Forgive me for saying so, but the very first thing I notice when I walk up to the table for my chat with Ego Function Error is just how absolutely gorgeous everyone sitting there is. There are three women and a young man, and all four of them are just beautiful. Because the lid on my filter is minimal on the best of days, I tell them as much before I even sit down. It garners me a lot of shy denials and even more timid smiles. However, the gentleman to my left, the ever lovable Kook-kook, has zero qualms about the compliment. He embraces the fact that I’m basically gushing over how truly pretty and adorable they all are.
All of this happens before we even get a chance to get going really good in our conversation. When we (meaning I) finally settle down enough to begin, I can already tell that I’m in for a truly riveting look at one of the most interesting bands I’ve heard from South Korea.
“Hi. I am Ego Function Error’s vocalist, Min-jung. Just call me… actually MJ is okay.”
“I am Won-ji. Drummer from Ego Function Error. Hi!” She gives the last bit of introduction a cute smile and a wave.
“I am the bassist, Seung-hyun.”
Then we get to the center of my affection this afternoon. The energetic and utterly precious guitarist of the band. “I am Kook-kook. Very cute guy.” He says this with zero remorse and with the full knowledge that he’s being a cheeky fellow. The entire table erupts in laughter and affectionate jeers from the band members themselves.
“I’m sorry,” MJ says, playful embarrassment coloring her tone.
“”It’s real” Kook-kook counters. His tone is serious, but the look on his face is all mischief. Within the first five minutes of our time together, I’m already head-over-heels for the talented guitarist.
However, I can’t focus the conversation on just how aesthetically they appeal to every one of my senses. After all, at the end of the day, I’m here for the music. This is a band whose aural makeup has been somewhat lumped into a single category of punk, with the caveat that their outlook is more “pop.” At most people give them the label of “psychedelic” when reaching for a straight label. But it’s more interesting to know what category, if any, the band places themselves in.
“I think we are… many people ask, ‘What is your genre?’ Most of the time I said, ‘Playing and play style psychedelic, but message is punk.’ So if you want to listen to another kind of punk, yeah, hear our music, please.”
For my own part, I hear a great deal of blues and its grittier conventions in their music. At times, I even gets shades of ska. In my estimation, the singular, albeit relatively expansive, title of “psychedelic punk” is quite limiting.
“Usually he makes the songs and arrange too,” MJ says.
“I like to listen to many music,” Kook-kook admits. “I love many music. And I can many music play,” he says with a wide smile. He’s not boasting. As I said, he’s a talented guitarist. Gifted, in fact, something I’d learn when watching them live. “I love this style, [then] I want to play this style. Every genre mixed up and make a new style. I hope so.
“And I think our genre is punk,” he says without hesitation. “Punk is simple, and we can mix many styles. We can go whichever way. It’s punk!”
We continue to go back to that word: punk. It’s a moniker many artists are proud to wear, like a badge of honor and respect. But as I’ve discovered the more I’ve covered Korean rock and indie artists, “punk” is a very broad label. It means different things to different artists. The members of Ego Function Error are no exception.
“Screaming?” Won-ji offers
“Ah, screaming. Yep,” MJ agress. She then turns to ask Seung-hyun what she thinks of the term. The young lady speaks softly. “She don’t know,” MJ says with a laugh, which spills over to everyone else at the table.
Kook-kook offers, “Punk… go straight. I can just go straight… go straight. Punk!” To those taking his quirkiness and silly demeanor at face value, you might miss the elegance of what he’s saying. Go your own way, take your path, but just keep going. As I said, gifted, both in his instrument and in the way he sees the music he makes.
“I think make a noise and loud voice,” MJ says. It’s no surprise to me that her idea of punk is a loud and strong noise. She herself is a very strong woman. She adds, “Spread thick, spread sound. Yeah, I think this is punk.”
What is it that made them decide this was the road they were going on? As MJ states, the message is punk. So where did it all come from?
“First time I can sing,” MJ begins, “I can sing at the Hongdae Playground.”
“Hot place,” Kook-kook interjects.
“Yeah, hot place,” MJ agrees. “There is many singers and players and painters at that time. But nowadays they’re not. But at the time I just drink and sing, drink and sing.”
Kook-kook adds with his signature cheeky giggle, “And drinking and playing.”
“But I met him,” MJ says.
“Great rock and roll star!” he adds for good measure, earning him the laugh around the table he no doubt expected.
“So I just start like this,” MJ continues. “But these days I think I can do my way of a female vocal to fight for many things, the infrastructure problem. So we raise message to find ourselves and enjoy ourselves. And we state it’s okay, you can do things your own way. Yeah, that makes me write song again, again, again. It motivates me.”
This urge to speak for the voiceless is a very pervasive message in all their music. There’s a sense that through their message they can uplift different factions of humanity that might feel disenfranchised and cast aside. Even further, they have a powerful knack for not conforming to any of the strictures society tends to put on who and what we can be within it.
“We want to fight against stereotype, male or female,” MJ says. She makes this face, you know the one. That face that says in a clear voice, “Challenge accepted!”
“Okay… I will show you what is important, okay. That is no matter how you live your life. Okay! Let me show you.”
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least a hundred times: Korean women are mighty. For those whose segue into Korean culture is through their dramas, you’d think they were wilting flowers who need saving or dramatic bitch queens who manipulate to get their way. The picture the media paints of women is a very limiting and at times unappealing one. However, let me tell you something. Korean women fight. They’re strong, and as MJ would further attest, have immense power in their womanhood. I like that fighting spirit.
What can I say? I love me some strong and opinionated women!
“I think many people think that a strong woman is very hysterical or just like a witch,” MJ admits. “I don’t think so. A strong woman is… cute is a strong woman. And lovely is a strong one too. And smart is a strong one too. Many kinds of strong women have to show many people, show everyone. Showing everyone, on stage or daily life.”
The driving force of the band is the play of gender dynamics. Their identity is of their own making, not of what society tells them it should be. Though not exactly eloquent (we are, after all, talking about complex ideologies in a language mostly foreign to them), Kook-kook offers, “Powerful woman and not powerful boy. Gender free. And make great music too!”
“Don’t stop,” MJ offers when asked what the most important aspect of their music is. “Always keep going on rock and roll and always keep energy. Always have fun. I hope so.”
Their music most certainly has a feeling of the unbridled. On 2016’s EpEpShake, the final track, “Error Zam,” is really just a recorded jam session. The 30-minute-plus “song” is a piece of elegantly old-school rock. Something that wasn’t uncommon on the vinyl of artists like Cream or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It’s honestly my favorite song on the EP.
The entire band is absolutely shocked at the proclamation. While it’s not very often you hear a band just jam in all its glory on record (it’s not a very popular way to construct albums), I can’t help what moves me. My father used to be in a band, so I grew up around that element of musical spontenaity and freedom.
“Awesome!” Kook-kook exclaims. “You really like that song?”
“Wow!” MJ breathes out.
With that in mind, I’m interested to know how that particular session came about.
“We went in the studio… one take,” Kook-kook says.
“Actually,” MJ chimes in, “it was two takes.” All the members chuckle at this, no doubt remembering the elongated recording session. “First time, thirty-minute jam.”
“Last ten minute, one more try,” Kook-kook says with a laugh. I’m not at all surprised. Another band that I admire for that same jam band spirit, Galaxy Express, said the same thing. For their 2015 album Walking on Empty, many of their songs have the feeling of something much longer and full of a lot more noise. However, they’d re-record those songs to fit a more traditional time frame. But Ego Function Error doesn’t shy away from that type of performance. “I want jam,” he continues. “It’s energy! Perfect!”
“Soju!” Won-ji shouts out, drawing more laughter from all of us.
My first trip to Zandari this year affords me my first time to actually see the band perform live, so I wonder if this is something I have to look forward to.
“Oh yeah, we mix jam,” MJ confirms. “On the first day at that time we played a jam. One minute or two minutes.”
“We want to be more famous,” Kook-kook admits. “On stage to jam is not really allowed.”
Which is unfortunate. Again, this is a band that breaks the mold. Not just in how they represent the gender norms in their band, but also how they develop their music and perform it. They remind me very much of one of my favorite bands, Jamiroquai. I mean, “jam” is quite literally part of their name. Jay Kay is known for just letting loose in the studio until there’s a settled sound, and Jamiroquai is a legendary band. Kook-kook is keen on the idea of letting the music just ride, but he’s still hesitant to believe audiences are ready for that type of set up.
“I don’t know. It could be…” he says cautiously. “I like to make punk music, garage, free jazz. I don’t know… my way. We want to make many music, many style.”
Given their varied tastes and their ability to bridge the gap between so many genres of music, it’s interesting to note who some of their biggest musical influences are.
“BEATLES!” Won-ji says, putting forth the most enthusiasm at the table that we’ve seen from her, which is quite a feat. Though she doesn’t speak much, when she does it’s always with an infectious energy. But mentioning her favorite band brings a new level of brightness.
“Cyndi Lauper,” MJ offers. The revelation makes me a little breathless. I adore Cyndi Lauper. For such a small person, her voice is mighty and her musical range is unparalleled.
Then Kook-kook says, “I love Japan rock music. Judy and Mary, legendary Japan band.” Then he adds, “Italian progressive rock.” It continues to shock me just how incredible a musician this imp of a man is. He truly knows and lives inside music. The admission of loving such an unexpected love of prog rock is so startling I forget what I want to say next.
“Loading… loading…” Kook-kook jokes as I try to remember what it is I want to follow up with.
“Try these snacks. They’ll help you,” MJ says, offering me a small bag of something I can tell on sight is spicy. “Now you’ve fallen into Ego Function Error,” she says with a laugh.
Silly (and slightly embarrassing on my part) as it might be, the snacks actually do jar my memory enough for me to continue.
Because of their obvious love of various styles of music, I’m curious to know if there’s a genre they haven’t had a chance to try yet that they’re dying to get their hands on.
“Many many many,” MJ says. “We want to mix new style. We want to play and to make progressive style and punk, we hope so. We released brand-new single. There is a hardcore song. I scream!”
“She does death metal!” Kook-kook says with a giggle. I wouldn’t actually hear the song until their performance. I’ll save my impressions of MJ’s screamo technique for that. (Spoiler alert: MJ is an absolute metal queen!)
In the vein of music they want to try, it’s fitting to find out if there are artists they’ve always wanted to work with. The question does elicit a deep sigh from the vocalist. “I want to sing with Italian progressive band, singing style,” she admits. “And also very old Korean style rock and roll. Korean female artist Kim Choo-da. Very, very old rock and roll style I want to try.”
Just to see what they’ll say, I ask if they’ll ever go full pop and try their version of idol music.
“Like BTS?” she says, getting a hearty laugh from everyone but most noticeably Won-ji. “Well, my idol is Cyndi Lauper,” MJ says in all seriousness. “She is very fun and energetic and she gives me a lot of inspiration. Such as fighting and [performing] on stage and voice too. My idol is Cyndi Lauper. Her jazz album is my favorite album.”
As we begin to wind down, I have to know what we can expect from Ego Function Error in the future. They have so much ambition and drive to make a big noise in what they continue to refer as their “own way.”
Kook-kook says, stars in his eyes, “More bigger band. And make new style songs. Try popular songs.”
MJ reveals something of a more concrete plan. “We want to play in Japan too. So next our plan is to try to be in Japan’s rock and roll scene next year. Actually years ago we toured in Japan, and this year we went to Japan tour about twelve days. At that time we wanted to live there. My vocal color, and his play style, and she can draw people too,” she says, pointing to Won-ji. When she looks at Seung-hyun, she says “Her playing style, she is very nice to look at for many Japan people.”
Well, she isn’t wrong. Seung-hyun is utterly gorgeous. I say as much to her in my absolutely atrocious Korean. But she understands me enough to laugh out loud and hide her face in her hands. She’s remained largely quiet during our conversation. She’s model fine, with a demeanor that could trick you into thinking she’s simply detached. The truth of the matter is she’s the quintessential bassist: brooding, focused. However, just as most bassists, she’s got a beautiful personality when she lets people in.
“Many Japanese people love our unique style,” MJ continues when all the fervor over my attempt at Korean subsides. “So I think Japan is a very good opportunity for our band. So next time we will try to go to Japan.”
Which naturally means Japanese albums, right?
“We already have one song, released on our regular album [Ego Fun Show],” MJ says. “The song is called ‘Lazy Cat.’ Japan is where the music video and song is made too. We want to make a project in Japan. I don’t know when we can make it,” she admits a hint of perhaps sadness as she laments the fact that their plans to head to Japan may be a bit delayed.
It’s now time for us to part ways, and I’m a bit sad. This always happens after having a particularly interesting and energetic conversation with the bands. But this isn’t about me. I want to know if they have any final thoughts for their fans and our readers.
“Punk is never die!” Kook-kook says. It earns him more audible affection from his band mates. “And we wanna go to Japan!” he tacks on. He hasn’t lost any of that enthusiasm for the journey.
“Keep drinking and singing and laughing. And rock and roll,” MJ offers.
“And love Ego Function Error!” Won-ji adds, all her energy pouring into the sentiment.
“Please buy our CD!” Kook-kook continues.
“Say it louder for the people in the back!” I encourage.
Without hesitation, the whole band erupts: “BUY THE CD!”
“And the T-shirts,” Kook-kook adds.
Ego Function Error is a band on a mission. It’s a mixture of various personalities and skills. I have nothing but high hopes for their future. Though the plans aren’t as concrete as they might like, every prospect is so exciting. To reiterate their initial message, “Keep going!”
“Keep going!” Kook-kook says as a send off.