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‘Twas a time of chillin’, romancin’ and being young. Everything was nearby, whether it was a video rental store, secondhand bookstore or a record store. The 1990s was a golden era for the all the kids on the block who knew how to kick it

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When old school video was new, Okin Theatre

The ‘90s was the time of movies on VHS. Cine 21 and Kino came out in 1995 and the Busan International Film Festival held its first event the next year. People formed movie clubs on PC networks (even before the World Wide Web) and people causally talked about films with Uncle Kim at the video rental store. Cinetown, which was allegedly the largest video rental chain in the country, is now nowhere to be found. Instead, there’s Okin Theatre, a place where you and your childhood friends can go reminisce about the good ol’ days. Built in a western-style two-story house, Okin Theatre is an independent movie theater founded by five guys. Although they screen movies, more people visit the VHS shelf on the first floor. There are two televisions and two white chairs, and the shelves are filled with quite the collection (but apparently you can’t rent the videos). Video-viewing rooms are free of charge, but there’s a catch: Don’t forget to rewind the tape for the next person.

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A ‘90s Sinchon college street, Damotori

The Korean TV show Reply 1994 takes place in Sinchon. In the show, students from the countryside first meet one another at a particular boarding house in Sinchon. It’s where students from Yonsei, Ewha and Sogang Universities came together to indulge in their youth and culture. Everyone’s meeting point used to be the Sinchon clock tower. Long story short, Sinchon is the epitome of ‘90s college life. And ever since 1987, Damotori is the bar that has been the go-to watering hole for freshmen and the upperclassmen. Now there are five more branches, but to get the full-on ‘90s experience, go to Damotori 1 (each branch has a number according to the order of establishment). Scribble your favorite song on a napkin, pass it to the DJ and they will play anything from protest songs to the pop hits of the era. Plus, there’s no need to feel awkward if you go ahead and sing along with your friends. Recent grads of these schools come to reminisce on their glory days, and the current students avoid this particular branch so that they don’t run into their professors. Get your grasp of Korea in the ‘90s here at Damotori 1.

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Interview: Singer Kirin

How Kirin spins it

With his hairband wrapped around his perfectly parted hair and his beat-up leather jacket decorated with logo patches, you might think he just popped out of 1990s Korea. Even though I confused him to be a washed up ‘90s singer, he actually debuted in 2011 with a new jack swing album and starred in his own music video, “Jigyeowoe (Tired of you).” From the ‘90s beat to the awkward posture and his painfully retro taste in fashion from head to toe, everything makes sense once you watch the music video (lost yet? try looking it up on YouTube first). Although his style and music are more than a mere imitation or borrowing from things of the past, when it comes to his music, Kirin is keepin’ it real and now.

“I make new jack swing music and paint in Seoul. Because I’m originally from Daejeon, I’m not an expert when it comes to Seoul’s ‘90s culture. I only vaguely remember the things I saw on the news. Unlike a lot of people believe, new jack swing, my main avenue of music, isn’t anything new. It’s a genre that has gone through decades of transformation that peaked in the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s. Artists like Lee Hyun-do or the hip-hop duo, Deux, were the first to introduce this in Korea, and I believe that every single well-known singer during that era tried new jack swing at least once. 
I myself was a fanboy of Lee Hyun-do, and listened to a lot of hip-hop growing up, like Jinusean’s first album. And I still love them to this day. I tried really hard to recreate that kind of vibe when I was working on my first album. Although I didn’t sample them directly, I used the samples that everyone else uses these days and I think the overall mood kinda fooled people. I get questioned as to where I got all the [music] sources. Now, I focus more on how to make better music than on just sticking a very retro style. That part just comes naturally because that’s what I like. What I’m wearing today is also just how I dress all the time. There will be some changes and adaptations, but I remain the same.”

Talked about then

Seo Taiji & Boys

Seo Taiji & Boys

The OG idol group. The news of their breakup headlined the 9 o’clock news of all three major broadcasters on January 1996.

Beeper

Beeper

Before your Motorola brick phone was considered “dope,” people paged one another through personal beepers. Only the “hella wicked” cafés had phones on each of the tables.

PC communication

PC communication

HiTEL, Chollian and Nownuri dominated PC communication before the days of the Internet. While the speed was slow as molasses and the phone bill would add up to a hundred bucks, a few minutes of PC connection was blissful to say the least.

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Gen X

Gen X

The term for ‘90s twenty-somethings who eschewed social norms and found their identity in the state of autonomy.

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