"Being a K-pop fan right now is awesome, no matter where you are"
From why MTV Iggy should cover UK funky, to why eating extra-spicy Thai food doesn't excuse bigotry, to why K-pop belongs to the entire world, Elite Gymnastics has strong opinions. The odd thing is, they're all fascinating.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about a mixtape entitled All We F**king Care About is K-Pop, Whitehouse, and Our Cats. Released by Minneapolis duo Elite Gymnastics for a UK clothing label, it was a strange mix of heavy industrial, avant-garde Japanese minimalism, and the more plaintive side of K-pop. Strange in the musical pairings, definitely. But if you’re looking for music that captures that happy-sad, slightly dystopian feeling of endlessly driving around parking lots in the rain, this would be it.
Was the mixtape a stunt? James Brooks and Josh Clancy generated buzz for their 2010 EP Real Friends by plastering the cover with two surfer chicks braving the waves in garish, ’80s print bikinis and calling themselves “chillwave millionaires.” 2009 was all about the misbegotten “chillwave” movement so the boys appeared to have ridden the tail end of it quite successfully. So was this an attempt to cash in on K-pop’s popularity? Hitch wagons to another zeitgeist and appear in apathetic-kids-of-today stories? An ironic gesture so empty as to be nihilistic?
To get to the bottom of the mixtape conundrum, we contacted Elite Gymnastics with several pointedly aggressive questions. And James Brooks responded. And it turns out that the kids of today are earnest, deeply thoughtful, and quietly, scathingly funny about everything from Western audiences getting past the language barrier in music to “this weird colonial thing happening in youth culture right now…”
Your mixtape All We F***ing Care About Is K-pop, Whitehouse, and Our Cats instantly caught our eyes for the title alone. What’s the connection between the brutal industrial techno of Whitehouse and the eye-candy power pop of K-pop?
The main connection is just that we are huge fans of both. But also, the tracks we used in the mix are from Whitehouse leader William Bennett’s Cut Hands project, which is based on his experiments with African tribal music. We blended those tracks with the track by the Japanese electropop group capsule, “I Will,” which is the musical project of producer Yasukata Nakata, who often cites tribal music as an influence on his work. Both are projects that have an international, multi-cultural approach to art, and we wanted to sort of highlight that by juxtaposing them.
How many cats do you own?
Josh has two (Jeff and Lump), and I have one (Victoria). She is named after Victoria Beckham from the Spice Girls, who was my second favorite member of the group growing up.
I’m going to guess that not many K-pop groups visit Minneapolis. What’s it like being a K-pop fan in the midwest?
I don’t really know anyone in real life who likes K-pop, besides Josh. I don’t follow the TV performances and gossip obsessively the way I know some people on the internet do, so it doesn’t bother me so much that I will never see SNSD (Girls’ Generation) live or that most of my friends just get kind of creeped out if I try to make them watch the “Bubble Pop” video.
I think anyone outside of South Korea who is a K-pop fan knows that there is a huge international fan community online that is really fun and interesting in its own right. I love watching all of the dance covers of BEAST and 4Minute that people make in their bedrooms and post on youtube, and how every big hit song has like a million English cover versions by people who painstakingly translated the original Korean into rhyming couplets by themselves. I think being a K-pop fan right now is awesome, no matter where you are.
How do you keep up with K-pop? Any specific websites, blogs, twitter users you’ve come to rely on?
Honestly, I keep up with it pretty much by just listening to every single thing on the MNET charts. I also follow most of the fan pages for the groups that I like on facebook. Actually, the original MTVK article was really helpful to me because I didn’t know who produced “Shampoo” for After School. Immediately after reading it, I went and checked out DJ Daishi Dance’s solo albums and remixes for Big Bang and I was completely blown away. Thanks!
How did you find IU’s “Merry Christmas in Advance”? It’s a rather obscure K-pop track…
It just wasn’t one of the singles from her Real EP, I don’t think. I know most people probably prefer “Good Day” (the video is amazing!), but I felt like that mini album was really consistently strong and I have kind of a soft spot for the combination of big melodramatic soap opera strings and Korean rapping. That’s probably also why I like “Shampoo” so much.
Why only female K-pop idols and groups? What have you got against the male idols?
It wasn’t intentional. It just sort of ended up that way. I am a huge huge fan of GD&TOP and Big Bang, and we were like this close to putting “Fiction” by BEAST on there. I love the dance moves in the video for “Fiction” — I have spent way too much time alone in my apartment trying to do the hands-in-pockets shuffling and looking at the ground dance they do during the chorus. It’s like the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
Has William Bennett from Cut Hands contacted you about collaborating together? If not, would you like to invite him to do so here?
Honestly, I would probably have an anxiety attack if I ever got an e-mail from William Bennett. I would never in a million years say no if he asked us to do something with him, but honestly I don’t know what we could bring to the table creatively that would add anything to what he does. Cut Hands is already such a rich and beautifully-executed project, and most of our experience has been with making pop-oriented music, which I doubt he has much use for. I mean, he has been pushing the boundaries of recorded sound for over 20 years. He’s on another level. I do know that he’s a big Italo disco fan, though, so maybe he likes pop! T-ara‘s “Roly Poly in Copacabana” kind of has a classic Italo disco sound, maybe that would be up his alley!
What’s the most magical thing you can imagine doing with him?
I’d be happy just to see Cut Hands or Whitehouse live, which is already kind of a longshot given that Bennett, like most of my favorite K-pop acts, rarely travels to the US. But if I was over in Edinburgh and for whatever reason he wanted to hang out, dinner and a movie would probably be ideal. Anyone who reads the restaurant and film reviews on his blogs knows that he has impeccable taste in both.
Ryuichi Sakamoto is a rather avant-garde choice. Did you discover his work through his soundtrack to Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence?
Yes, definitely, that soundtrack and “Forbidden Colours” especially are legendary over here and I often see his work discussed on music message boards and things like that. I think was first exposed to it by Mike Silver aka CFCF, a really smart and talented artist from Montreal who has himself done a great cover version of “Colours”.
I included it because I felt like a few K-pop tracks, especially Kahi‘s “Come Back, You Bad Person” and IU‘s “Merry Christmas in Advance” had really sakamoto-esque piano lines and vibes and I wouldn’t surprised at all if either of those songs were directly influenced by him. Then again, that might just be me reaching too far.