IIn director Park Chan-wook’s 2003 neo-noir thriller Oldboy, a man is held captive for 15 years before being locked in a trunk and dragged to an empty field, left alone to solve the mystery of how he got there and why.
Two decades and 8,000 miles away, the members of hip-hop collective 1300 (pronounced one-three-hundred) smooth their collars, comb their hair and do their best impressions of the character Oh Dae-su and goons terrorizing him for their single, also named Oldboy. But where Oh Dae-su was alone, 1,300 people took to the camera in droves, smiling while rapping with one of the most impressive deliveries to be seen in an Aussie outfit in years.
1300 producer and vocalist Nerdie describes the influence of the film – and South Korean culture in general – on the music 1300 is now making in suburban Sydney. “I watched a lot of shitty movies when I was a kid,” says the 24-year-old. “I had carte blanche. My grandfather had a DVD store in the garage where we rented, like, bootleg DVDs. I just watched all that crazy shit. I watched iRobot on repeat for about a week.
He and rapper Rako, also 24, speak to Guardian Australia during a break from a day in the studio. They vape with each other as they reminisce about how they met fellow band members – rappers Dali Hart, 23, and Goyo, 26, and producer Pokari.Sweat, 31 – in 2020, after spotting themselves floating around the Korean music community in Sydney. “It’s not a big scene,” Nerdie clarifies. “It’s just like a few people.”
In early 2021, when they released their single No Caller ID, it was clear that 1300 had a rare chemical reaction. “You don’t have to speak the language to know it’s a banger,” Koolism’s Hau Latukefu, the host of Triple J’s dedicated hip-hop show, wrote in a review.
1300 bend and fuse Korean and English in their lyrics, while their production draws on both contemporary references – from SoundCloud rap to house and hardstyle – and the emo and punk-pop that they consumed when they were children.
“We all grew up listening to what teenagers would listen to in Australia,” Nerdie says, checking Fallout Boy’s name, Panic! at Disco and Linkin Park, alongside dance and US hip-hop. “Me and [Pokari.Sweat] are Australian, so there’s an extremely western influence to the production – I guess that’s why it might sound a bit different to Koreans making western sounds in Korea.
Rako’s experience was a bit different; he grew up in Perth, but almost exclusively consumed music from Korea. “The musical tastes of our five members [vary], and the degree of exposure to Korean culture is also different,” he says. Between them, they walk the spectrum “from non-Korean culture to very Korean culture – and we meet in the middle.”
On their debut Foreign Language mixtape, 1300 really flex their muscles, refusing to sit in one place for too long. For every slick, smart song like Rocksta, there’s a track like Ralph – listening to it feels like putting your head in a pinball machine. Like Oh Dae-su pulling himself out of the trunk, 1300 catapults you into the future and leaves you filling in the blanks on how you got there.
They follow the release of the record with a series of live shows, including a spot at Splendor in the Grass and nationwide dates supporting Confidence Man, following a pit stop at the Sydney Opera House as part of Vivid.
It’s an important show for a band who weren’t sure a year ago if Australia had the guts for what they were up to.
“We never thought Australian musicians would pick up our music,” says Rako. “You know, we write in korean. We’ve always thought that the language barrier is a pretty big fence to jump over.
“It just doesn’t exist in your mind, like the possibility that it could work,” Nerdie agrees. “Just because you’re a Korean kid. Make weird hip-hop music. In Australia. It just doesn’t make sense, like why would people like that? Go on!”
Over time, the boundaries around a genre like Australian hip-hop – a genre that for decades sounded and felt like one thing – crumbled and new voices emerged. stronger. “Two generations ago,” Nerdie says, “all the classics” he followed growing up, including 360, Kerser and Hilltop Hoods, and “this kind of new generation of more diverse artists who are making music. afrobeat and all sorts of different things” – among them Genesis Owusu, whose 1300 live shows have been supported, Agung Mango and Raj Mahal, who both feature on Foreign Language.
“It’s just such a change of mindset,” says Nerdie, of how Australia’s love of 1300 led him and his bandmates to take what they take it more seriously. But he might as well be talking about the years of slow, gradual change that led to the point where 1300 are now, emerging as the most promising and dynamic act Australia has produced in years.
“We didn’t intend to be so big, to be so popular. We thought nobody would like it, to be honest. But there’s no limit to what he can do now.