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Rock on Korea! The Greatest Korean History Lesson You’ll Ever Learn: Shin Joong-Hyun and the Origins of Korean Rock

** Video updated: 5.13.2014

Rock music took off in Korea in the 1960s and became the foundation for Korean pop music. In a sense, Kpop as we know it today, is a legacy of the earlier days of Korean rock and roll. Today Kpop stars who are better dancers than singers dominate the local music scene and critics point out that there is no musical diversity. Even so, there is no denying that contemporary Kpop is an extension of rock music from decades past.
김도균 (via the narrator)

The History of Rock and Roll in Korea

According to the video, rock took root in Korea after the Korean War when the 8th US Army remained in Seoul. Shin Joong-Hyun was a guitarist with incredible talent that began teaching one dancer at the army base the guitar. The dancer was so impressed with his skills that he got him a gig on the base. He played familiar rock hits with such skill that he was soon in high demand in many clubs on the base.

“Hickie” as he was known released his first instrumental guitar album in 1959, and then released Korea’s first rock band album in 1964 – the same year the Beatles went to America. Other groups began organizing themselves at the same time and finding more and more gigs on the US army base. Rock was exploding in popularity all over the world thanks to the Beatles and Elvis, and Korea was no exception.

The Shin Joong-Hyun Brand


Shin Joong-Hyun had his own hand in organizing and playing with other groups. In fact, groups he organized and played with began using “Shin Joong-Hyun Sound” as a label on their albums as a mark of high quality. His name became the biggest “brand” of music at that time. It’s no wonder he’s often referred to as the godfather of Korean rock and roll. 

The Birth of Indie Music in Hong-Dae

Hong-Dae eventually became the home of Indie music in Seoul because it was the first place in Korea that had legitimate places for bands to play. Indie music in Hong-Dae only began about 10 years ago. These days, it’s easy to find street music and live clubs all over Hong-Dae, but a decade ago that wasn’t the case.

What is Rock?

The following is a great quote from the music critic in the video:

There are many wise answers to the silly question of what rock music is. I’d like to emphasize that rock is a ‘spirit’ and ‘attitude’. Rock is music from your ‘spirit’ and ‘attitude’. You can imitate rock music but without those two it’s not rock. Even if you have just an acoustic guitar, if you have spirit and attitude, then it’s rock. No matter how noisy or elaborate it is, if you lose those two qualities it’s not rock.

Korea’s First Rock Music

Shin Joong-Hyun (THE first)


Add4 + Shin Joong-Hyun (First rock single)


Key Boys (*Korea’s first HIT rock song)


Devil’s Questions (Korea’s first soul group)


Saesaem Trio (Korea’s first Latin band)




Questions + Shin Joong-Hyun


Pearl Sisters (Shin Joong-Hyun Sound)


Donkeys (Shin Joong-Hyun Sound)


Kim Jung-Mi (Shin Joong-Hyun Sound)


Indie band covers

Free Market

I’m incredibly impressed with the old Korean rock! Are you as impressed as I am?

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