Music To Poledance To? Korea`s Angry Bear In Tokyo.

Angry Bear in Akasaka
(L-R) Ian, KC, Scott, Patrick

I meet Angry Bear at the Crawfish in Akasaka, an area of Tokyo I always feel to be a bit of a wasteland during the day, but which at night becomes a heaving district of neon, salary-men and girls in impossibly tight dresses.  As I stand on the street with Angry Bear trying to find a good spot to set up our on-camera interview, I notice that, rather fittingly, we are surrounded by Korean shops, restaurants, and more than a few Korean-speaking hostesses welcoming and bidding farewell to their clientele.  Eventually we settle on the lobby area above the Crawfish, where  during the interview the band are jostled by the coming and going of  customers, band members of the night’s gig arrive, and even a random homeless guy hovers on the edge of the group as we interview.

For this second profile of what’s going on in the Tokyo alternative music  scene, I leapt at the chance of interviewing Angry Bear when I discovered they were coming over from Seoul to play for the weekend.  It’s a rare treat to have visiting bands appearing on anything other than stadium stages in Tokyo, so I was keen to see what they had to say about their experiences so far and how they compare with Korea.

“I’m impressed, ” says singer and bassist KC about Tokyo.  “I like the character of the city.  I think it’s cool. The buildings are different, the temples…”

Guitarist Ian adds, “It’s my third time in Tokyo, and every time it keeps getting better.  We’re foreigners everyday in Korea, but here we’re completely out of our element. It’s like going back to 7 years ago when I first arrived in Seoul.”

“However, that is refreshing,” adds singer and guitarist, Scott.  “It’s a good feeling.”

Angry Bear (화난 곰 “Hwanangom” in Korean) was formed by KC and Scott back in 2007 as a two-piece acoustic group, before amping-up and rocking out when drummer Patrick joined the band a year later.  Patrick tells me that he met Angry Bear while he was on a date, asked them if they needed a drummer, and failed to see his date again.  Clearly love at first sight then.  The band brought out their first album “Gom” in 2009 and followed it up in 2011 with a new band member Ian, and album “II”.  Listening to the differences between that first album, which seems comparatively softer in tone, I asked Angry Bear if they could put their finger on what it was that changed between albums:

“I’m 34 so it’s hard to say that a year in my life made a difference,” says KC,  “but clearly a new member of the band did.  And growing generally – we don’t want to stagnate.  Some bands find something and think ‘this works’.  That sucks.  We personally find that very boring, so we’re constantly trying to write new songs.”

“We should say that we self-produced both of the albums,” adds Scott, referring to KC who took on much of the production work. “You learn as you go along so on the second CD, he knew how to produce the album a lot better.”

“I think having two guitarists opens up a lot of opportunities, ” Ian says, gesturing towards Scott. ” He can do something now that he couldn’t do on the first album.”

“He’s our fifth member,” says Scott, gesturing towards our vagrant audience-member,   “But, we had to lose him.  We’ve still got his guitar.”

In my time swotting-up on Angry Bear I had conversations with friends trying to pin down exactly who they reminded us of, what kind of style to attribute to them.  Headlining the first night of the Angry Bear weekend with label-mates The Mootekkis, Bitter Haze and The ABCDs, Angry Bear kick off their set with “The Walls”, a rocky number with hard-hitting drums and long guitar notes that are reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age.  ” Here I Am” is  much softer style and harmonies, and “No Mind” with it’s jaunty guitar-riff and country-esque leanings which had me thinking simultaneously of Kings of Leon and Zakk Wylde in his less growly moments.  You can see how hard it is to to pin any one style to Angry Bear, and perhaps we shouldn’t attempt anything other than post-rock, though as one girl at the gig was heard to say of Angry Bear: “If you are drunk enough, you can pole dance to it.”

Angry Bear’s second gig of the weekend, saw them playing with Icon Girl Pistols, who they have previously played with in Korea.  As Icon’s bassist Chris turned up and lurked behind the camera just after we started the interview, I decided to ask about the band’s Korean reception.

“We felt very welcome,” says Chris.  ” We wouldn’t have arranged this weekend with you guys over here if we hadn’t.”

“The feedback from everyone at our shows has been good,” says Patrick.

“The best thing was we weren’t on until 11pm and everyone hung around until the end,” adds Chris.  ” The problem with playing in Korea is that the shows start so late we were all pretty wasted but the time it got to being on stage. So that was a challenge.  It was awesome.”

With that in mind then, and following on from subjects I’d touched upon with The Mootekkis, I asked how the Korean music scene compared with Japan, the latter of which has developed a big fixation on Korean pop music.

“Seoul is still kinda small on the international bands circuit,” says Patrick, ” It seems like internationally Tokyo wins hands down all over the place. ”

“The scene is growing,” says KC.   ” The pop music culture is growing and it’s growing a lot of side-flowers.  It’s grown a lot in the 5 years I’ve been there.”

Ian continues: “People say the growth of K-Pop is dragging up other kinds of music with it – indie rock, dance music.  Everything is growing underneath K-Pop.”

“In that tree’s shadow many other flowers bloom, ” adds KC.

“And die,” quips Scott.

It’s encouraging to see that a behemoth like K-Pop, with all its attendant mainstream stylings is bringing with it to the fore an interest in other kinds of music, so it was interesting to see how bands both ex-pat and Korean worked together, if at all.  In researching the band I had come across mention of the Rock도 Festival Ian and Patrick are involved in putting together this coming summer, and my final question concerned this.

“It’s separate from Angry Bear,” Ian says, “Patrick and I are organising a free summer festival along the Han river in the centre of Seoul. The point of it  is to showcase a lot of new indie bands in Seoul, and getting the ex-pat scene to work more closely with the Korean bands.  Right now, there’s a division between ex-pat and local bands, and we want to close the gap.  Angry Bear has been a part of it, helping us fund-raise – we’ve put on a lot of shows and taken the profits towards that.”

Patrick continues: “It’s also to thank the people who come out every week and support the bands.  Korean shows can be expensive, and people come and watch us every week and other bands.  It costs a lot of money. We think it’s nice to try and give something back.”

Listen to Angry Bear and check out forthcoming gigs in Korea at www.reverbnation.com/angrybear

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