NYAFF 2017: Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno
The punk “don’t give a fuck” attitude, combined with the aggressive and confrontational nature of the metalhead, on top of an experimental and oft-described as avant garde approach to music, present a complicated but not contradictory image of the South Korean two-man band, Bamseom Pirates.
Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno centers on the two bandmates, a bassist and drummer who met while at university. While in interviews, the pair feign political indifference and a sophomoric view that everything sucks and everyone’s to blame for it, their lyrics paint a different picture. It’s a picture of dissatisfaction with an increasingly conservative government, so fearful of their saber-rattling neighbor to the North that they crack down on speech even approaching favorability toward the Dear Leader.
This documentary even goes to the length of having these same lyrics evaluated by a literature professor for their poetic and creative value for their use of irony and exaggeration while also purposefully not going “far enough” to make the listener fill in the blank left where they end. The presentation of the band and their music is a pleasure for anyone who’s been to a hole in the wall to watch a band with maybe ten fans play their hearts out. Show after show, the Bamseom Pirates play loud, fast, angry, and still make time for satire and laughs. One highlight shows the band using Power Point to display their lyrics in English “for broader appeal,” and even openly mocking their country’s economic relationship the US by “outsourcing” their set to people from the crowd.
Seoul Inferno’s picture of these two young Korean men is a nuanced one - they pore over lyrical drafts, mindful of what words work and where, but in interviews claim their lyrics don’t really matter: it’s the experience of listening that should be focused on. The lead singer evades questions in general interviews about his true political stances, but when the legal chickens come home to roost, he steps up for a friend who believes in his music, eschewing any pretense of detached indifference you might expect from one of the creators of South Park.
Like any true punk, the sincerity beneath the many layers of don’t-give-a-fuck, is ultimately what endears them to the crowds they gather. Their raw, true emotion is what comes through, in the end. They just use metaphors about the two Koreas offering them piss or shit to satisfy their needs to get it across. And if you don’t get it, well, then you’re too old anyway.