South Korea to south London: Jun Ho Lee

Photo: Jun Ho Lee

The most important quality in a music producer is an undying passion for music itself – and anyone who meets Jun Ho ‘Postino’ Lee, owner of Postino Records, would know that in a second. A pair of studio headphones hangs casually around his neck, partially covered by his unkept hair. Demo tapes and music recordings adorn the studio desk in Camberwell Green, flanked by blinking audio equipment and cables of many lengths and colours.

Long ribbons of steam waft upwards from his coffee mug, clouding his thick-rimmed glasses. Lee was born in Seoul in South Korea – so out of all the other possible cities, why did he choose London? Wiping the steam away, Jun Ho says: ‘I like it here. There’s this something about the city that makes me feel good – the music, the arts, the culture…It’s all quite inspirational to me.’

Most of his inspiration and influence comes from European composers however like Ennio Morricone, known for Spaghetti Westerns and works like Cinema Paradiso, and Vladamir Cosma, renown for French films such as Le Bal and La Boum. Ryuichi Sakamoto is a large influence as well, perhaps best known for his score for ‘The Last Emperor’. ‘When I was about ten, I remember hearing ‘You Call it Love’, a single for Karoline Krüger composed by Vladamir – it brought me to tears. Listening to it now, the production, the lyrics…everything about it is, to me, perfect. I also remember my father playing one of Enigma’s tracks, Mea Culpa, that he had heard on the radio – I was so shocked, so impressed. I clearly remember how I felt; the rhythm of the drums, just…I just remember feeling something sexy about it all. I didn’t even know what ‘sexy’ was because I was only ten, but I just felt that feeling somehow.’

Jun Ho

Photo: Jun Ho Lee

It was the seductive allure of European music, then, that awakened a desire within him to compose abroad. ‘Absolutely,’ says Jun Ho with a grin, ‘my love for European music is what brought me here, though that wasn’t the sole reason. I was a pop music producer back in South Korea. I worked with some of the biggest names in the industry and enjoyed a successful career – I had a good reputation, I was making good money and people seemed to enjoy my work.’

It is hardly surprising that his colleagues called him a ‘crazy man’ when he announced his intention to leave South Korea at what seemed to be the height of his career. With bellowing laughter that echoes through the room, Jun Ho concurs: ‘They all did think I was out of it. I always wanted to do my own songs though, I always had this hunger of wanting to make my own tracks. I had to pander to someone else’s desires and rules as an arranger. I always wanted to break that limit.’ He finished his last project and became involved with acid jazz group Mogi as a keyboard player, later on becoming their producer. ‘We did an EP and things seemed to go well, but we had problems with our manager and sadly the group fell apart. I then decided to work on my solo pop album, ‘A Letter from the Postino’, and after that I made up my mind to go to Europe.’

Perfume by Postino on his debut solo album.

The positive reception of his solo album gave him confidence and certainty that he could achieve success abroad; and so, he traveled around Europe to decide where he would settle down. ‘Yeah,’ muses Jun Ho as he crosses his arms, ‘I remember going to Paris and feeling something odd about the place, somehow it didn’t feel right to me. London did though, as I said before. After settling down, I started releasing electronic music singles while I studied at SAE London in Audio Engineering.  At the same time I was a resident DJ at Concrete, a bar in South Bank Centre. I then decided to go to Goldsmiths to do an MA in Creative Practice, which I’m doing right now.’ Jun Ho believes academic study of music is important. ‘Absolutely,’ he says, nodding his head, ‘I feel that studying music academically provides a kind of creative fuel for my musical inspiration. I later released Bushey Hill Jazz House EP, which ranked #1 on JunoDownload’s DJ charts for a number of months.’

Jun Ho’s success on the charts and his activities abroad drew the attention of Korean newspapers; soon afterwards a Korean music label suggested he should return to the Korean market and release a new single. ‘I was already thinking about doing that anyway. Somehow I couldn’t resist coming back to the Korean market. I wanted to share my discoveries of music here in London with the people back home. Pop music in London tends to draw from other alternative genres, but in Korea the mainstream and the alternative don’t mix too well. I wanted to do that with my new single, ‘Eastern Cloud’, for the Korean pop market.’ Jun Ho believes the new single has great potential; it fuses classic Korean pop melodies with alternative conventions seen in progressive house and 80s synth pop. ‘Eastern Cloud is going to be released under an eponymous music project that consists of me and my brother, who does the vocals. He also manages all the promotion and media appearances in Korea, so it all works out pretty well.  I wanted to be more behind-the-scenes as a producer and he has that pop-star look, so he’s more suited to being on stage.’

Given the progressive nature of the song, is Eastern Cloud intended for the ‘indie’ market? ‘Oh it’s definitely aimed at the mainstream pop audience. The melodies and lyrics are quite accessible. Like most of my songs, the main theme is about time.  Time makes people mature, it allows people to look back, they can reflect on things…and be regretful, be happy, be sad. It’s my philosophy that, even if you’re happy, you can still feel sad.’

Jun Ho hopes to collaborate more with European producers. He plans to release ‘Eastern Cloud’ with a music video this coming June in Korea alongside house singles here in the UK; stay tuned for reviews.