Hongdae – a place for artists and self-promoters

Do you want to participate in a personal K-pop performance? Or would you rather have your fortune told? Journey into the venue where you can see undiscovered and talented artists perform live.

5 mins read

It was a Tuesday night and my students needed crayons; that’s what brought me to Hongdae. As a new English teacher from the U.S., I wasn’t very familiar with the area around Seoul’s universities. I was advised to start looking for the school supplies in the Hongdae area. Once there, several restaurants and stores awaited me. Hongdae is known for its university and colorful nightlife. My first impression was intoxicating, and it quickly became clear to me that this was neighborhood would be a favorite of mine.

As I picked up my crayons and began to make my way back to my apartment, I suddenly paused. A cacophony of sound across the street piqued my curiosity. So, I made my way through the groups of laughing friends and shopping families and stepped onto a street that surprised me. I was inundated by the wide variety of music, flashing lights of signs, and spicy smells from restaurants. So, this was it; the famous Hongdae neighborhood. I discovered this special neighborhood with its many talented buskers or street musicians. They are artists who want to share their gifts with the public by playing their music on the street for everyone to hear.

For me, Hongdae is a neighborhood where I can take time to get to know each artist and experience their story and love of art.

Jessica Hoag
Because of COVID-19, street artists in Hongdae are not allowed to perform at the moment. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

Every day, street performers set up camp on Hongdae’s main street. Crowds gather to hear rap, traditional instruments, and indie bands. Onlookers watch K-pop, ballet, and break dancers with awe. Set foot on the vibrant streets of Hongdae, and you never know who or what you’ll see or hear. Sometimes so many talented artists perform that they crowd together, fighting to be heard. If you take the time to notice the different sounds and sights, you experience an incredible feeling. Some street musicians are well known and have a loyal following, while others are new artists and are trying to make a name for themselves. It’s always amazing to watch a crowd grow from one or two people to forty or more during a performance.

Young Korean women in one of the many selfie photo studios. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

So that was my introduction to the world of street musicians. It was an incredible feeling as I made my way to the front of the crowd to see a violinist gently draw her bow across the strings of her instrument. I was so captivated by the sound of her violin that the K-pop group blasting their music on the other side of the street couldn’t faze me. It was a beautiful song. I closed my eyes for a moment and imagined a magnificent traditional concert hall. When the artist finished her performance, I had to detach myself from the melody. The next challenge was fast approaching: K-pop dance group or indie band? I chose the K-pop dance group and felt like I was sitting in a crowded arena in the front row, cheering on my favorite group and waving its light stick.

Hongdae: A district where students like to hang out. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

For me, Hongdae is a neighborhood where I can take time to get to know each artist and experience their story and love of art. If today it was the violinist and the K-pop group, tomorrow it might be the trumpet players. You never know what you will discover on the streets of Hongdae. After a meal in one of the multitudes of aromatic restaurants, you can treat yourself to a drink, go shopping, or have your fortune told by one of the many fortune tellers in the streets of Hongdae.

Korean Indie Music – a sample. CHEEZE  치즈 – ‘어떻게 생각해 How Do You Think

And so, with several new positive impressions about an exciting neighborhood and a handful of crayons, I made my way home…

Jessica Hoag


Jessica Hoag is a contributing editor and author. She recently lived in Seoul but has returned to the US, where she has resided in the Midwest, East, and South. She is an avid reader, learner, and explorer. Susan Sontag’s quote captures her passion for chasing adventures: I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

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