Priya Dewan's Travel Black Book

More than just K-pop

Gig Life Asia founder Priya Dewan's (above) favourite music festival in South Korea is the Pentaport Rock Festival (left), which takes place in early August every year.
Gig Life Asia founder Priya Dewan's favourite music festival in South Korea is the Pentaport Rock Festival (above), which takes place in early August every year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Gig Life Asia founder Priya Dewan's (above) favourite music festival in South Korea is the Pentaport Rock Festival (left), which takes place in early August every year.
Gig Life Asia founder Priya Dewan's (above) favourite music festival in South Korea is the Pentaport Rock Festival, which takes place in early August every year.PHOTO: COURTESY OF PRIYA DEWAN

Discover Seoul's thriving music scene with underground live bars, vinyl bars and music festivals

Who: Priya Dewan, 33, founder of Gig Life Asia, a guide to Asia's best festivals.

Favourite destination: Seoul, South Korea

Why: I've been to Seoul seven times in the last three years to attend music events and festivals. Seoul has an explosive combination of a colourful culture, jovial people, delectable food and a dynamic nightlife scene. I am also obsessed with kimchi and trying various versions of it across the city.

Favourite hotel

I have stayed at the IP Boutique Hotel (www.ipboutiquehotel.com) a couple of times. It is conveniently situated in Itaewon, a neighbourhood littered with local restaurants and tiny bars where you can see residents enjoying food and drink into the early morning hours, even on Mondays.

This boutique hotel is near a subway for easy access to other parts of the city. It is comfortable and quirky - all white with splashes of colour and pop art decor - and wallet-friendly at about US$150 (S$210) a night.

Favourite activity

One of my favourite things to do in Seoul is go to vinyl bars, which are lined bottom to top with shelves of vinyl records. The vinyls are the bar's soundtrack and you can request whatever music you like. I have yet to request something not found in their stacks.

There are dozens of these bars scattered across the city, with a particularly large concentration in the Itaewon and Hongdae neighbourhoods.

My favourites are Soul Train Vintage Music Lounge (foursquare.com/v/soul-train-vintage-music-lounge/50dd020ae4b042f45228472d) in Itaewon and Gopchang-Jeongol (www.notfortourists.com/ViewRadar.aspx?city=OT&radarID=27407) in Hongdae.

A successful night out in Seoul usually ends at one of these, with lots of soju, people dancing on tables and sing-alongs.

Unique experience

One of my favourite experiences in Seoul was going to Dragon Hill Spa (www.dragonhillspa.co.kr/en) in Yongsan. It was January and freezing and I went there for a day of warmth and relaxation.

There are women, men and co-ed rooms and you can navigate through multiple floors, saunas, treatment rooms and baths which vary in temperature.

I received one of the best sports massages of my life there.

Favourite nightclub

My favourite nightclub in Seoul is Cakeshop (www.facebook.com/CakeshopSeoul). I love taking my artists and travel companions there. In a market dominated by electronic dance music and big-room clubs, Cakeshop offers Koreans and tourists an opportunity to hear some unique underground electronic music expertly crafted by international and local resident DJs.

The venue is underground, down a flight of narrow stairs into a dimly lit, relatively sparse open space filled with sweaty, dancing bodies.

Event to bookmark

South Korea has numerous music festivals throughout the year, featuring different genres. I highly recommend going to one of the major summer festivals that the city hosts, such as the Pentaport Rock Festival, Ansan M Valley Rock Festival, Ultra Korea, Seoul Jazz Festival and Rainbow Festival. It's a great way to experience the culture, food, music and people in one place.

My favourite is the Pentaport Rock Festival (pentaportrock.com), which takes place in Incheon in early August every year. It is about a 30-minute taxi ride from Seoul, but it is also accessible by subway. If you are attending the festival, I recommend staying in Incheon itself.

The festival features rock bands from South Korea, the United States, Europe, Japan and elsewhere.

Korean fans are friendly and open. There are also on-site activities, Korean food and interactive features such as a giant inflatable swimming pool in 2013.

Local music scene

K-pop is definitely the genre that people associate with Korean music.

However, other genres have become increasingly popular for local musicians. There is a progressive rock band called Jambinai (www.facebook.com/jambinaiofficial), for instance, that combine the use of traditional Korean instruments with modern rock instruments. The Sultan of the Disco (www.facebook.com/sultanofthedisco) funk band have girls screaming with elation at their bold dance moves, funky melodies and matching outfits, and Idiotape (www.facebook.com/Idiotape) are an electronic rock act whose live productions have people shaking through the room.

Hongdae is a great neighbourhood for discovering underground live music.

Travellers' advice

I suggest choosing a neighbourhood to explore for the day and losing yourself. Koreans are among the friendliest people I have met on my travels and always offer to guide visitors who are lost.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'More than just K-pop'. Print Edition | Subscribe