Elvis comes to life in Seoul

A group of South Korean musicians modeling themselves after 'The King' are bringing rockabilly to the land of 'K-pop.'

Courtesy of The Rocktigers
The RockTigers play rockabilly sounds of the 1950s.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

They’re called the pioneers of Korean rockabilly – a musical genre as alien to East Asia as poodle skirts and polka dots. Now, having recently returned from a first-ever tour of the United States, the RockTigers are ready to unleash their sound on the rest of the world.

At home in Korea, the RockTigers sit boldly outside a South Korean mainstream that favors bouncy, cuddly “K-pop.” The ubiquitous slogan that accompanies the band almost everywhere it goes delivers the simplest of forewarnings: This band produces a sound best described as “Kimchibilly” with soul.

On stage, members Velvet Geena, Tiger, Jack “The Knife,” Eddie Tarantula, and Roy sport a sense of fashion straight out of 1950s Memphis, Tenn. Mostly, that means drainpipe jeans and open leather jackets exposing low-cut white vests, topped off by a set of greased-up pompadours. Their followers also pay homage to the sartorial sensibilities of the rockabilly heyday. Lead vocalist Geena, the sole female member, can often be seen on stage sporting polka-dot dresses and cowboy boots, all with an infectious smile and bobbed, dyed-blond hair.

Korean audiences find their sound peculiar, says Geena. “They’ve never heard of the slapping-bass sound,” she says, “but they can feel our music and passion. When they see us for the first time, they are reminded of Elvis, the king!”

Next time they hit US shores they hope to visit the rockabilly heartland – including Memphis.

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