and I mean they were killing it! Matching T-shirts, matching head-bobs, totally a crowd favorite, and they really were the highlight up to that point, IMHO. The list of sounds included a smash gong, a Japanese teenage girl voice-over, trap trash talk from East L.A. or somewhere deep urban, spin synth – what I mean is a spinning sound like a pair of Leslie speakers and an old Hammond B-3 organ – finger drumming, an off-beat shuffle a-la jazz style, bell-synth dropdowns and heavy syncopation. If you could follow all of that, then you most likely would have gotten off on it – I definitely did.

AMETSUB – (Japan), real name Akihiko Saitoh, is a very accomplished international solo artist, with his own video archive of a constantly moving highway wilderness landscape, which he used to help add visual interpretation to his multi-faceted music. Using what seemed to me to be a pick-board of metal snapping tabs to start in, he took us on a walk in trippy melodic syrup, getting the most out of his climbing tones and waves of building harmony, giving to the crowd but still holding back and letting the anticipation of a huge bass drop linger on the waves. The house was packed for this, and he did not disappoint. For his fine performance, Andy Weir gave him the encore that the crowd demanded, and he put the electric wand back in his hand and took us through a perfectly harmonic ride up and down the scales, over and over, while the audience and I were just captivated by it. Truly wonderful stuff he created. Many will be tranced by this fellow, I am sure.

NODRUMS –(Australia), the event brainchild, Andy Weir, played a solid and enjoyable set, working a steady driving rhythm, intense, serious, but still a little playful. He worked it up to a nice powerful finish, and the crowd show their love and appreciation for him, and what he had accomplished, which was nothing short of fantastic. We shall see more of him, we can only hope.  Best of luck, Andy, for many more festivals.

ODAERI – (Korea), was an interesting technical performer, and although his style was rather dissonant to my ear, he was obviously skilled in his methods. His set was not one that I enjoyed, although I did my best to appreciate the un-harmonious blends he made. I wish he rather had extended some of the nice rhythms he started, but to each his own.

SOOLEE– (Korea), finished the night with a Dj set that was both smooth and sick. He has a very strong pedigree in formal fine arts, as his professorship at Kaywon School of Art and Design indicates, along with his instructorship at Record Factory and being the founder of the Less and Less Record Label.

And this was only Night 1. You can see the connections amongst the artists if you run down their friends  on their FB pages, and see how Andy, Skyler, and many others were able to bring the pieces together. All of this without a massive stadium or any corporate booths in the mix.

Night 2 Lineup (Saturday 8/16)

Maybe this was the headliner night, but there was plenty of buzz and anticipation, even out on the street. Word must have gotten out that MORP was goin’ down, and some hard hitters were gonna hit the decks. Man, it was nice in there this night – just a fine-feelin’ groove spinnin’ around, and really cool energy for everyone. Give that credit to all the Morph planners and Skyler Jeong for setting Freebird 2 on a high-flying electric wing for all of us to sail on.

MONOELS (Korea), an act that I missed for being late, again. No excuse other than my own poor planning, so I apologize for not having any material other than this: a two-track EP produced on the Less and Less label, (remember SOOLEE? right, his label) by the name of Fixer, released in June, 2013. The Korean Indie Underground music collective Young, Gifted and Wack put MONOELS on their 2013 Compilation album. Just my luck to miss a smooth electronic deep house set – the kind I get lost in. Oh well, there’s always Soundcloud to the aural rescue.

PEACHONFUSE – (Japan), a solo female artist, carries her own label SPROUTAIL, is a model, and music manager, according to her website. Her set was sultry, and set me to drifting into a Sade-like haze. Her name ‘Momoyo’ means ‘Peach’ in Japanese, and there’s the stage name for you. After her set, she was on the floor or moving through the crowd all night, giving her mates encouragement and warming up to most of us in the crowd. Couldn’t help but like her.

DAMIRAT – (Korea), the act that is behind the scenes at the WATMM Volumes @ MUDAERUK every month. This pair makes the ‘I’ in Intelligent Dance Music I suspect, with their mix of industrial noise and smash tones. They are not ez-listening, and the crowd did not shy away from engaging the local boys to give up their complex mixes. Heavy bottom tones, busy triple-bass underneath with a half-tempo rhythm on the top side, this was not easy to follow, but the intensity needed to listen carefully was a nice change from simple 4/4. Nice progression of simpler EDM. And these guys were seriously busy, ‘working’ the crowd, the doors, the guests, the artists, everything. Major props to SHIN, Sung-hoon (Darren) and KIM, Chang-hee!

HAIHM – (Korea), the female with the power, musically that is. She put on a heroic set, one that built from the very beginning as a careful and intense progression, but I knew I was going to get a face-full of driving deep bass and super-hard synth before it was over. She put a little tease out front with wood block and muted chimes laid over a soft synth blanket, then put in a really cool jazz hook, and just as soon as I got warm with that, she put a little more deep bass in @ the 10 minute mark. With the trance kicking in and the deep house digging deeper, the crowd, already stuffed in and writhing like so many electric eels,  marked her every move, and she was totally in for the ride, really cranking the knobs with precision, slamming in more layers and pushing relentlessly – no builds or breaks – just a steady wall of throbbing power…finally at @ 30 minutes, she broke the beat in half and stroked a mean bass walk with some clank & crank factory smash, but then came back with her final thrust, a huge deep speed bass, right down our throats. And then…BREAK!…a 3-second pause of nothing-ness, silence…BAM, right back in our face, until she finally let it die. Yeah, lady’s got power, no doubt. Sometimes it pays to put a full break in…unless it’s NOT planned, which is exactly what happened! Andy told  me later that she hit the wrong button, but instead of freezing, she just hit it again and got right back on top of it. Yeah, it was sick, but she had the audience in her pocket, or it would have flopped for sure. Note to aspiring performers: if you have the audience, they will stay with you through a total shutdown.

VEGPHER – (Japan), with his second album PLUS released in October 2013, this very accomplished artist has reached the milestone many seem to peak at, and then fade from their ambitions. In this case, Keiichi Sugimoto has already been all over the world, and has plenty of renown piled up. But I think he just laid into his set as if it was his dream gig, because he came out full tilt and picked up right where HAIHM left off – which was multi-layered, full of builds and breaks, swirls and flourishes. He put his Mac to the side, and was face-to-face with the audience, which we all appreciated and loved. He was with us, and we were with him. Steadily working the knobs, with a great laser show glinting. I wrote down every single sound I could follow, and it still wasn’t enough to keep up with him. Seriously, this guy was killing it over and over. Here are my notes as I listened: “At @ 20 min in, he’s got a huge synth pile-up going on, then drops down to a 100bpm hook loop with a funk trap vocal stutter – nice. Then a full-out push @ 30 min mark – full sustain for @ 1 minute total hold…then down into a 110bpm hook with cross-synth spikes and spears. Oh, and nothing like a nice long applause track to encourage the crowd to clap for you. Totally the loudest MF’er thus far!!! Huge holdouts, too loud to hear the bass even! At @ 40 min mark, he starts a mean stomp-drive hook and pulls the crowd back in – nice, nice, works it heavy.” SO, that just about says it all.

TACIT GROUP – (Korea), the avant-garde audio-visual group famous for using sophisticated algorithms to produce electro-acoustical music via their laptops and video game interfaces such as Tetris and Pacman. On this evening there were two techhies to start with, and one more took the stage, but how she slipped in there I’ll never know – I was too busy glued to the screen and their squiggling, jiggling images and the funky, tap-happy groove they were producing. The house was packed, SRO, even had some jamming in behind me in the upper railings, but not for these guys, they were in for legendary glitch-master Aoki Takamasa, up next. TACIT GROUP seemed to be well understood, and well appreciated for their sophisticated level of musicianship.

AOKI TAKAMASA – (Japan), with a massive video called MIRABEAU released in March of 2007, this cat is surely a pioneer and leader in glitch, as the girl next to me allowed. This was music from noise, and it was polished, sublime, and still it was raw, full of swizzle, walk and talk. He put an absurd bass thump on the 1-beat, and I swear I could feel my breath go back down my throat – that’s how heavy it was. He kept the same tempo throughout the set, and it got to be a trance-like affair. My neighbor seemed to think he was playing to the audience, which made sense, because it was a live performance, and he, like those before him, had the audience in his pocket, begging, and receiving their fix. The pinnacle was when he was joined onstage by PEACHONFUSE, DJ EMERALD, and FRAGMENT, all at the 1-hour mark of his extended set. He never stopped moving until the very last beat – yeah, it was a total triumph, a fantastic set!

PRIMULA and MASAKI WATANABE –Jp, real name Daisuke Masuo, and his VJ/DJ partner MASAKI WATANABE are an audio-visual duo that just blew the top off the house. Unbelievable what this team did. [Look for the upcoming ELECTROW interview with this pair during a breather on a park bench outside Freebird 2]. I thought it was pretty theatrical for a DJ/VJ combo, but then the energy that was slapping me around finally broke my snobbish resistance, and I just climbed onboard the wild ride they put us on. Lots of stuff going on to distract me from the music, but I held fast to the beats and discovered them to be damn solid, with plenty of pure grinds and swells for everyone in the crowd. There was picture flipping, clothes changing, peek-a-boo with the laptop, and Tae-Kuk-Ki flag waving. It was all high energy, and full of tease-y gestures and flirts, but the ass twerk did nothing for me. They were great fun, and their self-made video was unabashed and bizarre, pure play.

Unfortunately, I missed both STICKER – (Korea), and DALPALAN – (Korea), during my interview with PRIMULA. Here is what I found out DALPALAN: he apparently is an accomplished musical director, having at least one hit movie music score collaboration to his credit (see the links for him, and check out the soundtrack for the hilarious movie The Good, The Bad, and the Weird, 2008). He must have put on a unique set, and again, if you missed it, like me, please go and listen and see what you missed.

DJ EMERALD – (Japan), a female DJ with the honor of bringing Morph to a close. She kept a nice house set rolling until @ 4:30, and then the sparse crowd helped her take the dial down to zero. She did a nice job, and it was the perfect wind down to the festival.

Festival Morph was a wonderful collaborative success, given the range of electronic music personalities, the many miles of digital coordination, and the low profile Internet marketing and social network un-commercial advertising that was all part of the mix.

I wish all of the organizers, all of the staff of these organizations, such as Freebird 2 and WATMM and PARPUNK, and all of the performers to have been inspired and encouraged to continue to break new ground in their fields, reach new heights in their dreams and visions, and bring more innovative and enriching music to us all.

Spread the word through your own networks, use the links provided here to encourage the passion, creativity and talent of the many independent and self-determining artists that made the Morp lineup. The Morph folks seriously stacked this roster, and you won’t know what you might have seen and heard until you know what you missed – check out the links.

And thank you Festival Morph, for creating mighty and marvelous musical memories that I will be FEELING for a lifetime.

Dr. Dave