BY NATHAN CRANFORD
To kick off our regular series on bands and artists who perform under less-than-conventional stage names, we’ve chosen a rather obscure electro/indie pop outfit from South Korea called Oldfish. Indeed, there is no shortage of “strange” band names in South Korea, or East Asia in general. With names like Rumblefish, Lovefish, and the one we’re reviewing today, South Korean indie bands seem to have a special affinity with the suffix “-fish,” which may come as a result of the English word’s interesting phonetics (within a Korean-speaking paradigm) and not the word’s more dubious semantics–but in the end, it probably doesn’t matter.
However, with a name like Oldfish, the band seems to be purposefully drawing attention to the word’s semantics. While the idea of “old fish” may lead some to hold their nose in disgust, the name was actually chosen by the band to represent evolution. The band went so far as to rhetorically ask in an interview with Dramabeans.com, “However, can you call it true evolution when humans give in to their own desires and become cruel? Rather than heading in that direction, could we consider a fish with the mere memory capacity of three seconds who’d given up on that kind of evolution to be a more evolved organism than a human?” Thus, Oldfish represents the evolutionary potential of having only a three-second memory (like a fish)–the ability to live a life driven by progress and the simple act of living as opposed to cruelty and selfish desire. These are some weighty progressive ideas coming from a small independent band trying to push against the behemoth of South Korea’s unimaginably lucrative culture industry.
On second thought, maybe it’s better not to dwell on a band’s name. Nevertheless, this one did pass our “weird” band name test, and that’s a good thing. Or is it?
Led by the group’s primary creative force and vocalist known by the appropriately strange moniker Soda, Oldfish rose to prominence in the early-2000s performing at venues throughout Seoul’s Hongdae (Hong-Ik University) district, which at the time, was a veritable East Asian mecca for independent music and art. However, as major media companies and money-driven business owners hoped to capitalize on this new, fashionable area and its creative offspring (see the Shibuya district in Japan for the area’s closest analogue), many indie bands that came to light during the district’s heyday have chosen to either conform to the country’s commercial music machine, or to maintain their independent “status” by looking outside of their homeland for international recognition and, quite frankly, for money to survive.
Oldfish belongs to the ever-shrinking latter group, as evidenced by the band’s modest, though successful performance at the Singapore Fringe Festival at the beginning of 2011, where they showcased their third, and newest full-length album with the mystifying title “3년 그리고 세번째” or Three Years and a Third. This comes over five years after the band’s debut album room.ing, released in 2005, and three years (hence the title) after the release of their acclaimed second album, Acoustic Movement in 2007.
Aside from a slight variance in production quality across the band’s songwriting oeuvre, Oldfish has yet to find it necessary to add much stylistic variety to its music–not to say that this is a bad thing. One could describe the band’s distinctive style as a rather sunny and nostalgic take on electronic lounge music, also known in Japanese as “Shibuya-kei” (or music usually played at lounges and cafes throughout Japan’s hip Shibuya district). However, there is a tinge of longing, or droning sadness that permeates the songs’ more superficially up-beat, and almost child-like musical demeanor. Listen to the song “Movement” from the second album Acoustic Movement for an idea of what I mean. Despite the band’s relative lack of songwriting diversity, Oldfish pulls off its style of music with such charisma and aplomb that it’s easy to overlook a few weaknesses here and there.
“Movement” from Acoustic Movement (MySpace)
Of the bands that currently vie for attention on South Korea’s now-fizzling indie scene, Oldfish stands as one of the few truly exceptional acts to survive the country’s aggressive return to the safe, comforting arms of commercial “K-pop.” We’re happy that our search for bands with “weird” names has led us to them–as we hope you’ll be happy that we’ve led them to you.
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