As anyone who has had to talk to me in the last month or so will know, I had the pleasure of attending the London Korean festival on August 9th, and what a fantastic time it was! For anyone who doesn’t know what it was all about, the event was in its first ever year and was designed as a cultural event to celebrate Korea’s rich culture and the UK’s ties with Korea. The event was collaboratively organised by the Korean Cultural Centre UK, Korea Tourism Organisation, Korea Creative Content Agency and had the official support of the Mayor of London!
Held in Trafalgar Square, which provided a gorgeous atmosphere, the aims of the festival were to explore Korea and its culture, expand the Korean wave from K-Pop to K-Culture and to build the relationship between Korea and the UK. As someone who is passionate about many different aspects of Korean culture, this event seemed right up my alley and, would you believe, it was FREE!
I am lucky enough to live just about close enough to London and arrived shortly before the start of the day at 12 noon. I was slightly disappointed at the attitude to the rest of the events of some of the crowd (those who were only there for F(x)), although I suppose that was to be expected. People who went just for F(x) do seem to have forgotten (based on their reactions online) about the purpose of this festival – it WASN’T a K- Pop festival and one of the aims was specifically to engage people in other aspects of the culture than just K-Pop.
Exhibitions and Experience
There were a number of content booths around the square and after watching the opening parade, we decided to wander around them. You could see the stage and the big screens from most of the square, so I fully intended to enjoy the sunshine and wander around and see everything. This, as it turned out, was easier said than done. Despite the negativity of some moody girls in the queue towards anything not K-Pop related, clearly plenty of people were there to see other things too and all the booths had MASSIVE queues for the entirety of the day.
The food stalls were particularly popular, with security having to come up with ever more inventive ways to handle the queue for the K-BBQ booth! I wasn’t too surprised at this to be honest – Britain does love to soak up food from around the world and Korean cuisine has been growing in popularity for some time.
I was surprised by the popularity of the Hyundai and LG stalls though. As expected, these were basically showrooms for the companies’ products and as such, I expected people to be giving them a wide berth. However, there was a constant stream of people to them throughout the day, aided by LG’s display of phones and the podium-winning Hyundai rally car.
One of the most popular stands was without a doubt the traditional clothing stand, which allowed people to try on traditional Korean clothing and have a photo taken. I am actually really disappointed I didn’t get a chance to try a Hanbok on, so am already looking at future events where I’ll get to do this! The modern fashion stand was a quieter affair, with the focus on fashion being primarily the main stage’s aim, but more of that later.
The music stall was a bit of a limited place (KCCUK – I volunteer if you want some enthusiastic K-music stuffs! Actually forget that, gimme a HallyuNoona stall :P) but certainly seemed to be keeping the K-pop fans happy. Both K-Mart (Korean Grocery store) and H-Mart (Korean Supermarket) had stalls there, but as we regularly shop at H-Mart, we decided not to fight the queues for those. It was fantastic to see so many people wanting to purchase some of the snacks though!
There were some tourism-related stands as well and I am not ashamed to admit to we entered every prize draw going – be it for Korean food or a holiday (and looking at the full-up entry boxes, we were not the only ones!).
The webtoons stall was a new one for me and if I manage to get any of that mythical beast that is free time, it has convinced me that webtoons should be the next thing I dive into… I’ll be sure to drag you all along with me if I do. The stand had the opportunity to use tablets pre-loaded with webtoons to have a browse of some of the more popular ones and to get a flavour for them. A couple of young ladies looked set to spend the day there!
Next to it was a gaming booth, where people could grab a seat and check out some Korean mobile games. I know a little about gaming culture in Korea on the LOL/DOTA/StarCraft stage, but had no idea the breadth and depth of the online gaming market, so it certainly opened my eyes.
The animation and character booths were genius, especially in the heat, and allowed kids (and some adults) to sit somewhere to watch animation and rest in the relative shade–a real blessing and a great way to stop little ones getting bored. I do feel sorry for the staff member walking around in the hot character suit for much of the day though!
It was incredibly hot (for the UK at least) and so the handicrafts stall that people could paint their own fan at was doing VERY well. The fans were also serving as doubly useful for friends to help find each other in the crowds! The traditional games stall was also doing very well and it just goes to show that, to some extent at least, a good time is universal.
The Main Stage
Other than a brief stop for some food, most of our day was spent watching the performances on the main stage from various points around the square. The day was split into 3 sections and the first section – Connection with Korea’s Traditions- was beautiful. There was a Gilnori Parade to start the show (which is basically a drum-based parade) followed by some percussion performances including Samulnori. The dances were beautiful – we were treated to gorgeous renditions of the Reign of Peace (a traditional feast dance) amongst others. There was a traditional Hanbok show and you will have to take my word that they were STUNNING as I did not manage to get photographs of this bit, as I was queuing for food at the time and getting trodden on a lot!
I had food just in time to enjoy the Royal Wedding Dance (again, breath taking) and catch what was one of the highlights of the day for me… Jinjo Crew, the renowned B-boy crew, performing to some live traditional Korean music. This was a lovely bit of fusion and certainly helped keep the now very-hot-but-determined F(x) fans camping by the stage in good spirits.
The fandance performance was another real highlight for me. I’ll let the picture do the talking.
There was also a showcase broadcast on the big screens from the cooking theatre by Chef Joo Won who is Head Chef at Galvin at Windows. He cooked up some Bulgogi and wrapped it (Ssam.) A little disappointingly, he was rushed through a bit so as to not overlap with events on the main stage.
Section 2 of the day began with a UK band called the The Talks who have collaborated with Korean artists, followed by a B-boy battle between the Korean Jinjo Crew and a UK B-Boy group. This more up-tempo performance in contrast to the earlier traditional performances certainly got the group around the stage loud and excited. I then got the next treat of the day as a fashion fan – a fashion show of UK-based Korean designers: Kim Yoonha, Yang Young Hwan, Lee Siwon and Lim Jaehyuk (although I can’t lie, not all of the ‘crazier’ designs were to my taste).
At this point, the K-pop crowd were getting pretty hungry for some K-Pop and the show provided. First up were some performances from K-Pop World Festival acts from the UK including the current champions So Project. I know the solo girl was Tita Lau but I am afraid I have forgotten the first duet’s name! If someone could tell me, I would be very grateful!.
Next, the ‘flash mob’ came on stage and gave us a taste of what they had being doing and then there was a message from Psy broadcast on the big screens before we got to see Jinjo crew perform an amazing solo stage.
Just before the fans finally went insane, F(x) performed.
First up, Amber came out and rocked some ‘Shake That Brass’ for us with Luna joining her. Krystal and Victoria were called out to join them and we were treated to ‘Rum Pum Pum Pum’, ‘Hot Summer’ (as Amber pointed out, an apt choice for the day) and ‘Red Light’. The girls looked gorgeous and you could see them clearly from most of the square and the people who couldn’t had big screens to help them. Luna really is a tiny little thing and it was, in my eyes, a great performance. Some people seem to think Krystal didn’t want to be there, I didn’t get that vibe at all, although she did seem somewhat confused at times!
After F(x), there was sadly a large number of people who left. However, the festival was still far from dead when my idol Chef Judy Joo (who has her own restaurant Jinjuu) came on and treated us to a display of a Kimchi Bloody Mary and making Kimchi fried rice. The cooking displays were a little simpler than I had hoped, but I guess pitched perfectly for people new to the cuisine.
The last section of the day was entitled ‘Looking to the Future’ and began with some more traditional Korean music and dance for those that missed it earlier in the day. It also provided a good time for people to grab drinks and cool down in the baking summer heat. There was also a further Hanbok fashion show… which I managed to miss again as we had taken shelter from the heat and chatted to a lovely lady there with her equally lovely grand-daughter and her friend. We came back out for what I had stayed for though, which was K-Rock band Guckkasten’s performance, which was fantastic. With a slightly psychedelic edge to their sound, they were a great round-off to the day. Unfortunately due to the long journey ahead of us home, we missed the very end of their set and the final performance with dancers of Arirang to finish the festival, but I really can’t complain.
All-in-all, the day was a great day out and if you enjoyed it, or would like to have gone, I strongly suggest you check out the Korean Cultural Centre’s website as there are lots of events all year round to get involved in Korean culture and there really is more to it than just K-Pop. The security on the day were great and credit to the people keeping the square clean when apparently no one can use a bin (littering makes me sad). The press guys were a bit of a disappointment, witnessing a few occasions when they were quite rude to visitors, but that’s a very minor complaint to an otherwise amazing day and I guess they did have a job to do. The presenters amused me, but they didn’t seem very prepared… I am chalking that up to this being the first time this was put on, but asking what alternatives there are to a hand blender seemed (to me as a keen cook) a pretty ill thought out question to ask the Head Chef! I really hope this festival becomes an annual thing and encourages more Korean things to come over to us, be it K-Pop or anything else!
If you want to see more of my pictures of the event I have uploaded a bunch HERE!
To save some page loading times, here are links to a couple of fancams from the event: