holy grail record

5 Korean Holy Grails Chosen by Record Collectors

Music from all countries existed for a long time as its own original culture. While the music of a certain time may not have been special to contemporaries, it can evolve into a valuable heritage for future generations.

Just like the psychedelic rock of Korea from the 1960-70s, Korean music from the golden days is extremely scarce all around the world. However, some people manage to succeed in their hunt for a holy grail — that one rare record you covet above all else — by chance or relentless effort. We asked five DJs and collectors about their holy grails of Korean music. Each record was selected by the individual’s own standard and obstinacy.

dj soulscape

DJ Soulscape

Discogs: Can you briefly introduce yourself?

DJ Soulscape: My name is Park Min Jun and I’m a DJ as well as a producer in Seoul. I am also the director of the record store, RM360.

Discogs: Do you use Discogs?

DJ Soulscape: I haven’t bought or sold a record through Discogs yet, but I often visit the website to get information on records. I’ve searched for my album before as well.

Discogs: Just how valuable are Korean records to you? Or, in other words, what is your reason for collecting Korean records?

DJ Soulscape: I don’t really have a special reason for collecting Korean records. It’s pretty natural for me because my parents had a collection of Korean records when I was young and I grew up listening to music from San Ul Lim and Shin Joong Hyun & Yup Juns.

dj souldscape holy grail

Discogs: Tell us about your holy grail.

DJ Soulscape: It’s a record called Go Go Sound Vol.1 by Kim Hee Gap Band, released in 1971. I found this record at a record store nearby Ewha Womans University. It’s quite a special record even if you compare it to other psychedelic records popular at the time. Bringing new interpretations of traditional rhythm and a combination of Latin, boogaloo, and jazz, it shows what modern Korean psychedelic should sound like. Later on, I had a chance to meet Kim Hee Gap and he told me that the history and value of Korean light music are awfully diminished at the moment. Since then, I started to gain a lot of interest in music from the ’70s.

tiger disco

Tiger Disco

Discogs: Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Tiger Disco: I’m a DJ and record collector in South Korea and I also run the prestigious Bar Tiger Disco in Euljiro, which aims to provide quality music for people with fine taste. In my early days as a DJ, I was kind of isolated just because I played Korean music, but now I provide a good balance between disco, city pop, and ’70s Korean pop to fulfill my old grudge.

Discogs: Do you use Discogs?

Tiger Disco: I haven’t tried selling. I usually use Discogs to purchase and get information about records that I’m interested in.

Discogs: Just how valuable are Korean records to you? Or, in other words, what is your reason for collecting Korean records?

Tiger Disco: I think it’s fair to say that old Korean records are harder to find than many foreign rarities. For example, early recordings from labels such as Daedo Records, Oasis Records, and Jigu Records can’t be found on any music websites, even on YouTube. That’s why I go around the whole province searching for records in unusual places. On top of everything, discovering various breaks and soul that are only present in Korean music would be the main reason why I collect Korean records.

tiger disco holy grail

Discogs: Tell us about your holy grail.

Tiger Disco: It’s a compilation (not for sale) record called 약진하는 한국 메이커 produced by Sang-A Industry and released by Sin Seki in 1971. It starts with interesting promotion announcements from Korean enterprises such as Dongdaemun Arcade, Monami Chemical, and so on, followed by the tracks. Some songs included are the popular “Love Portion No.9” by The Searchers and “꿈속의 나오미” by Kim Choo Ja. I really like the deep saxophone sounds and smooth comments of the chorus in ‘“Over the Rainbow” which is the last track on the B-side. I often play this track as the finale in my DJ set. (It is assumed that this is the same track as “Over the Rainbow” in Gil Ok Yoon’s Japan release, Mood in Sax. 1). One interesting find in this record is that, on the front cover, you’ll read “Sponsorship: Korean Pop Jockey Association.” Perhaps in the past, people might have also used the term “pop jockey” alongside “disc jockey.”

curtis cambou

Curtis Cambou

Discogs: Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Curtis Cambou: I’m a DJ, record collector, dealer, and the owner of the record shop Mosaic Seoul. I also run the label Daehan Electronics, which rediscovers and introduces diverse experimental music from Korea.

Discogs: Do you use Discogs?

Curtis Cambou: I have my own individual Seller account, but I also plan to register another one for the store. I’m just a little tied up with offline sales at the moment.

Discogs: Just how valuable are Korean records to you? Or, in other words, what is your reason for collecting Korean records?

Curtis Cambou: I’m French but I live in Korea and work in the record industry. Perhaps that is one reason why I like and collect Korean records, but that’s not all. The way I see it is that, despite the limitations on freedom of expression in Korean music — ’70s music in particular — there were many significant attempts made at the time. That seemed pretty interesting to me. I feel that there are more records yet to be discovered. The joy and happiness of finding such records is a big part of my life.

curtis cambou holy grail

Discogs: Tell us about your holy grail.

Curtis Cambou: It’s a compilation album called 아름다운 사람아, 아름다운 노래를 that was released by Universal Record in 1972. This record is the first private press album in South Korea and only 500 copies were made by a few artists (members invested their own funds) who gathered in a small gig venue called Nashville. The term “private press” first emerged in Korea due to this record and it’s almost impossible to find it nowadays as it was only sold in concert venues and stationery stores in front of universities. Bang Eui Kyung, Hwang Kyung Sook, Kim Tae Gon, Park Doo Ho, and other musicians who produced and were featured on this record are all underground folk musicians of the ’70s. The acoustic sound and acid folk style that these artists pursued offer a gloomy atmospheric instrumental layered with clear vocals, somewhat different than other Korean folk songs that were trending at the time. All tracks are deep and harmonized properly in the album, but I would like to recommend “8번” as the highlight of this record.

airbear

Airbear

Discogs: Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Airbear: I’m a record collector, DJ, and video director in Seoul. As a Korean-American, I started collecting records at a young age when I was in California. At the time, I was listening to stuff like punk and indie rock but soon broadened my musical spectrum to genres such as psychedelic rock, progressive rock, and soul when I had a job around Haight Street where Amoeba Music SF is located.

Discogs: Do you use Discogs?

Airbear: I often used Gemm and E-Bay in the past, but now I use my Discogs account, downtownseoul, to buy and sell records.

Discogs: Just how valuable are Korean records to you? Or, in other words, what is your reason for collecting Korean records?

Airbear: Basically, the reason I collect records is mainly to play music as a DJ. It’s a special feeling to see how Korean jams ventilate the dance floor. It’s a pleasant experience that puts me on the hunt for Korean records. Obviously, you can’t leave out the fun of getting to know musicians from different eras.

airbear holy grail

Discogs: Tell us about your holy grail.

Airbear: SungSin (한번만 더 / 만남 이후) is an album by Park Sung Shin released in 1989 from Jigu Records. It doesn’t exist anymore, but there used to be a neighborhood bookstore I often went to. The second floor of the store reminded me of The Thing in New York, you know the warehouse-type, and that is where I found this record by chance. At that particular period, I was mainly into city pop and it wasn’t too difficult to find such Japanese records in Korea as well. Naturally, I started to look for ’80s-90s Korean records with similar characteristics. Luckily, records from that era were much cheaper than the disco and funk that the DJs and producers were looking for, so it wasn’t a big burden to get those records. Since then, I came to gain more interest in the unique characteristics of Korean music itself. Actually, it’s hard to put SungSin (한번만 더 / 만남 이후) in the “holy grail” category because it can still be found if you put in some work, but personally, it’s a special record for me. It’s a record I got to know when I started to take Korean music more seriously. Also, I remember people often coming up to the booth to ask for the music when I was playing this record. My favorite track from this record is “향기로운 그대여.” It’s a dancy and nostalgic track that makes it sound familiar even on first hearing. The quality of performance is also outstanding, as it featured Kim Hyun Chul, Choi Tae Hwan, Song Hong Sub, 김성호, and other top instrumentalists of the time.

fantasystar

Fantasystar

Discogs: Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Fantasystar: I’m a record collector and I wander everywhere around the country selling and buying records.

Discogs: Do you use Discogs?

Fantasystar: fantasystar is the account that I use for selling records at Discogs, and I often check the website to buy records as well.

Discogs: Just how valuable are Korean records to you? Or, in other words, what is your reason for collecting Korean records?

Fantasystar: Music comes in different styles and forms according to its nation and culture. Likewise, we have our own distinctive nuance that comes from Hangul (Korean language) and people’s sentiments. Above all, I assume that most old Korean records can only be found in Korea. With that being said, I think that is what makes Korean records invaluable. As a digger and seller, it’s natural that I have a strong attachment to such records.

fantasystar holy grail

Discogs: Tell us about your holy grail.

Fantasystar: The record I chose is Self Ethnography by The South Korean Rhythm Kings released this year. To be honest, I don’t really have a holy grail record with me at the moment because I sold everything in the past and most of them have already been introduced through various media. So I thought that it would be nice to select a record that has the potential of becoming a grail in the future. A lot of my favorite jazz musicians featured in this record and I have to say that this album is the most satisfying album among all releases this year. The musicians did a great job of fusing Korean elements to avant-garde and free jazz music form, and I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that it’s a monumental record in the history of Korean jazz. Moreover, the pressing quality of this record is superb and the artwork perfectly expresses what the artists pursue. Last but not least, it’s a private pressing limited to 300 copies, so it has all the factors that collectors would go crazy for. If you see this album anywhere, I strongly recommend that you grab it.

Original photo by Mary Harrsch of the holy grail painting featured in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Altered with the vinyl record.

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