Photo by: Mimi Vuong

Justin Trash, Joe Rascal, and Roc Lee – collectively known as UPTOWN BOYBAND, are on their way to putting Canada on the K-Pop map.

Originally solo acts, the three Korean-Canadian artists teamed up to create what would later be dubbed as Toronto's first alternative K-Pop band.

“We learned that we all had the same vision and values when it came to making music, which led us to form the group,” recalls member Joe Rascal.

The trio credit their musical style and artistic vision to their communal love for K-Pop and their Korean roots combined with their North-American upbringing and passion for the art of hip-hop. With their music, UBB strives to carve out spaces and help bring representation to their homegrown culture:

“We don’t really have many Asian-American or Asian-Canadian figures to look up to and we definitely live in that middle ground where we have a Korean background but we live a Canadian lifestyle. We want to be the bridge that helps close that gap.”

Much of their alternative appeal is what sets UBB apart from other K-Pop acts, with merged elements of pop and trap that are truly distinctive to their crew.

“The lack of representation helped us create our own path without any restrictions,” says Justin Trash. “There was no rule book, so we want to be the role models we never had.”

UBB first paved their way to success by gaining traction as an opening act on select dates for South Korean rapper BewhY’s Canadian tour. It didn't take long for the group to rapidly gain mass amounts of listeners and dedicated fan accounts, from all over the world.

Their latest single follows the previously-released trap-heavy track "KULT FREESTYLE" and the more dancehall-inspired song "READ MY MIND."

The most recent UBB release comes in the form of a new track and video for "BAG$." The lyrics tell a story of "a strong passion for love" and are accompanied by visuals that pay homage to the neo-noir film Old Boy.

With more music and videos slotted for the near future, UBB are ready to make their mark.

Q: UBB is credited as “Toronto's first alternative K-Pop group.” How does your sound differ from traditional K-Pop and who are your musical influences? 

ROC: As Korean-Canadian artists growing up in Toronto, we learned to implement some of our inspirations of both Western and K-Pop music into our sound. Blending those two cultures together, is what makes our sound differ from traditional K-Pop music. Our biggest musical influences include BIGBANG, A$AP MOB and ODD FUTURE.

Q: You three were originally solo acts, what was the deciding factor in coming together to form a group? 

JOE: Roc Lee and I knew each other in high school and we were both experimenting with music at that time. A mutual friend introduced us to Justin Trash and when we met up at a bar one night, we learned that we all had the same vision and values when it came to making music, which led us to form the group UPTOWN BOYBAND. 

Q: How did inking a record deal with Sony Music come about? 

JOE: Word was getting around about our live shows and we started to get interest from a number of record labels. One of them was Sony Music. The deal didn’t come about straight away, we wanted to take our time and make sure the label shared the same vision as us. We collectively agreed to ink the record deal because ultimately we knew they could help us achieve our goals as a group. 

Q: Tell us about your new track "BAG$."

ROC: This song tells a story about our strong passion for love, but we incorporate the theme of using symbolic items such as expensive bags and money to express those emotions.​

Q: The music video is an ode to the neo-noir film Old Boy. What can you tell us about the making of the video? 

JUSTIN: We shot this music video in a span of three days outside of Toronto in Elora and Hamilton, in some really unique and isolated locations. We wanted the music video to pay homage to the film Old Boy, where there’s also a scene showing a box in an open grass field. That scene paved the way for the rest of the video and sparked the idea to have earthy environments as a backdrop. Korean films have a very unique style in their stories and production and we wanted to apply some of those styles to our own music video. We wanted to attach the characteristics of confusion and intoxication into the performances because "BAG$" carries a very expressive set of sounds. 

Q: How important is it for the music industry and beyond to create spaces and have representation for all different cultures and ethnicities? 

JUSTIN: It’s extremely important. Many industries of the world would not function without the helping hands of BIPOC, and I think change for better representation begins with us educating ourselves on these different cultures and the injustices that exist in the world, or even in our own backyard.  

Q: What’s next for UBB?  

ROC: We have a lot more music and videos coming out real soon, and we are just really excited to share that with everyone. So make sure to follow us on Instagram @uptownboyband_ for all our new updates! We hope everyone stays safe and healthy in the meantime, and we hope you guys enjoy "BAG$."

Apple Music