A Unique Musical Blend: Gostwind = Metal + Traditional Korean Music
By Sebastian W. Suh (a.k.a Baz Gar.Funk’el):
To avoid confusion, let’s get this out of the way first. Baz Gar.Funk’el was the pseudonym I used to distinguish my personas between my bands CRUX, in which I sing (or use my voice), and Grand Soul Central, in which I play guitar. Now, as the latter band is working on releasing an album, I realized adding an additional pseudonym to my songwriting credits would be an administrative hassle. This was exemplified with the poem I recently submitted to Flapper Press. I blatantly rehashed the lyrics of CRUX’s Soundtrack to My Fears that was already credited to “me,” making it somewhat awkward for me to have two separate names on one site. In terms of writing, I had originally taken on the Baz Gar.Funk’el pseudonym when I wrote for the likes of Views Magazine, and that continued here on Flapper Press. Moreover, with Flapper Press, I was able to be a lot more personal with the material I write (take the title of my previous article “What I Owe to Metal” for instance). So, long story short, let’s just drop the Pseudonym and go back to being Sebastian.
"The Roots of K-pop—When it was actually pretty darn good" was the article in which I (as Baz that time) introduced Seo Taiji. He was not only a pioneer in K-pop, but he also brought various musical subgenres to the forefront of Korea’s mainstream listeners. Among his endeavors included the fusion of Rock, Dance, and traditional Korean music featured in the song "Hayeoga." After hearing the song, Derek May of Flapper Press brought to my attention the existence of The Hu, a Mongolian band and recent YouTube sensation that plays a unique blend of rock and traditional Mongolian music (check out their hit "Wolf Totem"). While totally different from Seo Taiji in style (The Hu’s music is devoid of danceable elements to begin with), it wasn’t hard to discover that there existed a common denominator. That train of thought returned me to my own musical scene here in Korea, and the band Gostwind immediately popped into my head. While the Gostwind’s music is also completely different from The Hu, my chat with Derek prompted me to reach out to the band. I wanted to hear for myself what led to them to create their unique end-products. (My band CRUX had also shown great interest in traditional Korean rhythms, which we incorporated into the mid-section of the track "Mal.Funk’tion 7/8").
Gostwind (Korea): Gugak Metal
As a comparison, The Hu tend to be more rock-based and lean more heavily on traditional instruments to comprise their core sound. Conversely, the foundation of Gostwind is undeniably Metal; only in place of the screams, screeches, and/or growls typically spearheading the genre, the current incarnation of Gostwind has a female Pansori vocalist fronting the band. Instead of the melodic onslaught of twin lead guitars, the band has incorporated the Daegeum (Korean bamboo flute) and Haegeum (a Korean string instrument) to provide lead instrumental melodies. The two instruments intertwine with each other, sometimes individually, sometimes in harmony, and sometimes in a discordant fashion. Another big difference from The Hu is that Gostwind embraces rather than shuns the electric guitar, leaning toward riffs and rhythm that give their sound that definitive Metal tinge. Guitarist Kim Byung-chan delivers brilliant solos but keeps them sporadic enough to let his “traditional” instrumental counterparts shine when it comes to melody.
Formed in 2004 and currently three albums in, Gostwind’s the other constant member (along with Kim) is leader and drummer Ryoo Keun-sang. These two “Bring the Metal” in terms of song structure and sound. Ryoo, a graduate of Folkwang Universität der Künste in Essen, Germany, decided to put together a band that would deliver Metal irrefutably unique to Korea. He eventually found the answer in Gugak.
Guk means “country” (note that Korea is called Hankuk), and Ak refers to music (Eumak is “music” in Korean). That is not to say that Gugak is the only form of traditional music found in Korea. Case in point, let’s come back to the Pansori vocals. Pansori can be likened to Korea’s traditional rendition of a one-man/woman musical show that comes in an old-school rap duo format (beatbox + emcee). The voice (sori means “sound”) delivers a story in a distinct singing style and is usually only accompanied by a percussionist who lays down a freestyle beat (I use “freestyle” freely, as in you probably won’t be able to feel much of a “groove” in the usual sense of the word). The percussionist also adds accents to the story with his/her own voice, not unlike the role of a DJ on the mic.
Kim Ran, now the third vocalist of Gostwind, looks back on the first moments she was at band jam. Having been trained in traditional singing to a single percussion, she was initially overwhelmed by the wall of sound spilling out of the speakers. Another challenge was how standard Pansori—and traditional Korean music as a whole for that matter—comes with completely different rhythms and melodies from that of Western music. For instance, traditional Korean music has five notes (somewhat similar to the pentatonic scale) as opposed to the Western seven, and the use of quarter notes is prevalent. Such quarter notes are non-existent in Western music, probably with the exception of guitar note bends often featured in Blues-based playing. All these discrepancies had to be consolidated so that the traditional approach would fit the Metal blazing in the background, all the while maintaining the details of what makes the traditional delivery uniquely Korean. Gostwind continues to do an excellent job at molding this blend of Metal that is globally one-of-a-kind; one they can rightfully call their own.
I could go on but it would be easier to get the gist of all this by listening to a couple of their tracks.
Gu Arirang / Pest / Look Up at the Top - Live (Arirang is probably the most popular Korean traditional tune, so much so that BTS did a cover, and numerous foreign musicians rearrange the tune to appease their fans. But few know that Arirang also comes in numerous variations, with this acapella version that the band starts with being one of the more articulate renditions.)
Gostwind is: - 류근상 (Ryoo Keun-sang / Francis Ryoo): Drums - 김병찬 (Kim Byung-chan): Guitar - 차현일 (Cha Hyun-il / Alvin Cha): Bass - 김란 (Kim Ran): Pan-sori Vocals - 신승민 (Shin Seungmin): Daegeum - 손유민 (Son Yumin): Haegeum
In closing, I would like to thank Gostwind for partaking in this interview, especially bassist Alvin Cha who served as my key liaison to the band.