SsingSsing review – Korean band fuse tradition with wigs, glitter and fun

Purcell Room, London
Glam rock, funk workouts and slick harmony singing get the K-Music festival off to a fine start

Singer Lee Hee-moon has explained that SsingSsing are updating an ancient Korean shamanic tradition, and that “the male shamans … as mediums need more than a single sexual identity because they’re channeling both male and female spirits”. But if this means folk music with cross-dressing, it’s also a theatrical and highly entertaining brand of glam rock, with echoes of anyone from the New York Dolls to Scissor Sisters.

Lee came on stage for this opening night of the K-Music festival sporting a white wig, black dress and black gloves and began with what sounded like a melodic folk-rock ballad, with sturdy backing provided by electric guitar, drums and bass. And then the party began. He was joined by the gangling Seung-tae Shin, who also opted for a white wig, with hotpants and heels, and a female singer, the sassy Da-hye Chu, for a funk workout that showed off their slick harmony singing but was most remarkable for the deadpan, rhythmic bursts of laughter from Shin. SsingSsing’s songs are written by the bass player and film music composer Young-gyu Jang, who transforms Korean traditional themes with his memorable, stomping riffs. It’s fusion music that’s also enormous fun, and the audience were on their feet for much of the set.

The K-Music festival showcases experimental Korean music and has helped launch the international careers of Jambinai and Black String. SssingSsing should be next – if they stay together. Is it true that they won’t talk to the press because they are about to break up? I was told the issue was “very sensitive”. Which seems crazy – the band would go down a storm at the summer festivals.

• The K-Music festival continues across London until 20 November.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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