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Eerie Taeji People Festival

August 20, 2009

The ETPFest is a Korean music festival founded and curated by the legendary Korean rock star, Seo Taeji. This year’s event swiftly came to my attention when I walked past a poster showing Nine Inch Nails were on the bill as part of their “Wave Goodbye” farewell tour. Also playing were Keane and Limp Bizkit. The former I have little to no interest in, the latter I would normally approach with much well-deserved derision. My only concern was to see NIN (possibly my last chance to do so).

The event took place in the Jamsil Stadium on August 15th and the online information had advised us to get there early. My wife and I arrived at 11.30am and found ourselves in the midst of what felt like the hottest day of the year. Under considerable amounts of strain we made our way around the stadium to see where everything was. A Korean pub chain called Wa Bar was selling chilled Miller Genuine Draft in paper cups for 4000 won. Normally I don’t go anywhere near the filthy stuff but, owing to the maddening heat and the fact that it was the coldest drink available, it was amongst the nicest beer I’ve ever had. There were also small scaffold rigs (I lack the knowledge to accurately describe these things) set up that held shower jets to spray a fine mist of cold water on people. One was set up as a kind of archway which people queued to walk underneath and a larger one was set up to the size of a small dance floor for people to huddle under until they cooled down. As the lesser-known support bands played (Fade, GumX, Pia and Boom Boom Satellites) we spent a great deal of time out of the sun, huddled in the concrete entranceway of the stadium with lots of Korean folk who were also struggling with the early afternoon heat. Scores of people lay around on the ground like bedraggled refugees, fanning themselves and munching on kimbap.

Wes Borland

We ventured out to see Keane. Since they first started going I held the opinion that Keane were pretty shite but I had to revise my opinion when I realised that I didn’t actually know enough about them or their songs to even make that judgement. They played pretty well and sounded polished, just not my thing. They were followed by a recently reformed Limp Bizkit. I’ll admit to a perverse curiosity to see them. Their wayward guitarist, Wes Borland (the only thing I ever liked about Limp Bizkit), had returned and brought his trademark elaborate costumes and make-up to the stage. As also shown by their music videos, you get the impression that a group comprised of chubby white guys in baseball caps and tracksuits have had to draft in a reluctant guitarist from an entirely different band to replace someone at the last minute. There was of course Fred Durst, the bitterest pill to swallow, the thorniest turd in the chamber. If you had told me the day before I saw the ETP posters that I would soon pay money to stand and watch Limp Bizkit live I would have slapped the crack pipe from your greasy paws. Durst instantly reminded me of that. Once I resigned myself to his shtick, however, it wasn’t too terrible. He was the only guy from the big three foreign bands to learn the slightest Korean as he thanked the crowd in hangul and urged them to “drink more soju” whilst a Korean flag fluttered on the amp stacks behind him. Later he invited audience members onstage to stomp around to “Full Nelson” leading to a rather hilarious moment when an enthusiastic Korean fan attempted to swap his black baseball cap for Durst’s eponymous red one. The crazy wigger was having known of it as he backed away from the audacious fanboy, thrust a finger in his face and snarled a warning at him. Poor wee dude threw up his hands apologetically. Borland, for his part, seemed to seethe behind his costume. There was zero interaction between him and the frontman and instead a very deliberate distance pervaded. Durst had to warn a roadie to “keep the fans away from Wes, away from the danger” when he allowed the audience members onstage. Earlier, during the climactic riff of their hit “Rollin'” Borland’s guitar cut out briefly, causing him to angrily tear the lead from it and throw his mic stand to the ground as an afterthought. Fairly entertaining. By that time it had cooled somewhat and the sun wasn’t nearly as harsh.

The mighty, mighty Nine Inch Nails came on to “Somewhat Damaged” from The Fragile before launching in to “Terrible Lie” from Pretty Hate Machine. A glorious old school treat. From there they went on to songs from the masterpiece that is The Downward Spiral, once described as “the perfect album to crank whilst tossing hamsters into a blender”. The now pumped and thick Trent Reznor said little to the crowd other than he was playing some “old shit”. The sun was setting and many of the thrashing, gnashing people of the audience were soaked with sweat and stinking. Two songs from the Broken EP, “Gave Up” and “Wish” were in the set, as well as the Bowie cover “I’m Afraid Of Americans”. I remain convinced that most Koreans know little of Nine Inch Nails material prior to the With Teeth album released in 2005 and its big single “The Hand That Feeds”. That song, and the single “Survivalism” from Year Zero, were the only two recent NIN songs in the set and they seemed more familiar to the crowd than older, classic songs like “Head Like A Hole”. That was the penultimate song in the set and you can bet your bottom ass that I was bowing down before the one I served, absolutely getting what I deserved. Reznor told the crowd that it was their last performance in Asia as Nine Inch Nails. I saw them for the first time in September 2007 at Olympic Hall in Seoul. That set was superior as they had more of their own impressive stage equipment, played for well over two hours (with no support bands) and played some unexpected treats like their cover of Joy Division‘s “Dead Souls” from The Crow soundtrack. The ETP Fest performance was great but I would have preferred a longer set with more of their more recent material (and “Closer”, thought I’d heard it too much until I experienced it live in 2007, truly sublime but sadly absent from the ETP set). They closed with “Hurt” which saw many audience members produce their mobile phones and use the LED screens as lights. Apparently such wankery is a fairly common practice at gigs these days. First time I had ever seen it. As a true NIN fan will tell you, and I will reiterate here, Johnny Cash‘s cover of “Hurt”, whilst decent enough, is not better than the original.

Nine Inch Nails

After they left the stage, we retired to the Wa Bar beer stall where I received two free beers for no particular reason other than Korea is just randomly awesome sometimes. The festival founder and curator, Seo Taeji, then took to the stage for the headline performance. Something of a veteran of the Korean music scene, Seo Taeji looked about 16 years old. He emerged onstage from a fucking silver capsule like Joe 90 (that’s a very old, very British pop culture reference, look it up) and clearly had the best lasers and lights set aside for his set. After that fantastic intro though, he ruined it by launching into material that sounded pretty much like a Korean version of Limp Bizkit. Some rap/metal crap. Although grateful to him for booking the Nine Inch Nails on their farewell tour, we left during his set to beat the crowds on the subway.

The name of the festival seems to come from a nickname for Seo Taeji’s fans, the Eerie Taeji People, although some posters and promotional material carried the alternative title Eco Together Project. It was a pretty decent bit of live music in Korea overall. Hopefully next year’s festival will feature at least one equally impressive group. I still haven’t seen Tool live, Mr Taeji!

Here is some Youtube fan footage from the NIN set at ETP

You can also see fan footage of the Nine Inch Nails 2007 gig in Seoul here, here and here.

Fan footage of Limp Bizkit here, Keane here.

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