As the first - and only - self-described alternative K-pop band, Seoul-based collective Balming Tiger would be well placed to define their unique sound. But as a fluid group of singers, songwriters, rappers, producers and directors - they are the first to admit that this prototypical deviation from the genre that has proved one of their country's biggest cultural exports remains difficult to put a finger on. "Alternative K-pop is an area that no one can define," they say. "It's what you imagine, and it's what you can't imagine."
Founded in 2018 with an aim to represent the sounds of South Korea's new generation of artists, the collective's name is a play on traditional Asian ointment tiger balm and consists of producers San Yawn and Unsinkable, video directors Jan' qui and Leesuho, and writer Henson Hwang. Joining them are performers sogumm, wnjn, Mudd the student (known for his knockout appearance on SMTM) and K hip hop star Omega Sapien — whose Baauer-produced solo EP 'Wuga', which landed on LUCKYME last year, featured collaborations from the likes of Sega Bodega and Vernon of Seventeen.
Since their beginnings the group has earned widespread acclaim for their eccentric and novel approach to South Korean underground music — taking elements of club-focused electronic sounds, hip hop, trap, g funk, K pop and much more. Garnering curiosity both at home and abroad from their electric first single 'I'm Sick' to their fiery collaboration with BTS rapper RM 'Sexy Nukim (섹시느낌)' which has over 13 million views on Youtube to date. An ironic turn for an "Alternative K pop" outfit, the track had come about from producer San Yawn playing the track to one of K pop's biggest stars through a producer: "He readily responded that he would participate," they tell Mixmag. "At the time of making the song, RM had the frequency that we didn't have and needed. And we think it was a possible combination because we had the frequency that he needed."
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The group admit much of their identify comes from the "condensed and crude energy" of Seoul's burgeoning nightlife and cultural scene. "The night culture is shoddy and energetic," they tell Mixmag. "The music [we enjoy] is very different for each of us, but there are times when it's hip-hop, or sometimes K-pop — and then sometimes it's techno and drum 'n' bass."
Having embarked on their first EU/UK tour in May - which featured stops at Berghain, Space 289 and The Great Escape - Balming Tiger look to move further along their path to world domination in 2023, starting 'Trust Yourself' — the first single from their upcoming debut compilation record, due for release early this year.
To give us a "feeling" of the city they call home, Balming Tiger's Unsinkable and Leesuho have compiled 10 tracks that they feel really define the sound of Seoul — from a turntablist love story to some quintessential Korean hip hop finesse.
Mid-Air Thief (공중도둑) 'White Room (하얀방)'
It is included as the first track of Mid-Air Thief's first album "Gongjoong Doduk". Since he was active under the name Hyoo, he is an artist who can find many attempts in genres that are difficult to explain with words such as indie or electronica. We also highly recommend the album “Flood Format” by Bird's Eye Batang, his most recently released project by another name.
ccr 'shed baile'
It is a track from the first compilation album "SCA1", released in 2021 by the Seoul electronic music label Sound Supply Service. Many of our favorite electronic music and hip-hop artists participated in the album. Among them, I recommend the first track, shed baile by ccr.
DJ Soulscape 'Love Is A song'
A love story told through turntablism by DJ Soulscape, a DJ representing Seoul and Korea.
Y2K92 is the team of Simo and Jibin. We think there is an emotion that is hard to explain in words in all the music they make. We recommend you to enjoy the track with the music video through YouTube.
The Quiett 'Be My Luv'
It is a track from The Quiett's fourth studio album, "Quiet Storm: A Night Record”, where you can feel the humorous sensibility and sophisticated production of Korean hip-hop in the 2010s.
HAEPAARY (해파리) 'A Shining Warrior - A Heartfelt Joy (소무-독경)'
We think this track combines the sound of traditional Korean instruments with the grammar of electronic music so naturally and perfectly. There are many live clips on YouTube, so we hope you watch them together.
Beenzino 'Aqua Man'
It is a track that received a good response from both the public and hip-hop fans with easy and sensible lyrics and beats. We used to sing this song at karaoke when we were young.
Kim Ximya (김심야 ) Friends Go Foe ( 가사)
This is the comeback track of our favorite artist in Seoul after two years. The pleasure that comes from restrained vocals and song composition is amazing.
NewJeans (뉴진스) 'OMG'
You can check out the diverse spectrum of producer FRNK, who forms a team called XXX with Kim Ximya.
Kim Doeon (김도언) - Prophet (feat. Kim Hanjoo)
It is a track from the album "Damage”, which shows how hard and high-quality electronic music is being made in Seoul in 2022. Kim Hanjoo, vocalist of the band Silica Gel, featured. We recommend you to watch the music video directed by Hwang Hyunjin together.
Balming Tiger's new track 'Trust Yourself' is out now, listen here.
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter