One of my first interviews for Zandari Festa was with a band that I’d been really intrigued by from the first time I heard their music. It’s most unfortunate, then, that I made the mistake of suggesting we have our chat underneath the stairwell of MUV Hall while another band was doing their soundcheck. I figured it was a convenient way for us to talk without them having to go very far, but for some reason I didn’t foresee the issues with sound.
That being said, the intimacy of the location made for a more interesting conversation. Not only were we forced to sort of huddle close to each other, but we also had to find a way to communicate with my terrible Korean and their only slightly less than fluent English. As a result, there was something incredibly… esoteric about the whole thing. Words held more weight and by the nature of our closeness carried greater depth.
Everything, of course, begins with an introduction.
“We are LudiSTELO from South Korea,” Sangjin begins. “We play the electronic and psychedelic rock style.”
The story of how they began as a band is actually quite interesting. Most certainly not one I’ve heard from any other band, especially considering the roots of their creation wasn’t actually in Korea.
“A long time ago we met in Brunei in East Asia,” Sungjin says. “We stayed in the same hotel, same room. Every day we’re in the hotel, so we worked together on some tunes, a sketch demo. We came back to Korea and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to make the band!’ So we wanted to get another bass member and drum member, and maybe 2012 we started, and we’re here now!”
Certainly not your typical start. It’s fascinating how this chance meeting in Brunei evolved into a band who creates music as if they were destined to be together. I’m impressed that with just on overnight session in a hotel room they decided this was the path they needed to be on. Even more that Sungjin is prone to describe the band just as simply. “Drum beating sound,” he says. “I think we sound very ‘90s, the sound is ’80s/90s. With synthesizer and guitar.”
Their inspirations run in that same vein, music from the 1980s and ’90s that relies heavily on the synthesizer working in perfect harmony with the guitar. So go their actual musical inspirations. Musicians and artists typical of what you’d expect from any rock band.
Sungjin says, “I listen to UK music and Brian Eno, music with Indian sounds. In the other way I listened to rock music: Metallica, Pantera. Strange. But I like that.”
Guitarist ASH adds enthusiastically, “I start[ed] because when I was young I love slash metal: Pantera. So I started playing guitar. I like also Chemical Brothers and Pearl Jam. So I love electric guitar mixed with synthesizer, so I play now.” His energy is contagious. I’m a sucker for artists who express their love of what they do, even more so when that passion spreads to the music that got them there in the first place.
ASH’s energy pours over to drummer Juyeon, who admits to also having a fondness for the thrash and snarl of heavy metal. “I love hard rock sounding bands,” he says. “I like Lenny Kravtiz, heavy metal, Guns N’ Roses. So I want to play hard rock with little bit of this… little bit of this.”
That’s just it, isn’t it? LudiSTELO’s music isn’t just one thing. It can’t be defined in as straightforward a fashion as Sungjin might lead you to believe. There are the obvious bits of their shared inspirations in hard rock and grunge. But there’s something else, isn’t there? “A little bit of this,” As Juyeon says.
It’s that added piece of “something” that makes LudiSTELO who they are. When they dig deeper into what makes their sound unique, the answers while not unexpected are certainly quite breathtaking.
“We have a message of Earth, people, and sea, and nature,” Sungjin begins. “We want to express with the music nature and people.”
“I think one important thing is when we play on stage, we have to show that,” Juyeon adds.
“We want to be happy on stage,” ASH provides, that desire for happiness giving lightness to his voice even over the din of the performance right next to us. “Nowadays we like slow and more with a build, louder. We like that!”
It’s obvious in the way their music is framed. Take the intro to 2015’s Flashpoint, track “Greeting of the Universe.” It begins on a low rumble, the earth struggling to wake up after a long, dark night. There’s the steady build-up of the sun peaking over mountains, stretching its rays and proclaiming the day. When it final breaks over the horizon, everything comes to life. It’s not something many bands, especially those with deep roots in heavy metal, utilize — those quiet moments before everything erupts. What is it about that build-up LudiSTELO loves so much?
“It’s like getting high,” Juyeon says without any repentance whatsoever. His boldness earns him a surprised laugh from me. No one would ever accuse any of these bands of being shy, but I’d be lying if I said I’d heard many of them talk about that sort of euphoria without hesitation. “To get high, it takes time. So we’re slow build-up,” he explains.
Sangjin agrees. “Get more high, goes slow, takes time.”
“So you like your music to seem like getting high?” I ask, just to put things in a bit of perspective. Of course, we all laugh about it because how could we not?
“Koreans we drink, but we don’t take drugs,” Sangjin says. “So we need the music to give that feeling. Only music,” he adds hastily. All we can do is laugh at the whole thing. But it’s not too much of a stretch if you think about it. I know how I feel simply listening to music. The sensation of actually being blessed to have that divinity seep through you has to be the closest thing to getting high without actually doing so.
“We want to be happy,” Juyeon adds.
Even in name, the band seemed destined to be closer connected to the ethereal nature of humanity. “Ludistelo” is an Esperanto word meaning “star-like.” It’s quite apt. Their music sounds like they’re trying to bring the Earth and heaven together. ”I think because we talk about Earth and people, nature,” Sungjin says.
It’s no surprise, then, that the crux of their craft seems to mimic the natural movement of the universe. How they see their artistry speaks to that. When speaking of the most important aspect of what they do, Sungjin says, “Creating.” He doesn’t hesitate. Building the music, giving it life is how everything starts, after all.
“Passion,” ASH says. “Keep going, keep going. And energy.”
Juyeon says, “Expression!”
It’s no real surprise to me that the defining characteristics of being artists to them are all action words. You have to be in order to create. Existing is an act of will and persistence. LudiSTELO’s music embodies that energy in dramatic fashion.
It’s also no surprise that some of their more grandiose songs seem to be the tracks that define them as a band best.
“Water Roof,” Sungjin says.
“Blossom,” Juyeon interjects.
“Yeah, ‘Blossom’ too,” Sungjin agrees, then adds, “‘Summer Hill.’ And many songs that we played today.”
You know what’s even more interesting? Their reasons for frequenting Zandari Festa. As this is their sixth or seventh year coming to the renowned festival, of course I’m curious. Most artists I’ve talked to have all mentioned the free beer as a major incentive. But, as with their answers regarding their music, their answers as to why they keep coming back are equally endearing.
“I think most of all it’s in Hongdae, Zandari,” Juyeon begins. “This town is our town because we live nearby here. I think this festival makes us very proud, and [it’s] very fun and happy, and we feel a connection.”
“Zandari is a more friendly place,” ASH says. “I think there are different things than other festivals in other countries. I don’t know what it is. But there’s something special here.”
As our time comes to an end, I’m struck with an all too familiar feeling: the desire to keep chatting. Their warm nature tempts me to keep talk of their craft going for a few more minutes, but in the end my curiosity about their future gets the best of me.
Sungjin provides, “We’ll release another music album. And do more touring, we hope!”
“If we have the money,” ASH tacks on, earning more laughter.
LudiSTELO is one of the more ethereal bands of the festival. They create music with the intention of bridging the gap between humanity and what can at times make humanity divine. It’s fitting, then, that their final words are as full of the same genuine love of humanity.
Juyeon says, “Make friends at Zandari. Drink more and enjoy this time.”
“Save the world, save the people!” ASH enthuses, again laughter drowning out the buzz of the band playing right next to us. “We really want to make so many friends in the world.”
Learn more about LudiSTELO!