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DMZ Peace Train Music Festival imagines 'borderless world'

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Bohemian Betyars, right, perform at Rolling Hall during Zandari Festa 2017. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar
Bohemian Betyars, right, perform at Rolling Hall during Zandari Festa 2017. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar

By Jon Dunbar

The DMZ Peace Train Music Festival returns to Cheorwon County in Gangwon Province this weekend for two days of "dancing for a borderless world."

The festival is returning after a two-year break due to the pandemic for this year's event this Saturday and Sunday, which will be the third such festival.

People camp out at Goseokjeong during the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival in 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar
People camp out at Goseokjeong during the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival in 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar

"We had to cancel the last two editions, and it is extremely hard to come back," said Cecilia Soo-jeong Yi, co-founder and head of content for the festival. "We are really excited but at the same time insanely nervous. It feels just like when we did our first edition, we had no idea how the crowd would react, and I think we have the same feeling about this year's edition."

When the non-commercial music festival had its first run in 2018, the Korean Peninsula was in a mood of peace, but its second edition came in 2019 after the breakdown of U.S.-North Korea negotiations in Hanoi. This year's festival comes amid far more dire circumstances, and that dream of inter-Korean peace seems farther away than it has in years.

Artillery on display appears aimed at a sign for the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival, June 24, 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar
Artillery on display appears aimed at a sign for the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival, June 24, 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar

"It's definitely affecting the festival in terms of the reality we are facing such as: dealing with the new regional government, new rules after COVID, et cetera, et cetera," Yi said. "But then we see people who like our festival demand our message even more than before."

She said when she visited the festival location a few months ago, she was surprised to find locals in the area remembered the festival. "We stopped by a coffee shop to discuss a bit about the festival. Then, suddenly the owner told us how much they are waiting for it. I think most of them are happy and as excited as us," she said.

Elderly residents watch former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock perform with Korean punk band Crying Nut at the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival in 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar
Elderly residents watch former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock perform with Korean punk band Crying Nut at the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival in 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar

"We are not trying to be politically correct; we're focusing on more meanings of the word 'peace.' We never protest with the festival or try to educate people. We do what we do: bring people together and make them have a feeling of peace during the festival that changes perspectives towards the world."

Former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock poses on stage with Korean punk band Crying Nut and Cha-Cha of No Brain at the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival in 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar
Former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock poses on stage with Korean punk band Crying Nut and Cha-Cha of No Brain at the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival in 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar

In its previous two incarnations, the festival made headlines for inviting music legends to the DMZ, starting with former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock in 2018 and following up with former Velvet Underground member John Cale in 2019.

U.S. band Starcrawler / Courtesy of Starcrawler
U.S. band Starcrawler / Courtesy of Starcrawler

This year's lineup includes some fun foreign acts like the Hungarian speed-folk freak-punk band Bohemian Betyars, Palestinian indie singer Makimakkuk, U.S. rock band Starcrawler, Thai indie-pop duo HYBS,
French rock duo Bandit Bandit and French rock group The Inspector Cluzo.

Palestinian singer Makimakkuk / Courtesy of Makimakkuk
Palestinian singer Makimakkuk / Courtesy of Makimakkuk

The two French bands had been invited to festivals in Korea in 2020, with Bandit Bandit set for Zandari Festa and The Inspector Cluzo invited to Peace Train, but the pandemic got in the way. Moreover, Bandit Bandit's planned Korea tour back in June had to be canceled when one of the members tested positive before departure. So it was a natural decision to bring them back.
Thai indie-pop duo HYBS / Courtesy of HYBS
Thai indie-pop duo HYBS / Courtesy of HYBS

Two of the biggest names at this festival might be on the domestic front: Yoon Su-il and Han Young-ae. Yoon, who started his career in the 1970s, has had many hits that the audience can sing together, including the 1982 city pop song "Apartment." Han got her start in 1976 with the folk quartet Sunflower.

Yoon Su-il / Korea Times file
Yoon Su-il / Korea Times file

"We always try to book a 'legend artist,'" Yi said. "We looked over our options and this year we thought it would be great to have some Korean legend artists. That's why we have Yoon Su-il and Han Young-ae."

Han Young-ae / Korea Times file
Han Young-ae / Korea Times file

But Yi also stresses that the festival does not have explicitly headlining acts. "You need a headliner to hook people who don't know about your festival," she said. "So, putting big fonts for a so-called headliner is a marketing strategy. We don't want to do marketing with 'headliners,' because all the artists are equally important ― we want the audience to give their attention equally to all our artists."

Bulgogidisco / Courtesy of Bulgogidisco
Bulgogidisco / Courtesy of Bulgogidisco

It is undeniably a fantastic lineup, with impressive local acts like Haepaary, Hyodo and BASS, No Brain and Leenalchi X Ambiguous Dance Company.

The main performance venue is at Goseokjeong, a former Korean War battlefield that is decorated with life-size fighter jets, an imposing gray pavilion and a ― frankly, depressing ― amusement park that has seen better days.

Old amusement park rides sit unused next to the festival grounds at the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival in 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar
Old amusement park rides sit unused next to the festival grounds at the first DMZ Peace Train Music Festival in 2018. / Korea Times photo by Jon Dunbar

As in the past, there will also be performances closer to the border with the North at Woljeongri Station, where pianist Kim Jae-hoon and folk musician Lang Lee will give more intimate performances to a lucky 150 ticket holders. However, there will be no performances this year at Mount Soi and the ruins of the Workers' Party Headquarters, which had previously hosted musicians.

Lang Lee / Courtesy of Lang Lee
Lang Lee / Courtesy of Lang Lee

Due to the remote location, festival organizers have been offering information about shuttle buses as well as accommodation and campsites in the area.

Visit fb.com/dmzpeacetrain or dmzpeacetrain.com for more information.




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