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Indie musicians raise voice on gender-based discrimination

Three young women prepare for a performance. / Courtesy of Wewewe Project
Three young women prepare for a performance. / Courtesy of Wewewe Project

By Park Ji-won

Some indie musicians have broken their silence about discrimination based on gender in the music scene through a compilation album.

A project album "We, Do It Together" by Wewewe Project was released on Nov. 26 in hopes of raising awareness on gender based discrimination issues.

Kim Min-jung, vocalist of the six-year-old indie band Ego Function Error and the leader of the Wewewe Project, aims to empower female and feminist artists, and to pave the way to change the misogynic indie music scene after growing tired of the discriminative scene. After listening to a female rock compilation album from Japan, she decided to launch a similar project in 2017.

Band Ego Function Error's vocalist Kim Min-jung
Band Ego Function Error's vocalist Kim Min-jung
"I was sick and tired of abusive remarks and acts against female musicians in the scene," she told The Korea Times over the phone. "After my group's performances, we were repeatedly told 'you performed so well for women,' or 'it's strange for women to play this genre of music.' Until recently, musicians often said 'It is unlucky to have a woman in a band.' One of my colleagues said she was randomly asked to go to a motel ― to have sex ― by a male colleague … I'd had enough witnessing people defining female musicians as 'Hongdae goddess' or 'Hongdae witch.' I thought it was time to create the atmosphere and culture where female musicians can speak up and talk about themselves. Also, I just simply wanted to be less tired from trying to come up with songs in a safe environment with good colleagues," Kim said during a recent phone interview with The Korea Times.

The album was made amid the abusive culture. Hongdae, Seoul, has been the epicenter of the indie music scene with many live clubs in the area and labels based there. Many indie musicians formed bands and performed in the area, creating a certain fandom in the scene and helping to diversify musical genres in conservative Korea roughly since the 1990s. In 2016, however, an online document started to spread online which was titled "Why I don't go to indie band gigs" revealing that many male indie musicians sexually harassed female fans. Many fans left the scene after the revelation and criticized the abusive environment.

The rare project has united 12 groups on one album: Airy, Ego Function Error, Hyangni, Amado LeeJaram Band, Adios Audio, Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, Cheon Mi-ji, Whang Bo-ryung, Dabda, Cacophony, Tier Park and Billy Carter came up with new songs addressing the theme of violence and discrimination against women. They don't deliver a unified message; some songs express anger about an abusive society against women while some are simply trying to empathize with those affected, but they all raise their own voices in different ways.

One of the featured bands, Billy Carter, contributed the track "Hell," in memorial of the 15-year-old Hong Kong teenager who was found dead in 2019 after allegations that police sexually assaulted her. A section of the song features the lyrics: "The 15-year-old girl was raped and killed. Full of blood on the concrete field. Eyes are shut mouths are sealed. Cold bodies cannot be healed."

Ego Function Error's song "Pan" is critical of Korean society's allegedly "too tolerant" about male sex offenders. It says being drunk cannot be an excuse for committing sex crimes. The lyrics read: "They are not guilty because they have a bright future? Or being a breadwinner is something that can make a case for his crime? Why should we be made to feel ashamed of ourselves by the blindfolded judges?"

But it took some three years to see the results as she faced opposition from those unsupportive of feminism and women's rights issues.

"About two to three years ago, when I first launched the project, only five groups out of 13 possibles joined the project. Many refused to join it because they said they were cautious about making a song about feminist issues … that was prior to the #MeToo movement. I was about to give up."

Things started to change after the #MeToo movement gathered force with many women feeling empowered to speak out regarding the sexual harassment and abuses they have experienced. The movement found its voice in Korean society in 2018. When Kim contacted some of the previously unwilling musicians again, many accepted her proposal saying they had been waiting for an opportunity to express their thoughts over the current issues. After the release of the album, six contributing musicians held a concert called "2020 Wewewe Festa" on Nov. 28.

She is poised to continue to speak up against the sexual and gender injustices.

"In the past, the nature of the rock music included the culture of protest against violence ― like during the Vietnam War. In 2020, women have many things to protest. It is part of the rock spirit to talk about current issues through music … This album just opened the door for marginalized stories to be shared in society. I hope this album can bring people some comfort and play a role in creating momentum now and in the future to come up with a new album with many people from diverse parts of society ― like the queer community ― in the future."


Three young women prepare for a performance. / Courtesy of Wewewe Project
Three young women prepare for a performance. / Courtesy of Wewewe Project

By Park Ji-won

Some indie musicians have broken their silence about discrimination based on gender in the music scene through a compilation album.

A project album "We, Do It Together" by Wewewe Project was released on Nov. 26 in hopes of raising awareness on gender based discrimination issues.

Kim Min-jung, vocalist of the six-year-old indie band Ego Function Error and the leader of the Wewewe Project, aims to empower female and feminist artists, and to pave the way to change the misogynic indie music scene after growing tired of the discriminative scene. After listening to a female rock compilation album from Japan, she decided to launch a similar project in 2017.

Band Ego Function Error's vocalist Kim Min-jung
Band Ego Function Error's vocalist Kim Min-jung
"I was sick and tired of abusive remarks and acts against female musicians in the scene," she told The Korea Times over the phone. "After my group's performances, we were repeatedly told 'you performed so well for women,' or 'it's strange for women to play this genre of music.' Until recently, musicians often said 'It is unlucky to have a woman in a band.' One of my colleagues said she was randomly asked to go to a motel ― to have sex ― by a male colleague … I'd had enough witnessing people defining female musicians as 'Hongdae goddess' or 'Hongdae witch.' I thought it was time to create the atmosphere and culture where female musicians can speak up and talk about themselves. Also, I just simply wanted to be less tired from trying to come up with songs in a safe environment with good colleagues," Kim said during a recent phone interview with The Korea Times.

The album was made amid the abusive culture. Hongdae, Seoul, has been the epicenter of the indie music scene with many live clubs in the area and labels based there. Many indie musicians formed bands and performed in the area, creating a certain fandom in the scene and helping to diversify musical genres in conservative Korea roughly since the 1990s. In 2016, however, an online document started to spread online which was titled "Why I don't go to indie band gigs" revealing that many male indie musicians sexually harassed female fans. Many fans left the scene after the revelation and criticized the abusive environment.

The rare project has united 12 groups on one album: Airy, Ego Function Error, Hyangni, Amado LeeJaram Band, Adios Audio, Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, Cheon Mi-ji, Whang Bo-ryung, Dabda, Cacophony, Tier Park and Billy Carter came up with new songs addressing the theme of violence and discrimination against women. They don't deliver a unified message; some songs express anger about an abusive society against women while some are simply trying to empathize with those affected, but they all raise their own voices in different ways.

One of the featured bands, Billy Carter, contributed the track "Hell," in memorial of the 15-year-old Hong Kong teenager who was found dead in 2019 after allegations that police sexually assaulted her. A section of the song features the lyrics: "The 15-year-old girl was raped and killed. Full of blood on the concrete field. Eyes are shut mouths are sealed. Cold bodies cannot be healed."

Ego Function Error's song "Pan" is critical of Korean society's allegedly "too tolerant" about male sex offenders. It says being drunk cannot be an excuse for committing sex crimes. The lyrics read: "They are not guilty because they have a bright future? Or being a breadwinner is something that can make a case for his crime? Why should we be made to feel ashamed of ourselves by the blindfolded judges?"

But it took some three years to see the results as she faced opposition from those unsupportive of feminism and women's rights issues.

"About two to three years ago, when I first launched the project, only five groups out of 13 possibles joined the project. Many refused to join it because they said they were cautious about making a song about feminist issues … that was prior to the #MeToo movement. I was about to give up."

Things started to change after the #MeToo movement gathered force with many women feeling empowered to speak out regarding the sexual harassment and abuses they have experienced. The movement found its voice in Korean society in 2018. When Kim contacted some of the previously unwilling musicians again, many accepted her proposal saying they had been waiting for an opportunity to express their thoughts over the current issues. After the release of the album, six contributing musicians held a concert called "2020 Wewewe Festa" on Nov. 28.

She is poised to continue to speak up against the sexual and gender injustices.

"In the past, the nature of the rock music included the culture of protest against violence ― like during the Vietnam War. In 2020, women have many things to protest. It is part of the rock spirit to talk about current issues through music … This album just opened the door for marginalized stories to be shared in society. I hope this album can bring people some comfort and play a role in creating momentum now and in the future to come up with a new album with many people from diverse parts of society ― like the queer community ― in the future."


Park Ji-won jwpark@koreatimes.co.kr

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