When it comes to culture, Ulsan is somewhat lacking. Luckily, it’s nestled between traditional Gyeongju that offers a glimpse into Korea’s past, and modern, multi-cultural Busan. Both cities are only a short train ride away, allowing Ulsanites to fulfill their cultural quota. However, every October Ulsan hosts an international music festival which compensates for what can be a very dry city.
The festival descended on the city this year during a three day weekend, so events started on the Thursday evening and spanned through to Sunday. There is no entry fee, and you have access to three stages playing a variety of music from around the world. Alongside some mini stages which offer traditional Korean performances, including dancing and poetry. Also, there is an array of arts and crafts stalls, and international food tents from multiple countries prepared by natives. The diversity of the cuisine was like taking a tour of world flavours alongside the music.
The combination of so many different bands from around the world meant that there was a real richness to the music. One band might be a European gypsy band closely followed by a Chinese rock band. These alternative sounds might be considered to clash with one another; however, the contrast in sounds only intensified each artist’s flair and finesse.
The festival lures such an assorted crowd, that it is not uncommon to be dancing with a Korean family one minute and a Russian rock star the next. There is a friendly vibe that makes the weekend perfect for a family outing. Also, all the bars in the area cater for before and after parties. If you’re ever in Ulsan, I highly recommend the weekend of Cheoyong.
Socialising in a predominantly foreign community has opened up the gates to a variety of cultural celebrations. Each event is embraced as one’s own, and it successfully quietens any loathsome homesickness. This weekend, it was time to celebrate the Holi Hai festival. The Hindu festival of colours has rapidly become very popular worldwide, probably due to the playful nature of throwing paint over each other and dancing, (what’s not to love?!).
Luckily, spring suddenly showed her ravishing face, encouraging participants to strip off their winter layers in order to frolick on Haeundae beach. Indian dance music was booming from the speaker system on the seafront by 10am encouraging people to commence their revelry. Each participator was provided with a packet of paint powder, a Hindu hat, a can of coke, unlimited access to face paint and two delicious samosas for a measley 10,000won fee. The beach was brimming with early morning drinkers and the mini marts alcohol supplies quickly diminished.
By midday, with the sun beating down on the revellers, the extravaganza began. The anticipation increased alongside the countdown. Suddenly, the salty sea air was mingled with a rainbow of paint as strangers immersed each other in a sensational spectrum of colour. The cavorting continued until the late afternoon, by which point participants were driven to nearby restaurants in order to quell their ravenous hunger.
When I lived in the UK, I would generally go to a gig a couple of times a month. Every night there would be an ample supply of bands and artists to choose from in various venues around the city. Often, if I found myself with nothing to do, I’d pick up the local freebie magazine and see who was playing that evening. Impromptu nights out to bands that I’d never even heard of tend to be where my favourite memories were forged.
However, Korea has failed to fulfil my lavish appetite for live music. So, by the time I flew across the East Sea I was craving for a fix. Luckily, Tokyo is the kind of city that can cater to a variety of desires and mine was not too hard to quench.
I managed to find a gig in the middle of the trip that was a decent price. The allure of the band was was intensified as I had never even heard them before. I was delighted when the Canadian four piece sauntered on stage, channelling a composed, cool aura.
Jane Penny’s vocals are sultry and seductive as she works her way through an impressive set list. Her voice is mellifluous, as it flows around the room intoxicating the crowd with its honey sweetness. The music is reminiscent of a previous era and it transports you back to a hedonistic moment of pleasure in the late 70s.
The lyrics are meagre and scraped thinly over the songs. However, each instrument assimilates beautifully, and the euphonious conclusion makes you forget all about the raw lyrics. Instead, the music entraps you in the moment.