From indie band to Korean idols
British band Karkosa becomes big hit with Korean teens
Story By: Emma Kalka
Photos By: Daniel Kim
Anyone walking passed Rolling Hall in Hongdae on Feb. 22 around 5 pm might have done a double-take, thinking a K-pop idol was about to perform. Even though the concert was set to take place a few hours later, there was already a line of young, Korean teen-aged girls forming – snaking around the corner in front of the CU convenience store.
But it wasn’t an idol. It was actually an indie band from Birmingham, U.K. – Karkosa.
The band admits they were taken completely by surprise last year when seemingly overnight they went from unknown to having a large fanbase across the globe in South Korea.
“We can’t even get people from down the road to come to one of our gigs,” joked lead guitarist Tom Trott.
The way vocalist Michael Warnock – who started the band with his brother Jack – tells it, it’s a crazy story. They started using social media to expand their fanbase and ended up following a lot of people who were fans of bands that sounded similar to their sound. They sent their music to one fan in Korea, he said, who then reached out to them, saying she loved it and was going to tell all her friends.
“We didn’t really think much of it. And all of sudden, our followers go from, like, 200 to 300, to 2,000. And it was such a big jump and we were like, ‘Oh, god. We’ve got to go out to Korea,’” he said. “It’s crazy. And it all sort of started from that.”
Keyboardist Will Clews adds to that, saying that every day they woke up to more followers and everyone kept asking what was happening. He called it crazy, but exciting.
Karkosa was greeted at the airport by fans waiting with signs and gifts – giving them the full idol treatment. Last year when they came over for a show, they were stopped on the street a few times and asked for photos and autographs.
This trip they had been given so many gifts that they likened it to Christmas. Tom said he got a whole new wardrobe, while bassist Ryan Trott and Michael said that some fans had gotten tattoos of their signatures – Ryan usually signs his with a little smiley face which one girl had tattooed on her finger. Michael wrote down a lyric for another fan who had it tattooed across her collarbone.
“It’s really cool. I love it. But, just the idea – you never live life thinking that someone’s going to get a tattoo of your writing,” he said. “It’s the small things like that that always get me. I find it hilarious, really.”
He confessed that he’s even gotten a couple of marriage proposals.
And while Michael admits that getting famous overseas is something that every band dreams of, it wasn’t something Karkosa had been thinking about seriously. He and Jack, who plays drums, started the band around 2012 as just two brothers playing music. They then added Ryan in 2015 and a couple months later, Tom joined. Michael said they had gone through a series of keyboardists before Will finally joined. They had brought him in to record one song and the band jokes that he just stuck around long enough that they added him to lineup.
“Will just kind of hung around,” Tom quipped.
“Yea, I came to a couple rehearsals,” Will added.
“And then it was like, ‘Do you want to play a gig?’” Michael continued.
“He just kept turning up and we didn’t have the heart to turn him away,” Tom then said just before the group burst into laughter.
“We couldn’t get rid of him, so we were like, alright,” Michael finished.
Outside of being a newer band, the members are rather young themselves. Ryan and Jack are still in secondary school while Michael, Tom and Will are all in university. They each have their own ways of dealing with the balance - though Will said he often spends about 500 pounds in train tickets - but all seem to agree that doing music on the weekends is something they look forward.
“It's an exciting challenge, that's what I feel like,” Ryan said. “It does have an impact on our daily life, being in the band, as well. So it's kind of, something to look forward to every weekend. Gets you through the week.”
It’s their ages that they believe is one reason they have so many young Korean fans. Michael said that they relate to their music, though they joked that Tom’s hair could also have something to do with it.
“I think the youth is a big one. They like seeing bands that are similar to them or at least a similar age,” Michael said. “I think it’s just the music. It’s really popular over here – alternative rock and indie rock. And that goes down really well. Our fans are big fans of Oasis, many other bands, so it’s nice to be on that sort of page.”
Tom adds that they relate to their lyrics, with Michael saying that they’ve received a lot of heartfelt letters about how their songs speak to fans. It keeps them going and working for their fans. Even the many noona (older sister) fans that they have required.
They were also taken aback by just the reaction to their set. Fans held up their phones with “KARKOSA” displayed on the screens which threw them off a bit during the show.
“It didn't feel real. But then you get here and they actually know all the words and they're singing along. And they're all really into the music and everything. And just experiencing that as an artist was an unreal experience for us all,” Tom said.
But even with their already relative success in the country, Karkosa says that they hope to continue working and getting bigger and better. They got into a studio for recording during the trip and hope to release a new single soon. Sometime in the near future, they hope to get an EP or LP out. They also hope to come back to Korea over the summer and play a few festivals such as Pentaport Rock Festival.
“Onwards and upwards, yea?” said Will.
“To infinity and beyond,” continued Tom. “We’re gonna need a bigger venue.”
“Go to an arena?” asked Will.
“Just a big boat,” answered Tom.
“Yacht party with Karkosa,” suggested Ryan.
“Yacht party, yea,” said Michael. “Now that’s a story to tell.”
Follow Karkosa on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more updates on the band and their music.