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‘Sifter’: Round Eye talks to Dangerous Minds about shooting their video in North Korea
05.05.2017
10:30 am
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As a band of American expats (and one Italian) living in Shanghai, the pre-emptively named prog-punk band Round Eye get opportunities that most bands would envy, even while living under the boot of a censorious authoritarian government. About a year ago, we told you about their video for “Billy,” an attack on the increasing brutality of American police—a nervy move, as China’s censors could have easily taken the song’s anti-cop sentiments as a sideways swipe at their own police state. Living under a regime that sees a nail sticking up and immediately moves to hammer it down is surely tricky to navigate as an outsider, and Round Eye have had run-ins with Chinese authorities before.

More recently, they landed an incredible opportunity that’s been extraordinarily rare for a band of Westerners—they were able, in October, to film a music video in the even more insanely repressive state of North Korea. Precedents for this are few—Washington D.C. rappers Pacman and Peso pulled it off in 2014, and last year, a pair of YouTube personalities went to North Korea to make a pretty fucking execrable everything-is-awesome pop video that seems almost certain to have been a propaganda device for Pyongyang. Round Eye, though they had no tour dates in the country (that might have been a bigger score than shooting the video there) were permitted to record footage under extreme restrictions. Naturally, they managed to sneak out some unapproved images, though.

Recently, some unauthorized photography has been making its way out of North Korea, and much of it is striking for how mundane it is. If it were all images of starving kids (of which there are sickening numbers) it would be understandable that a despotic regime would try to clamp that shit down, but much of it prompts wonder at why it would merit repression. The Round Eye video for “Sifter”—from the forthcoming Monstervision, an LP which includes “Billy,” and which features the final recorded performances of the late Stooges sax man Steve Mackay—features guys in an underground rock band being goofballs at an amusement park that could have been anywhere, cut with stolen shots of countryside and people that again, feels like it could be in any Asian country if you don’t look all that closely. It’s rendered compelling by the fact that it was shot furtively in a really heavy repression/censorship state. While “Billy” was an over the top attack on authoritarian violence, this feels like a mere travelogue.

Round Eye’s singer, the mononymic Chachy, took some time to talk with us about getting approval to bring the band to NK and their experiences in that nation.

Dangerous Minds: Obviously North Korea is a real diplomatic sore spot when it comes to Americans, how did you even get to go? Was it easier because you were coming from China?

Chachy: Well logistically it was. Politically we had to go through a screening process with a North Korean touring agency called UriTours. We had to get specific visas that could NOT go in our passports, and while we’re there mum’s the word.

DM: “Mum’s the word” meaning you had to keep it concealed that you’d been there?

Chachy: On our passports, yes. No stamps, no glued visa.

DM: Was that for NK’s sake or for yours?

Chachy: I really have no idea. Things were very vague when it came to documentation. They even held onto our passports for the duration of the trip, which was a week.
 
Keep reading after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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05.05.2017
10:30 am
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See what North Korean TV is really like with an uncut hour of weird propaganda programming
03.20.2017
01:56 pm
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It’s painful to contemplate the relentless gauntlet of oppression and misery the citizens of North Korea have endured for decades now. The reign of autocratic terror hatched by Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il, and his grandson Kim Jong Un is an occurrence we can only hope ends soon and is never repeated again. The three Kims are held up as something akin to deities, while most of the population starves.

In North Korea, the Korean War of the 1950s may as well have happened yesterday. There is no such entity as “South Korea,” it is all simply “Korea,” with the southern half temporarily occupied by American imperialists, who (as the propaganda never stops emphasizing) started the Korean War and have been intent on killing and raping North Korea ever since, an outcome stymied by North Korea’s dominating military forces.

By chance I’m in the middle of a pretty decent murder mystery set in North Korea—it’s called A Corpse in the Koryo, and it’s written pseudonymously by a westerner with access to the country.

For that reason I was extra-interested to learn that an hour of North Korean TV programming found its way onto YouTube yesterday. As might be expected, the programming is equal parts rousing, patriotic, and grim.

From the 10th to the 18th minute there is an amazing story, told entirely in the medium of dance, of a boy and his mother being brainwashed by a Catholic priest. After the priest kills the boy, the mother avenges the boy’s death. After the story is over, the text “Do not forget the brutality of American things” appears on the screen. Because the United States is all about murderous clergymen!

There’s a documentary segment about a clothing factory, followed by one about mining. Around the 35th minute we begin to get the truly demented patriotic pageantry that is associated with North Korea. A loud and uplifting song is played while stirring images of prosperous and colorful North Korea pan and fade in and out. For the first time we see copious images of the Glorious Leader Kim Jong Un.

The last chunk is dedicated to North Korean children engaging in music and dance. Two small children play a duet on a piano—this is followed by a solo dance of a young boy dancing with a stick.

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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03.20.2017
01:56 pm
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Grisly vintage North Korean anti-American propaganda art

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North Korea is the ultimate “safe space” where only one opinion matters and no dissent is allowed. Safe spaces stop the dialectic in its tracks—just like North Korea does not permit any serious critique of its Supreme Leader the “Shining Sun” Kim Jong-un. We may not dig what happens in our own western countries, but we are free to question, to protest and to instigate change.

We have the opportunity “[t]o see ourselves as others see us,” as the poet Robert Burns once wrote, which—one hopes—“would from many a blunder free us.”

These propaganda paintings show exactly how North Korea views America and by association the West. Fair dinkum.

The North Koreans and South Koreans suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of the American GIs during the Korean War. At one point during the conflagration the US had a “take no civilians policy” which led to hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

Atrocities were committed by all sides—but while those of North Korea and South Korea have been documented—those committed by the American Army only came to light after an investigation by the Associated Press in 1999. Here’s one example of the US Army handiwork:

Just weeks after the conflict had begun, up to two million refugees were streaming across the battlefield; they clogged the roads and the UN lines.

Under pressure and fearing North Korean infiltration, the US leadership panicked. Soon command saw all civilians as the enemy regardless. On 26 July the US 8th Army, the highest level of command in Korea, issued orders to stop all Korean civilians. ‘No, repeat, no refugees will be permitted to cross battle lines at any time. Movement of all Koreans in group will cease immediately.’ On the very same day the first major disaster involving civilians struck.

The stone bridge near the village of No Gun Ri spans a small stream. It is similar to a great many others that cross the landscape of South Korea, except that the walls of this bridge were, until very recently, pockmarked by hundreds of bullet holes. On the very day that the US 8th Army delivered its stop refugee order in July 1950, up to 400 South Korean civilians gathered by the bridge were killed by US forces from the 7th Cavalry Regiment. Some were shot above the bridge, on the railroad tracks. Others were strafed by US planes. More were killed under the arches in an ordeal that local survivors say lasted for three days.

‘The floor under the bridge was a mixture of gravel and sand. People clawed with their bare hands to make holes to hide in,’ recalls survivor Yang Hae Chan. ‘Other people piled up the dead like a barricade, and hid behind the bodies as a shield against the bullets.’

Corroborating the Korean survivors’ testimony are the accounts of 35 veterans of the 7th Cavalry Regiment who recall events at No Gun Ri. Perspectives differ, but the detailed memories of veterans recalling events burnt into their souls by their first days in combat are as painful as they are shocking.

‘There was a lieutenant screaming like a madman, fire on everything, kill ‘em all,’ recalls 7th Cavalry veteran Joe Jackman. ‘I didn’t know if they were soldiers or what. Kids, there was kids out there, it didn’t matter what it was, eight to 80, blind, crippled or crazy, they shot ‘em all.’

Along with the My Lai atrocity 20 years later in Vietnam, the killings discovered at No Gun Ri mark one of the largest single massacres of civilians by American forces in the 20th century.

The events of the war help turn North Korea into what it is today. Everything flows from the Supreme Leader. Every oppressive dictatorship implements a safe space—which should be a warning to all of us today.

I’m sure the following powerful anti-American paintings were successful in getting their message across, still I can’t help but think there is something very twee (dare I say bourgeoise?) about these paintings—like religious paintings for the already converted faithful or like GI comics or James Bond movies.
 
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More paintings of evil GI Joes, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.16.2016
02:12 pm
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North Korean paintings of contemporary China as a socialist utopia
10.24.2013
10:27 am
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CCTV Tower with Bountiful Harvest
“CCTV Tower with Bountiful Harvest”
 
In their exhibition “The Beautiful Future” at Beijing Design Week a few weeks ago, westerners Nick Bonner (Koryo Tours) and Dominic Johnson-Hill (Plastered8) pulled something of a Komar and Melamid when they commissioned paintings of contemporary China from North Korean artists.

The remarkable canvases that resulted challenge one’s notions of irony or protest—they seem incredibly pointed but may have been meant sincerely. One suspects that the fantastic juxtapositions—Maoist uniforms and karaoke, or socialist flags and office cubicles—were at a bare minimum prompted as compelling subjects by Bonner and Johnson-Hill. It’s a little unclear.

Several of the paintings feature notable architectural gems of the recent past, including the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, the Beijing National Aquatics Center by PTW Architects, and the CCTV Headquarters by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture.

As a deadpan provocation, it’s pretty fabulous.
 
Office Culture for Prosperity
“Office Culture for Prosperity”
 
City Migration
“City Migration”
 
Bird's Nest, Home of the People
“Bird’s Nest, Home of the People”
 
Water Cube for Clean Air and Healthy Life
“Water Cube for Clean Air and Healthy Life”
 
KTV Gives Us a Voice
“KTV Gives Us a Voice”
 
Disco Night to Enhance the Day
“Disco Night to Enhance the Day”
 
Glorious CCTV Tower
“Glorious CCTV Tower”
 
via designboom

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Behind the Great Wall: Life in China
Nifty futuristic images from Mao’s China

Posted by Martin Schneider
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10.24.2013
10:27 am
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Zany North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un gives gifts of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ to senior officials
06.17.2013
04:24 pm
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Kim Jong Un gave a lecture to high-ranking officials earlier this year where he mentioned that Adolph Hitler had managed to rebuild Germany in just a short time after it had been defeated in WWI and has directed his subordinates to study which aspects of the Third Reich’s rule would have implications for North Korea. He has reported also given gifts of Mein Kampf to senior officials.

A source told New Focus International, a North Korean news organization that sources from both defectors and anonymous citizens from within the country that the boy dictator wants to see if there are “practical applications” for North Korea to learn from Hitler’s successes and bolster the desperately poor state. Shirley Lee, New Focus’s international editor told The Washington Post by email that some of her sources think North Korea, a country heavy on race-baiting and its supposedly charismatic dictators, has a lot in common with Germany, although it’s probably the Nazis’ propaganda machine that is being the most closely studied, not the Final Solution (who would they pogrom against in NoKo anyway?):

“One source says there have been many overt attempts to imbue Kim Jong Un with an ‘intimidating charisma,’ such as having him shout very forcefully at associates (Kim Jong Il was never seen to do such a thing) and even throwing things at people. According to another source, this may explain why the [official state newspaper] Rodong Sinmun has been showing photos of Kim Jong Un looking angry and scary – again, unprecedented in the history of Kim presentation.”

Yeah, you, Mister Totalitarian Dictator, butch it up!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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06.17.2013
04:24 pm
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Americans are bird-eating, gun-crazed, kid-killing junkies says North Korean propaganda
03.13.2013
03:19 pm
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Unidentified American drinks a cuppa snow

Life in modern day America according to North Korean propaganda…

“This man, a former Republican candidate for Oregon who now has to get coffee, made from snow, from these trucks.”

“The weather is freezing, but the hot snow tastes nice.”

“These telephones do not work. There is no one to call.”

I’d give this one Pinocchio…
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.13.2013
03:19 pm
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Introducing The-Dear-Leader-To-Be: Kim Jong-Un?
04.21.2010
12:27 pm
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(Kim Jong-Un, left, beside his father, Kim Jong-Il)
 
How do you know you’re being groomed for something higher in North Korea?  Rather than feed your own people, you organize a pricey fireworks display!

The Mainichi newspaper printed a photo of a round-faced and well-dressed man accompanying North Korea’s “Dear Leader” on a visit to a steel mill in North Hamgyong Province in March.

Kim Jong-un is being groomed to take over from his father, whom some experts believe to be suffering from the after-effects of a stroke that has been worsened by long-standing diabetes as well as kidney and heart disease.  Little is known of his third son and the last photos confirmed to have been of Kim Jong-un were taken when he was in his early teens. Now believed to be in his late 20s, North Korea’s state-run media has been gradually raising his profile over the last 18 months, since his two other brothers apparently fell out of favour.

Kim Jong-un last week organised the fireworks display along the Taedong River in Pyongyang to mark “The Day of the Sun,” the 98th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the nation and Kim Jong-il’s father.  Kim Jong-il was himself entrusted with the event shortly before assuming a more important role in the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party.
The lavish fireworks display is estimated to have cost $5.4 million (£3.5 million).

This week, China, North Korea’s closest ally, predicted serious food shortages in North Korea in May due to a poor harvest last year. The regime reportedly requires 2 million tons of corn and other foodstuffs to stave off another famine.

North Korea: Rare Photograph of Kim Jong-il’s Heir Apparent Emerges

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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04.21.2010
12:27 pm
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North Korea’s Not So Funny “It’s So Funny”
04.14.2010
02:32 pm
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If you’re left unamused by the shameless mugging on Friends, you won’t be laughing much at this either.  Who knew North Korea had a long-running sitcom on the…oh my God, beans?  Hysterical!
 
(via HuffPo)

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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04.14.2010
02:32 pm
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What North Korean Children Sing About When They Sing About Us
01.27.2010
03:48 pm
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Three new books on North Korea were given a great round-up by Dwight Garner in today’s New York Times.  But I did find one detail in the review particularly compelling.  It was from Barbara Demick’s book (excellent, according to the NYT), Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea:

How are North Koreans taught to think about us?  Well, here?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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01.27.2010
03:48 pm
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Holding Hands In The Dark: Finding Love In North Korea
12.08.2009
05:22 pm
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Who would have thought there might be a romantic upside to living under a repressive regime?  Barbara Demick, the Beijing Bureau Chief at the LA Times, had an excerpt from her upcoming book, Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea running in the magazine over the weekend.

Pretty much the entire country is starved for not just food but power (see map above).  A lack of electricity, though, makes it much easier to choreograph a romantic rendezvous—especially when being seen in public might damage a career prospect, or, in the case of the woman discussed in Demick’s account, damage a virtuous reputation.

...their dates consisted of long walks in the dark. There was nothing else to do anyway; by the time they started dating in the early 1990s, no restaurants or cinemas were operating because of the lack of power.

They would meet after dinner.  The girl had instructed her boyfriend not to knock on the door and risk questions from her older sisters or younger brother.  The clatter of the neighbors masked the sound of his footsteps.  He would wait hours for her.  It didn?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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12.08.2009
05:22 pm
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