Gangwon Rock Festival

Small Festival in the Mountains

Story By: Emma Kalka

Photos By: Emma Kalka

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Nestled in the shadow of Seorak Mountain in Gangwon Province, you might have found something you least expected - a rock festival that had even grannies bobbing their heads and ska dancing.

Kicking off this year on Aug. 16-18 was the Gangwon Rock Festival, and while there were only two stages and the food & drink trucks left a bit to be desired, the little fest has big dreams. Namely, to grow from here and include more artists and attract more people - much like its predecessors Valley Rock Festival and Pentaport Rock Festival.

The weekend lineup included mostly local bands ranging from reggae to hard rock to metal bands, though guests on Sunday were treated to a near complete lineup of Japanese rock on the main stage before headliner - local top band YB - ended the night. Bands included PIA, Kingston Rudieska, No. 1 Korean, Crying Nut and more local acts, with international bands Asterism, Junkies, Deaf Havana, Stratovarius, Namba69 and more.

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The festival itself had a good setup. The main stage was outdoors on a sports field with plenty of space and even a covered VIP area with tables and seating that provided an unhindered view of the stage. Just next to it was a special air-conditioned gym for campers at night and other attendees who needed a respite from the heat and sun during the day.

About a five-minute walk away there was a second stage - which was nearly as big as the main stage - in an indoor gymnasium, with sets between the two stages taking place at 10-minute break intervals so that music fans could easily move back and forth between the two and not miss any music, if they chose. Both stages had excellent sound quality and beautiful visual displays.

But outside the layout, the most important aspect of any music festival is, of course, the music. While the bands on Sunday were predominantly hardcore, punk and metal - I’ll admit straight up, not exactly my cup of tea - all the bands brought good energy to the stage that got most people up and moving around or at very least tapping their feet and bobbing their heads. There was a near-constant mosh pitch going in front of the stage, with everyone from young teens, to little kids, and even elderly ahjummas moving around to the music. 

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The lineup on Sunday was, as mentioned, mostly bands from Japan and each took a moment during their sets to address the elephant on the pitch - the current strained relations between Japan and Korea. Despite the back and forth between the governments, all of the bands said that all that mattered to them was that everyone there could bond through music, with some going as far as to share their disagreements with the Japanese government.

Osaka ska-punk band Hey-Smith went as far as to read a statement off mid-set in Korean, ensuring Korean attendees that they were happy to be playing in the country to Korean fans and hoped to come back. It was a sentiment that didn’t go unnoticed by the predominantly Korean audience - they all cheered in response to each band’s statement. 

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Hey-Smith was one of the main highlights of Sunday’s lineup, bringing a fresh almost frenetic energy to the festival that made their hour-long set fly by in a blaze of bright, colorful hair, crazy dancing (both on and off stage), and the blare of their brass section. Even those unfamiliar with the band left loving it. 

Though Gangwon Rock Festival had a few hiccups - which are to be expected any first year of a fest - they were too small to even mention specifics. And considering the festival was organized in a small span of time, it was a very well put together event that will only grow in the years to come

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Sean Choi