Standing in the crowd of the Fillmore Silver Spring on Friday night, I was immediately taken back to my childhood, one of the hallmarks of which was listening to music in our family SUV. Whether we were going shopping for groceries or picking up new threads at the local Marshalls, my parents would always play music in the car. The selection was usually pretty eclectic — it included everything from Mendelssohn’s E minor violin concerto and random excerpts from Bach’s solo cello suites to Dream Theater’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory and excessive replays of The Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha.”
But one of the pieces of music that always stood out to me as a kid was without a doubt Epik High’s “One,” a single from their fifth studio album, Pieces, Part One. Epik High is a South Korean hip-hop group consisting of three MCs: Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz. “One” is an uplifting song about overcoming inner demons through relying on others, but what really drew me to the song as a kid was the way in which Tablo and Mithra Jin delivered their verses over a danceable, poppy beat, all packaged in Korean — a language I could, at the time, understand much better than English.
So when the all too recognizable intro to “One” — which starts with the distinctive sound of a clock ticking — started to blast from the speakers in The Fillmore Silver Spring, I was ecstatic.
Epik High hails from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Formed in 2001 they are one of South Korea’s most well-known and popular groups and have collaborated with a host of famous Korean musicians like Taeyang, IU, Lee Hi and Suga from BTS. Tablo has also worked with artists abroad — his 2015 collaboration with Joey Bada$$ on a song titled “Hood” is one such example.
Despite their successes, however, Epik High came from humble beginnings as a part of Korea’s small underground hip-hop scene. Their first two albums, Map of the Human Soul and High Society, failed to attract much attention, and, following poor sales, Epik High planned to release Swan Songs as their final record. But in a surprising turn of events, Swan Songs turned out to be a commercial success, with songs like “Fly” and “Paris” climbing the charts in both Korea and Japan.
After a brief hiatus due to Mithra Jin’s and DJ Tukutz’s compulsory two-year military service (Tablo was exempted because of his Canadian citizenship), Epik High came back together and continued to make albums. Through it all, they’ve evolved as a group and have evaded being classified into any one singular genre by incorporating elements of pop, R&B and even rock into their music.
Their most recent EP, Sleepless in __________ was released on March 11 earlier this year, and their North American tour was announced shortly afterwards.
On Friday Epik High graced the audience with favorites from past records as well as newer material. They alternated between songs from over a decade ago like “Fan” and “One” and newer tracks like the moody “In Seoul” and the aggressive “Born Hater” (the latter of which was written partly in response to accusations against Tablo that his English literature degree from Stanford was falsified).
Epik High maintained an intimacy with the audience on the venue floor that I had never witnessed before at any concert. Aside from getting close to audience members and occasionally joining the crowd while performing, the group members are known to perform small skits on stage and talk informally with audience members in between songs, and this was certainly the case at this performance. At one point Tablo even jumped down to the floor and took a picture with a fan. At first this behavior seemed bizarre, and the unexpected jokes and informal exchanges seemed initially out of place. But by the end of the night, I began to see it as somewhat endearing.
One of these practical jokes happened during a break between songs, when Tablo asked Mithra Jin about his experience on tour in Europe and North America.
“Do you miss your family?” he said.
When Mithra Jin replied in Korean that he missed home, Tablo purposely mistranslated his words to make it seem as if Mithra Jin really didn’t. Plenty of these kinds of joking exchanges took place throughout the night.
But the concert had its serious moments too, especially at the beginning. The show began with several well-known songs from their most recent EP, such as “In Seoul” and “Eternal Sunshine.” Sleepless in __________ is an angst-ridden record dealing with themes like despondency, fatigue and hopelessness.
“Do you ever get lonely? Sick with anxiety? Can’t trust nobody? Same here,” Tablo intoned.
That being said, the overall atmosphere at the Fillmore was electric. The venue was full and the crowd was responsive to the music. Although some of the older songs seemed somewhat outdated by today’s standards, the unique energy and stage presence that each band member brought to the performance was contagious. Many people in the crowd jumped and sang along as Epik High performed on stage.
Sophomore Yoseph Kim was one of those people in the crowd that enjoyed the performance.
“They took pictures with fans, and they really connected a lot with the audience,” he said. “I really enjoyed it. I’m a big Epik High fan, and I think they performed very nicely.”