Introducing: Cotoba on unearthing South Korea's math rock scene

Introducing: Cotoba on unearthing South Korea's math rock scene

Clad in subdued pastel tones with their hair in varying shades of brown, cotoba brings to mind a soothing presence - just like what they would like their music to embody. The Korean math rock band is one of their kind, literally, because a progressive indie-rock scene is almost unheard of in South Korea.

Combining the technicalities of compound time signatures and rhythmically driven basslines, one may expect math rock to be a chore to comprehend, with so many different layers at once. However, cotoba's music is akin to slicing through a beautifully embellished layer cake -  it presents an overriding clarity with playful variations that keep the adrenaline rushing. 

Formed in 2018, cotoba released their first EP Form Of Tongue last year. The EP was nominated for a couple of awards including the Korean Music Award and the band also came in #4 in Mirrorball Music's biweekly K-indie charts. Having played a succession of sold-out shows in South Korea and Japan as well as performed at the Busan International Rock Festival and MU:CON 2019, the five-piece band is no stranger to the stage. 

Since cotoba won't be taking to the stage of the Glastonbury Music Festival and the SINE/COSINE FEST in Japan this year due to COVID-19, Bandwagon caught up with the band over frittata, oatmeal, and their second EP name of the Seasons.


Introduce yourselves.

Dyon: Glad to meet you. I'm Dyon Joo, I play the guitar and do vocals.

Dafne: Hello, nice to meet you. I'm Dafne. I also play the guitar and I'm also the band's producer. I compose, arrange, and make songwriting decisions for the band.

euPhemia: I'm euPHemia. I play the bass and I have the longest hair among the members.

Marker: Hello, my name is Marker. I'm cotoba's drummer.

DjuNaNa: My name is DjuNaNa. I play percussion. I've recently joined the band after finishing my military duty last month.

How was the band was formed and how did the name cotoba come about?

Dafne: DyoN was already working on her solo project two years ago. She got me to play as a session guitarist for her live performances. We got to talking about our musical goals and mentioned that I wanted to form a band that plays indie, math and post-rock music. DyoN also wanted the same thing so we looked for members who can join us.

cotoba means language (言葉). I thought the name matched the musical identity that we were trying to express.

How would you describe the music that the band creates?

Dyon: Easy listening, pop-music like, tutorial for the math rock. (Laugh) It's the type of music you listen to when you're on your own.

Dafne: I write most of the songs so even though it's played by the band, I feel the music's more personal. Although I don't sing, I often feel like I'm singing with my guitar. Most of the songs I write revolve on 'loss' which is how we usually introduce our music. Our music is directed towards math rock but we don't want to obsess over complicated performances. We try to make a piece of music that listeners can listen to and relate to.

euPhemia: Our music is a product of our different life experiences. Our hope is to amplify this every time we perform on stage.

Tell us about your first EP, Form of Tongue.

Dafne: The first EP Form of Tongue was like a curveball thrown in the final inning of a baseball game. Korean listeners tend to prefer vocal-singing songs. They prefer songs with good melodies and good lyrics. But I liked shoegaze music or post-rock, so I wanted to make instrumental music. In a way, it's to introduce math rock and post-rock to local listeners. Surprisingly, there was a good response from the listeners and we've been taking their feedback constructively and improving our music.

Who are the bands that inspired you in your musical journey?

Dafne: toe and tricot. I like their singing and instrumentation. They have a strong influence on the songs I write. I also like KinoKoteikoku especially Kinoko's guitar sound and the emotion it creates. toe would be my favorite though. I find their songs calm and passionate.

What is the math rock scene in South Korea like and who are the other bands we should listen to?

Dafne: There is no math rock scene here. There are some post-rock bands. Closest to math rock would be bands like DABDA and Tierpark. You can also check shoegaze band Desertflower.

Have you listened to any bands from Asia? Any recommendations for us?

Dyon: Covet, LITE, Elephant Gym, Tom’s Story, tide/edit, cetow, jizue are some of them.

Dafne: Except for Japanese bands, I know Elephant Gym and Skipskipbenben. Recently, I listened to tide/edit.

euPhemia: There are too many good bands in Asia so I can’t recommend all of them. But if I had to pick, I recommend two bands named LITE and toe. They are both instrumental bands and they show incredible and powerful performances.

Tell us about the new EP Name of the Seasons.

Dafne: The new EP is more aggressive than the previous one. It delves into the different seasons, how everyone has a limited time and how one must spend time truthfully. I always think about how I should be spending my own time and I think spending truthfully is the best use of one's time, so I put these feelings in Name of The Seasons.

What are the band’s plans for the very uncertain future?

Dafne: The goal is to keep creating music. We hope to be able to create music that our listeners will like.

Marker: Hopefully, we get to play more shows overseas once the pandemic is over.

DjuNaNa: The current limitations will not stop us from creating music. Although the number of live events will decline, we should take it as an opportunity to create more songs.


Listen to the new EP here: 

Name of the Seasons is also available on Bandcamp. Get it here.