Korean Indie Interview: Juck Juck Grunzie
Juck Juck Grunzie is a psychedelic noise-rock band from Seoul. Known for creating music that merges irregular rhythms and chaotic soundscapes, the group, in their own words, forms music that explores the boundaries between dreams and nightmares to create something dark, mysterious, and hauntingly beautiful.
Originally formed as an all-girl post-punk outfit, the quartet made their debut in Seoul’s underground scene in 2007 at a Nirvana tribute show. Playing a cover of Hairspray Queen in nothing but their underwear, Juck Juck Grunzie quickly attracted attention in the alternative scene by breaking boundaries normally set in traditionally conservative South Korea. Their affinity for dressing in ‘strange’ outfits during performances did not end with underwear though as over the next couple of years the group wear on to perform in soccer uniforms and pyjamas, displaying a knack for self-expression typically seen in the punk-rock scene.
The group’s current line up may have changed – the group is now made up of three women and a man – but their passion for music is still clear to see, despite having last released an EP in 2013. We were fortunate enough to interview the group before their European tour dates and ask them when fans can expect to hear newer material, what their plans are for their time in the UK and how they feel about constantly being asked about the ‘negative’ impacts of being a majority female group.
Group members: Ahreum Lee, vocalist and synthesiser player, Jeehye Ham on guitar, bass player Boong and drummer Kyunghyun Lee. Questions answered by Ahreum Lee.
Can you introduce yourselves to our readers and tell us a little about how the group got together?
Hi, I’m Ahreum from the band Juck Juck Grunzie. We’re a four-piece rock act from Seoul, Korea. In Juck Juck Grunzie, I play synthesizer and sing, Jeehye plays guitar, Boong plays bass, and Kyunghyun plays drums.
Jeehye and I first met a long time ago at a live venue in Seoul called Salon Badabie and became friends. She was already playing in the shoegaze band Vidulgi Ooyoo, but we decided we wanted to make a new group together. That’s how Juck Juck Grunzie came about. When we first formed the band, we had a different bassist and drummer. Boong joined the band in 2010 and Kyunghyun came on board in December. We met him through some friends of ours.
If you could describe your music in three words, what would they be?
Dark, mysterious, and beautiful.
How would you say your music is different from other similar performers?
It’s hard to say when you’re the one making it. We take inspiration from many difference places and hope that the combination of influences and our own personalities make something new and interesting. That’s what all bands or artists are trying to do I suppose. We just follow our instincts and after that it’s up to the audience and what they bring to it as a listener.
You are playing at Glastonbury (June 25th/26th) this year, which is a huge thing for any group, how did you get such an impressive opportunity?
We were invited to take part in a music conference in Korea where a lot of foreign industry people came to check out what is happening here. A promoter from Glastonbury watched us and liked what he saw. We went to the conference with kind of low expectations. I mean we’re confident in ourselves as musicians and as a band, but our music certainly isn’t very commercial sounding. We were so happy that our performance went over well with all the people at the conference. We actually cried after getting the news about being invited to Glastonbury. It’s not something we ever imagined happening.
What are you plans for your time in the UK?
We’re going to stay at Glastonbury for a couple of days so that we can enjoy performances by other artists too. It’s a great chance to see some acts who don’t regularly tour in Asia. I’m personally looking forward to seeing FKA Twigs and Goat. We perform on Thursday and Friday so it’s great that we can have our work done and still have some time at the festival. We’ve played some big festivals here in Korea and Taiwan so we know what to expect work-wise. Often when you play you get so tied up in what you have to do that you don’t get much time to check out much else at the festival. It’ll be good to have our shows done and time to relax and enjoy being there.
You are also playing at the Windmill in Brixton on June 30th, just a few days after your Glastonbury performances. Are you more used to intimate performances than those like Glastonbury?
We’ve only played at a few festivals before. So, for the most part, we still play in smaller clubs. There is a neighborhood in Seoul called Hongdae where the majority of live music happens. It’s like our home. There are tons of venues and clubs around that area and everyone kind of knows everyone else. I think our London show will feel a lot more like a Hongdae show than Glastonbury will.
You released your debut LP Psycho in 2013 and were helped to produce it by Apollo 18’s bassist Daeinn Kim. What was it like working with him and did you have any conflicting production ideas?
Daeinn helped a lot with the song arrangements and has a great sensibility for that. We were having a very hard time agreeing on the song structures before heading into the studio. It was great to have Daeinn come in and offer an outside perspective to us as a band. We’d known Daeinn for a while before working together on the record so he was very familiar with our music and had a good idea of what our vision was. Sometimes we disagreed with Daeinn about some approaches to the sound production, but he always respected our input. It really was a collaborative environment in the studio, and we think it was very good for our band to have him there with us.
It has been two years since Psycho was released and although brilliant, fans are definitely awaiting new releases. When can we expect to hear newer material from the group?
We’ll be playing a couple of new songs in our sets in Europe. We’ve only finished a few tracks so far, but as soon as we get back to Seoul we’re getting to work on writing our next album. We hope to have it done by next spring. That’s our major focus for the rest of this summer.
Does it annoy you (as a group) to constantly be asked by others if being a majority female group has any negative impacts on you in the Korean indie scene?
We can understand why people ask that, but to be honest, yes it gets a bit annoying. We’ve been doing a lot of press for our upcoming tour and sometimes it feels like some articles are centered on that only. But we don’t define our band in that way. When we’re making music we don’t think of it as “female” music or “Korean” music. We approach our music just like anyone else would. We aren’t a political band and we don’t have any agenda with our music. We certainly are feminists, but we’re not on a mission. If just being ourselves helps support feminism in some way than that’s a good thing, but we don’t think about it … well, at least not until someone asks us about it! We’d be much happier to talk about our songs than our gender.
Your European tour is only covering Germany and the UK. Is there anywhere else in particular around Europe you would like to play?
We wanted to go to France this time too, but the scheduling and funding was difficult. We have a lot of overhead just getting from Asia to Europe and we are still an unsigned independent band so we had to raise a lot of money on our own. We actually had a fundraiser show in Seoul a few weeks ago where a lot of local bands helped us raise money for the tour. It was amazing to get support like that from the community here. We hope that we can return to Europe again in the future and play more dates next time.
Your music has a great mix of English/Korean lyrics and a good few of your songs feature shifts in tempo, two things I think help to strengthen your music. Do you feel this helps international fans to connect on a more personal level with your music?
I usually write my lyrics based on the vibe I get from the music. The music comes from jamming and I usually improvise some words, phrases, or sometimes just vocal sounds while we’re jamming. After that I look at the words again to build something meaningful. We aren’t a singer-songwriter type of band so I think audiences from anywhere can connect to us musically regardless of whether we’re singing in English or in Korean. It’s cliché to say, but music really is universal. I hope that anyone from anywhere who is a fan of this kind of rock music can find something to connect with in our songs.
Which other Korean groups would you recommend to our readers?
Apollo 18 is an obvious choice for us. We also like Silica Gel and Ankle Attack. It’s hard to answer this sometimes because we all like different bands and there are so many to choose from. People might not realize it, but Seoul has a very active rock scene. Those acts just popped into my mind, but there are many more we could list.
Is there anything you would like to say to our readers?
Thanks a lot for taking the time to check out our band. We really appreciate it. And if you’ll be at Glastonbury or will be in London on June 30, please come and see us play!
Juck Juck Grunzie European tour dates are as follows:
July 1 Berlin, Germany @ Kantine am Berghain
July 4 Berlin, Germany @ West Germany
Thank you to Juck Juck Grunzie for taking the time to answer our questions before their European tour. We wish you luck and will be there to cheer you on in the UK. You can follow the group on Facebook (as linked above) and also Twitter.