Two Ton Shoe in "The Economist"

The TTS South Korea saga ends has made its way into The Economist: JAKE Shapiro plays guitar in a band called “Two Ton Shoe” that gigged up and down the American East Coast for a couple of years around 2000 and built a small following in its home town of Boston. Two Ton Shoe is now friendly but inactive; Jake is the executive director of the non-profit Public Radio Exchange. Two years ago he received, out of the blue, an email from Kwan Ho, owner of Far Go Records of Seoul. Kwan Ho wanted to release, in South Korea, Two Ton Shoe's greatest hits. File sharing and downloads account for an overwhelming majority of Korean music consumption. Gun Il, owner of one of the few dedicated CD retailers left in Seoul, thinks there may be fewer than a dozen such stores left in the whole country. Gun Il survives on genius. In his shop, Hyang Music, which is the size of a generous walk-in closet, you can find exactly one of every CD you might hope to name. He can produce almost anything on demand, and in 2004 customers began demanding albums of a band they had discovered through file sharing: Jake Shapiro's Boston-based Two Ton Shoe. Gun Il called his friend Kwan Ho, Kwan Ho tracked down Jake, Two Ton Shoe planned a Korean tour—and now the entries on Two Ton Shoe's online guest book read for the most part in enthusiastic broken English, for example: "It was my 13year old day when I first met your musics. at that time your music was not that famous in Korea, but now so many people know about you and those many funky musicians wanna copy your style and songs. You never know I planned to fly to Boston someday to hop my body with your music but you guys caught my desire ahead! It's sososo nice of you :) So, never cancel the stage!" I hear the story in, yes, a Starbucks around the corner from Hyang Music. We have been passed, as Americans are in Seoul, from chaperone to chaperone, and are attended now by Gun Il and Kwan Ho. Kwan Ho and Jake are negotiating the details of a new album; Gun Il takes a phone call by leaning back and creating a private space in front of his mouth with a cupped palm. Kwan Ho explains to me that he is, in fact, aware that “Far Go” is not only a vector but a city in North Dakota and the title of a rather bloody American movie. He asks whether I can help him get a hold of, in Italian, “The Inferno”. South Korea, like most countries on the receiving end of American culture for half a century, is preparing to give back. At the Seoul Digital Forum—the conference which brought me on this trip to Seoul—I sat in on a panel called “When Seoul Meets Hollywood—Reviewing the Potential of the Korean Wave”. J Y Park, a Korean hip hop producer with phenomenal success in Asia, explained how to break into the American market: ignore every publication but the New York Times. He's booked Rain, a Korean artist, at Madison Square Garden. and is now working with Outkast and Lil' Kim. (If those names mean nothing to you, I assure you they prove that Park knows what he's doing.) I asked whether it was a rational decision for a Korean artist to head for the American market, and Park answered: "If you want to be the best in the world at Tae Kwan Do, you come to Korea. If you want to be the best in the world at hip hop, you go to America." Hip hop and soul dominate the Korean domestic market, leaving a curious niche for Jake's Two Ton Shoe: complex ensemble rock, long a staple of mainstream American radio, through file sharing in South Korea takes on the quality of samizdat. Jake's music is a talisman for teenagers bearing black wool caps and guitar bags, tired of what they hear on the radio or, rather: "those many funky musicians wanna copy your style and songs." Never cancel the stage.