April 18, 2016


Inside Epik High’s K-Pop Coachella Takeover

Michael Tullberg/Getty Images for Coachella
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images for Coachella

Epik High entered the 2016 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on Friday (Apr. 15) with a fair amount of pressure: They were to be the first K-pop group to ever perform at the long-running Indio festival, all while the trio, their fans and their record label were anxious to get some new music recorded. Yet Coachella is not about being stressed out, and by Saturday afternoon, Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz looked deeply relaxed following a night of music-watching and meeting Kanye West.

Yes, Epik High met Yeezus himself backstage, immediately after he had taken the stage (and had his mic not work, sadly) with A$AP Rocky on Friday night. “He was right in front of us, and he was walking next to us for a while and we didn’t even know,” Tablo tells Fuse. “We said hi, but there were a lot of people saying hi, and he had just come down from the set so he must have been kind of upset. Not the best time to [meet him]… but he was also smiling and being a good guy.”

The members of Epik High raved about Coachella’s food, and performances by artists like Ellie Goulding and M83, on Saturday afternoon, but the hip-hop/pop trio was also focused on the task at hand. The veteran group—which formed over a decade ago, and has released eight studio albums—were scheduled to perform on Sunday afternoon in the Sahara Tent, the same stage that housed huge crowds for the Chainsmokers and Rae Sremmurd, and effectively represent an entire genre that was foreign to Coachella’s usual mix of pop, rock, indie and EDM.

“We don’t try to attach too much meaning to it, because that would just be a lot of responsibility,” Tablo says of being the firsts to bring K-pop to Coachella. “I think a festival is not about that—it’s about having a good time and making sure that everyone else has a good time. We just think that it’s awesome that we’re here, we’ll do our best, and hopefully after our time here, more Korean groups will be invited to perform. We have some amazing acts in Korea, and they would kill it out there.”

Judging from the impressive crowd at Epik High’s Sunday performance, the trio will not be the last K-pop group to perform at the festival. With animated visuals, bullet-time rhymes, big pop hooks and a natural rapport with the crowd, the trio kept the energy high and the dance moves spastic. The audience, which braved the Coachella heat for a 1:20 pm set time, cheered when every new beat dropped, and when the set concluded, they rushed to the side of the stage to scream at Epik High as they headed backstage.

The trio stuffed its Coachella set with hits from its most recent album, Shoebox; Epik High’s live show has been notably fine-tuned since the project dropped in 2014, and its crowds have swelled during the past two years.

“We’ve been performing nonstop after Shoebox came out—in the U.S., in China, in Japan, all over Asia and in Korea as well,” says Tablo. “We actually haven’t really had any time to feel like there’s a break so that we can move on to the next album. It’s been two years apparently since Shoebox came out, and we don’t get the feeling that it’s been that long.”

So is there new material in the works? “I’m trying to do that on this tour,” he explains. “I have all my stuff here, and I’m trying to work on some new songs, but I’ve been here for three days and haven’t even written a word. Yesterday we saw a few shows, and I’m listening and getting the vibe and I was like, ‘I want to write a new song! But… let me get a beer first, and a hot dog, and a chicken sandwich.’ And then I was asleep.”

Epik High may have adapted to the chilled-out Coachella lifestyle, but the members are serious about building upon the group’s success, particularly in the United States. Before Coachella, the trio performed at South By Southwest in March; after Coachella, they’ll head to Japan for a month-long tour and work on a new album before hopefully returning to the States to promote it.

Although the group downplayed the significance of the milestone Coachella show, Tablo briefly—and rightly—recognized the achievement midway through Epik High’s exuberant Sunday set. “A lot of people asked, What is a Korean group doing at a Coachella show?” he told the crowd. “We’re gonna show you what a Korean group is doing at a Coachella show.”