INTERVIEW | The 1234-Dah!
Korean Garage Punk
BY | Jon Twitch
Photo Credit: Look Beyond Music & Skate 스튜디오 Laiteusollusyeon
Park Jung-min, the hulking crescent-moon-faced frontman of Korean garage-punk band The 1234-Dah!, missed the deadline for my zine Broke in Korea last month. It turns out, he was so busy because he was working on releasing the band’s second EP in time for Christmas. You can hear all four songs on YouTube for free:
He uploaded the whole album on Dec. 24, and on Dec. 25 he sent me an apologetic email with all the interview questions answered. The zine had already been printed and released two weeks earlier, so I decided to translate the interview and send it to Unite Asia. [Editor’s Note: We are so grateful! Thank you Jon!!!]
The 1234-Dah! is a garage-punk band with a heavy fixation on pro-wrestling. They released their first three-song EP last year, a New Year album which Unite Asia called “Nice, raw and full of energy… The way punk rock should sound.” Then this year they returned with a new drummer and their second holiday album.
The new album is as crude and carnal as the first one, kicking off with “Is it Merry Christmas?” which is very close to last year’s “Is it Happy New Year?” But the song sounds great, and the remaining three tracks make the listening experience at least as good as last year’s album.
When he takes the stage, roaring and growling and even providing a humorously whimsical vocal beat sometimes, he becomes Izoki the Flame Fighter, a persona modeled after a pro-wrestling “heel” character who allows him to express something deep within himself. But he’s actually a very kind guy, and has been in quite a lot of bands over the past 18 years. So I was glad to finally receive his interview answers.
What does the name “1234-Dah!” mean?
Our band started as a tribute to Antonio Inoki (a Japanese retired pro wrestler, pro-wrestling and MMA promoter, martial artist, and politician). Inoki’s trademark victory count, 123-Dah, was parodied as the 1234-dah! (with reference to the Ramones’ 1234-count to begin songs).
And why did you name yourself “Izoki the Flame Fighter”?
I created the name by combining Inoki with Izo, my illustrator name. It became Izoki the Flame Fighter on the fly.
Why is the band so closely tied with pro wrestling? When you perform, are you playing a character, or is it the real you?
It’s more like playing a character. I’m usually a little more timid and fragile, but on stage I turn into Izoki the Flame Fighter and stand in front of people in a wild manner.
When I started thinking about the Antonio Inoki tribute band, I decided to apply wrestling. The concept of the band was to create a virtual wrestler character called Izoki the Flame Fighter and make pro wrestlers and pro wrestling the image of the band, and to perform in a wrestler costume.
I loved wrestling when I was young. When the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan were in full swing at the WWF (today’s WWE), all I saw was that. Now, to complete the character, I am studying the knowledge of wrestling by visiting pro wrestlers and watching wrestling under the guidance of teacher DJ Mospiran. Of course, it’s fun to watch.
All three songs on your 2018 demo seem to be awkward love songs. Am I wrong?
I think it’s more like being a loser than being awkward. It’s an impossible confession of love, unrequited love, or something after a breakup. I wanted to convey the feelings that I hadn’t been able to tell and I wanted to empathize with them. The love songs come from the Izoki character, but internally it is a part of expressing my emotions as Park Jung-min. The lyrics of our band can be divided into two categories: lyrics about Antonio Inoki and love songs. The point of our band is that a wild-looking wrestler sings a dingy unrequited love song.
Why make these holiday albums, rather than regular albums?
The 1234-dah! is a band with older emotional roots. So I wanted to make a Christmas album. In the past, there were many Christmas albums for Christmas. In the 1990s, maybe until the early 2000s, those albums were released in Korea every year. These days, Christmas isn’t what it used to be, and Christmas albums aren’t coming out.
I planned to release the first demo for Christmas 2018 but as the preparations were delayed, the release date seemed to be after Christmas, so I looked past Christmas and took the concept direction to Happy New Year. The 2019 Christmas album is an extension of last year’s Happy New Year album. I prepared the Christmas album that I couldn’t do last year and uploaded it to YouTube on Christmas Day this year. We will not put out music like this every year, but I want to plan a few more Christmas albums and release them on Christmas.
Christmas is not as special as it used to be. But I still think it’s a romantic holiday. And I felt like I was capping off the year. Another reason, by releasing an album by the end of the year, it pressures me as if I was doing homework.
How long have you been in the Korean punk scene? And how many bands have you played in? (Readers: prepare for a very deep dive.)
My first band was a hardcore punk band called CxSxTx (Crying Singalong Together), which was formed in 2002 and has been active since 2003. At first, I wanted to be in a punk band like Rancid, but I don’t think I got any good reviews from people around me. CxSxTx started to stand out as a hardcore punk band as its focus changed to American hardcore punk. I think it is the first band in Korea to realize the early American hardcore punk sound of Minor Threat and Black Flag style.
Park Jung-min, top, then of the hardcore punk band CxSxT, makes a goofy face after a show on May 28, 2004.
Then, in 2008 or 2009, due to members going into the military, CxSxTx disbanded, and I teamed up with Reanimator vocalist Jin Myung-hoon and The Explode bassist Jang Ji-won to create Burn My Bridges (yes, this Burn My Bridges). I played guitar and Joseph, who had been with me since CxSxTx, played drums. The band aimed for a jock hardcore style, similar to Guns Up or Champion.
A year or two after I started BMB, I had a project band, a rock and roll D-beat band called Gəsædəri. It was a good band, but it didn’t last because of differences in personality between members.
I left BMB in 2011. At that time, I had a crush on someone in church, so I went to church hard and I got tired of hardcore. One day I suddenly said I was quitting the band. After that, BMB decided to replace me and continue. It’s still active. This year, they released an album, and I worked on the album artwork.
After I left BMB, I thought I should quit playing in bands, but I started the band Badtrip in 2012. Badtrip was a garage alternative band. I wanted to look cool performing with my Regent hairstyle, thick selvedge denim, and workboots. I played bass in this band. Badtrip was a trio. Youngsaeng, who played guitar and was vocalist, was a tattooist. He gave me my first tattoo. I got tired of Badtrip, so I quit and broke up the band. This was in 2015.
The next one I made was Dumdumdum. It was the end of 2015. I played the guitar again in this band. It was started to make a ‘hip’ band, but ultimately it was a fashionable hardcore band. Haha. To appeal to hipsters, I should have played hip-hop or more chilling music, but this is hardcore punk, so the finished product became hardcore punk. Dumdumdum released a split album with garage punk band Crawler, and worked for about a year.
There are a lot of people who stick with one band, but in my case, I keep changing my band because I like listening to music.
Next, the band lured Gun-hee, Crawler’s guitar-vocalist, and I took the bass and created a band called Thee Mojo with Mizno, a pillar of the Korean hardcore punk scene, and Gunhong of Kitsches. This band is still working together.
I found out about DJ Mimi, a music buff who is one of Korea’s most famous LP-collectors who is well versed in garage music. At the time, I was into low-fi garage punk, and I started The 1234-Dah! because I was influenced by Mimi a lot. I always wanted to play guitar and be the vocalist, but I always ended up playing guitar or bass instead. By this time, I heard the Novas’ “The Crusher” and I knew there was a way to do garage music with a growling vocal style. My usual voice was not so powerful, but I thought that if I sang with a strong neck, I could get the power I was lacking. So I started the 1234-dah!
Early on, I wanted to make a one-man band, playing the drums and guitar and doing vocals similar to the King Khan & BBQ Show. However, after a few practice sessions, I thought it was too much, so I brought in Jinho on bass and Hong-gu on drums to form a three-man lineup.
We’ve been working together for about two years. But Hong-gu had to leave the band in 2019. I got Yang Pong-pang of Green Flame Boys to fill in as a session drummer for a couple shows in September and October, but he didn’t have enough time. Then Haru of Korose joined as session drummer. We practiced together a few times and came together as a full band.
What future plans do you have for The 1234-Dah!?
Currently, the planned Christmas album will be released and we will release a compilation album tape with Dasol’s single project, Roman Jakk. I’m planning to release the tape in January and release the album in February. In January, we are performing at Behind the Tongue vol.7 and Behind the Tongue vol.8. My goals for 2020 are to tour Japan and perform at professional wrestling competitions.
Thank you for reading my long letter. The 1! 2! 3! 4! Dah!