The fifth edition of Zandari Festa – Korea’s largest music showcase festival – took place from September 30, 2016 to October 3, 2016 in Seoul’s Hongdae area. The event featured performances from more than 160 acts from 19 different countries. Tokyo husband-and-wife folk duo Nature Airliner were one of the groups that traveled to Seoul to play at Zandari Festa 2016. Guitarist and vocalist Laurier Tiernan recorded the band’s adventures for us with an exclusive tour diary for Hello Asia!
Thursday September 29th, 2016
Eiko and I woke up at 5:30 a.m. in Tokyo and took a train to Narita International Airport, where we caught a Jin Air plane to Incheon Airport in Korea. The airline had asked us to pack my Taylor acoustic in a hardshell case, but when we checked in, we were told that they could have taken my guitar inside the cabin (as I prefer) if we had brought it in a soft-shell case; I will remember that. We arrived at Incheon Airport at 1:20 p.m. and were immediately bombarded by an olfactory tidal wave of kimchi; fermented, spicy as hell, and promising “adventure lies ahead”. Purchasing our T-money cards (digital currency cards which can be used as train passes) we jumped on a downtown-bound train for 4050 won (approximately 5 USD). A tiny elderly woman sitting next to me insisted on chatting enthusiastically, even though I obviously didn’t understand most of what she said; immeasurably adorable. I wish I had thought to take her picture, but my mind was blank from the fatigue of lugging my Taylor in its hardshell case. She used “sign language” to tell me that my eyes sparkle when I look at Eiko; and they do.
An hour later, we checked into the accommodations that Eiko had chosen (Roi Guest House near Hongik University). It’s a “hostel” with speedy wifi, complimentary self-serve breakfast, complimentary self-serve laundry, and en-suite bathrooms. At 60000 won for both of us (about 60 USD) it was fully amazing. There was a van parked beside the hostel that said, “Vis ta Vie” (“Live your life” in French), and we were fully on it. After freshening up, we set out on the town, and immediately dove into some killer street food; deep fried mini crabs, prawn and squid – all stuffed into a “popcorn” cup – with a few toothpicks instead of utensils. I couldn’t resist snapping a cell phone pic of Eiko as a crab leg hung from her lips. We then had bibimbap at a famous restaurant, and dessert at a Korean sweets café, before running home to go over our live set and falling sleep.
Friday September 30th, 2016
Rising early, we devoured a killer breakfast; cereal, coffee, two eggs and two slices of toast; all complimentary! Then, after some quick showering, we set out on new adventures. I shopped for some t-shirts, and had a lunch of tteokbokki as well as kimbap while Eiko tended to shopping she wanted to accomplish by herself. Eiko took photos of some inexplicable Pikachu balloons in front of a shop in the Myeongdong district. We then headed to MUV Hall in Hongdae to register for Zandari Festa, and pick up our “all-access” wristbands, etc.
We watched a really talented band from France called Colt Silvers during the opening party. However, although they were by far the most polished band I had ever seen at a showcase festival – a hybrid of Coldplay, Blur and Muse – none of their songs were truly memorable. As their set came to an end, it was getting on 8 p.m., and we had a show of our own booked at The Alley Bunker, so we jumped into a taxi and sped off.
When we walked into an almost-empty bar, I was afraid that we had made a bad decision, but right before we went on stage, people started flooding in, and they kept coming until the place was packed. We also got one of the warmest and most appreciative responses that we’ve ever received from an audience, so “all’s well that ends well”. We were surprised at how many people wanted to speak with us after our set, including a new fan (and YouTube vlogger) named Luke Williams, whom we had met online that very day. A British gentleman even kindly went on for half an hour about how he knows that we’d be a sensation if we moved to London. We will definitely think about it.
The taxi driver on the way home was by far the fastest that we’ve ever experienced but, rather than being afraid, Eiko and I hung onto the “oh shit handles” and dug every moment. At around twenty minutes for about 9 USD, he was also incredible value; as are all Seoul taxis. Before turning in, Eiko and I were craving meat like crazy, so we stopped at a Korean Barbecue place near our hostel, and ordered a “mixed meat platter” consisting of three mini steaks, three rings of pineapple, and a pile of assorted sausages. Washing it all down with a cider (for Eiko) and a local draft beer (for me), such satisfaction has rarely been experienced. Having already consumed complimentary alcohol at The Alley Bunker, we made sure to take some healthy swigs of water before bed, in order to avoid award-winning hangovers.
Saturday October 1st, 2016
We woke up feeling great – miraculously – after having slept in until 9. Seeing as breakfast ended at 10, we slapped on our “jammies” and scooted downstairs to the communal kitchen. Having filled our tummies with another lovely complimentary breakfast, we lounged in bed, responding to business emails, and booking an interview with the Korea Times while we did laundry. At about 1 p.m. we headed out to Anguk Station. That area of Seoul is renowned for its “historic” feel, with many buildings harkening to a pre-war style. We had visited it last year for the first time, and found it amazingly relaxing. We indulged in sharing two multi-course traditional meals at Chon restaurant, but even with all their extravagance, the bill came to less than 50 USD. Most of the flavours consisted of different variations of spiciness, but the mind-boggling array of subtleties turned this lunchtime into a “mini journey” all by itself.
After lunch, we sauntered through the traditional market shops, and perused the “Kimchi Museum”. Voted “one of the best 11 food museums in the world” by CNN, it’s educational as well as fun. You can even borrow traditional Korean clothing in which to tour the museum. It’s also very hands-on; “virtually” making kimchi yourself on a table-sized touch screen, tasting various varieties while registering your feedback, printing your own postcards, and making reservations in advance even allows you to literally make your own kimchi. Being virtually spiced-out, we enjoyed refreshments at a traditional tea house before running off to see Adam Sullivan and the Trees’ showcase for Zandari Festa 2016 at Club Ta. His set filled me with all kinds of epiphanies, and I decided immediately that since Eiko and I do a lot of work for the English-language media in Japan, we should pitch a story about Adam to one of our editors in Tokyo to help promote his upcoming Japanese tour. Upon leaving venue, we headed to the nearest Kangol store in order to pick up the complimentary sneakers that every Zandari Festa artist received this year. We then returned to the hostel with some snacks and the intention of turning in early. Having showered and run through our live set once, we hit our respective pillows. P.S. Actually, right before midnight, Eiko decided that she wanted Pho, but her target restaurant was closed, so we crossed the street to a gamjatang restaurant called Song Ga Nae. Deciding that the food at the table beside us looked awesome, we ordered and wolfed down a platter of “do it yourself” napa wraps, miso soup and rice; walking away stuffed and overwhelmingly satisfied, for around 9 USD.
Sunday October 2nd, 2016
Waking up with one more day before our official showcase for Zandari Festa 2016, at Cafe Veloso, I was a bit nervous, but our “practice show” went really well at The Alley Bunker on Friday, so I thought we should have nothing to fear. Something was wrong though. Elko was coughing like crazy. When not coughing, she lay still, all but lifeless, wrapped in her white covers; like a butterfly that lacked the strength to break through its cocoon. She was burning up with a fever. We were supposed to go to MUV Hall’s lounge so that we could network with booking agents of festivals from around the world, but it also hadn’t stopped raining since breakfast. We barely made it to the event with an hour to go, but met some really nice people from England and Japan who were booking agents for festivals in places that we’d like to play. That was providential. At 1 p.m. Zandari Festa wanted all its artists to clear the lounge area in order to make room for some business to business networking, so Eiko and I escaped the constant rain outside by slipping into a taxi back to the hostel. As soon as we got back to our room, Eiko slowly crept onto her bed and lost consciousness, so I decided to follow suit. We then slept most of the day away, only waking a few times to drink water and check our email. By evening, neither of us felt like dinner, so after a quick shower we both called it an early night, despite having slept all day.
Monday 3rd October, 2016
Eiko coughed, whined and moaned all night, and I could barely stand listening to her suffer, but I knew that she wanted to let the fever run its course, so I never woke her. In the morning, her fever had subsided somewhat, but she looked even more lifeless, and her voice was completely gone. She refused to come down for breakfast, but accepted that I bring her some coffee. One of the staff ladies (Hyon-Joo) offered to make her a remedy from a ginger and honey concoction that she kept in the fridge for sick guests. Having polished that off, Eiko slipped back into her virtual coma, and after having offered to get her anything she wanted, I ran off to the last day of networking. As soon as I walked into MUV Hall, the one man walking towards me turned out to be the booking agent for an Israeli festival where Eiko and I dearly want to play. The universe was smiling down on Nature Airliner once again. I was also fortunate enough to get some one-on- one time with a gentleman who runs a showcase festival in Liverpool; another location where Eiko and I would love some exposure. Having then met a man from Live Nation Spain, with only a few minutes left on the networking session, I collapsed contentedly into a random chair, only to notice Adam Sullivan behind me. He invited me to join him, and we networked with a few other musicians around us before I noticed an email from him asking if we could do our interview earlier than originally planned. We jumped on the opportunity and got it done right there and then. Returning to my nearly lifeless Eiko at the hostel, I gently asked her, “Can you really play our showcase tonight?” to which she quietly rasped, “I haaaave to!” Taking a quick shower then putting on her makeup and a pretty dress, she looked even better than usual, so we zoomed off to Café Veloso via taxi, in order to complete our soundcheck, followed by a performance in which no one would have suspected that she was ill.
Post-show, we slipped off stage with a “Goodnight Seoul!” and gratefully bonded with a handful of new fans before conducting our second interview with The Korea Times. Eiko insisted that I network and attend the closing party without her, so I put her in a taxi bound for the hostel, and set about it. Among our new friends, there are two to whom I’d like to give special thanks; Travis – a spectacular musician, and one of the best vocalists I’ve ever met – and Luke Williams, a genius YouTuber with a take-no- prisoners approach to being out, loud and proud. I was very grateful to have met them and their friends, and I look forward to whatever adventures we can have together in the future. Travis was exhausted from a long day, so after some quick beers in a park filled with buskers, he went home, while the rest of us slipped into club Freebird to watch the before-last band that I would witness on this trip; A’Z Bus. A punkish Korean three-piece with a female singer-songwriter as its figurehead, they blew me away like few bands ever do. Their arrangements resembled an intelligent mix of Faith No More and Mono, and the lead vocalist could rival Kurt Cobain’s vocal power, while surpassing him in consistency. I was sure that I bruised some ribs moshing to them with some Russian gentlemen that I had just met, but it was completely worth it. I really want to write about them if they ever plan on playing in Tokyo. After A’Z Bus’ set, sweaty and in pain, I said goodbye to my newfound friends and headed off to Zandari Festa’s closing party, like I promised Eiko I would.
I really had no desire to make new friends in that condition, but had a really fabulous time in the end, and was 100% happy that I stayed true to my word. As per last year, the festival had an “endless supply” of beer cans on hand, courtesy of their sponsors, but somehow it ran out after the first hour or so. A kindly young volunteer handed me a can that was hidden behind the counter when I reached for a complimentary bottle of water, and I thanked her warmly. The rest of the night proceeded literally to unfold like a scene from Heaven itself; an ebullient conversation with Adam Sullivan’s touring guitarist (Andy) and his fiancée Nadiia, a young Korean woman telling me that my skirt was better than hers, and Glasgow supergroup Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 rocking the stage harder than a 21st century Chumbawamba, while their male “go-go” dancer waved a huge rainbow flag. All fuzzy, all wonderful. I even got some private time to commiserate and laugh with a prestigious festival organiser from the U.K., and thanked Zandari organiser Patrick Connor profusely for having Nature Airliner showcase for two years in a row. Shortly after midnight, I decided that my productivity level was falling fast, so, brandishing a well-used map of Seoul, I hopped in a taxi and requested to be taken to the hostel to which I was pointing.
Tuesday 4th October, 2016
We woke up around 7:30 a.m., fully conscious of the fact that we had to be on a train to the airport by 11 a.m., and I was fully conscious of being slightly hung over, as well as definitely having bruised a few ribs moshing to A’Z Bus, but fully content and satisfied with the whole of my experience. Having eaten breakfast together for the first time in three days, I decided to forego shaving, so I just washed and fluffed my hair as Eiko finished packing the suitcases (which she always insists on doing herself), then we jumped on a train to the airport. We really didn’t want to go home, because we prefer being on the road, but we had things we had to do in Japan. So, after Eiko indulged in one last bibimbap, and I wolfed down a bacon sub – which I regretted – we boarded our Jin Air flight back to Narita International Airport. Thank you very much for having us, good people of Seoul! We had an even better time with you this year than on our first trip to Korea in 2015! We’ll definitely be back next year, if not this December!