When thinking about Chinese, South Korean or Japanese music, the first thoughts that come to mind are likely their powerhouse genres: Mandopop, K-Pop, and J-Pop. But just dig a little deeper and you will soon find that there is more to the region than the pop ballads or the cutesy, synchronised dance moves that initially spring to mind.
Indie rock is a widely adored (and just as widely overlooked) genre that is constantly evolving and drawing influences from every possible corner of the musical world. Considering the sponge-like characteristic of the genre, we were curious to explore the impacts that China, South Korea, and Japan have had on the indie rock scene.
To do this, we used our AI to tag a collection of 60 indie rock tracks from the three countries released between 2015 and 2020. Here’s what we found:
Chinese indie rockers appear to solidify themselves as rock purists, with over 65% of their genre influences falling under the rock umbrella. We can see rock sub-genres such as classic rock and punk rock, which are not typical flavours one always finds in indie rock.
South Korea’s genre influences edge toward the calmer side of the indie rock spectrum, with influences such as soul and folk. The presence of pop, electropop, and contemporary pop may also suggest that the nation’s leading musical export, K-pop, does extend its reach beyond the mainstream as well.
A unique characteristic of Japan is its huge adoration for American culture, and Japanese indie rock is no exception as we see all-American influences appear such as funk and even country music.
With indie rock being such an incredibly varied genre of music, a large variety of moods have been captured in the tagged tracks. The Chinese tracks exhibit the widest spread of moods from the more serious “angry” and “dark”, to lighthearted moods such as “happy” and “relaxed”.
South Korean tracks are mostly centred around two moods; the first of which is “relaxed”. This seems reflective of the “chilled-out nature” of many South Korean tracks, even beyond indie rock. The most popular tagged mood is “romantic”. This could be a result of K-drama’s deep influence on the musical tastes in South Korea. Perhaps artists lean towards this style to increase the likelihood of their tracks being picked up by a popular show.
Like South Korea, the Japanese tracks also focus heavily on two specific moods, yet in this case they are “exciting” and “powerful”. Our AI has detected the edginess within these tracks despite their pop-leaning sound.
Lastly, we’re looking at BPM. Here, South Korea exhibits the widest spread of tempo from a gentle 70BPM up to 160BPM for the more energetic headbangers. China and Japan don’t feature many tracks sub-90BPM, but they both feature tracks that push the tempo into overdrive, reaching 180BPM, which is more commonly seen in punk or metal. China and Japan also feature a significant number of tracks in a “healthy range” between 120BPM and 150BPM.
This taster of indie rock from China, South Korea, and Japan provides us a mere glimpse into the wealth of culture and diverse music that this region has to offer. Indie rock from each of the three countries continues to evolve in unique ways, proving just how versatile the genre is.
It also shows that tagging songs with just one genre is increasingly an outdated method of describing music. Tagging more than one genre helps us truly to understand the nuance of what is happening in each song.
The power of AI allows us to tag at scale and tag many genres per song. This gives us the ability to get granular and observe influences and trends at a macro level, which can empower both musicians and labels in music writing, production, and discovery.