Do you Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Sinchon? Playing at Nori–The Alpha

By Mizaru

Part 1 (here) Part 2 (here) Part 3 (here)  A recent take on the live music scene in Hongdae (here)

 Part 4

“Best of everything there was and everything there is to come is often undocumented.”

Patti Smith

Jet Boy Jet Girl meet Juju and Guju

In Sinchon on the weekends, hundreds of Korean lovers (campus couples) take over the streets and go spilling around each other and everyone else like they were on catnip. It’s melodrama, it’s a ritual and it usually begins with a male Juju barbaric scream at his girl,

“Where are you? You don’t care about me!”

The female Guju is close but caught in the nightlight and screaming like a banshee,

“Older brother I am here find me.”

She is within 12 feet of him and drops down in a perpendicular squat on the pavement with her soju pizza  staring back at her. The male will often join her in a sympathy puke. Three feet away from her he’ll squat down parallel to her and wretch to make his puddle just a little bigger than hers. It’s an every Korean student looks at his and her Soju-pizza with a certain kind of affection moment. It’s drunken madness but it’s also an initiation into quasi- adulthood and at least there are rarely any fatalities. Next, there is great possibility that the night is not ending but just launching into romance. A few minutes stumble to the other side of Sinchon, Love Hotels  are lined up all along the way and it’s like Richard Hell and the Voidoids sang, Love comes in Spurts.

Wednesday nights I play at Nori and have a Korean-company-man-wants-to-relive-stress playlist ready: Van Halen’s Jump, Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Guns and Roses’ November Rain and for their female counter parts, Eric Clapton’s You Look Wonderful Tonight. It’s an anyway list of songs for the usual suspects, but it wasn’t a nostalgia wind-up; these are the rock songs that young Korean professionals who come to Nori really want to take the plunge with. But after that 7- 8:30 crowd comes and slams beer and moves on the atmosphere could be changed altogether. Korean student musicians and the first wave of foreigners would come in to listen if not at least put up with a punk set:  Bad Brains, Minutemen, The Clash. This would act as a turnstile for the  requests that would start coming. Besides having a clue about music the biggest part of a rock Dj’s skill set is to be able to observe the drinkers and know what kind of music will get them off. To clock people after they had a glass or two and anticipate what to play next. You can listen for  their accents, check their poses for affectation or their desire to slam into Dionysian revelry, it’s telepathy, it’s forecasting a mood, it’s giving them something to listen to that they didn’t realize they wanted to hear. It’s playing rock ‘n’ roll that melts everyone’s part of the iceberg that no one else sees.

Wednesday night was also night out at Nori for the international students studying Korean and living in Sinchon. They had the essence and substance more of a blonde and attractive flash mob. Too much purchased confidence. Too much rapture at the duty free airport shop. It was obvious they never took Lou Reed to heart and so instead were in the throes of planning some sort of Uzbekistan putsch. They wanted to hear speed metal or Abba. They settled in and shook their hips for a triple play of Little Richard. They most likely heard this kind of music before, but couldn’t really place it but knew it was still cool. After playing regularly for a couple of months the only feedback I got from the manager ‘April’ was,

“Don’t get so fucked up so the night goes fucked up.”

There’s no money in this kind of rock bar Dj-ing, just drinking, reading people, the music, and more music. I could drop into the basement at Nori  any night of the week I wanted and not to have worry about dropping my paycheck. It was carte blanch. I was given a skronky key to the universe, at the stormy helm of immortal mid week cymbal crashes and energized intoxication:

Spirit desire spirit desire.

Soju Puddles Bless the night.

I Predict a Riot so Bless the night.

The KKK took my Baby Away so Bless the night.

Shoplifters of the World Bless the night.

Bon Iver Skinny Love Bless the night.

Wolf Parade, Hungry Wolf and Howlin’ Wolf Bless the night

Rip it Up Little Richard and Bless the night.

Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t of fallen in love with Bless the night.

Oh here comes Pallas Athena in a Pink Cadillac Bless the night.

Patti Smith

But it’s not at all Pallas Athena, but a different sylph to bless the night,

“She whispered to me she told me her name and her name is G-l-o-r-i-a, G-l-o-r-i-a Gloria G-l-o-r-i-a- Gloria.”

In the 4 a.m. taxi ride home from Sinchon rock city,  I would have sworn to the driver that I was injected with Absinthe and it shot from my fingers and into the populated song list.


Of course not every night at Nori was a knockout. As anyone who has ever worked in a bar or restaurant will tell, you learn to appreciate the occasional quiet night. Those nights you can learn more about who is around you. And it was on the quiet Wednesday nights  that “Bobbie the drag queen” would come in purring. She was thin as a rail but not gaunt. Very angular thin with a dahlia noir persona. She wore black and dressed for androgyny by covering all of her skin. On busy weekend nights, more than once I saw her go up the Nori stairs with a man and neither of them came back down in the same night.  On the late, late Wednesday night when everyone’s eyes were at half-mast, she’d come in and sit at the end of the bar in such a singular way that at first I suspected she might reach over and try for a Jane’s Addiction or a Janis Joplin CD. I never had to get drinks for anyone but myself at Nori so usually it was “Bar boy Chen” who would serve her a glass of red wine. If there was an equally singular man around she would demurely approach him then just softly purr to herself. By this time I’d have a maybe a dozen drinks and a pack of smokes in me. It’d be close to last call, the night almost played out and I would just shuffle around putting away the stacked up vinyl and stray Cd’s first into their cases and then back on the shelves.

For some reason I began my own sort of purring around Bobbie. In a smoke clogged voice just audible, “Red shoes, the angels want to  wear my red shoes,” or “Beware all you evil doers in the world.” She would smile and pretend to understand or maybe she did because we never really conversed. At ease with no other men around. She seemed indifferent to the music. Just into her mellow drunk. She became the last good customer and I sometimes joked with Chen,

“If Bobbie comes in this late we know the party is over”.

It was on such a night when the heavy wooden door swung open and in came another Nori regular. It’s “Johnny Depp.” The guy who drives the dog meat truck. He was with a small crowd that he started to seat at a table but then saw me and shot for the bar.

“Hey man be careful! That’s not a woman man. That’s a man.”

I pretended not to hear him by greeting him, but he continued,

“I know he looks like a pretty boy, like you man, but he is man, she is not a woman! I can’t be fooled maybe because you are a foreigner it’s easy to fool you man.”

Chen knew Johnny Depp well enough to suggest to him to drink somewhere else as we were closing. Johnny tried to get me to come along but I gestured it was time to put the music away; so Johnny just  called out to his crew that they were going somewhere else and that’s what happened. I still hadn’t looked at Bobbie when I went to the vinyl for the night’s last song. Always a slow one in case someone wandered in they would feel the adagio mood and hopefully turn around. Also, always vinyl for the last song played at a regularly loud level. It’s about celebrating the emptiness of a consecrated place that a few hours ago was buzzing so strong the gods were weeping down on us all. A good soft song at the end of the night makes it all sacrosanct. Elton John’s Someone Saved my Life Tonight   off the underrated Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. The night’s catharsis complete I stumbled upstairs to the bathroom and that reminded how I hadn’t eaten anything substantial the whole day. I made sure twice that my pants were zipped up and got back behind the stained bar without banging into too many heavy wooden chairs. Bobbie was still there and the song was at:

It’s four o’clock in the morning damn it listen to me good 

I’m sleeping with myself tonight, Saved in time thank God

My music’s still alive. And someone saved my life tonight sugar

Bear. You almost had your hooks in me didn’t you dear.

Chen was whistling the chorus of the song and I looked over to Bobbie. Wine glass empty. Her posture intact, her appearance flawless, her face glacial but melting a little bit on both sides from two streams of tears falling. I looked away again and when the song was over I could hear her clicking heels making their way up the stairs and out of Nori. Chen kept whistling the chorus and looked at me, “What’s wrong?” He turned back and re-cued the same song and asked me again, “What’s wrong?” I didn’t realize it for awhile but I had tears in my eyes too. Someone Saved my Life Tonight became my closing song at Nori, and I never saw Bobbie again.



Saturday Night– Sinchon without thumbs.

Wednesday nights were good but I had a change in my teaching schedule and being there just wasn’t possible. Saturday night’s at Nori were something different but I still wanted in. Weekends there became like any outsized rock show. Men with swollen up monkey glands and crazed Maenads making their way to front of the altar— but in this case the bar. I struck the deal to play part 1 of the night from 7 p.m. till about midnight. As a courtesy I got the standards of Hooberstank, Queen and ‘Hotel California’—always the Spanish version- mostly out of the way and after, Ben and sometimes Daniello would come in for the headline shift midnight till sun up. Ben is a real pro and I don’t mean that with the plunge of a dagger. He told me he was the one who convinced “Eumach Synim” to let foreigner Dj’s play at Nori. Until he got there Nori kind of had a time warped playlist going. You could always ask for something and if it was available you’d hear it. But the songs were sort of held captive to the vinyl and Cd’s behind the bar. A solid but not expansive collection meaning lots of 60’s, a little less 70’s, even less 80’s and a shrinking continuum to what’s current. Ben started bringing  in his Cd portfolio and a little later Nori was on the way to getting a computer and having its musical universe blow wide open.  He also had a matter of fact strategy of not having to play Jamiroquai every fourth song. When the weekend revelers came up to him with a master of the obvious request that just wouldn’t work, or would work too well meaning it’s fucking common, and Nori was never going to be a top-40 bar, he would just tell the people,

“Oh, I just played that,”

He would also slip all the chits of request around and by such making sure not to play only the lowest fruit on the vine.

For the early weekend shift I stacked up Cd’s that both Koreans foreigners in Seoul were sure to ask for. West coast bands seemed to be preferred over east coast sounds: Stone Temple Pilots- plush, Soundgarden- Black Hole Sound, Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication. It sounded like a canticle of mediocrity. A blowing bubblegum contest held at the record store inside a giant suburban mall. I would throw a Queens of the Stone Age in when I could. And Black Rebel Motorcycle Club—Spread your love, would shake the fortress of sound a little more loose, and as if with some sort of kinetics on the dance floor, the stronger the sounds got, the wavelengths evened up and spreading heat through the room. Any one on their second drink and listening to their third song became braver, un-tethered and ready to approach the altar and make their requests. Certainly it was more of a going out crowd and less of a music one on Saturday night, yet, it was Saturday night in Sinchon and almost impossible to have a bad night out. On my forth Saturday by 9pm the place was already crowded and in a good groove when a legion of 3 Korean sky angels with pure white gossamer wings fluttered over to the front of the bar. Their scent wasn’t of heaven but Hermes perfume yet it was such a vision. The angel with the best English asked for a Green Day song. She didn’t mind writing it down on the chit,

“Make me up when september ends.”

I asked them again before it made sense, “Wake Me up when September Ends.” We all laughed, yet they were a little disappointed that the song we listened to didn’t have their title. Actually, in a word, it was cute and at the least really expressive of Nori bar on a Saturday night.

This is going to sound preposterous but when rock ‘n roll in Sinchon was really peaking it had nothing to do with the four words, God Save the Queen, but the dealmaker was four words: Sex in the City. In around 2005 that show started to show on Korean cable channels and its effect was tumultuous. You could hear hot Korean girls talking about it in the subways all around Seoul. That show had let loose a certain sexual anima in the city and for awhile in Sinchon everything and everyone seemed to me urban, hip and  open. It was a love supreme moment for young media in-tuned women here and the traditional boys, with good Korean family values, who might want to play conservative and fight it had no active power to do so. During my opening Dj shift that Saturday night I heard the show mentioned about five times. I only wished I had the opening theme song of it to play.


Stay tuned for the Beta part of this article.



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