Highjinkx: Leading the live music scene in S Korea

Evan Murray talked to Patrick Connor, founder of Highjinkx, South Korea

Highjinkx is an independent live music promotion company based in Seoul, South Korea. With several years of experience in producing, promoting and managing shows / events of all shapes and sizes around the Korean peninsula, they have quickly earned a credible reputation within the local scene as well as with leading international artists and agents.

Could you tell us more about your company and its operations? 

My company is called DOINDIE, we operate under two different brands for the most part.  Firstly, we run our brand called HIGHJINKX which is an agency/promotion company. We organize shows and tours here in Korea for both international and local acts. Till date, internationally we have worked with the likes of Joss Stone, Mitski, Aurora, Julien Baker, Suuns, Protomartyr, Hippo Campus, Coin, Manic Sheep, I Mean Us, Eyre Llew, Wooze and more. Locally we work with some of the best, established and rising stars on the peninsula. Through Highjinkx, we also organize a series called Focus Asia where we bring, budding talents from around the region to introduce them to the Korean market. 

While conducting headline shows and tours within Korea, we are also involved in the export of Korean music as well. I have organized several tour exchange projects with artists from different countries. These projects have seen full tour exchanges, as well as the creation of split EPs and several one-off concert exchanges as well.  

Patrick Connor

We recently launched the Highjinkx Music Magazine as well, which aims to bring music news from around the world to Korea and also provide a platform where we interview local talent and translate it into English to help people from other countries discover what's on offer here in Korea. 

Secondly, we run a small independent label/management service called Beeline Records. Through Beeline we help up-coming international acts with digital distribution avenues in Korea and work closely as managers for several local artists. We are currently working with Wedance on their latest release and are looking to add more artists in the near future. Going forward, I envisage this expanding to include some PR work for international and local acts within Korea as well.  

How many years have you been working in the music industry? How did you get involved in your current music business job? 

I am a British ex-pat living and working in South Korea. I have been here for around 14 years now. I began as a teacher, but over the last 5 years or so have moved to work full time in the music industry. I started out by organizing shows for my own band and starting up a now-defunct webzine called DOINDIE (hence the name of the company), later I started getting involved in showcase festivals and it kind of built from there. 

I have been working in the industry full time now for around 5 years I think. We never really had a plan when we started out, other than to support the local scene with our webzine. Everything just built up naturally from there driven by our energy to help and support the local grassroots scene. Although, we often work with more established artists today, we still dedicate a lot of our time to the local scene as well. 

Which are some of the major acts you have worked with and what countries are they from? Could you also explain the selection process of the artists you work with? 

We have worked with artists from all around the world. On the whole, we work with artists that we like and we think the local market will like. The way we select artists depends a lot on what the aim of the show is. If it is to break artists into the market, we are looking for music that we are excited about first and foremost, as well as something that we feel Koreans can get into. On top of that, we are looking for people with the right work ethics and desire to break into the Korean market. 

For bigger, international headline shows where we are putting money on the line, of course we are bringing in stuff we like / we think that Koreans will like, but as the shows get bigger, a big deciding factor is going to be if we think we can sell enough tickets or not, to make it work. Sadly, we have had to turn down a lot of bands because the fees they demand and the number of tickets they can sell never matches. 

For tour exchanges etc, the hardest thing is to find bands that match musically and also in terms of the amount of effort they are willing to put in. Additionally, they all need to be able to get funding to make these smaller tours work. Once we find the right match, things tend to go smoothly, and as long as both sides have the desire and drive to make it work,  it usually sails smooth.

What do you think the future holds after the Covid-19 restrictions? 

I have no idea! I wish I knew. I don't think we will be able to do any international shows this year. We are planning to run them next year, but it is impossible to predict what kind of restrictions will be in place. I read an article recently, and have spoken to some other promoters about it too. It suggested that venues might run at reduced capacity but see artists perform twice a day to keep the ticket numbers up to a level which means everyone can get paid. That might work (for bigger artists probably) well, but I can't imagine the atmosphere being great with people spread out like that. I guess the dream is that we find a vaccine asap and things go back to normal. 

Are there any other projects you are involved in? Any festivals? Any other programs? 

Since last year, I have been working as an international booker for Busan International Rock Festival. We had a good lineup this year, but sadly Corona put an end to that. Looking forward to next year! 

What's your opinion on all the live streaming and online festivals? 

I think that for bigger artists with big fanbases, there is a lot of potential to make money from these streams. At the moment, while people are in lockdown and have so much free time, there is a good chance they will spend money on streams / buy the merch, etc on offer.

For smaller acts, I can't see them bringing in enough income to make the costs of the streams worthwhile. If they opt for cheaper DIY streams, I'm sure people will listen once or twice, but then I suspect the novelty may wear off. But who knows, I am no expert on this and we are in unchartered territory. Perhaps that is the way things will go, I hope not, nothing beats the live experience.

I've not seen any online festivals, I hear that some have been going well though.  

Are there any other artists you would recommend us to check out? 

From Korea some artists you should check out are; Wedance, Kirara, Airy, Gong Joong Geu Neul, Jacking Kong, Adoy, Kuang Program, and Dabda.  

EVAN MURRAY is Event Co-ordinator at Live at Heart, Newfoundland, Export Development Officer at Vision 360 (Canada) and Canadian Coordinator at Live at Heart, Sweden. He is also International Music Consultant at Wonderwall Media, India.