Meet SE SO NEON: A band remaking the K-indie image

You might be wondering who SE SO NEON is. They don’t know yet either — but they’re coming to New York City on March 31 to figure it out.

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SE SO NEON is reimagining what it means to be a Korean indie band, exploring and refining their diverse sound in the process. (Image courtesy of SE SO NEON)

Alex Tran, Culture Editor

I found SE SO NEON the way anyone would find an indie band — through YouTube recommendations. On one of many sad and lonely days during the pandemic, “NAN CHUN” popped up on my feed and brought me to the wonderful comforting world of SE SO NEON’s music. 

But when I clicked on their Youtube channel to find similar vibes, I was greeted with the widest array of sounds possible, spanning from alternative rock to pop punk to R&B. SE SO NEON seem just as surprised and excited by these constant sonic experiments, refusing to attach themselves to a certain genre but nonetheless attempting to define their “SE SO NEON-ish” tune. 

The SE SO NEON sound

While it’s impossible to define or limit their style at the moment, SE SO NEON has a consistent approach to music-making. 

It is, first of all, unrelentingly experimental: Since their debut album “Summer Plumage,” the band has tried out multiple genres, from quirky pop with “A Long Dream” and “I’m Watching a Loneliness Just Arisen,” to bluesy rock with the title track from “Summer Plumage” and “The Wave,” to jazz and grunge with “Gurumi” and “New Youth.” Their songs are also filled with emotion through the production process. While I have always been comforted by the melodies of “NAN CHUN” and “Winter,” vocalist Soyoon attributed those feelings to listeners’ experiences rather than SE SO NEON’s original intention.

“The purpose of the song depends not on the artist but the listener,” Soyoon said. “A person who needs comforting will find comfort, and a person who finds no meaning in the song will render the song meaningless. We never approach listeners with a purpose, so it’s really interesting to hear all these anecdotes from you and our fans.”

The band’s songs are full of emotions, both auditorily and visually. These emotions are never limited to only one specific story — their music videos are usually a combination of different short narratives weaving together to illustrate their straightforward yet polysemic lyrics. The bridge leads into the third chorus of “Jayu”, translatable to “freedom” in English, with an ascending frenzied 12-string guitar strumming and synth. At the same time, the video shows the band on a red-lit stage, Soyoon sprinting with a sunset in the background, and a man simultaneously smiling and crying in front of an endless meadow, set to the lyrics: “I know, let’s head over to the star that I saw / Finally I found / Let’s chop up the moon and eat up this night / It’s gonna be fine.”

The song was also featured in a collaboration with the Oscar-nominated film “Minari,” where their lyrics play against a sequence of a burning barn filled with crops, with the main character Jacob wrecking the warehouse. 

It’s these experimental combinations that make the SE SO NEON sound relatable to many listeners. By erasing the boundaries to their music and their style of storytelling, the band redefines what it means to be an indie artist in South Korea. 

Remaking the K-indie artist

While K-pop and K-indie have been receiving more attention in recent years, SE SO NEON refuses to limit themselves to K-pop, K-indie or K-rock. 

“The identity of South Korean indie music has become very obscured,” Soyoon said. “Works produced by independent musicians receiving attention is obviously a positive thing, but I see this [as] less of a scene and more of an organic community that keeps growing within itself. We are actually trying to distance ourselves from indie music and expanding our brand … Within the scene, we want to be demolishing boundaries and dreaming up new ways of being indie.”

Apart from experimenting with different genres, SE SO NEON also remakes themselves with new ideas and locations for their music videos — their latest single “joke!” was filmed in Berlin by Spanish director Anuk Rohde. Soyoon also collaborated as a solo artist with Thai singer-songwriter Phum Viphurit in their surreal duet “Wings” in 2020. 

The band wants to find themselves in the audience, which is part of the reason they are going on tour. 

“Going on tour in America will let us see the audience’s reaction,” SE SO NEON’s creative director Kang Donghun said. “This will help us process how we are perceived outside of South Korea as musicians.”

A pre-concert Q&A

WSN: Are you bringing any surprises to Brooklyn and to North America on your first tour here?

Soyoon: We are offering exclusive merch sets that are only for the North American audience. Other than that, we will do what we do best for you guys, which is to perform our music to the best of our ability. We are trying to figure out how to communicate with the fans mid-show though. 

WSN: Outside of the show, are you excited about coming to New York City and the United States?

U-Su: We want to look into the music scene, how people do shows here and how they produce music. It would be super cool to get a gig somewhere around the city since New York has so many interesting venues. Although we will be busy preparing for the concert, we want to just feel the vibe of the city and go around on our own sometimes too.

WSN: Will you be playing a set for us in Washington Square Park?

Soyoon: That’s such a fun idea, but our tunes are quite loud, so it might not be possible. We might do covers, so catch us in the park if we do!

SE SO NEON will perform at the Brooklyn Monarch at 23 Meadow Street on March 31. You can also get their exclusive merch and learn more about the band here.

Contact Alex Tran at [email protected]