When it comes to getting the most bang for your buck at South by Southwest, you can’t do much better than international showcases, geographically sorted smorgasbords of global acts often making their first and only appearances stateside. You’re also unlikely to find a show with crowds quite as enthusiastic. Take the K-Pop Night Out SXSW 2016 showcase Wednesday night at The Belmont, where even as pre-recorded promo reel of the evening’s upcoming acts played on repeat the crowd erupted with an enthusiasm most music-consuming multitudes reserve for the main attraction in the flesh. (As a reminder in case, like me, it’s been some time since you’ve been in a crowd like this — one more invested in the show than their smartphones — this is a good thing.)
The night’s sundry sampler of eclectic exports attracted a general admission line that snaked at least three blocks down the sidewalk, proof of the popularity this annual showcase has picked up over the past few years. The roster ranged from theatrical metal (more on that in a moment) to grade A pop — like really, really good pop. See Dean, stylized DΞΔN: a young, club-friendly R&B up-and-comer who, for the sake of elevator pitches, let’s just call Seoul’s answer to Justin Bieber. If swag-packed ear-worm “Pour Up” was in English it would be the ubiquitous soundtrack to late-night cocktail sipping and dirty dancing from San Francisco to Miami.
Bye Bye Badman’s laid-back electro-pop warmed up the crowd as fans piled into The Belmont courtyard. Next, Victim Mentality, a black leather-wearing four-piece, turned up the heat with scorching guitars over melodic glam metal. Vocalist Krocodile wielded a pair of over-sized hammers and swung for the fences vocally with Iron Maiden-esque feats of operatic vibrato.
K-Pop Night Out is the first of two nights at the fest showcasing a diverse mix of South Korea’s best and brightest. The second, Seoulsonic, will be held at The Majestic Friday night. This marked the first year The Belmont has hosted the annual event, which moved from Red River Street dive Elysium, home of the long-running Japan Nite, one of the fest’s other international gems.