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Traditional Korean music adapted for the modern age: An interview with HAEPAARY

The following interview with Korean musicians HAEPAARY was conducted via email by Timothy Holm exclusively for the KBCE.

'HAEPAARY is an alt-electronic duo, consisting of HYEWON (sound producer/instrumentalist) and MINHEE (vocalist/executive

producer). With ambient music and techno sounds, they have reinterpreted the melodies and lyrics of Jongmyojereak, the royal shrine music of the Joseon dynasty, and Namchang Gagok, a Korean traditional vocal genre that has always been performed exclusively by men. HAEPAARY's tracks

demonstrate Hyewon and Minhee's brilliant disentanglement of formality and disciplines of Confucian music with their rearticulation of rave and trance. HAEPAARY's soundscape of refinement will invite intimate strangers to a secluded party.'

( Description from )


KBCE: First of all, can you explain your name for people who are not familiar with it?

[Minhee] HAEPAARY (hɛpʰari) means 'jellyfish' in Korean. The jellyfish swimming in the sea is so beautiful that I saved it to use the name jellyfish when I joined a band someday.

It would have been nice to simply write 'Hepari', but I made the name with a complicated spelling for the reason that the Korean-style chilled jellyfish salad comes up when you search for that name. When people who wanted to know our music searched for us, we needed a name with a search result only for our music.

KBCE: How did you two first meet and decide on the kind of music you wanted to make together?

I watched Hyewon's solo performance in 2017. On stage, she was very attractive, and I thought that the charm was a very important factor in Hyewon's music. She made music with traditional Korean percussion instruments at the center, which also looked interesting. The song I am doing is not Hwaseong, but single-line music, and 'Jangdan', Korea's unique rhythm system, is important music. So I thought that if I do music with Hyewon, I can share interesting stories. I emailed Hyewon and talked about what kind of music we listen to and what kind of music we like. Through the conversation, we thought that we could do music together, and we saw the possibility of establishing a team through the conversation on email.

KBCE: From what I understand, Jongmyojeryeak and Namchang Gagok are traditionally performed by men. Is there a particular reason why you chose to perform these kinds of music (but updated into a modern style)?

Since I was a teenager, I have studied 'Yeochang Gagok', a repertoire that only women sing among Korean traditional music, and 'Yeochang(female) Gagok' and the 'Namchang(male) Gagok' singers each have different singing styles. Before the 20th century, the norms that defined men and women everywhere in the world were very strong. But I find these norms strange because I live in the 21st century. I wanted to break the norms that define men and women that naturally permeated the music I was doing. Gagok's lyrics, especially for women, are mostly love songs of pain waiting for someone, while the Namchang Gagok's love songs are even pleasant. After I found out, I couldn't find a reason not to sing Namchang Gagok.

Jongmyo Jeryeak is very attractive music with the essential nature of the sound of playing it, and the role of percussion is also very important. We loved this music so much that we decided to play with it. Our EP <Born by Gorgeousness> is the result of hanging out with it and playing it.

KBCE: Your music includes a variety of influences and genres? How did you come up with such a unique mix? Was it a natural process or something you thought about a lot before starting?

In conclusion, it's a natural outcome. We often say that we shouldn't be conscious of other music genres on purpose. We believe in the various music that permeates our bodies and instinctively try to find what we want to do. Sometimes when things don't work out, I look for reference music or refer to high-quality music that feels like the answer in us. But a reference is only a reference, and we try to forget it again and find our inner naturalness.

Photos - Swan Park, art direction - Yun Jae Won

KBCE: I wonder about the reactions to your music at home and abroad... Do you find that Korean people respond differently to it than non-Koreans?

I feel the same way outside of Korea or in Korea. Unlike in the past, there is something more powerful for music listeners these days than nationality and that is the platform each listener uses. For example, people who listen to music on YouTube and Spotify will have their own 'nationalities' of YouTube and Spotify, respectively. In addition, since the imperialism and industrialization in the 20th century, the world has been receiving an education that has been reorganized towards a Western world. Korea is no different. When I see Koreans, I think that they are like black-eyed Westerners. Therefore, the response to our music is no different anywhere in the world.

KBCE: Do you think there is a resurgence of interest in traditional forms of music in Korea recently or is it still a struggle to get people interested in it? And what do you think are the appealing aspects of traditional music that are missing in contemporary pop music?

I think the world is changing very rapidly at the moment. This is an era in which everyone is chasing only their own interests. The meaning of "popularity" is only possible in industrialized music, and industrialization is not an absolute truth that must be pursued like in the past. Just because you decide to industrialize doesn't mean you're a pop star, but at least you have to decide which industry you're going to be in. I think traditional music is no different. As in the past, the days have passed when traditional musicians want to let people know their culture with a nationalistic attitude. Each musician that has studied traditional music do music very differently depending on how they manage their lives. I boldly say that the days of introducing traditional musicians as a group have passed.

I think the special elements of Korean traditional music that cannot be found in the current music are also related to individual reasons that are not homogenized. In order to industrialize, the average homogenization process is needed to persuade many people. But in the past, traditional music was distributed only in small areas where people could travel. Therefore, individual interpretations or unique thinking existed as an essential element of music. In pre-industrial society, "different" was "not wrong." I think that's what we should learn from traditional music today.

KBCE: Which HAEPAARY song would you recommend people listen to first and why?

We both recommend "A Shining Warrior-A Heartfelt Joy." This is the song that best reveals the identity of our music.

KBCE: Thank you, HAEPAARY!


You can catch HAEPAARY performing as part of the K-Music Festival in London this 24 October. Tickets can be purchased through DICE.

Get a taste of their music here:

Special thanks to the KCC UK, Serious, and Circus House.


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