One of the most surprising venues at Zandari Festa for me was Club Steel Face. If you’ll remember from my write-up about HEO’s performance, it’s a nondescript little slice of a building sandwiched between two others. If you know nothing about it, you’ll be shocked to find out that its roof is accessible as a sort of pseudo patio area. This gorgeous rooftop view was where I had my interview with punk band Drinking Boys and Girls Choir. Their energy and ambition was just as pleasantly surprising as where we sat for our chat.
As soon as I walk up, the band greets me with a kind welcome of “Hello!” and their manager walks off after giving me a firm handshake. I think nothing of it but am a little surprised because managers usually stick around during interviews. Nevertheless, all three of them are really excited to get started. As always, we begin with introductions.
Bassist Meena takes the helm. “We are Drinking Boys and Girls Choir from Daegu. South city, and third biggest city in Korea.”
“And hot,” their guitarist, Bondu, interjects.
“Maybe the hottest city in South Korea,” Meena continues. “We’re a skate punk band,” she says.
“Loud and fast music we play,” Bondu adds with a laugh. Loud and fast is perfect for me. I have a deep adoration for grimy and wild.
It’s obvious what the “boys and girls choir” aspect of their name means. This trio of musicians share writing and singing duties on all of their music. “So what does the drinking part mean”? I ask, more just to see how they’ll answer than for the answer itself. Meena doesn’t disappoint:
“We like drinking,” she says matter-of-factly. I expect the answer, but I still laugh on impulse. We all share the joke. I’m not surprised they’re so willing to joke around with a complete stranger. But it’s refreshing to know that these musicians can be so candid in their interviews, so carefree and willing to let the person they’re talking to into their circle, if only for about half an hour.
DBGC is a fearless band. That sense of adventure translates to some truly amazing performances. Prior to Zandari, they wrapped up a tour in Indonesia, where they toured alongside Indonesian punk band Saturday Night Karaoke.
“John Ealing was filming in Korea a few years ago,” Meena begins. “ And then he moved to Indonesia this year?” She pauses for a second, trying to remember. “Maybe next year? I don’t know exactly.” More laughter. It comes naturally for all of us at this point. “But he moved to Indonesia and he met Saturday Night Karaoke in Indonesia. So after we released our album, John Ealing hashtagged SNK. So we know each other. And he sent a message to Bondu, ‘Do you want to play in Indonesia with us?’ We thought, ‘Why not?’ So we go.”
“Actually,” Bondu chimes in, “in Instagram, John posted about Indonesia. I was tagged by SNK first. I was SNK’s fan,” he says proudly. I mention his shirt, a piece of official merch of the Indonesian band, and we all laugh again. There’s no hiding his adoration of the band that took them under their wing when they toured the picturesque island.
“Really fun!” Meena exclaims earnestly. “Really exciting. And we didn’t expect anything. Because we were just playing, and we just hang out like this. We just felt it [was] like [a] trip. But their singer is really awesome. Every guy’s supporting each other. And when we started playing every guy is…” She stops to motion like a thrasher in the audience.
MJ points to Meena and Bondu as she says, “These two people were out…” she motions as if swimming.
“You guys went crowd surfing?” I ask. There’s a small uproar of excitement among us. This band is truly all about living in the moment. Taking in the fun of each day and pushing it to its limits.
“So many young punk kids,” Bondu says. “And everything is a new experience and impressive. And we made good friends.”
Meena echoes the sentiment. It’s clear their time in Indonesia made a great impression on them. Their memories are fond and warm. In fact, the performance that stands out the most for the entire band is one they had while on the tour with SNK.
“In Indonesia, the show is cancelled because the police hates us,” Bondu reveals. “We are foreign and we have no visa.”
“We just had the tourist visa,” Meena adds.
“So SNK figured out how to make a secret show at another studio,” Bondu continues. “In the outside show, SNK smashed up everything. Just fucked it up! Break the guitar. Break….
“Everything,” Meena adds. “And they just keep on saying, ‘Fuck the police!’ So it was really awesome. It was very moving. And I just cried.”
It’s clear SNK exemplifies my ideal of “punk.” They buck the system becaase the system tends to try to neglect and discriminate against those who walk outside the “norm.” It’s no surprise that for DBGC the song that best defines who they are is their own anthem of anarchy, “Keep Drinking.”
“That song means keep drinking and keep going and keep going and keep playing together,” Meena provides.
It strikes me then that the members of this band are highly motivated by their connection to other people. To their audience, to the bands they work with, even to me, a foreigner looking in at their world, hoping to get a glimpse of what makes them who they are. Their roots to the skater movement is how they created this niche for themselves known as “skate punk.” When asked to define skate punk, Meena begins, “Well first of all, fast. And also that sound…” That of a board when it rides along the concrete. The fast, gritty, ragged sound of skater and earth becoming one. It’s that sense of speed and adventure DBGC absolutely thrive on.
Bondu adds, “And the culture. We share the skateboard scene and share the culture: fashion…”
“Attitude,” Meena says.
“Yes,” Bondu agrees wholeheartedly. “Attitude is a key point.”
“Do you guys skate?” I ask. With their passion for the culture, I’m very intrigued to know if it translates to actually getting on boards.
“A little,” Bondu says with a chuckle.
Meena is quick to add, “No. I can just ride.” Another round of laughter bubbles up between us.
“I can just,” Bondu chimes in once again, making a “V” with his fingers, emulating a skater, and using his other hand as the ground. He then takes this imaginary skater and does a little bunny hop over. It’s a hilarious sight for all of us. “Just a small jump,” he says between laughs.
“If you see our MV ‘National Police Shit’,” MJ begins, “he skates, she rides, I lie.”
It was around the time of the video’s release that they signed to UK label Damnably. But the story of how that actually came about is somewhat lost on the members. It’s as much a marvel to them as this rooftop area in what’s an otherwise unassuming bar.
“We don’t know,” Meena says a look of both amusement and remembered confusion crossing her face. “It was an accident. “
MJ says, “They just email me, ‘Hello.’ Title: ‘Hello.’ I thought it was spam.” Both Bondu and Meena just crack up, the memory still tickling them. “I was about to click the throw [away] button. But I thought, ‘Maybe?’ So I clicked on it. Then…” Her eyes grow wide as she recounts the moment she realized someone from the UK was interested in signing them. “ What!” she exclaims, that same look of confusion plastered on her face as she reenacts the scenario. “Then I start to read, and… ‘What?!’”
“At first I think it’s a lie,” Bondu says. This story continues to be a spot of hilarity for them. Each and every one of them has the same reaction: “What the hell?”
“I thought he was a trickster,” Meena admits. “He mentioned Billy Carter, so I sent a message to Jiwon (Billy Carter’s lead vocalist, keyboardist, and melodica player) and said, ‘Do you know him.’ And Jiwon said, ‘Yeah, sure. He’s a really good guy and he’s really working hard for Say Sue Me. So yeah it’s real!’”
The mention of Say Sue Me reminds me of their performance at South By Southwest earlier this year. I was blown away. They have an organic sound, ethereal. It isn’t forced. They won over the audience, most of whom were there to see the more mainstream K-pop and R&B acts, with relative ease. I wonder if there are plans for DBGC to tour outside of Asia at some point, given they’re signed to a UK label.
“Maybe next year?” MJ says with a hint of vagueness.
“We have a secret plan,” Bondu supplies.
Meen then expands on the idea. “First time we really wanted to go to Japan. But our first tour was Indonesia. And when Damnably emailed us, at that time I was looking for a Japan company. But he worked with a Japanese company, so we don’t need to approach any. So maybe next year we’ll go to Japan or another city like Singapore or Malaysia. We want to go everywhere, but the budget and the schedule is limiting. So we go step by step.”
“But UK is the first one,” MJ adds.
It would be amazing if their ambitions included a stop at SXSW. There’s no doubt in my mind the audience would flip tables over them and their “Fuck the police!” attitude. They certainly have no shortage of onstage experience, what with the Indonesian tour and this being their fourth year at Zandari Festa. For a band that’s getting a taste of international travel, I wonder why they continue to come to Zandari every year.
“Free beers!” Meena says instantly. It’s another expected answer, but it’s hilarious to hear it put so plainly. Of course everybody laughs it off as a shared joke among all the bands in attendance. But Meena continues her answer with a bit more seriousness. “If we want to meet person to person, it’s really hard. But here there’s an artist lounge and a conference. So if I just go to one place, I can meet everyone. So it’s a really important thing to me. And free beer is a very important thing,” she tacks on, underpinning just how big of an incentive the free-flowing alcohol is for everyone there.
Bondu adds, “I like to see many bands from other countries.” I’m curious if they’ve gotten a chance to see many foreign bands perform while at the festival.
“We went to French Night,” MJ says. However, they didn’t really stay for long. “Hungry! Starving!” MJ continues.
“And really drunk,” Meena adds with another round of chuckles. “We saw Wake Up Iris. The band is from Indonesia. And I saw my friends in Billy Carter and 57.”
You can already guess that my reaction to that little revelation was quite enthusiastic. I can’t heap enough praise on that duo.
“I couldn’t see them for a long time,” Meena admits. “They had a long-time tour last year. And this year the drummer (Snow) was really sick, so they just stopped for a few months. So I couldn’t see. So yesterday I was really excited.”
Again, I’m blown away by their utter adoration of those around them. They have a keen love of all the bands, cheering for them as loudly (if not louder) as the audience of rock fans at every venue. As a point of interest, I ask them if they could create their own festival in the same vein as Zandari, or even the now-defunct Vans Warped Tour, who they would put on the bill.
“HI-STANDARD!” MJ says in a stage shout. The answer is instantaneous.
“It’s really famous Japanese punk band,” Bondu provides, only slightly calmer than his drummer bandmate.
“Yeah, we really like the Japanese bands. So HI-STANDARD, Dustbox, LONGMAN. Green day is the best,” Meena says. Bondu and MJ are absolutely in agreement. It’s no surprise they have a fond love for Green Day. I got impressions of the legendary punk band when listening to DBGC’s music. “But it will never happen,” she says with equal parts awe and resignation.
While it’s clear who their musical role models are, it’s still always interesting to find out what drives their personal creativity.
“We’re all different because everybody writes songs,” Meena says. “So to me social issues or angry [emotions]. That is most inspiration of my songs.”
“For me, nature,” MJ says. It’s a cheeky answer. I can tell she’s having a laugh. But she goes on to say, “The universe!” She’s got a free spirit that’s absolutely infectious. It makes sense, no matter how silly she may portray it, that she’d have that much of a connection with the world around her.
“Other cool bands,” Bondu says. “When I was a kid I listened to Crying Nut. I wanted to be Crying Nut.” More of that awe and reverence colors his tone when talking about the Korean legends.
“Crying Nut is his idol,” Meena reveals.
It’s hard to imagine this trio of impassioned musicians doing anything besides making music. But, as is a common tale among all artists, they have day jobs to sustain themselves.
“I love my job,” MJ says, but given her penchant for cheekiness, I’m not sure if she’s serious or not. Bondu has no such qualms, however.
“My job is boring,” he says. We can all relate, I’m sure. I certainly could not too long ago, having worked with the state government for a period of time.
“We’re just working and waiting for vacation,” MJ adds, confirming what I believe about her statement about loving her job. “Begging vacation to go on tour. Begging vacation, ‘Please let me go.’ This year I have 20 days.”
Meanwhile, Meena provides the most relatable statement of them all. “I need to get my salary!”
As we wind down from another bout of uproarious laughter, I realize we’ve come to the end of our conversation. Before we part ways, I’m interested to know what we can all expect from them in the future.
“Next year you can meet us in the US… maybe,” Meena says.
“We have no idea,” Bondu adds, providing us another few seconds of laughter. “Just drink.”
“Just drink,” Meena agrees with a chuckle. “We will release our Indonesia tour film. So please wait and expect that. Maybe if we don’t die next year we can go to so many countries more than before.”
Our final thoughts continue in the same spirit of joking that’s pervaded our entire conversation. “I need to learn English!” MJ says.
“I need to learn Korean,” I concede. “Your English is much better than my Korean!”
Meena hands me their CD, and I comment on the cover art. It turns out the week after Zandari she married the artist. So congratulations are in order!
Afterward, I say my goodbyes and thank them for being so kind. I thank their manager, who sometime during our conversation returned with ice coffees for all of us (hence why he left so hastily after shaking my hand).
Drinking Boys and Girl Choir’s message is loud and clear: Keep drinking! Keep riding! Just keep moving. They truly embody what it means to be punk. I can’t wait to see more of their pure unbridled energy in the future… and maybe, as Meena says, if they don’t die, we’ll see them Stateside. One can only hope.