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In Case of Nuclear Apocalypse, Here Are the Top 5 Bands in North Korea Right Now

The news has been dominated this month by the announcement that North Korea has developed the capacity to reach U.S. soil with a nuclear missile — a development to which our own supreme leader has responded with the grace and tact of a tantrumming two-year old. Given the dumpster fire that is the current state of our international diplomatic efforts, we figured it’s time to accept the impending North Korean rule and lighten things up by taking a look at the arts and culture of our future overlords.

We hope that this will be the least worst article you’ll read this week. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular music in North Korea these days.

As we all know, North Korea is a pretty isolated, pretty strange, nation with a slightly erratic leader and an even stranger relationship to music. Around 2015, Kim Jong-un reportedly extended music censorship to include a ban on all music from outside of the country, as well as any music made within the country that does not meet strict standards of nationalism and tradition. Police are routinely ordered to visit residents’ houses and confiscate any CDs and cassettes that feature music that is forbidden, and incinerate them immediately.

That doesn’t leave a lot to enjoy, but we’ve managed to find the Top 5 musical acts sweeping the nation right now, approved by the supreme leader himself. Here they are.

The Moranbong Music Band

Pictured above, the Moranbong Music Band is without a doubt the most popular “modern music” band in the country. In fact, they’re one of the only televised musical acts. These ladies were apparently hand-selected by Kim Jong-un to form a super group of talented female instrumentalists and singers who play everything from military marches to state rhetoric friendly disco-pop hits like, “Let’s Study!”

Try not to bob your head in funky triumph to this one.

Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble

It’s pretty hard to get accurate information about bands in a country as secretive as North Korea, but this group has been around for a while. Apparently they’ve released over 150 albums and counting. This synthtastic orchestra takes its name from the Battle of Pochonbo on 4 July 1937 and plays some pretty high energy, tightly arranged music!

Galaxy Orchestra

Here, the Galaxy Orchestra performs a modern electric guitar and saxophone rendition of the historic melody, “Unification Arirang.” “Arirang” is a traditional folk song from Korea, and exists as an important traditional cultural artifact on both sides of the Korean divide, as one of the first melodies that children learn in school. The lyrics may change depending on the “version” of the song being sung, as can the melody, so it has become an interpretive way to pay tribute to national values and history, and a highly emotional avenue for expressing sentiments of similitude between the two divided nations.

Okay, yeah yeah, just sit back and watch that guitarist shred!

DPRK Choir

This one starts out sounding like a Kanye track, with a sub-heavy kick drum and some bombastic horn section blasts taking the nationalistic choral chanting to higher and higher strata — kind of essential if you’re trying to prove your undying support for the supreme leader himself.

Hyon Song-wol

Former singer of the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, and now a solo star, Hyon Song-wol has had a few standout songs that continue to be adored on a national level. Here she is singing something called, “Excellent Horse-Like Lady,” which features some pretty perfect laser noises, apparently her biggest hit.

Wangjaesan Light Music Band

This one’s a bonus. Wangjaesan was a performing ensemble that made “gymnastic performance music” established by Kim Jong-il in the 1980s. They performed well into the 21st century, but were disbanded in 2013 by Kim Jong-un. There was a longstanding rumor that has since been disproven that in August 2013, key members of the Wangjaesan Light Music Band were made to watch the execution by firing squad of other musicians and dancers from their band, as well as members of the Unhasu Orchestra and Hyon Song-wol, on the orders of Kim Jong-un. Yowzers!

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Jeremy Young

Jeremy is a music business guru and loves giving advice to young, emerging bands on how to make their tours more effective. He also plays guitar, publishes audiobooks, runs a record label, and is an artist working in sound media. He has performed and released material throughout Europe, Asia, the US, UK and Canada, mostly with his trio Sontag Shogun.

  • Some of this material is more accessible than some of the rest. I did particularly like Galaxy Orchestra’s Arirang which is made still more palatable by the explanation that it is a folk song sung on both sides of the 38th parallel. The guitarist was good. And was that a peace symbol on her instrument strap contrasting with her martial uniform? Or, was it a victorious conquering hero surrounded by a halo? I’m just a little bit of a gear freak. Did I see Roland, Sabian, Ibanez and Korg? Real? Knock-offs? Made in the DPRK? Does Kim Jong-un approve of imported axes? Just wondering.

    • Ian

      Great questions…. the last song kind of sounds like “Take On Me” by a-ha