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No-Psy Zone

Taking a stand against the relentless invasion of K-pop

Author Hannah Stuart-Leach


SEOUL—The bleary-eyed man downs his beer and slams his glass onto the bar. He has long hair, wears a threadbare black coat and looks like he hasn’t shaved for a month. Anywhere else, people would give this guy a wide berth, but at Gopchang Jeongol, he fits right in.

Situated in a basement in Seoul’s Hongdae entertainment district, the kitsch-cluttered bar has set itself up as a kind of Alamo, a last bastion of great Korean contemporary music—a category that does not include sartorially challenged rappers riding imaginary horses. In short, “Gangnam Style” gets no play here.

“It’s the Macarena all over again,” sighs a lanky, hoodie-clad regular named Sean Maylone, referring to Psy’s ubiquitous novelty song. Originally from California, Maylone runs an indie-music booking and promotion agency, through which he aims to counter the vast popularity of glossy K-pop. To help inspire appreciation for other genres, he and Gopchang Jeongol’s owners recently created an Internet archive of Korean music from the past 60 years.

“I have hopes,” Maylone says, “that with all this access to information we’ll see the immense Korean drive and focus put toward contemporary creativity and flipping over new sounds and such.” He goes on to explain that he wants to open the minds of listeners and emerging artists alike, but he is soon drowned out by the table-rattling bass line of shin Jung Hyun & Yup Juns’ 1974 hit, “I Think.”

At this moment, the guy at the bar hurls himself on to the tiny dance floor, whirling around in a mist of cigarette smoke. Maylone cocks his head in the man’s direction and smiles, as if the spectacle says it all.

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Playing cat and mouse with garden smails

SPAIN—Juan the snail man doesn’t have a wide inventory. He mainly sells caracoles, garden snails that are a bit smaller than marbles, by the fish market in El Puerto de Santa María, on Spain’s Atlantic Coast, along with bundles of poleo, an herb used to temper the garlicky cumin broth in which the snails are traditionally served.

Chef David Méndez, a regular customer of Juan’s, says caracoles elicit memories of childhood, when picking them out of the ooze was a source of fun as well as protein. "Everyone sits around, slurping them out of their shells," he says.

Juan is less enamored of the little animals. The line at his stall is long, and the caracoles, despite their lack of speed, have devised an effective escape strategy: to overwhelm by sheer force of numbers. When asked where he finds his snails, Juan dismisses the question with a wave of his arm—which 20 or so caracoles seem to take as their signal to make a bid for freedom. —GEOFFREY GRAY

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