On April 8, 1963, the Walker Hill resort in Seoul opened its doors. Located on the mountain named after former US army general and Korean War casualty Walton Walker, its developers hoped it would persuade wealthy American residents to spend their foreign currency on the premises rather than on Okinawa or Hawai`i. It comprised a hotel with a casino, a modern W-shaped bar on a hill, several luxury apartment buildings, and a large number of leisure facilities, including tennis and basketball courts, and swimming pools. Although pamphlets boasted about it having Korea’s first bowling hall and “Oriental-type food with Korean specialties and folk dancing and music reminiscent of old Korea and her people,” the resort became known in particular for the Pacific nightclub’s offer of Moulin Rouge-like revue dinner shows. Heavily involved in the resort’s development, the government ensured that many foreign officials were invited to witness the shows, which were well above the pay grade of the average worker and promised an ambience of success and cosmopolitanism. Somehow in line with the government’s cultural policy and strict censorship apparatus, racy dance performances on the nightclub’s center stage were a regular feature. Over a period of approximately half a century, during which the clientele changed considerably, the shows had a profound influence on Korean music. They boosted the popularity of many Korean stars, and set new standards of performance for both traditional and popular music. How did one venue manage to exert this much influence on Korea’s music scene? And in what way did this influence correspond with the change in audiences and audience expectations? Focusing on the importance of location and its various associations, I argue that in spite of their impact on music, the Walker Hill shows were a site where in the performance of taste, music was secondary to ambience and the company of fellow diners.
Roald Maliangkay is Associate Professor, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University.
This event is cosponsored by the East Asian Studies Center.