Balming Tiger have stopped working from home. Instead, their office schedule demands that everyone in the group of 11 report at their studio in Seoul by 10am. Rather than rigid disciplinary action, the new framework is a result of the music collective learning how pertinent it is to see one another in the process of creating music. This is but one of the many things they gained from going on not one, but two, far-flung songwriting retreats in the middle of the mountains with no one licensed to drive.
One other thing they’ve gained from their time together on the retreats? Their first full-length album. At the time of writing, the Seoul-based collective—comprising performers Omega Sapien, Sogumm, Bj Wnjn and Mudd the Student; producers San Yawn and Unsinkable; video directors Jan’ Qui and Leesuho; visual artist Chanhee Hong; DJ Abyss; and writer Henson Hwang—have already released four songs from January Never Dies, and are on the precipice of releasing the rest of the 14-track effort.
Taken in full, the album refuses to be defined by any one genre. According to Balming Tiger, that is precisely the point. The first track to be released was the explosive ‘Sexy Nukim’ in 2022 featuring the deep, sensual vocals of BTS’s RM. The next three pre-releases—‘Trust Yourself’,‘SOS’ and ‘Kamehameha’—are a prime showcase of the group’s colourful soundscape.
“Most of the artists we like have actually defined the genres they’re associated with. Perhaps Balming Tiger could do the same”
Between strong influences of hip-hop and R&B, intoxicating swathes of psychedelic pop and jolts of indie rock, the tracks are emblematic of Balming Tiger’s sound—consistently defying definition while bending, curving and twisting into something new each time you think you’ve put a finger on what their style is. “If we were to ever put out a classical album, it shouldn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary,” Sogumm quips.
The group credits their eclectic style to the diverse mish-mash of musical backgrounds they come from and the different influences they each bring to the table, fusing together to form one creative crescendo. “We all like different things so the big challenge is to somehow combine all of this randomness in to one group. But we always have a lot of fun,” Omega Sapien says.
Just as the group’s musical inspirations (such as Tyler, the Creator and alternative hip-hop collective Odd Future) have birthed whole genres from themselves, it makes sense for Balming Tiger to have their sights set on owning their sound. “Most of the artists we like have actually defined the genres they’re associated with. Perhaps Balming Tiger could do the same,” proclaims Hong.
January Never Dies has undoubtedly been a step in the right direction. Since they first formed in 2018, the group has been putting out single after single—each one a result of creative bursts of energy sparked by a few of its members. When an entire album was in the works, however, the approach was understandably different for everyone.
Mudd the Student, the most impressionable of them all, saw his working style shift completely. “I usually prefer to work alone, but while surrounded by the rest during the songwriting retreats, I became more outgoing and it changed the way I viewed the album,” he says. Sogumm adds: “In this album, we tried things we haven’t done before and individually challenged ourselves. We hope listeners can feel the healing energy we poured into each song.”
The members may have all dialled in for a Zoom call from a scattering of different devices, but a certain fondness for one another hangs in the air. Omega Sapien sums it up: “If you’ve got good vibes, good music will come to you.” It is quite possibly the sole thought that binds them all. Unsinkable quotes the songs made during the songwriting retreat as close to his heart, Mudd the Student remembers how enjoyably chaotic it was in the studio while creating ‘Buriburi’, and Sogumm confesses sweetly: “We affect each other so much that sometimes I worry about impacting the others negatively. But they’re such a positive influence on me and a big part of who I am now.”
Just as they resist any one genre, decoding Balming Tiger’s musical narrative is no easy task. “Our songs are made up of what we feel in the moment and what we have learnt throughout our lives. Rather than trying to find a single message, hopefully listeners can think about what they relate to in each song,” Omega Sapien muses.
So, what sits at the heart of the Balming Tiger universe? You may hazard a guess as you experience the sonic energy of January Never Dies or while witnessing the group at their ongoing world tour, but who really knows? Somewhere in a studio in Seoul, the self-proclaimed ‘multinational alternative K-pop group’ have probably already gathered with their heads together, set to redefine what the face of Korean and Asian music looks like to the rest of the world yet again.