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Published on 23rd September 2018

Best reads on the non-mainstream Korean arts & culture that you'll soon be hearing about


South Korea is increasingly known as an arts hub of the east, producing music and art that gets attention from the world over. It's also an intriguing travel location, giving extra inspiration to writers and commentators from the west looking for something outside of the well-covered Japanese spectrum.

For travel, there are some great temples with intriguing histories behind them, like the golden Suguk temple of Seoul (Suguksa, below) that was originally an asylum for Korean royals. 

Seoul of course has many temples, but the second city of Busan has some essential sites like Haedong Yonggung or Yonggungsa temple, the only seaside temple in the world. There is a smaller one in Indonesia on a far off rock, but this is the one you need to visit when ticking off the must-see temples of the Far East. Also, do try to visit the giant, body-less golden Buddha of Wawoo Temple or Wawoojeongsa (below) in Yongin City.

There are also newer places to visit for those interested in fandom culture; there's the Doctor Who-themed bar TARDIS Pub & Grill in Anyang, perfect for Whovians visiting Korea, and 221B, the BBC Sherlock Holmes themed cafe in Gangnam district, Seoul.

Sci-fi geeks will also like this look by Neon Dystopia at Korean cyberpunk cinema they may not have heard of, like Save the Green Planet or 2012 indie film Super Virgin. They'd also enjoy Netflix shows and movies like Okja and Sense8, and the many sci-fi books written about South Korea, like Seoul Survivors, Enormity and Rebel Seoul (pictured below).A lot of these books are actually by US and UK writers which naturally focus on Westerners in South Korea. For something different, try 2015's Funereal by myself Giacomo Lee, the first Western novel of Korea's dark side, and one of the rare English language novels about Koreans today, as profiled by expert Korean commentator Colin Marshall for Boing Boing.

If looking into words on a different kind of literature, try this Medium piece looking at the saucy Nudl Nude comics of 1990s 'bubble era' Korea. Manhwa fans will also like this one looking at weird webtoon Normal Class No. 8. Body horror fans should also try Kim E-Whan's unique short story Your Metamorphosis.

Finally, how about music and art? Well, there's some great dance music from veteran indie (or 'k-indie') acts like Humming Urban Stereo. That article lists their most essential tracks. There are also illustrators like Sangho Bang, who's popular with brands like Adidas and Fender. Superfiction meanwhile is a cool design studio doing great, irreverent work in 3D VFX.

For a more vintage look at the alternative Korean scene, try this recent Red Bull Music Academy feature on the Kunst Disco Seoul (above), a clubbing experience brought to Seoul at the 1988 Olympics by West Germany - the 쿤스트디스코 서울 as it's known to Koreans. Excerpt:

"The Berlin-developed sound which would be enjoyed by newly liberated German youth after the fall of the Wall was the same music enjoyed thousands of miles away a while before, by Korean youth celebrating their own newly-found freedom.
The Ströer brothers also entertained the youth by creating live shows in the same vein of their Nomaden concert, designing a truly immersive experience that went beyond the music. Anyone visiting the Kunstdisco would be offered a free make-over by professional make-up artists, for example, while both staff and performers were to be dressed by Michael Ody, a Munich fashion designer renowned for making his colourful, dandy-ish works from the likes of parachutes and bandages."

Here's a great interview on Red Bull Radio with the Orb's Thomas Fehlmann talking about the Kunstdisco.

For more intriguing looks at Korean history, follow popular blog Gusts of Popular Feeling. You should also be following Colin Marshall's writing.

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