For its second year running, the KB Rapbeat Festival 2019 was bigger than ever. Across three stages, Korean hip-hop was on centre stage, alongside other genres too. Yet, although pulling its biggest audience the festival has had to date, it didn’t necessarily mean the energy was at its highest.
This year, the festival grew from one stage to three at theme park Seoul Land on the southern outskirts of Seoul. Seoul Land’s existing theme park infrastructure meant the festival had close access to good facilities and a variety of different food outlets. And although slightly strange to be surrounded by families and cosplayers visiting the theme park, the natural back drop of parkland and mountains was picturesque.
The three stages, appropriately titled the Rapbeat Planet, the Chillax Planet and the Unknown Planet, each offered different vibes. The Rapbeat Planet was the hip-hop stage, while the Chillax Planet had a more relaxed vibe, hosting a variety of genres like RNB, pop, and indie. Finally the Unknown Planet focused more on up and coming artists.
Throughout the day, well-seasoned performers like hip hop group Legit Goons, crew/record label Hi-Lite Records (Paloalto, Reddy, Huckleberry P, Swervy and Jo Wonwoo) and rappers Changmo and The Quiett commanded their stages from the moment they stepped onto it. Each artist balanced their set with high energy song choices, and good crowd interaction in-between songs.
Singer Heize also knew how to work a crowd and was more like a queen waving and throwing hearts to her loyal subjects, than performing for them. Her set was also well chosen, with hits for everyone to sing along to. Though her live vocals were sometimes off the mark, it didn’t bother the crowd that adored her.
Singer Colde on the other hand, had very strong live vocals. He also brought a charming stage presence, and bringing out sunflowers to pass to the crowd during his opening song Sunflower was a nice touch. Although he’s gotten better at choosing his setlist, he still didn’t quite hit the mark for a festival set, choosing slow ballads over funky groves.
The festival also included two international artists on the lineup. American singer Keshi brought his chill lo-fi to the festival. But while he tried hard to convert his intimate music to a festival set, it was hard for the crowd to relate.
On the other hand American RNB duo They. had one of the best sets of the day. Bringing so much excitement to their set, the crowd had no choice but to reciprocate. Even despite the language barrier, the duo had fun with the crowd, getting them to follow their actions and chants. The duo also showed their diversity, letting their vocals shine for a cover of the Dawson’s Creek theme, which they were joined by Korean singer Dean.
Indie band Adoy were also a good addition to the lineup. Their set was well executed and a great energy allowed the crowd to enjoy the performance. Newer hip hop artists also inspired a good energy with their youthful and energetic hip-hop. Coogie with Blasé and Dive In Purple and Ash Island won the crowd over with their dynamic sets.
XXX received the worst reaction of the day. The avant-garde hip-hop duo brought one of the most interesting and refreshing sets of the day. But their infusion of rap with techno influenced beats was too obscure for the hip-hop crowd. Producer FRNK’s live mixing was phenomenal, yet went unnoticed by the crowd. However, rapper Kim Ximya didn’t help the situation, where a cool nonchalance came across as more awkwardness than anything.
Crew you.will.knovv were much anticipated, but for one reason. Singer and producers Miso and Rad Museum and rapper Tabber performed their one or two songs well. However, with their unknown status, it was hard for the crowd to get excited. It was clear that Dean was the man pulling the crowd. Naturally he dominated the slot and his vocals were the best of the festival. Smooth and velvety, his voice had the crowd swooning, especially when offering a few lusty bars of Love acapella. Yet while his hits D (Half Moon), Instagram and I’m Not Sorry had the crowd singing along, his newer songs like Howlin’ 404 didn’t receive the same excitement.
A similar impression came from DPR Live’s set. He performed well and had a very affectionate and charming stage presence. But while the crowd echoed the raps to songs like Text Me, Jasmine and Laputa, there was a wild energy that was missing.
Throughout the day, the crowd’s reaction often seemed lacklustre. For a time of the year where usually the weather starts to cool down, it was more like a mid-summer’s day. The unusual heat for this time of the year could have been one of the reasons why the crowd seemed to lack energy.
Even so, the artists had to really fight for the crowd’s love. It wasn’t as if the crowd weren’t interested. The artists’ performances were enjoyed; the crowd was receptive and danced and sung along to the lyrics. Yet there was something missing in the atmosphere. That ecstatic energy and raw hysteria that makes a good show an amazing one just wasn’t there. So while the crowd enjoyed the sets and engaged with the artists, there was no emotional connection.
This even affected headliner Beenzino. The rapper himself was disappointed with the initial reaction of the crowd, and he wasn’t just saying it for show. Despite his perfect delivery and pure magnetism, it was only really till he performed Aqua Man half way through his set, that the crowd truly warmed to his performance. But from then on, the crowd were eating out of his hands with songs like Dali Van Picasso and Always Awake perfectly echoed. He closed the show with the upbeat Boogie On and On, reminding us to enjoy the night and “don’t give a F about tomorrow, cause it’s Sunday”.
The KB Rapbeat Festival 2019 has grown considerably since its first festival last year. The bigger spaces and facilities made the festival experience more comfortable, while musically it also offered a nice diversity of genres for festival goers to experience. The artists on the lineup also put on solid performances, which the audience enjoyed. However, there just wasn’t the energy from the crowd that took it to the next level. So did the festival have any mind-blowing musical moments? No. Was it a comfortable festival where festival goers could enjoy hip hop and a variety of other genres, surrounded by lush parkland? Absolutely. Which is not too bad at all.