I was a raver in Seoul, South Korea 20 years ago, attending raves that featured world famous DJs with people from all over the world until 9/11 changed it all. All the photos below were taken by my friends and I, except the Google streetview screenshots.
During all of 2001, I lived in Seoul, South Korea. I was only 20 years old when I arrived there. It was my first time going outside of the United States except for a couple day trips across the Mexico border in Tijuana when I was a kid. When I arrived in Seoul I was in immediate awe and wonder. This massive city was full of lights, people, cars, buildings, and noise. I had never been to a massive international city like this before. I wanted to explore as much of it as I could.
Most of the Korean people I met didn’t speak much English or were too shy to speak it and I didn’t speak any Korean at all. Although, I did eventually learn some basic greetings and other phrases. It was really hard at first to make friends there. But after a couple months I became friends with some cool Korean people. They invited me to their homes, to delicous restaurants, and some awesome nightclubs.
It was in those nightclubs and other places where I started meeting a lot of other travelers. I met people from the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Japan, South Africa, Australia, and other places. It was an incredible experience making friends from all those countries. I learned a lot from each one of them.
Ultimately, I became great friends with a guy named David from Wisconsin and a guy named Jeff from North Carolina. David and I decided to become roommates in a small one-room studio. One day we found a big couch on the side of the road a few blocks from where we lived. We picked it up and carried it to our tiny apt. It was a tight fit but it worked out great because we invited friends over frequently to hang with us and they had a nice place to chill.
The first photo is of Jeff, Me, and David, the others are of us and some of our other friends at our apartment.
Nightclub Scene In Seoul in 2001
Aftre being in Seoul for only a few months we were introduced to the underground nightclub scene there. We routinely visited nearly a dozen nightclubs, but we had our favorite 2 or 3 places we went to the most. The clubs typically stayed open till 5 or 6 AM which is when we typically left. The areas of Seoul we usually found ourselves partying or hanging out in were Itaewon, Hongdae, Sinchon, Myeongdong, and the Gangnam District. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the names of most of the clubs we visited but I do remember the favorite three clubs, which were Club Joker Red, Space Club, and Myeong-Wolgwan.
Here are photos of us and our raver friends that we hung out with at the clubs:
I looked up those places on Google maps to see where they are now and sadly they have all closed down:
This is where Space Club used to be in Itaewon, I actually met the rapper Coolio there one night. It was apparently renamed to Friends and then shut down.
Club Joker Red
This is where Club Joker Red used to be in Hongdae, Seoul. Here we met a lot of other people who considered themselves as ravers too. The first photo is of it from several years ago when it was still around, the second photo is of it now, which show’s it’s been replaced what looks like a restaurant.
Myeong-Wolgwan in Hongdae was our absolute favorite club. It was very raver friendly. It was later renamed to Club MWG. They had the best DJs and music and even had some well-known underground trance DJs come through there such as Plastik. Apparently, that club is considered the first underground club in Korea. It opened in the 90s and stayed open for over 25 years. It recently closed in 2020. Below is a brief 5 minute documentary about the club shortly before it closed. It’s in Korean but they have English subtitles.
Today it’s a boarded-up building on a side street, it was right by where that blue truck is:
Seoul’s Rave Scene
While going out a lot we were introduced to Seoul’s rave scene. We instantly fell in love with it and invited a lot of our new friends to the raves. David, Jeff, and I, along with several of our other friends, went to raves and their after-parties virtually every weekend. We saw a lot of world famouse trance and house DJs at the raves.
To remember all the raves, we hung up posters of the ones we attended on our apartment walls. One of our favorite movies during that time, was a raver movie called Groove. It’s a movie that takes place in a single night at rave in San Fransico. We hoped John Digweed, who was in the movie, would come to Seoul to perform at a rave while we were there but he never did.
After about a month of going to the raves, we officially started called ourselves ravers. We knew it was a little cheesy in some ways, but it also felt like we had this identity that helped us immediately connect with other people. It was fun and lighthearted, we never took being a raver seriously. It was all in fun. One of the cool things about the rave culture was that it was all about acceptance, fun, and openness. We were all in this place, far from our homes, enjoying this time. We all knew it would quickly pass so we tried to make the most of it.
Most of the Raves we attended were at Triport Hall which no longer exists. We were lucky enough to see some of the best and most famous DJs in the world perform there.
The DJs We Saw At The Raves
We saw more DJs than I can possibly remember, I wish I had kept track of them all. These are some of the biggest DJs we saw that I can remember:
- Bad Boy Bill
- Christopher Lawrence
- Yoji Biomehanika
- Sandra Collins
- Laurent Garnier
- Lee Burridge
Here are some more photos of us and our raver friends:
Our raver friend Corey from Arizona:
David, our Canadian raver friend Timmy, and I
David posing with a couple of the DJs we saw perform that night
Jeff, David adn I posing with an amazing DJ, sadly, I forgot his name but I remember we loved his set.
The 9/11 Attacks Ended It All
We were in South Korea when the tragic September 11th attacks happened in 2001. That day changed everything. The city went quiet at night for a couple months. Clubs were completely closed, some never reopened. There was a strong sense of fear and mourning all over the place. Nothing was ever the same after that. Our lives, along with millions of others would be forever changed. Several of our friends left to return to their home countries shortly afterwards. When the nighclubs opened back up and raves started again, they were usually pretty empty.
They weren’t as fun as before, maybe it was because of the atmosphere also maybe it was because we changed. That horrible day brought reality hard upon us. We all felt a need to go back to be with our famlies because the future was so uncertain. My friends and I from the US had all returned back to our respective homes.
We stayed in contact by calling each other once in a while and then on social media. I never did see any of them in person again. David, Jeff, and I had become such close friends it was really hard to say goodbye. It was also hard to leave all the peolpe and places I had grown to love. I still occasionally miss them all and I hope they are all doing well.
This post is a very high level view of what it was like being a raver in Seoul in 2001, so much happened that year I could write a full book about it. Maybe someday I will.
David and I were espeically close, we had a bond like two blood brothers that had spent 20 years together growing up together. We were inseprable as friends. In the fall 2012 I had plans to attend his upcoming wedding in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, he called off the wedding a few months before the big day and I end up not going there. Then in the Summer of 2013 I recieved a devestating phone call from his former fiance. She told that David tragically took his life the day before. Though I hadn’t seen him in over 10 years, I was broken hearted and cried over the loss. It was hard to accept that I would never again get to see or talk to my friend.