If 2018 was the year K-pop finally breached the gates of the U.S. mainstream, the South Korean power trio Drinking Boys and Girls Choir are helping light a similar fire for K-punk this year. The skate-infused rock tonic swirled up by the band's three members — MJ, Meena, and Bondu — is grittier and spunkier than the carefully choreographed movements of BTS; stylistically, DBGC hew more closely to American pop-punk institutions of Blink-182 and Sum 41 (and in their multiple songwriters and singers, even the legendary Minutemen). This all makes their upcoming LP, Keep Drinking, a highly potent melange where gilded hooks and noisy hardcore mingle with brief ska excursions and more. But it all started with a shared affinity for New Found Glory.
Based in Daegu, 150 miles southeast of Seoul, the trio began playing together by covering one of the Florida five-piece's seminal hits. "I told them, I want to cover this song," MJ told MTV News recently in a Skype interview. She doesn't remember which one, though. Meena recalls a more ambitious approach: "Actually, we tried the whole album. But we just finished the one song."
"And then we started making [our own] songs," MJ said.
Meena and MJ began as drummers, and Meena hopped on bass as Bondu joined on guitar. They all take turns singing in both Korean and English, and each gets at least one spotlit moment on Keep Drinking (out March 8 on Damnably). The album's a caffeinated 18-song liftoff front-loaded with a rallying title track, a blistering assault called "I'm a Fucking McDonald's" inspired by Meena's day job, and the mosh-ready "National Police Shit." You can see the band's collective energy in that song's vibrant, joyously juvenile music video, which MTV News is exclusively premiering above.
That the clip plays like a stunty Vine compilation without all the filler might explain the album's wild mania. While MJ gets the album's sweetest moment, anchoring a breezy cowpunk number with a forlorn lilt, Meena and Bondu trade off vintage millennial pop-punk shouts throughout the rest, all reminiscent of the North American skate-infused rock the band grew up downloading. Now, DBGC are the ones online; in one of their best and most revelatory live clips, they charge through "Song of Sincerity" to a crowd of 30 or 40 jumping fans in a small club. Bondu and Meena jump, too, as they strum their first chords. The audience goes off.
"Here, it's just one live club," Meena said. "If we [organize] a punk show, we call another city's punk band, and they come to Daegu and we play together. Korea is really small, so it's maybe four hours by bus. If they take a speed train, they can come in one hour and a half."
DBGC are loyal to Daegu. They don't see a need to relocate to a bigger city like Seoul for the exposure. It's too expensive, for one thing — ranked the sixth-priciest city in the world in 2018 — and geographically, it's close enough that they can get there in a few hours anyway. "We can go to Seoul and come back the same day," Meena said. "We've had many shows in Seoul."
There's also the internet, the very tool that allows music fans a hemisphere away to discover, dig, and share DBGC (and their incredibly endearing, mildly rebellious YouTube videos) in the first place. But beyond that, Meena, MJ, and Bondu have hometown loyalty, even in a city with a "really small" punk scene. In Daegu, they preserve that culture by organizing shows and playing live during the local Go Skateboarding Day festivities. "Daegu is a conservative city," MJ said. "Many governments banned skateboarding in public. So we have to crash on that."
One scene they have yet to crash is America. But that's changing soon, thanks to an upcoming midnight SXSW gig, their first-ever in the U.S. They're a tad nervous. They've only seen the festival as it's represented in films about music. Of course, the delight is there, too. "I'm really happy, but I can't imagine," Meena said. "We just practice together and make a playlist. A friend from America, from California, when we announced our band's name on the SXSW site, he was really happy and really excited and he told me, 'Wow, you are awesome.' So I can feel good."
Even as SXSW's coolness has gradually rubbed off like a nightclub wrist stamp — so it's been suggested for years — the festival's atmosphere might be a welcome vibe for DBGC, who've had some bad luck playing shows outside Daegu. Once, after a "great gig" in Indonesia, local police locked down the venue for two hours in pursuit of an alleged weed smoker. And a few days later, true to their band name, the trio was shut down by the police for having a few beers while playing a public space. (They rebounded with a private show inside a studio, thanks to their pals in Bandung's Saturday Night Karaoke.)
A few live hiccups are key in forming a band's origin story. DBGC seem less concerned with myth-making, though. They're too focused on the people singing their songs back to them and riding the high of that moment — whether it's one giant leap for K-punk or just the biggest adventure yet for one excited band — to care. "I work a full-time job, so when I play a show, I feel free," Meena said. "If anybody listens to my song, and I can play, I'm just really happy."