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Stewducts Interview - South Korean Hardcore Punks

posted Feb 16, 2015, 8:01 AM by Thomas Mayhugh   [ updated Feb 16, 2015, 8:01 AM ]

Have you ever heard a band that exceeded any and all expectations by so much that you start to question if you have surrounded yourself with the right people. Like the why has no one told me about this until now!?! Type of scenario. I think as punks we all experience this at various points in our lives. The first time as a youngster I heard Minor Threat, the first time I heard Discharge. You think yes! This is what I was put on this planet to listen to and appreciate. Once you get older and exposed to a lot more records and recordings, those moments start becoming fewer and farther between. Stewducts was one of those redefining moments. I had been sort of disillusioned with current raw punk bands, and then fuck!!!! I hear it out of nowhere on a good tip from my friend Jim in Portland. Absolutely wild primitive thrash! Like some chaotic mess of Wretched, Rapt, and Gai, with a few incredible tracks sounding vocally reminiscent of plasmid. It’s like this band was made specifically for me to love. I got in touch through an email I pulled off the Zip Goo Suck website (the label of Stewducts) that went down several years ago, but had luckily been cached and was available through an online archive site. I was shocked when I actually got a reply back!  Even more shocking was that they existed almost 15 years ago, before any raw punk trend or increased interest in those sorts of bands had really taken hold in the international DIY hardcore scene, but regardless Stewducts were thrashing away back then in rural South Korea like none of that ever mattered. I was sent some photos of Wonju City, and Chuncheon City, the towns where the Stewducts members were from, and they are both small and isolated, very much like my own city, and I felt an even deeper connection immediately.


It’s fascinating to me to hear people punk origin stories, and I got this interview back a couple weeks after listening to a national public radio show about the Korean educational system, and the extreme amounts of pressure put on children to causing over a thousand student suicides each year, so this interview really came at a great time, and I think it’s an amazing, inspiring, and entertaining read. Huge thanks to Suck Zoo for the time spent answering these questions.


While I’m at it, I’ll also mention that he recorded a CD called “war is art’’ under the name ‘’Suckz’’ after Stewducts stopped, and also sent me CDr’s of more recent projects, one called New Romans who are an awesome experimental punk band, and Valgeehan Hangmoon, a collaboration of ex-Stewducts members which is one of the most amazing shit-fi recordings I’ve ever heard, and garnered one of the absolute worst and most hilarious MRR demo reviews I’ve ever seen. Obviously the reviewer failed to understand the genius at work!*

 GS: Can you tell us the origins of Stewducts? How did you form? Was everyone in the band into playing the same style of music?


Suck Zoo: The origin story of Stewducts is somewhat vague, but let me begin with this short anecdote. Sometime in the fall of 2000, a bar-type venue called "Time To Rock" opened in Chuncheon-City, Hyoja District.  As the name of the club implied the owners were interested in hosting rock concerts. Before "Time To Rock" was established, there was no venue in Chuncheon for concerts to take place except a few acoustic folk bars. So, my friends and I were extremely excited. We visited the club and convinced the manager that we could organize a show and bring the crowds. But soon we came to realize that it is rather hard to find enough bands (4 bands for a one hour concert was the initial plan). As a group, we were all into stylistically very different types of music: punk, folk, jazz, hip-hop. But, I guess there are some common threads among these different genres that made us stick together and pursue something collectively. So, we formed a band to realize our own show. This was more or less how the Stewducts got started. We didn’t have strict membership in a conventional rock band sense (only Seung Yeol and I remained as regular members until the end). We often rotated our instrumental positions when we played and recorded songs. The band was more like a loose collective in which friends traveling through town or local punks could partake and contribute whenever the band was practicing or recording a demo. In total, approximately 9 or so individuals were involved throughout the career of Stewducts. 


GS: how long was Stewduc

ts active? 


Suck zoo: We started around the winter of 1999 and were active through 2003.    


GS: What exactly does the name mean?


Suck Zoo: the band name originates from the phrase “student as products’’. A phrase that I used in one of my typical anti-Korean education rants that I had written for my own fanzine Goosock Goosuck. Also, I wanted to refer a type of food "stew". I thought that the Korean education system is much like preparing or cooking a stew; chopping fresh ingredients into small pieces and cooking with strong sauces for many hours until the raw ingredients lost its original shapes and taste. Then, subsequently packaged in a can for mass consumption - the ultimate dead commodity. I thought this was a good metaphor for the Korean education system that we all painfully went through. 


GS: You guys are obviously inspired by 80’s bands like Wretched, Rapt, Confuse, Gai, etc. These are not the most popular or common bands to get into especially 15 years ago and in Korea. How did you get into this type of music?


Suck Zoo: I had a pen pal in the U.S. who I traded records, flyers and fanzines with in the mid 90's. I was fascinated by the vitality of this unknown underground network epitomized by crude black and white printed matters with mysterious lists of individuals, bands, zines and record labels. I contacted people and happened to trade mix tapes with Chris of BCT tape soon after I got into tape trading. Through his remarkable compilation tape projects I was introduced to the classic international DIY hardcore punk scene. Lärm, Olho Seco, UBR, Kaaos, Mob 47, Wretched, Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, Neos, Confuse… and the list goes on. Later these raw and often sloppy thrash punks provided the inspiration and imagination of what Stewducts could and want to do as a band. It was huge source of encouragement, providing the needed distance from big time punk bands such as the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Ramones and other shamelessly talented punks that discouraged us from picking up instruments! Also, I found great contemporary bands playing power violence, thrashcore, grindcore…etc. From Sound Idea distribution in Florida run by a very dedicated individual, Bob Suren. Over time, I’ve learned that there are these vast DIY networks around the globe relying simply on the postal service, copy shops and humble recording devices. Further, there was this exciting feeling to be part of this underground. It was, for me at least, a combination of chance (eg. Ordering records based on limited information by sending a well-concealed cash to strangers), experimenting (eg. Turning monotonous zine assembling labor into parties or group meditation sessions, using mattresses as sound proofing devices to name a few) and friendship (contrasting to the mainstream society which is driven by competition and a parochial understanding of excellence). It was rather rare to find punk mail order packages with no personal note or local flyer enclosed until paypal and other online-based service reduced this multi-faceted exchange into a mere abstract transaction. Now, not only in Korea, but really any country with an internet service provider, one can learn about obscure bands within a few clicks. A gift but also a curse. The internet alone is far from being a sufficient medium to deliver the aforementioned more nuanced elements and values, which are the important part of punk experience and its culture. 


GS: The South Korean scene as it appears to most westerners has just started embracing the raw noisy hardcore style in the last 3-4 years mostly via the influence of 90’s Japanese crust bands like Gloom on South Korean bands like Scumraid. What was the response to Stewducts in 2001? Did people understand it? 

Suck Zoo: We only played in our two home cities in Gangwon Province respectively Wonju-City and Chuncheon-City. These are two mid-sized cities in the least populated province, and least developed economically. Gangwon Province lags behind other frenzied parts of the country and our presence was almost non-existent outside of our own region. We didn't like the prevailing idea that only culturally interesting things happen in Seoul, so we relished our anonymity and didn't bother to play elsewhere. Nevertheless, we gave out our releases to our punk friends in Seoul, Deagu, Incheon and Jeju, but there seemed to be more demand for our music overseas, especially in the US and Japan. We were thrilled when Max Ward reviewed our first demo favorably in his Mosh Of Ass Zine. We ended up selling all 200 copies of our first demo in about 3 years which I think still impressive considering the limited coverage we got. I remembered some of my friends in Korea treated our release as a joke and a kind of one off project, which is certainly a fair response, but we hoped that there were more kids who acknowledged this sloppy thrash tradition that we identified with. 


GS: I heard that some of the members of Stewducts were forced into military service? Is this mandatory for everyone in South Korea? 


Suck Zoo: Yes and yes. We all went through this mandatory military service for about 2 and a half years. In South Korea all male citizens are required to take a physical examination around age 19 and based on the results, the government assigns you to either military service or social service. Our split with Zinmma was recorded when me and Sung Yeol got our army vacation during similar dates. We made army, war related themed songs for that split. 


GS: What sort of subjects did Stewducts lyrics talk about? 

Suck Zoo: Our main subject was Korean education as it was and still is blatantly anti-humanistic and anti-educational in its hardcore intensity and responsible for many student suicides every year. Also, there are songs about being in a small town and being proud about it. A few songs dealt with more internal scene politics such as macho-jock hardcore bashing songs and the remainder are mostly silly everyday subjects like taste of brand-new Secom Dalcom milk caramel, the turtles that live in Wonju river…etc. We always admired silly punk bands that retained a good dose of self-deprecating humor (not as a defensive mechanism but rather a humble self-reflection tool) like Dead Milkmen, Stikky, Spazz, Scholastic Deth, Jewdriver, Dead Kennedys, Adrenalin O.D., Big Boys….etc. but I think overall we were overly emotional and nihilistic in our lyrics and in the way we sang. Oh yes lots of army related songs for split with Zinmma.  


GS: Have you ever heard rumors of whether or not they may be punks in North Korea? 


Suck Zoo: No I haven't. But I’m pretty sure there are boys and girls that will always find a way to create things no matter how hostile and oppressive the surrounding conditions are. This question just reminded me of punk rock's favorable music medium and now somewhat fetishized format "flexi-disc". Actually flexi-disc served as highly effective medium of sharing government censored pop music during the soviet years in Eastern Europe. People were bootlegging western pop songs using discarded x-ray films due to low costs and ease of concealment and distribution. Subsequently, eastern European punk rock bands adopted a flexi to spread their subversive messages underground. I'm interested in seeing another example of underground cultural production and the aesthetics that have developed under Nort

h Korea’s extreme conditions regardless of stylistic affinity to punk. 


GS: So Stewducts is not active, what are all the members doing now? Anyone working on similar bands or other musical projects? 

Suck Zoo: We would like to get together and jam but since all members are geographically dispersed, this is not likely to happen any time

soon. Sung Yeol is working as a

Social Worker in Seoul. Hong Jae is working in Moon Mak, Wonju as a reporter for a local newspaper. I am working as a freelance graphic designer in New Haven, CT, And have recorded a few dem

os for fun. 


GS: Are everyone in Stewducts still into punk and following current bands? If so what sort of stuff are you listening to? 


Suck Zoo: I can't speak for everyone for this but based on my last conversation with Sung Yeol and Hong Jae they continue to have an interest in punk even though they are not actively following current bands these days. And, so am I. I've been going to new haven punk rock shows occasionally and have been collecting local show flyers. Recently, I’ve been listening to J-Church a lot. 


GS: Any last words?


Suck Zoo: Tom, thank you for your interest and dedicated work. It is very nice to share this story with the community that gave us so much when we were desperate.    

* The MRR review - Issue #366 - May 2011: