With the K-pop craze in full force, it’s easy to forget that South Korea is home for many amazing bands spanning from pop punk to alt-rock. K-pop’s dominance makes it hard to imagine how a genre such as rock could ever flourish within the country’s music industry.
If you love K-pop but also want to dive in and check out what else the South Korean music world has to offer, check out the bands below repping pop punk, alt-rock and all the scenes in between.
Day6 have seen a steady rise toward fame since their debut in 2015. With a sound that blends elements of soft-rock ballads and pop-punk anthems, the band have earned their spot in becoming one of the more popular groups in the Korean rock scene. In 2017, the band kicked off their Every Day6 project, a series of singles released monthly throughout the entire year with themes such as love, loss and friendship. While the band pivoted to an ’80s-inspired concept in their latest music video for “days gone by,” they continue to write bittersweet tracks full of emotive lyrics and intricate instrumentals.
Sounds like: The Aces, PVRIS
Bursters, also known as Burstered in some translations, first made their debut in 2014 on the South Korean talent television show Superstar K. After their stint on the show, the five-piece quickly gained a following after the release of their head-thrashing, screamo single “Lost Child.” The band continue to make attention-grabbing emo rock music and will set out on a headlining world tour in May with labelmates Broken Valentine and AIVAN.
Sounds like: Black Veil Brides, Escape The Fate
Seoul-based indie-rock band Nell are veterans in the Korean rock scene, considered by many as architects for the development and growth of the genre. The four-piece’s dark songwriting coupled with their psychedelic roots became their trademark and gained them widespread attention in South Korea, ushering in a new creative era for rock in the country. More recently, the band were featured on BTS’ RM’s mono mixtape and released their latest album, Let’s Part, in 2018.
Sounds like: Muse, Radiohead
Since 2007, FTISLAND—short for Five Treasure Island—have experimented with just about every genre of rock. The band have been able to avoid falling into mainstream standards by continuously creating rock anthems filled with emotional lyrics and dynamic instrumentals. After the release of their debut album, Cheerful Sensibility, FTISLAND found major success not only in their home country but also in Japan, resulting in over a dozen projects being dropped, including 2016’s Where’s The Truth? and Everlasting in March.
Sounds like:Bring Me the Horizon, Thirty Seconds To Mars
Progressive metallers Inlayer creatively blend together nü metal and djent tendencies to make a mark in South Korea’s metal scene. Their bombastic sound got them noticed by SM Entertainment, resulting in two features on the artist management company’s digital project SM Station in 2016. “Mindjack” displays the band’s instrumental prowess, while “Nightmare” brings in elements of hip-hop, electronica and raw, powerful vocals to dive into rapcore territory.
Sounds like: Linkin Park, Of Mice & Men
Known for their cinematic and often melancholic indie sound, Hyukoh shot to fame after appearing on the South Korean television show Infinite Challenge and have refused to slow down. The band are a prime example of effortless genre-blending, powerful music videos and raw lyricism made more readily available for listeners due to frontman Oh Hyuk’s fluency in Korean, Mandarin and English. Following the release of their first studio album 23 in 2017, the band went on their first world tour and had their song “Citizen Kane” featured in a commercial for the iPhone X the following year. Most recently, Hyukoh have been all over the world performing and even stopped by the U.S. to perform at this year’s Coachella.
Sounds like: Arcade Fire, Muse
7. South Club
South Club officially formed when lead vocalist/guitarist Nam Taehyun, formerly of the K-pop group Winner, decided to leave the pop-idol life behind in order to gain more creative freedom and artistic control. The frontman’s strong foundation in multiple genres such as blues, grunge and indie rock set the tone for South Club’s 2017 EP, 90, which takes inspiration from the Brit-pop rock revival of the ’90s. In their track “OUTCAST,” the band use climatic bass and guitar riffs, embellished with synths, distortions and an organ to create a song that feels both new and nostalgic.
Sounds like: The 1975, YUNGBLUD
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In November 2016, Wetter burst onto the scene with full force, releasing their first single “Who” and following up with their debut EP, Romance In A Weird World, six months later. This established Wetter as a group open to experimentation, never settling on one specific sound as their trademark. In “Who,” the band use an upbeat track looping and simple guitar sounds backed by relaxed drums, while “Lucy” enlists more complex tones that are darker and slower. Most recently, the quartet released the music video for their single “GGONDAE” and performed in Liverpool’s Sound City festival.
Sounds like: Arctic Monkeys
9. The Rose
Although they officially debuted in 2017, longtime fans of the Rose may recognize them from their years in Korea’s rich busking scene. Their first single, “Sorry,” is an emotional ballad about lost love, offering a fantastic introduction to the band’s soft-rock vibe. Frontman Kim Woosung’s immense control over his raspy vocals touches on themes of loneliness, unstable relationships and doubt. In turn, it creates a distinct pop-rock sound when combined with their introspective lyrics.
Sounds like: The Script
Psychedelic rockers Guckkasten have been a staple in the South Korean experimental scene since their inception in 2007. Pulling inspiration from American powerhouses such as Metallica, Arcade Fire and Red Hot Chili Peppers, the quartet continue pushing out album after album of their dreamy-yet-explosive sound, their latest being 2017’s STRANGER. They spent last year playing shows all over the country, and lead vocalist Ha Hyun-woo was even featured as a performer for the Winter Olympics 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Sounds like: Red Hot Chili Peppers
What are some of your favorite K-pop bands? Let us know in the comments below.