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[Eye Plus] Hongdae: Seoul’s bustling hub for live busking

Hongdae is a neighborhood in northeastern Seoul known for its youthful ambience, boutique cafes, live performances, nightclubs and restaurants. But if Hongdae were to be described in one word, it would have to be “busking.”

Day and night, the streets of Hongdae, the area surrounding Korea’s Hongik University, bustle with young musicians and artists staging outdoor performances. If you see a crowd huddled somewhere, you know there’s a musician, indie band, or dancers showing off their talent.

A busker at Hongdae of Seoul (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
A busker at Hongdae of Seoul (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

The neighborhood’s busking culture has long served as an important channel for fledgling artists to gain recognition and connect with potential fans. Many of Korea’s popular indie musicians and bands first started out as buskers or live club performers at Hongdae, including bands 10cm and Monni as well as singer-songwriter Yozoh.

In the past, musicians were the main participants of Hongdae’s busking culture, but this has evolved to encompass more diverse genres, including young street dancers. 

Although the buskers often lay out a hat or guitar case for “donations,” they’re looking for something far more valuable from the crowd: clips uploaded to YouTube or social media that could lead to a big break.

Some busking artists have become famous, both locally and internationally, through videos of live performances uploaded online by enthusiastic fans, with some rising to YouTube stardom.

Written by Sohn Ji-young
Photos by Park Hyun-koo