It seems every festival I go to there’s a surprise band added to my roster. That was The Poles for me at this year’s Zandari Festa. I’d never actually heard of the band, so I quite literally didn’t know what to expect. Certainly not this mellow blues-infused rock.
It’s well established through thousands of words of gushing that Decadent (RIP) has a very special place in my heart. Perhaps it’s this connection to that band that pulled so powerful at my core when I listened to The Poles.
Now, I don’t want this to become a game of comparisons. Just putting it out there now, no band will be able to replace Decadent for me. So I’m not going to get in the habit of basing my like or dislike of a band on one that had such a powerful impact on me.
This is about The Poles and their performance. Guitarist and lead vocal Kim Daniel certainly doesn’t have the vocal dexterity and range of Jin Dong-wook (Dennis). The guitar work doesn’t quite reach the zeniths of Pahk Chang-hyun. However, there’s an ache and keen to the music that called to me.
At certain points during the performance I found myself almost hurting. An all-too familiar throb in my chest that only happens when a certain sound breaks into me. The Poles certainly broke into me. Cracked me open emotionally in a way I truly wasn’t expecting to happen at Zandari Festa. The moment I bent down to get my camera out of my bag, the band hit a note so blues-nasty, I had to stand the hell back up and look at the stage. Mixed emotions of “What the hell!” and “How dare you!” skipped through my entire being.
Zandari is more known for its display of hard-edged rock and punk just this side of anarchy (as much as one can be a genuine anarchist in South Korea). However, every once in a while, an artist or band will pop up that subverts expectations as far as style and sound. Decadent was that for me last year. The Poles filled small parts of the gaping void Decadent left with their disbandment.
Honestly, it wasn’t the way I might have envisioned kicking off my Zandari. But it was definitely a welcome one. One might argue it was an easing-in. A prelude to the raucous madness indicative of the festival. I, however, have a different interpretation. This is exactly the type of introduction I needed. While many might have been quick to write them off as a fluff piece preceding the hardcore stuff, The Poles represented the sort of emotional intensity I was readying myself for over the weekend. Raw and honest, yes. However, what separated them from many of the bands I saw was this unapologetic vulnerability.
Watching The Poles during their set was such a rewarding experience for me because they seemed almost desperate to let their audience in. There weren’t any ostentatious shows of emotion. No excessive wails or screams. The magic of their performance was so subtle that if you already weren’t interested you missed it. Whatever the circumstances, the band’s willingness to bare so much of themselves was breathtaking. It was in the subtle vocal cues of Kim Daniel, the heartache in bassist Lee Hwang-jae’s delivery — eyes closed, face toward the heavens — and the pounding backbeat of Kim Kyung-bae’s drumming. Utterly heartbreaking moments of sheer magic.
This simmering energy brought me closer to the heart of Zandari than I think seeing one of the more hard-cut bands would have. Because there was so much openness, so much air in each note. The Poles has an essence about them. Their music is a living, breathing thing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s exactly what drew me into Decadent’s music the more I dove into it: a need to express something deep within the soul of the band. With this performance, The Poles has earned themselves a(nother) forever fan.