“Bass drops are the laugh tracks of music.” That line crossed my mind as I listened to a Korean DJ’s hype man scream for the crowd to dance. And dance they did. I went to the World DJ Festival in Northern South Korea. What was a once a small, quiet town’s sport stadium was now filled with drug-fueled husks convinced that “all that matters is right here, right now,” as the hype man informed us.
A Korean friend of mine with questionable morals invited me to attend a DJ festival in Chuncheon, and having never even been to an EDM concert, let alone a festival, I thought that it would be an interesting experience if only to spectate his questionable morals. We met up in front of a Lotte Mart (think Korean Walmart) and he unveiled to me several bottles of homemade wine. I knew I was in for a good time.
We get into his friend’s car and I’m introduced to people whose names I don’t remember but affectionately referred to as Mr. Hulk and Tony Stark. As you may have imagined, Mr. Hulk was buff as hell, and maybe less expectantly wearing a black t-shirt studded with chariot-esque spikes on his shoulders. Tony Stark had nothing in common with the character of his namesake, but Iron Man is hugely popular in Korea and I just really wanted to call him Tony.
I’m informed that we have to stop to buy matching clothes so that we stand out. I ask how all of us looking the same will make us stand out, but I find out that’s just how Koreans roll. I refuse to buy the marijuana decorated socks the three of them buy and can’t fit into the Korean sized tank tops they purchase. I settle for getting a matching leather ring and fortunately get to wear the clothes I came in.
We drive to Suwon to pick up the tickets for the concert and I try to make small talk with Mr. Hulk and Tony while my friend is away. They don’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Korean, so we are forced to bond over physical actions such as pointing to things that seem cool. “Hey, look at that.” “Yeah, that’s certainly a thing that we’re looking at.”
My friend returns with the tickets and we drive straight to the venue from Suwon while drinking bottles of wine along the way. At one point we are stopped because of traffic and Mr. Hulk gets out of the car with his narcisstick and walks around the car filming us. We arrive and I bring my sunglasses with me because it’s bright. I later discovered I needed them for another reason. We look around the venue and I am absolutely astonished by just how many beautiful Korean women are there. It was staggering. I think to myself that I should go to more EDM events, if only for this reason alone. Another thing I immediately noticed is that many groups of people have matching outfits or costumes just like my friends. I saw a couple dressed as dinosaurs, women in hanbok, a traditional Korean dress, and many other costumes. I started to wonder if EDM festivals are also like a costume party and questioned why people would wear traditional hanbok to a drug-fueled shitshow.
We check out the silent disco, which was actually pretty fun. I really enjoyed dancing with the headphones off and just watching the people dance to seemingly nothing. The hype man there also coordinated a massive conga line that I didn’t realize I was a part of until I was trying to get out of it. In the distance I saw a man carrying an absolutely massive narcisstick, which gathered a small crowd (including myself).
I made it a habit to get into every selfie that I could. Koreans are absolutely obsessed with beauty and have no semblance of modesty about it. It’s extremely common for people to take selfies, even in the middle of a conversation with someone. They have to be beautiful at all times, and no one ever questions this. But I digress.
We decide to go the main stage and listen to some music. Everything is rather generic and sounds like something I’d hear any weekend at the club. This goes on for hours. Another friend of my friend shows up and I don’t give him an Avengers nickname as he speaks English. I overhear a conversation behind me that went exactly like this, in English:
“Hey, do you want a pill?”
A drone glides over the crowd filming us, and more refreshingly, giving us a nice breeze. I discover that EDM is actually difficult to enjoy if you like dancing. The bass drops, you jump around, you slowly stop dancing, you stand around, rinse and repeat. This seems to be the case for everyone in the crowd as well. You dance when they tell you dance and don’t dance otherwise. The beat changes so frequently that it makes dancing difficult even if you wanted to dance outside of the DJ commander’s orders. I also discovered around this time that my sunglasses were quite helpful for shielding my eyes from the seizure-inducing lights flashing into the crowd.
Eventually a group called Justice came on stage and everything went pitch black. They played this one irritatingly loud note for 2 minutes straight. I cried out, “Okay! We get it already!” And then they began to actually perform by opening with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from 2001: A Space Odyssey. What followed was actually a very refreshing Daft Punk-esque set of EDM. They really wanted me to know that they are my friends and that I’ll never be alone again. At some point my friends and I leave during their set to get more booze and, from a distance, I think to myself that their music doesn’t actually sound that good anymore. Being in the crowd definitely enhanced the experience.
Mr. Hulk and I head to the men’s bathroom inside of the stadium, as it’s considerably cleaner than the porta-potties. The stadium looks like a refugee camp. People are laying down, huddled and motionless along the hallway. No one is talking and everyone looks shell-shocked. We step on their blankets and over people to get to the bathroom. We get to the bathroom and are waiting for the toilets when a girl runs into the men’s bathroom and looks so sad and confused. We take a selfie with her. We go back to the main stage as Justice is finishing up.
A new DJ comes onto the stage as massive amounts of people are leaving and I’m starting to get tired after a literal 10 hours of dancing. The voice of God tells us to all sit down, so we do. But a defiant, standing, extremely drunken Western man just screams, “fuck you” to the golden voice. The herald of the holy one counts down from five, the bass drops, and we all jump up and dance for 30 seconds. My friend asks me if I’m okay and informs me that the festival doesn’t end until 5am. I tell him we don’t have to stay until 5am. They want to stay until 5am, and I want to just die already.
I just started really thinking about the festival during the last three DJ sets as I very lazily danced when commanded to. The people around me seemed to be losing their energy as well and would clear out. We were all sober and tired. The only people that remained were my friends and the hundreds of other people on drugs. They all had plenty of energy to dance and my friend kept commenting on how he couldn’t believe I was still awake. I don’t think he ever had to write an entire essay the night before it was due. Mr. Hulk then proceeded to massage my shoulders, as is normal between Korean friends. While Korean culture is not permissive of homosexuality, they also don’t associate holding hands, massaging or anything like that between same-sex friends to be homosexual, and it’s actually encouraged. They have a similar, unfounded fear of homosexuality like Western culture but don’t treat it like an STI where if a same-sex person touches you, you might catch the gay.
I start to think about how awful EDM is. They start to play something that sounds nice and then it just ramps up in speed (GET READY FOR THE BASS DROP, EVERYONE!) and it becomes the same shit I’ve heard, Justice excluded, for the past 13 hours. It’s all repetitive, predictable, and not enjoyable in the slightest. The girl in front of me seems to disagree as she bounces around past 4am, continuously leaning on me. I wanted to step away to see if she’d fall, but she was keeping me awake. The DJs would also step away from their turntables (or whatever they had as no one could see it) to tell us to dance, and the music would continue to play while changing in melody. I wondered what they were actually doing when they played music if it changed so much while they weren’t near their turntables.
I think going to a festival like this was a good experience but I won’t ever go to another one again if it constitutes another 13 hours of dancing. EDM is terrible and it attracts the people who only care about what’s “right here, right now.” Those are the stupid type of lines that I would say to my ex-girlfriends when I was a teenager right before we would make out in my car. But until the next bass drop, I guess I just will not be dancing.