The other day, an image happened upon me that gave face to a ubiquitous form of local audio-visual culture. The umpa-umpa sound of uptempo Trot music are common when intruding upon the edges of older nightlife areas. This rhythm, accompanied by the consecutive quarter note yelps on the upbeat of every fourth bar have come to form a bride not just to the song at hand, but also from my world to another. With its avid fanbase retired, but nevertheless aging, it seems prudent to wonder at the strength of this music’s foothold in the local sonic vernacular.
My experience of these sounds usually comes from feeling the sub-bass through some inner sanctum of dance and soju-fueled debauchery behind layers of rebar or reinforced glass. In all, these notes form a soundtrack for visuals which through their illusory character have sparked my curiosity in recent years. While not getting to see inside these pockets of urban party I have come to wonder what really goes on in such party ‘boxes’, neatly tucked away into the cracks in the façades of aging urban neighborhoods. Thankfully, several old department stores in downtown Gwangju still offer hints at what remains unseen.
On this day, I devoted an hour to one of these throwbacks, an arcade of delights which would make Walter Benjamin proud. In it, I saw the scene above. A double-layered faux wooden box, with reverbed mic at the ready sat in front of me spewing out the sonic hits which I had grown to incredulously love. One of many, it nevertheless stood out for the simple reason that overhead it, a spectacle of concentric colored dots moved in quick succession to every chordal change or synthesized brass blast from the speakers facing me. What a moment. Alone with these machines on the third floor, I did the most inconspicuous of dances. This experience was hint enough that the party is indeed real, and one day, aged or not, I will revel in it.
[Image taken with my Contax T2 shooting Afga 200, the muted tones of which provide the perfect old-timey edge to this scene.]
(Photo & Text by Marty Miller)