Sunaoira Ku Bon Young

Sunaoira Is the Next Generation of Korean Record Collector

There are numerous kinds of record lovers — collectors or “diggers” as we refer to them — around the world and they each have their own way of finding various kinds of music. We refer to them as “diggers,” but this time, we’re highlighting a slightly different record collector from Daejeon, South Korea. With a view of records that intrigues curiosity, 24-year-old Ku Bon Young (Sunaoira/D9) is an important figure among Korean collectors. After years of collecting obscure records, this youngster revisits the legacy of the times by his own standard.

Discogs: Can you briefly introduce yourself? 

Sunaoira: Hello, my name is Ku Bon Young from Daejeon, South Korea and I collect various kinds of things such as records and old books. I also manage a small record label as well as working a DJ and a band drummer.

D: What does Sunaoira mean?

S: Nothing fancy. It’s just a combination of words I came up with from my mother’s ID. She used to love a Japanese pop-rock band in the ’80s called Southern All Stars and her ID was Sunao. I just combined “-ira” to the word and that’s how I got my name. But I use different names for various occasions. D9 is my DJ name and I also use Ein Hungerkünstler for my releases.

D: You’re in your early twenties, which is quite a young age for a record collector these days. How did you first get into collecting records?

S: I remember watching a video clip introducing vinyl on TheNeedleDrop YouTube channel run by Anthony Fantano. After watching that clip, I thought that I wanted to start collecting records. Since then, I’ve been constantly adding records to my collection.

D: What kind of music do you mainly collect?

S: I collect various genres, from free jazz to noise, industrial, experimental, psychedelic, folk, and Korean Teuroteu, which can be found in traditional markets. Nowadays, I’m digging into high school band music and private presses. As for Korean records, I love the graphic designs of the ’70s, so I keep an eye out for records mostly from that era.

In the music aspect, I am keen on old music (1950-’60s) that had the arrangement style of the ’70s, just like how they used to play in old bars and clubs. It has become pretty difficult to track down these days, but I consider those albums to be every bit as good as that of foreign albums from the period. I would say they are quite experimental and unique. For instance, Japan’s band music was mainly influenced by The Beatles or ’60s folk sound, but in Korea, such influence faded away quickly and the bands/musicians were more focused on pursuing psychedelic sounds.

D: Other than the musical factors, do you have particular criteria when you look for records?

S: Obviously, I do buy records for the music itself, but I often think that if the cover art suits my taste, most of the time, the music turns out to be good as well. I often buy records without listening when the cover catches my attention. Other than that, unusual records such as educational 7-inches, school song albums, and advertisement albums for insurance companies are some I would buy without hesitation when spotted. There are certain labels and series that I follow as well.

D: Do those criteria apply to Korean records?

S: I would say that my criteria for Korean records are stricter. There are other factors to consider for certain old Korean records such as the quality of pressing or the band’s talent, but at the end of the day, I tend to be drawn in by the covers due to limitations in choice. If the music is above mediocre, I often buy bootleg compilations that have great cover arts.

D: Supposing the genres are identical, what are some common features that can be found in Korean records and music?

S: Many of the records I collect are from the ’70s, and you can sense in the music that the musicians weren’t free to express creative ideas due to censorship. Psychedelic, for instance, had a pop kind of feel mixed in the songs. If you ask me personally, I don’t think that is a feature that hinders the musicality. I just embrace that element as an intrinsic style of Korean psychedelic. I guess it’s also what makes Korean psychedelic high in demand in foreign countries.

D: Korean soul and funk are already quite popular. Are there any other Korean music that you feel is particularly interesting or underappreciated? 

S: Folk and old K-pop are some of my favorite genres. In the case of Korean folk, it’s more abundant in terms of quantity compared to other genres, but now there are many records that have become rare and some have unique stories contained in them. Sampling from popular foreign songs was common at the time, so that could also be a reason why it is underrated. As for old K-pop, they are more disregarded than its actual value due to the gap between eras. Nevertheless, songs such as, “에레나가 된 순이” by Han Jung Moo and “청춘계급” by Kim Hae Song managed to gain recognition for being featured in drama and movie soundtrack. The melodies of these songs are too good to be overlooked.

korean record

D: You’ve updated lots of information about the Korean records you collected on Discogs. Is there any reason for it? 

S: The Database for Korean music on Discogs still lacks in content. There are many cases where the information is not translated properly or just written in Korean, and even the information itself is often wrong. Besides having a strong affection for Korean music, I felt a sense of duty as a collector. There was once when I saw a Wantlist titled “Korean Translation Request” from a foreign seller. I wanted to give some help, so we ended up exchanging messages. Later on, I found out that the seller was a staff member at Discogs [laugh]. I just hope that my submissions can help collectors who are looking for Korean music.

D: Lately, you started to sell records through Discogs. Is there any reason you didn’t start earlier?

S: First of all, I wasn’t interested in selling. To sell the records I have, I would have to make many modifications to the release pages or contribute new submissions on Discogs. There were some people who sent me messages after looking at my collection, though. I remember selling an original soundtrack of the 1989 animation 마녀배달부 키키 (Kiki’s Delivery Service) from Studio Ghibli and “Merry Christmas” from the ’70s Korean rock band He5.

D: You are also running a label based on your taste. Could you elaborate?

S: I’m managing a small local label called BCM Publishers (Bootleg Cassette Man; 前 한민족음향기록社). The aim is to become a local obscure label so the releases are only in cassette and vinyl format. For now, I am trying to release the music of my fellow musicians and the bands they belong to. Greatest Hit from Mitsukou,  Rakenbear’s Part 1,  and Slow Jam Seoul from the well-known Korean music digger Jamal the Heavylight are a few I can name. Genre is not really an issue for me, but my goal is to run the label based on my music preference and manage it like Japan’s indie labels from the ’80s. As for future plans, I would also like to reissue some Korean music that was overshadowed in the past.

D: Are there any young Korean musicians you would like to introduce?

S: It’s hard to interact with many artists as I am residing in my hometown Daejeon but I’m quite friendly with the label Vacuum PRESS / 眞空出版. Among the artists that have released albums through the label, I recommend Lee Hyojun and Mitsukou. Lee Hyojun is an artist specializing in ambient and avantgarde music. He draws inspiration from dub and instrumental music and transforms into a unique style. Mitsukou reinterprets ’80s ambient music in his own creative way.

D: Among your library, what are the five records you would like to recommend?

1. Ji Young Hoon Roleplay

I bought this record from Huni’G (Ji Young Hoon), with whom I spun in Seoul. Huni’G only pressed two copies and I acquired one by auction. It’s a soundtrack of an unreleased independent movie called Roleplay. Most of the tracks have calm and addictive features.

2. 5th Fingers – 5th Fingers & Top Song Vol. 2 (어느 小女에게 바친 사랑 / 외롭지 않으세요)

After digging up this record at a store around Daejeon station, I ordered lots of 5th Fingers records. 5th Fingers was a band in the mid- and late-’60s that performed the Korean version of popular foreign songs at the U.S. military base in Korea. It’s a well-known fact that Cho Yong-Pil was the group’s guitar session man but personally, I think this band was the most innovative among surf and garage rock bands in Korea.

3. The Gerogerigegege Senzuri Champion

When it comes to noise music, Juntaro Yamanouchi is my favorite musician, and Senzuri Champion is the second album from this project. I own an original copy of this album, but since it’s regarded as the holy grail in noise music, I’m expecting it to be reissued. By the way, Juntaro Yamanouchi asked me if he could release my noise music through his label, but I haven’t heard from him yet. Perhaps he might be busy [laugh].

4. The Stalin Trash

The Stalin is a Japanese band consisting of Michiro Endo and Kazuo Tamura (Tam) who is the founder of punk label ADK Records. It’s a precious album for me so I even have the unofficial CD and LP. I was so eager to buy the original copy but sadly, I bought it after Michiro Endo passed away.

5. Tempest백만불의 보칼싸운드 템페스트 팝송 제1집

This is the first album of the Korean group Tempest. It’s a cover-album of foreign songs but some of the tracks feature outstanding drum sounds that excel the original. I don’t have many Tempest albums, but I’m more than happy with this one alone.

D: With global databases growing and interest in Asian music on the rise, Korean records are becoming targets for collectors. Any words of advice for newcomers to Korean records?

S: So far, I’ve been collecting Korean records from place to place based on my own criteria. Now, It has become more difficult to find Korean records than before, but one certain thing is that whether it is popular or not, you will find interesting and profound characteristics as you get to know more about Korean music. This is what drew me into the music and the reason why I have been collecting strange and obscure Korean records. Rather than vaguely buying trendy reissues and limited editions, try to put your bias aside and set up your own criteria. That way, you should be able to find hidden gems.

D: What are some things you expect from Discogs and the Korean record market in the future?

I hope that there will be more active transactions in Discogs for various Korean records such as obscure light music. Hopefully, reissues should come along as well. By conveying nostalgia to the former generation and novelty to future generations, I feel that Korea’s record culture would develop along with those processes.

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