THE PUB WHERE I MEET 1300 is an aberration amid suburbia. We’re in a quiet pocket of Sydney’s inner west, where rows upon rows of fading terracotta fences give way to a beer garden strewn with kitschy debris and wheat-pasted posters. Once upon a time, it was a community club; now it’s a live music venue with an appropriately sticky dance floor – wooden parquetry weathered by froth and footfall. Outside, on this warm weekday afternoon, all is still.

Inside is a different story. 1300 – the Korean-Australian rap collective who burst onto the scene in 2021 like an infernal shriek – are here to work. They splay across the carpet and perch precariously off a timber bar. A camera flash momentarily illuminates the gilded curtains behind them; in the corner rests a display case with a model ship, a miniature bust of Alexander the Great and all manner of Hellenic oddities: swords, medals, trophies. It feels as though we have stepped into a zany grandmother’s parlour, equal parts musty and melodramatic.

1300 lean into the theatricality. At one point, all five members cluster over the camera’s lens like an indignant group of soccer players. They stare down the photographer with steely poker faces, then break character just as easily. Between shoots, they spar over the pool table and take selfies – in the fisheye mode preferred by any internetty tastemaker worth their salt, obviously.

They are surprisingly energetic for a group who have stepped off a plane from the US less than 24 hours ago, fresh from an appearance at Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music conference. It’s the latest in a packed line of achievements for 1300. In just three years, the group have accrued a raft of award nominations from Triple J and the coveted Australian Music Prize. They’ve worked on tracks by hip-hop’s most singular practitioners (Danny Brown, Theophilus London), toured the Australian festival circuit and tasted the spoils of minor celebrity in South Korea, where fans stopped to ask for signatures and photos. They now count everyone from Ghanian-Australian musician and Esquire cover alumnus Genesis Owusu to Bang Chan – a member of the K-pop behemoth Stray Kids – among their champions.

At SXSW, they played a late-night gig to a horde of international admirers on a line-up with “30 Asian artists”, says Nerdie (Angus Jin), one of 1300’s two producers. “It’s like you’re on an excursion,” he jokes of the show. “The ultimate networking event.”

1300 George mixtape Esquire Australia
Photography: Tristan Stefan Edouard

IT IS TWO WEEKS before the release of 1300’s second mixtape, George, when we meet in that pub. We’re huddled by a darkened edge of the room, where the din softens; in these close quarters, the conversation is mostly hushed thoughts and deadpan jibes. 1300 trade heckles with one another like an adoring family – an “Asian family”, specifies rapper and group member Rako (Jihun Kong), who introduces his bandmates sitcom-style.

Nerdie, he says, is the dad who rules with a carrot and a whip. “When he realises our faces are becoming more and more sad, he’ll give [us] some carrots.” Jason Vuong – the group’s other producer who performs under pokari.sweat – is the uncle. “You know when you watch Asian movies, there’s that one uncle who’s always gambling? When you have issues, you don’t tell your parents, but you go to your uncle because he’s been through everything and he says everything’s chill.” Vuong is currently supine on the floor, his face lit by a phone screen. “Sometimes,” says Rako, “he’s too calm.”

Then there’s Rako’s fellow rappers Goyo (Tae Kim) and Dali Hart (Andy Lim). Goyo is the “big bro”. He’ll indulge everyone’s whims but “when you make trouble . . . he’ll scold you”. Dali is the baby of the family. “The youngest kid,” Rako says. “He’s very vibrant. He’s the handsome idol type of our team.” That leaves Rako – fittingly – as the mother. “[He’s] a very poetic man,” Nerdie says. “Very romantic. Always checking everyone is okay. Very good at organising things.” Here, Dali Hart interjects: “Do you guys love each other or what?”

1300 Dali Hart Esquire
Photography: Tristan Stefan Edouard
1300 Pokari Sweat Esquire

LIKE ANY BAND that has experienced the gifts and curses of a meteoric rise, 1300 have been met with a totalising media coverage that threatens to flatten their iconoclasm. Their origin story, for example, has been breathlessly retold so many times that it now seems apocryphal. They met at a listening party in 2020 for a fellow Korean-Australian artist and three months later they were in the studio together. “I don’t think anyone had a preconceived notion of what we should do,” says Nerdie of the group. “It [was] kind of just like, hanging out.”

What happened in the studio, they agree, was far more interesting than their meet-cute. “It was very Asian,” says Vuong. “Like, Asian work ethic. I remember buying alcohol and weed, thinking, Oh, this is gonna be one of those sessions.” No-one ended up imbibing. “That’s one of the reasons we realised that everyone was here to actually do shit.”

Often, 1300 feel like the sound of attention deficit, like an infinite scroll into a rabbit hole filled with oddball references.

They left their first recording session with three tracks, the foundation for a pummelling, omnivorous style which flicks between dispositions like pages in a book. Genre- mashing is an understatement; speed is a given. Often, 1300 feel like the sound of attention deficit, like an infinite scroll into a rabbit hole filled with oddball references. Their universe bulges with homages to beloved anime characters, references to genres like hardstyle and shoegaze, and the band Smash Mouth – the amorphous tastes of a generation raised with iPod shuffles and music piracy.

“I grew up on my computer,” Nerdie says. As a child, his grandfather ran a bootleg DVD store out of their garage. Nothing was off-limits. “I watched crazy shit – like Korean horror films.”

One of those films — the 2003 revenge thriller Oldboy — inspired an early hit of the same name. It made its way onto their debut album, 2022’s Foreign Language, an instantly acclaimed record that, with its fleet-footed charisma and giddying, gaudy tracks rapped in both English and Korean, resembled little else in Australian music. “High-octane bilingual flows,” says Goyo, offering a parody of how they’re often described by clumsy yet well-meaning journalists trying to label their spring-loaded freneticism.

Photography: Tristan Stefan Edouard
1300 Goyo Esquire

IF FOREIGN LANGUAGE soundtracked their ascent, then new mixtape George introduces a creeping comedown, a loss of blissful ignorance. In the beginning, says Rako, “we were just very excited to meet everyone – anyone in the music industry who recognised us. But now . . . it’s not just purely loving everyone anymore. It’s like, Oh, shit: some people [were] putting masks on.”

Goyo calls George the “bitter reality”; several members hint at previous misgivings in their dynamic – a happy family that grew dysfunctional with age. “I guess we had growing pains,” acknowledges Nerdie. “We did get a lot of attention in the beginning, and when you feel like you don’t deserve it, then there’s some kind of pressure – you feel like people are watching what you’re doing.”

Recorded over one feverish week in Sydney’s bucolic Blue Mountains – with only trees for neighbours – George peers down from the peak to survey the expanse of 1300’s young yet successful career. Several songs scrutinise the demands of exceptionalism via allusions to Asian folk heroes; one is named after the Chinese basketball giant Yao Ming; another is dedicated to Rock Lee, a hapless, persevering ninja from the anime series Naruto. A track called ‘Wire’ opens with a pulsing beep, echoing like a probe in the cosmos, searching, questioning.

1300 Esquire Australia
Photography: Tristan Stefan Edouard

The mixtape offered the group a chance to expunge lingering tensions. ‘Levitate’, the record’s last track and the group’s favourite, begins as all their songs do – with a racing heartbeat, an imminent catastrophe hanging over each syllable – before dissolving into an outro of plangent wails, the melody carried towards the firmament like a distant dream. “It’s the one emotional song we have in our discography,” Nerdie says.

Rako’s vocals grow hoarse and discordant as the song closes – catharsis by way of noise. “I think that vibe was with us for quite a while – that little sprinkle of negative energy somewhere in our group,” he says. “We had to get rid of that somehow.”

It’s been 18 months since they recorded George. To 1300, it’s the sound of an ending – spring-cleaning the past to make space for world domination. At this, Nerdie grins: “It sounds like exorcising a demon”.


This story appears in the May/June 2024 issue of Esquire Australia, on sale now.

With special thanks to The Great Club, Marrickville.



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