Hugh Keice: The new pop voice of East End

Hugh Keice

“To be honest, I thought my life as a musician was over at one point,” Hugh Keice said softly, lighting a cigarette. Fortune has never favoured Hugh: he has seen darker days.

Hugh ‘Keice’ Kim, 24, is an acoustic singer-songwriter based in South East London. He earned an MA in Creative & Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths, University of London, last year. With plans to take up a PhD programme in Music Business, he calls himself an ‘artrepreneur’,

Hugh approaches music through the eyes and ears of a businessman. His 2010 debut album is a case in point; ‘When Summer Holds The Rain’ was independently produced, with Postino, and promoted by his own eponymous record label. Released under a Creative Commons license, fans are encouraged to mix and warp the songs to their liking.

Enamoured by digital technology, Hugh regularly interacts with his fans through social networks and sees piracy as a “useful promotional tool”. As if to extinguish any lingering doubts, a ‘name your price’ tag is attached to his debut effort.

Born in Seoul, South Korea to an artistic mother and an entrepreneurial father, Hugh’s childhood was filled with classical music, surreal drawings and violin lessons. “I’ve always felt more comfortable in Europe than in South Korea. The latter made me feel like an outsider, both socially and musically.”

“I never really shared the same prospects with my fellow Koreans. I mean, we had very different approaches to music.”

To his surprise, junior high school introduced him to a like-minded group of friends that would later form his first band.

“After graduation we formed a nu-metal band that drew from Korn, Deftones and Linkin Park. It was a lot of fun, but all of us went our separate ways and I went forward with my solo music career. Put together an EP that sounded a bit like Coldplay. It actually won a Music Choice award from Cyworld, a kind of Facebook for Korea.”

The songs come with bad memories for Hugh, however, who was in his final year at university. His first solo project was known as ‘Winter Tree’, and an indie label had approached him for a contract. “The A&R guy there was one of my closest friends,” he said. “I’d known him for five years and he was a fellow musician. Like a brother, he was very close to me and we’d go around festivals and jam sometimes. Naturally, when he offered to be my manager I was thrilled.”

But, shockingly, one day Hugh came home and found his pre-contract money was gone. His new manager was actually a fraud. “It was heart-breaking and very embarrassing,” he said. “The money disappeared completely and so did he. I couldn’t reach through to him and the deal fell apart.”

“The pre-contract money was quite a lot, and he was the guy in-between the label and me. I didn’t even know the label’s name, so in retrospect I guess I was really naïve.”

Given the time they had spent together, Hugh never asked about his friend’s ‘label’. “I just thought I should let him get on with it,” he said. “He was introduced to me through a respectable music producer, so I put all my trust in him.”

“My parents were literally broke as well, so I was working in restaurants and such. It was a really dark time. I felt completely broken and became sick of music and South Korea.”

A chance encounter with an established music producer changed his life. “Lee Sang Wu was his name, and he told me I was ‘meant to do music’,” he said. “I asked myself why such a big name would be interested in me, it seemed very surreal. He gave me inspiration, saying I just needed to meet the right people who could get me started. He introduced me to some music people, and right after that I knew I had to leave to London.”

With renewed confidence, Hugh recorded a debut album while doing a Master’s degree at Goldsmiths.

“I felt like I could breathe again after coming here,” he said. “It healed me and opened my eyes to music again. The main aim for me was to keep it all organic. I feel digital-based music loses its warmth, so I try to keep that nice analogue vintage feel going throughout the album. Everything was done by me in my home studio, with Postino behind the mixing desk.”

“My debut album draws from a lot of genres. I don’t want to pigeon-hole it into any one genre, but it’s inspired a lot by Jamiroquai, John Mayer and Coldplay. At its heart is a story about relationships and how love can change like the seasons.”

Despite being robbed twice in New Cross, Hugh aims to enrol on Goldsmiths’ PhD programme to further his ‘artrepreneurship’. “I’d like to explore independent music distribution and production further,” he said. “It’s a good time to be an artist with all the digital tools available. Looking back, I’m glad things turned out the way they did.”

‘When Summer Holds The Rain’ is out now, and Hugh Keice is recording new material for his next album release; stay tuned on ELL for a review. Visit his official website for gig dates and more information.

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