In 2003, Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook released his blood-spattered neo-noir Oldboy – the film that would win him the second highest honour at the Cannes Film Festival (despite the efforts of Quentin Tarantino) and serve as his breakout picture.
Similarly, when 1300 dropped their single ‘Oldboy’ on February 4, the Korean-Australian hip-hop collective saw it as a huge milestone. Producer-singer Nerdie and rapper rako are practically buzzing when they catch up with NME to talk about the release. “Making music is not playing League of Legends anymore,” rako says. “It’s more like now [we’re] following [our] dream.”
The collective 1300 is rounded out by rappers goyo and DALI HART and producer pokari.sweat. They dropped their debut single ‘Brr’ in January 2021, and from its opening moments, it was obvious that 1300 were going to flip Aussie hip-hop on its head. rako, goyo and DALI HART switch seamlessly between rapping in Korean and English, while its production sounds tailor-made for an underground rave thanks to deep, glitchy basslines paired with 808s that’ll echo through your bones. Comparisons to ‘Saturation’-era Brockhampton feel apt, not least for the similar sense of fearlessness and freedom in 1300’s music.
The five of them met at a release party for fellow Sydney artist Yura, who was a member of Aisleland alongside goyo and DALI HART. Meanwhile, pokari.sweat and Nerdie provided production for Yura’s 2020 EP ‘Scrapbook’. After COVID hit, the members of 1300 were each trying to work out what paths they would take musically. All turned to Nerdie for beats, and a session at pokari’s studio proved to be the catalyst for the group, who made three tracks on their first day together.
It was full steam ahead for 1300 from then on. They built on the ground-shaking experience of ‘Brr’ on following singles ‘No Caller ID’ and ‘Smashmouth’, which both show off what each rapper brings to the table: rako’s flow is bouncy, DALI HART’s laidback, and goyo’s urgent. Together, they keep listeners on the edge of their seats.
Throw in the energetic and unpredictable production by pokari.sweat and Nerdie and it’s no wonder 1300 have made fans of Genesis Owusu (who cast a vote for ‘No Caller ID’ in the triple j Hottest 100) and Bang Chan of the K-pop group Stray Kids, who recently recommended ‘Oldboy’ to his fanbase, sending many new listeners 1300’s way just earlier this week.
“Shows are what our music is made for. It’s not for sitting down at home with headphones on”
1300 are part of a tight-knit community of Korean artists making music in Sydney, one that rako explains is “so small that we actually know everyone”. Nerdie highlights that this community is part of what brought the group together. “Being Korean and all growing up here, we have very similar experiences,” he says. “We get each other, which is why when you first meet it’s that thing where it’s natural because everyone understands each other. We did all grow up listening to Korean music as well, so there’s that.”
The group pay homage to one of their favourite Korean movies ever on ‘Oldboy’. In Park’s film, protagonist Oh Dae-Su is released after 15 years of imprisonment, only to face the seemingly impossible task of finding his captor in just five days. In the music video, each member of 1300 steps into Oh’s shoes and re-creates an iconic scene from the movie. It was as fun to make as it is to watch. “I think everyone enjoys working on our sets because it’s just like a bunch of friends just trying to be natural and let the best thing come out,” Nerdie says. “That’s the sort of energy you need to really bring – it’s honest fun. It’s like a bunch of children making whatever they want.”
1300 are right to view ‘Oldboy’ as a fresh artistic peak. The producers turn hyperpop-adjacent synths and trap-influenced hi-hats into a knocking beat, while the rappers all flex ferociously on the mic: goyo sneers “quit acting like you came up from the slums”, while DALI HART declares “I got my whole team / With me / You can not do nothing”. Listeners pricking their ears up at the first sign of beef should know, though, that its lyrics were written from the perspective of Oh Dae-Su. “We are boys filled with love,” rako quips, “we don’t hate anyone.”
The Oldboy protagonist returned to an unrecognisable world after over a decade in captivity. In 1300’s case, they’re moving past making music in their bedrooms and finding themselves on the radar of music fans everywhere. “My lyrics were talking about how everyone’s been doing music for a while, we’re finally kind of doing it, like even in our parents’ eyes,” rako explains. ”It’s not a joke anymore, it’s not a hobby anymore – we’re actually doing it.”
1300 are tight-lipped on the possibility of a project in 2022, with Nerdie joking “I’ll have to speak with my lawyer” and suggesting that NME write that a new 1300 project is a “maybe, with a winky face”. They’re much more open about their other plan for the year: a return to the stage, where 1300’s music truly comes alive.
“We really love shows,” Nerdie says. “I think that’s the essential thing that we all love because that’s what our music is made for. It’s not for sitting down at home with headphones on. It could be that too, but it’s better live when everyone’s jumping and shit and you can see the energy.” They’ll be playing Yours and Owls in April and Splendour In The Grass in July, two massive festival bookings in what should be a brisk touring schedule this year.
Nerdie summarises 1300 as “five voices. Five minds, all very different. Different opinions” – but that feels like an understatement. More than ever, Australian rap is finding a global audience, and the group’s hectic English-Korean hip-hop puts them in a prime position to cross over. The world should watch out: 1300 are coming.
1300’s ‘Oldboy’ is out now