Alt K-Pop Collective Balming Tiger proudly represents Korea’s burgeoning subculture movement

balming-tiger-intvw-sxsw balming-tiger-intvw-sxsw.jpg - Credit: Griffin Lotz for Rolling Stone

balming-tiger-intvw-sxsw balming-tiger-intvw-sxsw.jpg – Credit: Griffin Lotz for Rolling Stone

As big K-pop Stars like BTS and Blackpink continue to climb the charts, a South Korean underground scene is taking shape – and acts like Balming Tiger are here for everything that scene really encompasses.

The eight-piece collective underscores the multidimensional complexity of K-pop, extending beyond pop and R&B with layers of punk and hip-hop. On March 15, Balming Tiger led Tiger Den at SXSW, the first all-day music event in the festival’s history to feature exclusively Asian artists. Two days later, the
group entered Dr. Marten’s stage, where her energetic performance forced contestants to mosh (yes, like Warped Tour-style moshing) and body roll, all in one set.

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The is alt-K-pop as the Balming Tiger coined himself.

The group consists of performers Omega Sapien, sogumm, bj wnjn, Mudd the student, producers San Yawn and Unsinkable, video directors Jan’ Qui and Leesuho, visual artist Chanhee Hong, DJ Abyss and writer Henson Hwang. Each artist shines independently, but together the collective is a versatile megabomb, delivering everything from gritty hip-hop lyrics to punk beats to sultry R&B vocals. Incorporating punk rock into their music and live shows certainly sets them apart from the more R&B-centric sound of K-pop.

From their debut mixtape Balming Tiger vol.1: 虎媄304 Leading to their hit single “SEXY NUKIM (featuring RM of BTS)”, Balming Tiger look to the future and use their platform to nurture the next generation of Korean artists. After their lively SXSW performance Rolling Stone spoke to the group about their self-proclaimed “alternative K-pop” sound and the upcoming global takeover of Korea’s distinct subculture movement.

Balm for Tigers in the Clive Bar for Dr.  Marten's

Balming Tiger brought their “alternative K-pop” to Austin’s Clive Bar.

All of your musical inspirations were introduced to you on YouTube. Were there certain artists who impressed you when you were young?
Omega Sapien: Pharrell Williams, Tyler. The Creator and Kanye West. There are so many. (Points to Unsinkable) This guy went all the way to Summer Sonic just to see D’Angelo.

So we don’t come together in terms of genre. We come together as spirit and energy. He (Mudd the Student) is from 90’s-early 2000’s Britpop, I’m from hip-hop and she’s (sort of) from R&B, but we like-minded people meet. That’s why it brings so much color to our show and music.

So, on your point about your different backgrounds, how did you find out about each other?
Omega Sapien: In Korea, the subculture scene is growing now. It’s very easy for us to connect with each other because it’s not that big yet. So San Yawn is the director, CEO and leader boss. He’s our number one man, and he just collected everyone.

So what attracted you to all of them?
San yawn: I first loved Sogumm’s music and wanted to form a team with her. Then I wanted to hear his (Omega Sapien) music.
Omega Sapien: He’s like a Pokémon collector!

‘Get them all!’ What do you ultimately envision for the group?
Omega Sapien: We don’t really have any fixed goals. I think we’re just trying to have fun now and ultimately have a good impact on people. I have an American background. Living in New Jersey in 2012-2013 I had no Asian role model to look up to – only Bruce Lee and he’s from the ’60s. I was so lost in this strange company. It was like, ‘Who should I look up to? Who should I follow?’ And I was like, ‘Damn, I should do this because I need to empower my young self’ so people can see us and say, ‘Wow, we can do our Asian stuff and be so cool.’ So that’s my goal .

I love this mostly because you all bring a unique individuality to the group. How do you hope to inspire the next generation?
Omega Sapien: So what we want for the future generation in Korea is to show that you don’t have to be the prettiest, the most attractive, or the most perfect person. just follow your heart You see Balming Tiger and you’re like, “I could just fucking do whatever I want, and I can do it like Balming Tiger.” Eventually, that’s going to make people follow their hearts and branch out the subculture. It will bring longevity to K-pop.

I’m glad that’s the mission. As Americans, many think of K-pop as BTS or Blackpink, but it’s more than that. You’ve described your sound as “alternative K-pop.” What does that mean? How are you pushing the K-pop scene forward?
Omega Sapien: We have to start with “What is K-Pop?” We don’t think it’s a genre because in K-pop there’s R&B, hip-hop and everything. So you can’t say exactly what genre it is. K-pop is more of a phenomenon. So K-Pop is exactly what you want, but we wanted to do more of whatever we want, so we added “alternative” up front.

Now, what do you see as hot music in South Korea?
Omega Sapien: New jeans. This is this sick girl group from Korea. They don’t get the light yet. They merge Korean subculture and traditional K-pop. So I have great respect for them. You have a bright future ahead of you.

Balm for Tigers in the Clive Bar for Dr.  Marten's

Balm for Tigers in the Clive Bar for Dr. Marten’s

Pretty. And how is the subculture in Korea?
Omega Sapien: I feel like it’s growing now. This incredibly talented producer called 250 is doing a song for NewJeans. Five years ago it was about bringing in influences from outside of Korea. So we recorded American hip hop and pop. But now, with us and 250, we’re ready to do our own shit and deliver our own sound. So that’s the movement in the Korean subculture.

You all brought incredible energy to SXSW tonight. So what do you hope the fans and new listeners know about you as a group?
Omega Sapien: Next is Korea.

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