This trio of South Korean punks brings joy, thundering chops, and a whole lot of attitude with their debut album, Keep Drinking.
South Korean punk trio Drinking Boys and Girls Choir has all the trappings of a successful punk band. They’re devotees of the DIY lifestyle, embody the devil-may-care attitude of punk, and write energizing, catchy songs with the musical chops to match. But unlike the garage band that dreams of making it big, success has never exactly been in their plans. “We don’t have big dreams,” says bassist Meena Bae. “We don’t expect to be full-time musicians. We have paying jobs. Not many punk bands in South Korea earn enough money to make a living.”
If success was never on their radar, you wouldn’t know it from listening to their debut album, Keep Drinking, released under London-based indie label Damnably in March of this year. Guitarist Bondu Seo, drummer Myeong-jin “MJ” Kim, and Bae deliver 18 tracks—averaging two minutes each—like an exuberant yet tightly choreographed flurry of fists.
Hearkening back to the classic ’90s punk of NOFX and Sum 41, their sound is a blend of melodic hardcore and skate-punk, influenced especially by Japanese bands Judy and Mary, Dustbox, and Hi-Standard, and Korean bands Crying Nut, …Whatever That Means, and Billy Carter. All three members sing and often harmonize with each other (hence, “Choir”).
The band officially formed in 2013 after Kim, who had met Seo in university a few years prior, introduced him to Bae, and the three began playing together. (At the time, Bae was primarily a drummer, and switched to bass when they decided to form a band.) But, and in part because of their day jobs, Keep Drinking almost never happened. “Every weekend we had a show, so we didn’t have much time to record an album or write songs,” says Bae.
That changed in 2017 with a sudden, serious turn of events: Kim was struck by a taxi while riding her motorcycle and was left hospitalized with a broken backbone. The trauma, which required Kim to have reconstructive surgery on her hip and backbone, might have been a major setback for any other band—but DBGC saw it as an opportunity to catch up on their music. “We always wanted to make our full-length album, but were too lazy,” says Kim, laughing. “When I got hit by a taxi, it was kind of an opportunity for us.”
Of course, you’d think Kim’s state might have posed a bit of a challenge—but the band found a work-around. “Each of us worked on songs individually,” says Bae. “Then we explained how the drums should go and Kim played it with her MacBook.” Bae and Seo then went into the studio to record the bass and guitar parts, and Kim’s drum parts were mixed in as MIDI tracks for the entire album.
The band approached the rest of the album recording process steadily and methodically. “We prepared demos for a long time so we could finish the studio recordings with less difficulty,” says Bae. “We went to the studio after work and it took 60 hours to record all 18 songs.” Normally, they handle everything, including songwriting, as a collective. “We don’t finish whole songs individually—we’ll bring some chord progressions or melodies and write the rest together, like making a building. For ‘Oh My California,’ we wrote lyrics together, then came up with the melody for them as a group,” says Bae. “We’re each very different people,” Kim adds. “That’s what makes our songwriting interesting.”
DBGC’s sole guitarist, Seo is quiet and shy when he’s not shredding and jumping around onstage. He began playing guitar in high school when he bought a cheap acoustic and started taking lessons from a classmate.
“The very first song I practiced was ‘Let It Be’ by the Beatles,” he says. His main guitars are an Epiphone Flying V and a custom axe with a skateboard deck for a body, designed by an artist friend of the band, Woogoory. He performs with a simple setup, using an Ibanez TS-9 Tri-Screamer + True Bypass—a JHS Pedals modification of the original Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer—and a Line 6 M9 Stompbox Modeler, and plans to upgrade his guitar’s pickups to Seymour Duncans. Seo’s greatest influences on the guitar include Taiji Fujimoto of Judy and Mary, and Sang-Myun Lee, the lead guitarist of Crying Nut, a band that DBGC credits for making punk popular in South Korea in the ’90s.
In October of 2018, DBGC completed a brief tour of Indonesia with Indonesian pop-punk outfit Saturday Night Karaoke. They performed at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, last month, and will continue to promote their album release on their U.K. tour later this year, but the dates are not yet announced. In between touring, the band is rooted in their home base of Daegu, the fourth-largest city in South Korea, located 50 miles in from the country’s southeastern coastline. “There are good friends who inspire us and a bar we like,” says Bae. “And what’s more, Korea is not very big so we can have a round trip to any city in a single day.”
Their involvement in the Daegu DIY scene is vital to their identity as both a band and individuals, and they regularly collaborate with a variety of local DIY artists to share their music and support the scene that supports them. “If we allow others to influence how we make our music, it might not be exactly what we want,” says Kim. In the spirit of punk, that sentiment flies in the face of the South Korean government’s active endorsement of and influence over K-pop as a cultural export, which began with the creation of the Ministry of Culture—with a special department devoted to K-pop—in the late 1990s. “We don’t want the government to force or not force us to make choices about our art. We want to do it ourselves, with our friends,” says Kim. In January, the band organized an event that featured performances by themselves and other musicians, tattooing, live painting, and the skateboard guitars of Woogoory.
Right now, all that matters to DBGC is that their music stays loud, fast, and fun, and that their fans enjoy it. “I want our fans to jump around and shout with joy,” says Bae. “I want to show them that we’ll keep going no matter how many challenges we face. We will always continue to be a band and make music. Life is unpredictable. Luckily, we’ve met good people, played shows, and happened to plan a tour, but it wasn’t our aim at all. We just want to meet more people, keep drinking, and play music happily ever after.”
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir guitarist Bondu Seo loves his Epiphone Flying V, which he believes helps him to play faster and jump higher—crucial techniques when it comes to his ultimate goal of sharing the group’s furious energy with their audiences. This video features a montage of the band performing their song “National Police Shit,” the second track off of their debut album Keep Drinking, along with the anti-establishment attitudes they bring to their music.