This post is part of new series documenting my travels around South Korea. All Asian cultures are unique in their own respect. They all have their own way of life, all of which is foreign and different to western civilization. South Korea is no different.
For those of you who have been to Hongdae, South Korea, when you think of “Hongdae Street,” the images that come to mind are restaurants, night clubs, graffiti murals, and at it’s beating heart a thriving collection of underground music and festivals. For the United States this is place is similar to 6th Street, Austin, Texas. The atmosphere and hippie art culture presents a déjà vu experience for people visiting Hongdae only on a much larger scale. In the 1990s the non-mainstream artists and performers gathered in the area around Hongik University aka Hongdae to create the center of fashion, music and dance. When stepping off the Subway, walking through the underground up to the surface you are transported into another world apart from the regular walk of life in Seoul. All of the shops and restaurants are jam packed together with signs in every conceivable location where there is space to let the people know they are here. Street performers of every kind from dancers, singers, rap groups, and magic performers set up their microphones and loudspeakers. As the day progresses and the sun rises, the streets become crowded with people from all walks of life.
Hongik University was established in 1956 based on humanitarian ideals (in Korea, the word “Hongik” means to advance the welfare of mankind). Hongik University typically referred to as “Hongdae” for short, is a prestigious university in the Mapo-gu district of central Seoul, South Korea with a second campus in Sejong. This is the source of the young vibrant culture that emanates from the Hongdae area. Hongik University has approximately 14,500 undergraduate and 2,500 graduate students. The university is best known for its Architecture and Fine Arts programs.
In the area surrounding Hongik University, a street art exhibition is held every autumn, and Hongdae students display their own artwork. Young artists from all over Korea flock to the Hongdae area to see the pieces on display and submit their own for judging. Hongdae is also the center of Korea’s nightlife.
Outside the bounds of the exhibit there is no shortage of street graffiti, especially as you walk down the alleyways. Graffiti took hold as an artistic outlet in the area and some of the murals are truly beautiful pieces:
Underground Street Performers
As I traveled through the streets of Hongdae there were street performers of every kind lining the steps of the pathways winding through the buildings. Rappers, singers, guitar players, performers, and magic shows of all kinds were performing to catch the attention of people walking by. Each performer had their own style in which they expressed themselves with a large group of onlookers to cheer them on and hand out money when the show was over. The music performers had microphones with speakers, tables with copies of their album and a tub to collect donations. Once one show was complete, the hoard of onlookers would make their way onto the next show only a few feet away. The atmosphere was rich with excitement as I went from performer to performer snapping pictures and recording videos. Hongdae is considered the heart of underground music and even more so underground rap.
One group in particular that caught my attention was a South Korean rap group called Valen. Foreign rap is not a particularly popular genre in the United States as most Americans typically like to understand what is being said and not to mention there are so many rappers vying for a chance at the spotlight most people don’t have time to explore other music outside of the country. As I watched the performance by Valen, a flashback from my teenage years came forth as the songs progressed. All three of the Koreans had dyed blonde hair that had me reminiscing of the good ole Eminem slim shady days.
Here is a quick video of one of their songs. I missed recording the next song, one of the rappers grabbed the guy in the bottom right of the video and pulls him into the center and he starts doing this amazing break dance all the while their singing and the crowd goes wild. I don’t have any footage but use your imagination.
One common theme you will see walking the streets of Hongdae is the constant array of dance offs. People of all ages step up to the plate and dance off with each other. This video below is of the Hongdae Dance Club doing a group performance:
A day in the life at Hongdae
Here is a collection of photographs of the Hongdae neighborhood, businesses, and people in the area:
Now you have an idea what life is like in Hongdae. The Korean culture here has a zest to it and the city has a cornucopia of things to see and do. If you visit this place and you’re bored there is something wrong with you…seriously. You can’t possibly experience this place in just a day or two. This is an experience that takes time.
Stay tuned for next week as I visit Mt. Seoraksan, one of the largest mountain ranges in South Korea. It’s not teeming with thousands of people like Hongdae, but has some beautiful mountain range scenery that you can’t find anywhere else.