Korea Spotlight at Reeperbahn Festival: „K-pop is wide and diverse“

This week, Reeperbahn Festival is happening in Hamburg for the 16th time. Even though it’s the second COVID edition, 25.000 music fans will be able to get together in Hamburg, Germany — including around 1500 delegates. During this four days and nights they will be able to experience live performances from 250 acts as well as talks, art and movies. Since I’ve been following K-pop and K-drama for a while now, I am excited that Korea is this years’ partner country of Reeperbahn Festival. The timing seems to fit perfectly. Since the Korean thanksgiving Chuseok, one of the most important traditional holidays, is celebrated this week. And since Korea’s pop music export number one, BTS, just spoke in front of the United Nations General Assembly on Monday. Shining the light once again on the soft power of hallyu, the Korean wave.

Korea at Reeperbahn Festival — from electro to indie rock

The Korea Spotlight at Reeperbahn Festival presents nine bands and artists, who demonstrate the wide range of Korean pop culture. From electro and avantgarde to folk, indie rock and hip hop. Unfortunately due to the ongoing pandemic, all the Korean acts — Bosudong Cooler, Bryn, CHIMMI, Drippin, hyangni, Idiotape, Kim Sawol, Wedance and THAMA — can only be seen in a streaming event. But I am very happy that I’ve been able to interview Hokyoung Lee, project manager at the Music & Fashion Industry Team of KOCCA, the Korea Creative Content Agency.

Hokyoung Lee, project manager, Music & Fashion Industry Team, KOCCA, Korea Creative Content Agency
Hokyoung Lee, project manager at KOCCA – pic by Hokyoung Lee.

KOCCA teamed up with Reeperbahn Festival to build a long-term partnership. The Korea Creative Content Agency is a public institution under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and was established in 2009 to promote Korea’s popular culture industry such as music, fashion and drama. KOCCA’s Music & Fashion Industry Team provides various support for the development of the Korean music industry, from discovering new musicians to holding events such as MU:CON, Korea’s premier music showcase festival and conference. And they are facilitating the attendance of artists at overseas events such as Reeperbahn Festival.

In 2014 KOCCA moved from Seoul to Naju in Korea’s south. In addition to this headquarter the agency operates five offices in Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan area, one office in Daejeon, and six international business centers around the world. Of particular note is the KOCCA European Business Center which opened in Paris, France in 2019. Hokyoung Lee and I talked about music export and collaborations, the interpretation of K-pop and the hope for bands to travel normally again soon.

For how long have you been cooperating with Reeperbahn Festival and why is the festival especially interesting for KOCCA to promote Korean pop culture?

KOCCA started participating at the Reeperbahn Festival for the first time in 2017, this year it will be the 5th Korean Spotlight at Reeperbahn. The Reeperbahn Festival is considered a special opportunity where you can meet music industry officials from all over the world in one place. This is an opportunity to showcase our artists in front of people who would not usually get to see them here in Korea. Additionally, KOCCA holds the showcase and conference festival MU:CON in Seoul every fall. This year’s MU:CON will be held from September 30th to October 2nd. And the Reeperbahn Festival is viewed as an important partner festival for MU:CON. There is a good synergy that has been created over the years between us.

Korea, musician, rapper, female, hip hop, Show me the money, Bryn, Reeperbahn Festival, K-Pop
With her unique rap flow she convinced many viewers of Korean’s rap competition TV show „Show me the money“: Bryn – pic by kimharu Sulchong.

Which other cooporations does KOCCA maintain within the German music market?

KOCCA is looking for partners in Germany and the global market that can collaborate in various ways to promote Korean artists to Germany and to introduce German artists to Korea. Last year, I was introduced to Initiative Music, an organization that plays a similar role as KOCCA in Germany through the Reeperbahn Festival, and I was able to invite KIDSØ, a German producer duo, to our MU:CON showcase festival. KOCCA is open to all kinds of collaboration, so please keep an eye on what we are doing and do not hesitate to contact us at any time.

With a lot of focus on K-pop, especially on BTS and their label Big Hit Music / Hype with its innovative marketing strategies: Does this segment of Korean music outshine other acts and genres or is it easier to place indie artists in this stream of global attention?

The definition of K-pop varies depending on the interpreter. But in recent years, K-pop, led by BTS, has achieved great success. And at the same time, they have established themselves as the main faces of K-pop in the global market. However, what I want to say is that K-pop music that actually exists in Korea is much wider and more diverse than K-pop that is recognized overseas. One of the ultimate goals of KOCCA is to continue to introduce this new K-pop music to the world. The kind of K-pop which KOCCA will introduce in the future could be anything from the new face of global K-pop to an entirely new genre of music. Please keep an eye out to see which direction K-pop will develop and evolve towards in the future.

Korea, pop music, Lee Jeehyang, Lee Junkyu, hyangni, Seoul
Lee Jeehyang and Lee Junkyu aka hyangni from Seoul produce an ultra relaxed and complex pop sound – pic by Jonathan Jacobson.

What does it mean for KOCCA, that Korea is this years’ partner country of Reeperbahn Festival?

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the Reeperbahn Festival for inviting Korea to be the focus country this year. It is of great significance for KOCCA to be taking part to promote Korea as the host country at the Reeperbahn Festival. Over the past decade, Korea has knocked on the door of numerous global markets and achieved unexpected growth and results. Participation at the Reeperbahn is the first step toward the next decade of Korean music. I would like to ask you to look forward to the new faces that will be introduced by KOCCA who undoubtedly go on to achieve even greater success in the global market.

At Reeperbahn Festival 2021, there are nine Korean acts performing via stream. How did KOCCA select these artists?

The artists were selected by both KOCCA and the representatives from the Reeperbahn Festival. THAMA and hyangni were chosen to participate at Reeperbahn from the artists showcased at MU:CON in the fall of 2020. The remaining seven acts were selected from around 50 artists who applied to perform at Reeperbahn. Each application went through an evaluation process conducted by both KOCCA and Reeperbahn.

Korea, Duo, Wedance, pop, dance
Step out of your comfort zone and onto the dance floor: the duo Wedance moves you with their hypnotic groovy tracks – pic by Kai Oh.

I am confident that the nine artists we are presenting this year are promising acts that already have a strong musical foundation here in Korea. And they have been recognized for their potential to expand into the European market. Their showcases can be viewed online and offline at the festival. There will be an offline broadcast of our showcase at the Spielbude stage on the 25th from 13.30 to 15:00. We also have a networking event on the Spatial Chat system for delegates at 12:00 on the 23rd where not only will you have a chance to watch the videos, but also to network with the artists‘ managers as well. Additionally the artist’s videos will be available on demand through the Reeperbahn official website throughout the duration of the festival.

Drippin, Boyband, Band, Korea, KOCCA, K-Pop
Cool and candy colored pop music: the boyband Drippin is part of the opening show of Reeperbahn Festival – pic by Kim Young Bae.

What kind of experiences did Korean bands previously make at Reeperbahn Festival and did it help them to get established in the European market?

Around 40 acts have participated in the Reeperbahn Festival over the last five years. They have achieved both small and great results over that time thanks to the many opportunities provided by the Reeperbahn Festival. The opportunity to showcase in front of so many local and global business professionals as well as taking part in extra events such as the Berlin networking sessions have proved to be invaluable. One regrettable thing is that we have not been able to go visit Hamburg in person for the last few years because of COVID-19. So we have not been able to meet our local partners in person. I hope the situation will ease as soon as possible so we can once again take our artists to showcase in Germany. 

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My name is Birgit Reuther aka Biggy Pop. I am a freelance journalist specializing in pop culture. I am writing for the newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt. And I can be heard on the airwaves, presenting a talk and music show called Nachtclub Überpop for the public radio station NDR. I am writing press and B2B texts for record labels, bands, and pop institutions. And I am hosting a show at Hamburg’s music club Knust called Knust Guesthouse, where experienced acts and talents perform together and talk about their art. As Biggy Pop, I am publishing this blog about the music scene of Hamburg up to international pop phenomena. And I have a regular gig (beyond Covid) as a DJ on the Frau Hedi, a riverboat music club on the Elbe.