By Samantha Test
Northwest Asian Weekly
At JK Pop!, a Japanese and Korean pop music dance party, the night was in full swing. The bar was busy and attendees nodded their heads and tapped their feet to the beat of Japanese and Korean pop music, also known as J-pop and K-pop, pulsating from the DJ booth.
But it seemed for a moment that everyone was waiting for everyone else to bust a move. The JK Pop! night on May 16 at the Barboza was its first at the Capitol Hill location.
It didn’t take long before the infectious dance beats won the crowd over. Within minutes, the crowd at the bar became the crowd on the dance floor. A steady flow of arrivals kept both areas full, but not crowded.
“I thought it was fantastic!” said attendee Bryan Harthorne. “Good music, good drinks, dancing, the hosts dancing on stage. It was great! I like that the music is so danceable.”
It was Harthorne’s first JK Pop! experience, and like many, he came with high expectations.
“I was hoping there would be a little more dancing, but I always hope everywhere had more dancing. I was surprised by Alex’s awesome costume and the dancing she and the other host did on stage. It was pretty epic!”
Harthorne is referring to Alex Thomas, or DJ BabyLoveCrash. She is one of the three creators of JK Pop!, which also includes Reese Umbaugh, known as DJ Bishie, and Allen Huang, known as DJ Hojo. The three switched off at the DJ booth, but Thomas stood out for her striking costume.
“I try to set the bar of intergalactic outfits,” said Thomas. “You can’t overdress (or underdress), but K-pop fashion inspires me to go all out. I hope more people join me in this endeavor of dancing and looking like an actual pop star. I try not to ever wear pants and incorporate bedazzled jewels of sorts. If I can’t be an actual K-pop star, JK Pop! night can at least let me dress and dance like one.”
Thomas said that although she helped pick out the music for the night, she considers herself more of a dance jockey. It’s an apt description. Not only was she one of the more recognizable dancers on the floor, but she and Umbaugh surprised the crowd with a dance performance at the height of the night. The two jumped into a very high energy, fully choreographed routine on the stage, in front of the DJ booth. Needless to say, it electrified an already exuberant crowd.
“When you hear J-pop, you smile and skip around the dance floor. It warms you and holds your hand. It’s fun and cute and innocent,” Thomas said, describing how the music influences dancers.
“When you hear K-pop, you scream, pop and lock, and get ready for a fight. It takes you over and you can’t control yourself. It’s sexy and full of attitude, like a rambunctious runaway. That’s how I feel when I dance at JK Pop!, anyway.”
While almost anything goes for the three DJs, they are known individually for their preferences and their respective explorations of the Japanese and Korean music scene.
“I’m really into a lot of Japanese music, but a lot of it is rock and new wave, and doesn’t really fit into the JK Pop! vibe. But a few months ago, my friend in Osaka introduced me to the growing Otaku club scene over there, and I began discovering all this fantastic, very dance-y, very Japanese techno. So Reese and Alex are basically handling the K-Pop side and I’m handling the [J-Pop side], with as much crossover as we like,” said Huang.
At JK Pop!, that crossover includes everything from music to dance style and outfits.
“We are probably the most unpretentious dance night in the city. You wanna wear a suit and tie? Do it. You wanna wear some Sailor Moon cosplay? Do it,” said Umbaugh.
“We just want people to have a good time, dance, and enjoy an underrepresented musical genre that we are passionate about.”
Interested in J-pop since he was in middle school, Umbaugh had wanted to create a night like this for some time.
“I met Allen in November at one of my bands’ shows. We have a mutual friend who said that we have a lot in common musically, and before I knew it, we were having this awesome conversation about K-pop music. I didn’t know anyone who liked it as much as I do, so it was cool to be able to actually have a conversation with someone about it.”
Huang called it “an experiment gone right.”
“The first time [Reese and I] met, we basically said ‘Wanna start a K-Pop and J-Pop dance night?’
And it went from there. We knew that K-Pop in particular was getting a lot of attention nationally.
We thought there had to be people out there who wanted to dance specifically to the maximalist, utopian pop of East Asia. I’m glad we were right.”
The first JK Pop! debuted downtown in January at The Alibi Room. The popularity of the dance party meant that they were at capacity and needed to find a bigger venue, hence the move to Capitol Hill.
“I was really excited to see this event moved to a nice, larger location like Barboza,” said attendee Simone Sellers.
“While I am not a die-hard fan of JK Pop!, like many of the attendees, the great energy and exuberant crowd are major draws for me. I think it’s great that Seattle accommodates a wide variety of tastes, and JK Pop! has definitely got a cool flavor all its own.” (end)
For more information, visit jkpopnight.tumblr.com.
Samantha Test can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.