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Performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is considered a true milestone for any artist. Even with a career that’s been flourishing for more than decade, a set in Indio, CA can be an emotional moment for an act like Epik High. As one of South Korea’s most popular and longstanding K-pop groups, that has been regularly playing festivals and headlining dates to a global audience over a 13-year career, one might assume that it’d take a lot to impress the trio of Tablo, Mithra Jin, and DJ Tukutz. On the contrary, the band, which topped the U.S. iTunes hip-hop charts in 2010, interprets this opportunity as a career-defining moment that celebrates the harmonious bond that they established with their loyal fanbase. Despite a set at 1:20 p.m. on Sunday in the Sahara tent, Epik High owned the audience with a well-curated selection of their greatest hits and songs that would appeal to spectators that are less familiar with their music. We sat down with Tablo, who shared the band’s special experience in the Californian desert and how it aligns with their overall path.
How does it feel to be a part of this year’s Coachella lineup? That’s quite epic.
Seeing our name in the lineup with so many amazing artists — artists that we totally dig — that was a really amazing feeling. At the same time, it made us nervous because we have to deliver. Luckily, it turned out perfectly. Before the set was over, the entire tent was packed. Naturally, we’re very happy how everything turned out.
Can you recollect any special moments during the performance?
Our show was scheduled Sunday early in the afternoon, which is not the best spot for a festival. Obviously, you party hard the night before on Saturday…actually, it was even hard for me to wake up on time today (laughs) as I was partying very late into the night after the Guns’n'Roses show. We were very nervous on how many people would turn up. What was amazing about our set was that the audience was growing exponentially. We started performing with 100-200 people, then after two to three songs, people kept coming. After four and five songs, people that were passing by would get curious to see what’s going inside the tent. Ultimately, the audience grew from 100 to 1000, and watching the number of spectators grow that naturally, that was a surreal feeling. Almost spiritual. At the end, I was tearing up.
How did you prepare yourself for such an early afternoon gig — compared to a night gig?
We don’t really prepare ourselves differently for different type of venues. I’d say we’re always well prepared. One thing about us, Epik High is, we really enjoy hanging out with each other. Even seconds before we step onto the stage, we’re backstage making fun of each other, goofing off. That helps us to stay relaxed and I think people can feel that when we do our set.
What does it mean for you as a Korean act to perform at Coachella?
A couple of years ago, a Korean band named EE performed here in Indio. This year, Coachella invited us as the first major Korean act. However, at the same day, there were other Korean acts like TOKiMONSTA, Nosajthing. The point is, Asian presence in festivals is growing all over the world. It’s great to be a part of that. I’m grateful that we’re getting so much attention about presence at Coachella, but I’m not thinking about it as something special or we deserve credit for. A lot of Asian musicians are doing their thing, and the fans are definitely doing their thing to make all of this happen.
There was a lot of critical praise for your performance. The LA Times was raving about your set. Carson Daly played one of your songs on the radio. Have you expected such a massive response?
Carson Daly chose two bands to check out during Coachella, and one of them was us. It was kind of mind-boggling to find out how much he actually knew about us. In addition, one of our songs was on American radio, we found that out through our fans. It was a really strange feeling. Even the Los Angeles Times article was just like “Wow, why…thank you.”
You guys have been putting in work for so many years. Such an acknowledgement is a beautiful thing. Last year, you performed at SXSW. How does that gig stand in relation to your Coachella performance?
The main difference was the fact that the event we performed at SXSW was a K-pop night. Hence, the event itself was catered to K-pop artists and K-pop fans. It was also a much smaller venue. At Coachella, not only that it was a much bigger venue, we were also performing in between artists that were open to the entire public. A lot of people that are there are not there to hear K-pop. A lot of people that were there experienced K-pop for the first time. That was a challenge but we were obviously more than ready to take it on.
What’s next for you?
A couple years back, we made a bucket list of dreams that we want to accomplish before we wrap things up one day. On that list, there was SXSW, Summer Sonic in Japan, Coachella, and then there was also Glastonbury. It was not like we wrote these things down and intended to set these as deliberate goals that we’d work hard to achieve to or a secret game plan to go to these places or something. It’s any musician’s dream to perform at these festivals. Out of four of them, we’ve already performed at three of them — SXSW, Summer Sonic, and Coachella. It’d be awesome to have the opportunity to perform at Glastonbury one day. That would be an honor. Even if we don’t, there are a lot of opportunities that are coming to us now as opposed to before. We’re just being grateful for everything. Even this interview, being interviewed by HYPETRAK and HYPEBEAST is a special feeling for me.
How would you explain your longevity? You’ve been around for more than just a minute.
Actually, I don’t know. We’re just surprised how long this has been going on. It’s been 13 years and if we go back 13 years, I don’t think any of us could have even imagined that we’d be doing music this long. For every year, to top the year before is just a huge blessing. At the end of each year, we always get together and talk about things. We’ve always imagined that this particular year might be the peak of whatever career or path that we walk together. So we’re trying to do everything possible within that year to follow our dreams and keep our family and fans happy. While having this mentality, we also don’t set our expectations too high in obtaining such a level of happiness. We’re totally happy just doing things to keep our fans satisfied. That’s why we’re at a personal high at the moment.