Balming Tiger are a South Korean arts and music collective with a penchant for the eclectic. Their sound is diverse, and hits like the Ritalin-deprived lovechild of Odd Future and meme-era Awkwafina. Their latest single “KOLO KOLO” released a few weeks ago is a zany, jungle-soul track that flips between English, and nonsensical gibberish lyrics. If you thought Kpop was big, get ready for alt Kpop to take over your playlists.
We spoke with the band to gain some perspective on their history as a band, the burgeoning underground music scene in South Korea, and where they see their unique weird brand of Kpop taking them in the future.
Tell us the story of the formation of Balming Tiger. It’s an eclectic group of personalities obviously, but was everyone always involved with music?
We were formed in late 2017 and the earliest members of the group are San Yawn and Abyss. We scouted video director Jan’Qui while working on the music videos of tracks from our first album, ‘CHEF LEE’ and ‘MOT UNDERSTAND’. Since then, we have scouted Unsinkable, Sogumm and Omega Sapien, who are currently leading the Balming Tiger one by one. Recently, we scouted Henson Hwang, who is in charge of managing and marketing. This is Balming Tiger’s current formation.
Our members have been doing music since school days, and we think that the hidden talents who have been quietly improving and polishing their skills are now shining as a unit.
Where do you draw your main inspirations from?
Daily life, painting, books, people and imagination.
How did you first get involved with hip-hop?
It was the only window to express our suppressed emotions during childhood.
What is life like as a South Korean independent artist? Are young Koreans receptive to music like yours?
With the global success of Kpop, which is the mainstream of the Korean music market, it is a good time to be in the music industry. However, it is a shame that there are a lot of artists who consider the independent market as a mere stepping stone for the mainstream market. We always try to be the pioneers of a new pathway. It’s not easy.
Also, it is true that the reaction is not as big as mainstream Kpop. However we’re giving messages to our peers and younger generations, and we think we are starting to make small waves.
What’s the alt hip-hop scene like there? Everyone knows about K-pop, but is there a thriving underground music scene?
The Korean hip-hop scene is gaining as much traction as Kpop through media exposure. We can’t deny the fact that we’ve been benefited from it. But we never frame our music in the scope of hip-hop. We are an Alternative KPop Band.
In addition, there are underground scenes besides Kpop in Korea, and there are many talented artists. We are just one of them.
The Korean music scene is changing so rapidly. We think it’s an interesting phenomenon.
Your visuals are also quite striking. Who’s in charge of the videos and art? What usually comes first, the idea for the visual, or the music?
Visual art is the surest element to show our identity and what we want to express. We think it’s one of the biggest elements that differentiates us from others. Most of the work and ideas are developed by director San Yawn, the artists and the designers together.
It depends on each work. We are free to get ideas without a fixed framework. It depends on who we work with and what we do.
Sometimes the visuals come first, sometimes the music.
What’s the message you would like English-speakers to take away from your music?
We wish the younger generation living in this era to pursue their own interests. We want them to channel their thoughts and sympathize through our music. Rather than having a message specifically for English-speakers, we use English in our music because we wanted to make music accessible to people all over the world.
However, we do not only use English in our music. We are all-culture-loving Korean and Asian people. So it won’t be surprising to find French or Chinese in our next album.
What’s up with this new single? It’s called “Kolo Kolo” and the hook is “Hakuna Matata”? What’s the meaning behind it?
“Kolok Kolok” is an onomatopoeia for coughing in Korea. Because the sound was fun, we changed it to a Latin feel and named it “Kolo Kolo.” It has no other meaning.
We also wrote “Hakuna Matata” and “Hakone Malatang” because it was just fun and meaningless!
The video is fantastic. Where’d you get the idea for it?
We tried to humorously express East Asian-specific rule actions and restrained culture.
Our intentions are well suited to the director Pennacky’s unique texture and video technique, so the video seems to have been made interestingly and successfully.
What are your plans for 2020? More singles? An album?
We will perform at SXSW 2020 in March. And we will go on a European tour in May, including The Great Escape festival in the UK. We are planning to do a lot of overseas performance this year.
Also, our rapper Omega Sapien’s albums and singles will be released in the first half. Existing members such as Sogum and Unsinkable and our new artists, who have not yet been revealed, will release albums or singles in the second half of this year.
In addition, Balming Tiger’s second compilation album will also be released in the second half.
What’s the future vision for Balming Tiger?
As we said above, we want to grow into a global and iconic Kpop band. Through this, we want to create a bridge for uncredited Asian artists to the world
Also we’d like to to remain an artists’ group that always throws experimental arts and ideas to the global art industry.