On March 19, the epically anticipated showcase “K-Pop Night Out” returned to Austin, TX, as part of SXSW 2015. The showcase, launched in 2013 by KOCCA (Korean Creative Content Agency) to support K-pop’s international expansion, brought Korea’s musical outfits including Epik High, Crayon Pop, Hitchhiker, EE, The Barberettes, Asian Chairshot and Eastern Sidekick to this year’s blowout — making it one of the most genre-diverse lineups yet.
Taking place at Club Elysium, K-Pop Night Out had an unprecedented amount of attention with increased U.S. media interest from outlets like Vice, Fuse and MTV, and the showcase’s biggest turnout yet as hundreds of enthusiastic fans lined up early as 9:00am., eagerly waiting entrance to the 550-capacity venue.
The show started at 7:40pm with a slew of exciting talent: Five-member rock band Eastern Sidekick’s thundering, 40-minute set, which consisted tracks like “The Exciting Song,” and “Monochrome Cartoon City”; Emotional and apocalyptic indie band Asian Chairshot continued to cook up the crowd with its hard-hitting set of explosive guitars and drums; Magnetic, retro-modern girl group The Barberettes sparkled in their ’60s inspired hair and sequined dress and gave a pitch-perfect performance while singing “Little Gals” and covering The Ronnette’s “Be My Baby” and The Beach Boys‘ “Barbara Ann”; Plus, hyperkinetic husband-wife duo EE tantalized with their psychedelic set of electro beats and eerie vocals; Beat-making maestro Hitchhiker (who made waves throughout the week in his super-shiny astronaut suit while roaming the streets of Austin) re-energized the exhausted audience with his eclectic DJ set.
For the first time, K-Pop Night Out was also used as the testing ground for new material. One of the most anticipated acts, and the only full-on “K-pop” group of the night, Crayon Pop, showcased their well-rehearsed routine of goofy choreography and quirky charms in black patent leather Power Ranger costumes before premiering their exciting new single “FM.” The exclusive premiere made it a must-see for fans — who uploaded clips of the addictive track once they found service — and reporters able to share about new music nearly a week before the track was revealed.
The highlight of the night came when veteran hip-hop group Epik High hit the stage a little after 1:00am. Stripped of any outrageous outfits, over-the-top stage designs or dramatic video production, Tablo, Mithra and DJ Tukutz owned the night with one of the most commanding rap performances ever seen at K-Pop Night Out following past performers like Jay Park and HyunA.
The headlining set sparked huge interest for the act on social media. According to Twitter, the phrase “#EpikHigh” was one of the top hashtags and trends at SXSW while its charismatic rapper, Tablo, was one of the Top 5 most mentioned artists at the fest. It probably didn’t hurt that Epik High was seen out and about interacting with fans and industry execs at other showcases throughout SXSW 2015.
Still, it’s no surprise after the trio’s (literally) intoxicating performance of “Born Hater” immediately put the crowd in a state of frenzy as the guys continued their set taking swigs of soju in between tracks. Tablo welcomed fans, calling them “beautiful people of earth,” and introduced himself to the people that “may not know him” over O.T. Genasis‘ trap hit “Coco,” wittingly changing the famous line to include a play off his name with “I’m in love with the Blo Blo.” The energy continued to grow as they performed a set of decade-spanning hits, including “Happen Ending,” “Burg Khalifa,” “Map the Soul,” “High Technology” and “One.”
Epik High’s meticulously selected setlist of career highlights, freestyle raps, as well as taking the time to speak to the audience was powerfully intimate. That ability to move a crowd — along with exclusive song premieres, a super-diverse lineup and a larger media presence — proved that K-pop was alive and well at SXSW and could indicate a bright future for the Korean music scene at later fests.
–Additional reporting by Jeff Benjamin