Record Shopping – Seoul, South Korea Style

Holly and I are in the midst of a week-long visit to Asia, specifically Seoul and Osaka. And of course a vacation isn’t a vacation without some record shopping (♠). I’ve done some digging in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hong Kong in the past, but both these cities are new to me so I was pretty excited to see what I could find.

Seoul isn’t particularly known for having a strong vinyl culture, and throughout our first full day in the city I was thwarted at almost every turn. In the morning we failed to find an underground shopping mall I’d read about that was supposed to include some second hand vinyl sellers, another store totally eluded us, and a third apparently didn’t open until 2:30PM which did us no good since we were leaving that part of town at 1:30PM to attend a baseball game. (♥) Fortunately the planets aligned in the early evening and I managed to track down the used vinyl Promised Land located in the Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center, which turned out to be about two blocks from our hotel in Myeong-dong.

I learned of this hidden gem from a young Bulgarian female metalhead and blogger named Velina, who publishes the cool blog My Rock Mixtapes. We missed it the first time because I thought it was in the Myeong-dong Underground Shopping Center… but a check back to Velina’s blog pointed me in the right direction. You’re looking for the subway entrance near the Shinsegae department store. There are a bunch of these underground shopping centers, some that are part of the subway terminals and others, like Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center (below), that are simply little malls under the city streets. The quality of these centers varies wildly, and the one at Hoehyeon appears to specialize heavily in coin/stamp dealers and little used vinyl shops. I didn’t actually count them all, and some were closed during my visit because it was Sunday, but best guess is there are at least half a dozen record shops down there.

I’m not much of a foreign pressing guy in that I’m not going out of my way to get an obscure pressing of something I already have. Unfortunately for me that’s a lot of what was on offer down in Hoehyeon, as well as an absolute ton of old classical records. But there was still plenty to keep me occupied for around 90 minutes, and honesty I could have spent way more time there had I wanted to really dig through the 1980s and 90s South Korean artists. I’d done some research in advance, but to be honest the country isn’t well known for producing a lot of the kind of thing I’m interested in like punk and metal, so there wasn’t a ton here for me. Plus the dealers were clearly aware of the going rates on Discogs, so I didn’t see any major bargains on vintage South Korean artists. Thankfully, however, the stuff I was interested in was in great shape and I came away with a few interesting purchases.

Some of the shops have signs, others don’t, making it a bit hard to give you the full specifics. Also, most of them have their inventory spilling outside their shops in fairly well-ordered bins, the shops themselves being quite small – seemingly every turn of a corner yielded more stacked shelves in front of stores. The one major down-side is that many dealers had their wares in cube shelving with the spines facing out making for a more challenging digging environment, especially when you’re looking for South Korean releases and like me can’t read the Korean on the spines. I could have easily spent half a day down there digging, even ignoring the huge swaths of classical vinyl that many stores seemed to specialize in.

My first stop was the tiny but well organized Coda which offered more traditional flipping bins. I stated with the rock/metal section and found a few interesting bootlegs, but then my eyes fell upon the South Korean section so I switched my focus. I had a small list of punk and metal bands to look for and it didn’t take me long to find my first one – Asiana’s 1990 metal debut Out On the Street. I also found some bands there that looked promising, and fortunately Holly and I decided to rent our own secure mobile internet hotspot so I was able to look stuff up online using my phone. I eventually settled on another metal debut, Sinawe’s 1986 Heavy Metal Sinawe. Both records were immaculate, though the Asiana jacket had a bit of wear. Prices weren’t cheap – $40-50 US apiece, but that’s in line with Discogs pricing when you factor in shipping, so I pulled the trigger.

After that I popped next door to LP Love, a slightly larger space with a similar selection and prices. LP Love was also well laid out for digging, though I didn’t find anything the excited me and I was trying not to overcommit too early before I got to see the other shops (♣). LP The Disk had a nice assortment of SK metal and hard rock pressings, but that wasn’t my objective. Another seller, smack dab in the middle of the shopping area, had a massive wall of shelving full of bargain priced LPs at 5,000 wan each – about $5. I didn’t spend much time here though as I was still on the hunt for more SK artists and these were mostly just SK pressings.

I found a few more items at Pastel Records, ironically on some of those spine-out shelves because I saw some English writing – Black Syndrome. I couldn’t find much about the band online, but the one song clip I came across (“Rock the Speed”) sounded pretty great so I picked up their 1988 debut Fatal Attraction and their third On the Blue Street.

One last tip. If you’re interested in K Pop there are tons of kiosk-like shops offering up insane amounts of merchandise. CDs, however, proved harder to find (I was trying to pick some up for a friend’s son). However, we tracked down a joint called Music Korea that had tons of the stuff, so if that’s you’re jam, that’s where you’ll want to go.

We had a great time visiting South Korea. While the vinyl scene isn’t as substantial as that of say Japan, there’s some good history here and the releases I picked up from the 1980s and 90s all appear to be of good quality. If you find yourself in town, you’ll definitely have the opportunity to pick up a few records with just a bit of effort.

(♥) Many shops don’t open until early afternoon, and quite a few are closed on Mondays, which also sucks.

(♠) Nor is it a vacation without us trying to track down the best local burger and some local wine and/or beers.

(♣) But don’t feel too bad for LP Love. On our last day in Seoul we realized we had more local currency on hand than we needed, a situation I rectified by picking up a copy of Crash’s 1994 album Endless Supply of Pain from LP Love.

Dead Herring – “Drowned In Rock” (2017)

I enjoyed Dead Herring’s debut cassette Tuna In Trouble (2016), so it was exciting to hear that their newest effort would be released on vinyl. And they don’t disappoint, mixing hardcore and powerviolence into a wall of noise that will take the paint off your walls. It’s not all brute speed – sometimes it’s heavy and slow like on “Sólaranus”, but even then the vocals bring the angst and put a razor’s edge on the whole thing. After cramming 13 tracks on the A side, the B side is given over to one 15+ minute Sabbath-esque doom jam, which might be the most killer part of the record.

Digitally Drowned In Rock is available HERE. I’m not sure how hard it will be to track down the vinyl as it doesn’t appear to be offered on Bandcamp, so good luck with that.

Tad – “Quick and Dirty” (2018)

Nestled up here in the damp and green Pacific Northwest it would have been easy for what later became grunge to have gone unnoticed. After all it’s not like Seattle was known for much musically, at least not at the national level. As the 1980s came to a close it would have been Jimi Hendrix, Heart, and maybe Queensrÿche, but that’s probably about it. Nirvana, of course, changed all that, though as I’ve written before they weren’t the band that many of us thought would break. As the 1980s came to a close, the “Big 4” Seattle bands, at least among the people I was hanging out with up here, were Mudhoney, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Tad. And as much as I was a huge Tad fan from the first time I picked up the 1990 combined release Salt Lick / God’s Balls and was in love with their improbably sound, all hard edges and raspy, spit-flying vocals about wood goblins and getting the hell beat out of you by a leather-strap-weilding group of thugs, I never thought that Tad would have much commercial appeal. But I was hooked.

So it came as a surprise when I learned a week or so ago that a new Tad album was coming out on Record Store Day. Sure, Tad Doyle had put out other albums as part of Brothers of the Sonic Cloth and most recently a dark classical disc called Incineration Ceremony under his full name Thomas Andrew Doyle. But when I saw Brothers of the Sonic Cloth perform a few years ago they didn’t play any old Tad songs, and band itself hadn’t put out a full length release since 1995s Infrared Riding Hood (their last single was in 1999). Fortunately for us, however, there were some old Tad recordings out there hidden away, and as a result we were treated to the very limited (900 copies) Quick and Dirty on Record Store Day 2018. As an added bonus for me personally, while I was in line at Seattle’s Easy Street Records waiting to make my purchases store owner Matt Vaughan, who earlier in the morning served bacon to those of us waiting in line, shouted “Who’s got the new Tad? Anyone out there got Tad?” My arm went up, as did my buddy Travis’, and Matt came over to us and gave us each a free copy of the bonus 12″ that was included when folks pre-bought all three of the recent Sub Pop Tad re-releases. It’s got all the bonus songs that were included on the download cards for those records and was a very cool free score. Thanks Matt!

Side A of Quick and Dirty includes six tracks the band recorded in the studio back in 1999, songs that probably would have been part of Tad’s next studio album. The B side has five live tracks recorded at Seattle’s infamous Crocodile Cafe, home to so many amazing shows back in the day, and includes some early songs like “Behemoth”, “Jinx”, and “Delinquent”. This is the perfect kind of thing to come out on RSD – a combo of previously unreleased studio and live songs, not just another repackaged super glossy colored vinyl limited edition sparkly unicorn $50 collector’s edition. This is Tad, kids. It’s supposed to be a bit dirty. It’s supposed to stick to your shoes.

And man, if the studio stuff is any indication we’d have been in store for a pretty killer full-length from Tad to close out the millennium. “Mummified Cop” pounds you like a hammer with it’s start-and-stop riffs, and the boys don’t easy up over the next five songs. “Corbomite Maneuver” is heavy as hell, but still finds room for some pretty stellar guitar soloing. But as much as I was excited for, and enjoyed, hearing some new songs, I was even more stoked for the live material. And it didn’t disappoint. The live stuff is heavy, and I do mean heavy, like a plodding giant crushing the village of your mind under it’s riff-like feet. This is Tad at their best – sludgy. When they rip into my all-time Tad favorite “Behemoth” it almost feels like you’re experiencing the assault described in the song (Leather straps / Crack in my head) as the torrents of sound drive into your brain.

Quick and Dirty was a great RSD 2018 treat. Let’s hope there’s more old-school early Seattle grunge hidden away in the vaults somewhere just waiting to be released.

Red Beat – “Machines In Motion” (1979)

This 12″ from 1979 caught my eye the other day over at Seattle’s Daybreak Records, and I’m glad it did. I can’t tell you much about Red Beat, but the three songs on Machines In Motion sound like The Clash at their most dub… and then dubbed some more. It’s hard to believe this is from 1979 – it feels like something from a few years later that On-U Sound might have put out.

Wham! – “Make It Big” (1984)

Make It Big came out in 1984, when MTV was changing the way young people experienced music. Some of the greatest pop music of all time came out in the mid-1980s, and Wham! were certainly part of that pop renaissance. But it wasn’t all wine and roses and parachute pants, because if you were a boy of a certain age (middle school-ish) in certain parts of the country (like where I lived in South Carolina) publicly admitting you liked Wham! would earn you at the best ridicule, and at the worst a beating, on the school bus. These were different times and the perceived effeminateness of some pop artists, especially those from the UK like Wham! and Duran Duran somehow managed to antagonize a certain ugly undercurrent in society that made them unacceptable to like if you were a boy, or at least if you were a boy who didn’t want to get his ass kicked at school or lacked the confidence to not give a fuck. Unfortunately I lacked that confidence and had to hide my Duran Duran and Prince cassettes when my friends came over.

Fortunately being an adult means you can not give two shits about what people think about your musical taste. And let’s be clear here – Wham! was brilliant. So don’t ever call Make It Big a guilty pleasure, call it a genius pop album and revel in its beauty. It may have taken me over 30 years to get around to listening to it start-to-finish, but it’s never too late to experience something this great.