One of the highlights of my year is when I get to go to festivals. Being pretty much a baby festivalgoer, I decided this year would be the year I make it a mission to be at as many as I could. When the opportunity to go to KCON LA came up, initially I was hesitant, but in the end I knew that I couldn’t pass it up.
Though most people go for the big-name idols who grace the stage on the second and third nights, people tend to forget that this is the prime opportunity for independent artists — mostly Korean and Korean-American — to get their music out there for the masses. As such we had some of my favorite artists (IAMNOT and KRNFX with Lydia Paek) show up to wow audiences with their talent, energy, and love of the craft.
What I came to understand is most of those artists get their chance to shine on the Convention Stage, which is situated at the back of the marketplace in the center of the LA Convention Center. The more prominent of these acts opened each night on the main stage in the Staples Center.
That being said, some of the most exciting and intriguing performances came on that Convention Stage. One of the acts that I saw that truly surprised me was R&B duo REUM. Comprised of rapper/guitarist Khai and vocalist Casey, this twosome had a very interesting sound.
I say “interesting” because it isn’t necessarily just sitting in one niche. Their shading is most certainly more pop than anything else, but there’s a hint of something edgier, more sensual at times, and certainly more emotional. They try to lean more on the R&B side of popular musical styles, but it’s R&B that’s still painted heavily in “pop” hues — as in it’s certainly much lighter than traditional R&B, but it certainly doesn’t fit anywhere near the realm of the fluffy bubblegum of some of their idol peers.
Their set is a mixture of a few original songs and covers of popular songs in Korea. REUM is certainly an eclectic group, their tastes ranging from the balladry of OSTs (one of their more passionate performances coming when they shared their rendition of Crush’s “Beautiful” from the Goblin soundtrack) and more emotionally open (as in a surprising attempt at the grit and power of Oh Hyuk with track “Gondry”).
As far as their originals, they tend to sit in the more pop-R&B pocket, opting for music that’s got more inherent soul than what they offer as far as the covers go. The most surprising element is the voice that comes out of Casey. He’s got a range that seems exceptionally wide, a vocal ability that’s at times so effortlessly beautiful you wonder why his name isn’t bigger. Khai is more subdued, content to be at the side providing the sparse instrumentation they bring with them (basically recordings of their set and a guitar when stripping it down to the most elemental to highlight his partner’s vocal largeness).
While not necessarily the most impressive set I’d see the entire weekend, it was certainly a pleasant break in the craziness of everything KCON. In the midst of their performance, you could tell the audience felt comforted by their presence, as if the duo offered something familiar, almost reminiscent of close friends.
Though their brand of R&B errs on the overly sentimental side, Casey has a large range, and their performance (no matter how tentative or a bit awkward at moments) is genuine. I will say this: it takes balls of steel to tackle Hyukoh, especially a song with the range of “Gondry.” Barring a few iffy moments at the song’s bridge, it was a valiant attempt.
As the first act I actually saw during the weekend, I’m happy I had the privilege to witness the twenty minutes of sweet, calming, and uplifting energy REUM offered us.
All photos edited by Rebs.
Please check out these guys and give them your support. It would be great to see them again next year with more confidence and a much broader fanbase!