By Ruth Jiang
HYUKOH is a South Korean indie rock band and the fact that they were even in Cambridge, Massachusetts this past weekend was a huge deal. The band formed in 2014, and hits like “Wi Ing Wi Ing” and “Comes And Goes” will be incredibly familiar to even the most casual of K-indie listeners. Though they’ve built quite the following in South Korea, making that transition overseas as a non-Western act might not always have stellar results.
However, it was 7 p.m. on a Sunday evening and The Middle East Downstairs had a huge line stretching around the building. Doors were supposed to open at 7, but people were only able to slowly trickle into the venue because the HYUKOH concert was insanely sold out; security made people enter in groups of five. In terms of how popular Hyukoh was, at least in Boston, there was nothing to worry about.
There’s a rawness to Hyukoh’s music that can be heard most recently in their first full length album, 23 which was released earlier this year. I wondered whether that type of organic authenticity, most characterized by frontman Oh Hyuk’s husky rock-ready vocals, could translate across in an hour-long concert.
Few words from the band were spoken during the show, and Hyukoh started performing like they were on a determined mission to win over the audience, though that was an easy mission as the crowd was effortlessly one of the most engaged I’ve ever been a part of. The band performed most of their album, and to say that the live renditions sounded better than the recordings is an understatement. Surrounded by the loving reactions of the crowd to each song, Hyukoh was on fire.
I saw the phrase “Hyukoh is an introverted band” floating around somewhere on the internet and it couldn’t be more true. The band had a cohesive connection with each other, and transitions between songs were peppered with few words from Oh Hyuk, who spoke in a mix of English and Korean. The music was the focus here, and the unrestrained, fluent nature of the band in the way they performed was compelling to all audience members, even those like me who were presented with a language barrier. Nostalgic and charged, Hyukoh’s music flowed through a mix of emotions and they were conveyed so powerfully that the audience could feel it in their toes.
By the time the evening ended, two encore performances from the band had breezed past, easy in their charm, and it truly felt like an experience I’d look back on even days after. There is just something about Hyukoh that is insanely likable– perhaps it’s to do with the fact that they were such a no-nonsense type of act, performing with such a humble and passionate manner. And the audience loved every bit. It’s difficult to find anything bad to say about this show. If anything, the two hour plus wait that many fans had to withstand to get in might be the only thing, and I’m sure the audience would say that it was 110% worth it.