Korean disco: yes there is such a thing. The collective known as Sultan of the Disco are here to prove it. This quintet have been producing funky beats in the Korean peninsula since 2006. These guys took western disco funk and made it their own. You can spot the catchy KPOP melodies amongst falsetto vocals that will make The Brothers Gibb very proud. Did I mention about their dance moves? Were these guys weaned on Don Cornelius and Soul Train back in the day? We may never know. Plus, these guys added a healthy dose of humor in their lyrics, costumes and music videos. They didn’t shy away from a ridiculous stage get up during their show at the SeoulSonic showcase at the CMJ festival earlier in October. They came out on stage wearing silk bathrobes, headbands, 1980’s styled sunglasses and plastic slippers. In short, they look like a ‘swag’ version of an Asian Dad who stepped out of a Korean Spa. But don’t let their looks fool you, these guys can really play.
Sultan of the Disco consists of Nahzam Sue (vocals/keyboards), J.J. Hassan (vocals), Ganji Kim (drums), G ( bass guitar) and Hong-ki (guitar). I can’t help but think guys are probably in their thirties, living in Korea where it is not easy to access to a lot of the R‘n’B repertoire. Somehow, they nail it when they perform live. Heck, they even impressed a crowd of Brits at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival. It was their maiden voyage to the U.K. And there they were, playing to an unsuspecting crowd. By the end of the evening, the audience learned to sing in Korean, matched their dance moves and demanded an encore.
It didn’t matter they were playing to a smaller crowd at New York City’s S.O.B’s for the SeoulSonic showcase. A few die hard Korean fans showed up in the audience, but it was the reaction from the locals that was the most interesting. Oh, they gawked alright. However, when the band played on, they were impressed by the band’s chops and really getting into the groove. Sultan of the Disco really studied the funks masters such as The Commodores, Parliament Funkadelic, Kool and the Gang, The Isley Brothers and even The Brothers Johnson. It didn’t hurt when vocalist, J.J Hassan, bumped and grind the microphone stand during their slow jam, Butterfly.
Personally, I am not the least surprised at the Funk cross pollination in the Korean music scene. Back in the 1990’s, Koreans embraced Hip Hop and R‘n’B more so than their Asian neighbors. One of the ways they were exposed to the funky sounds were from American G.I.’s who were stationed there during the Korean War. Many American servicemen intermarried and brought their love of the music to the locals. Another channel for spreading the music was cassette tapes sold on the black market. This was a very common practice for locals exposing to new music from the west back in the day. Sultan of the Disco is the by product of this fusion and a great end result if I may add.