So you get the Bangkok Skytrain to Siam Square and jump in a fifty baht tuktuk to Hualamphong railway station and then trek past the sidewalk army of Isaan girls selling papaya salad, to the legendary venue known as About Café, on the northern fringes of Chinatown. The place is heaving with people and after grabbing a green bottle of Heineken from the cooler you turn and contemplate a band unlike any other that you have seen in Bangkok so far. Partly it’s their age – they all seem quite young and some of the [much] older folk in the audience are almost certainly their parents. But mainly it’s the music – brief moments of quiet introspection balanced against grinding slabs of glistening white noise heralding the new sound of urban Asian alienation.
The band was Assajan Jakgawan and I’m pretty sure that gig at About Café may well have been their debut show. I was also lucky enough to see them play at the SO::ON Dry Flower show in March 2007 or 2008 at EVI Place Ekamai where they completely tore up the stage. Their line-up was Wanarat Chaiyapan (vocals/guitar), Sansorachattorn Pruntarikchart (guitar; apparently also known as Thom AJ Madson – more on him in another blogpost!), Pathompon Tesprateep (drums), and Nuararat Suksomstarn (bass, piano). Sadly, they released just one 5 track mini-album which I was fortunate enough to buy at the old DJ Siam corner-shop as soon as it was released. The five tracks, all classics, are:
- Mai Keu Ru (“Never Know”) – this starts as a very soothing intro with strummed acoustic guitar and ethereal falsetto vocals before taking a savage turn into sludge-like stomping primal noise. And then it does it again, but even noisier. A total live staple of their shows!
- Pleng Rang Guy (“Body Music”) – the token rock anthem that cracks along at a Goose-like pace aided and abetted by plenty of soaring guitar solos. I particularly like the “Chuay Gun!” (Help each other!) battle-cry at the end!
- Reverse – There are two versions of this behemoth-like epic: the short version, which is accompanied by the band’s only official music video; and the long version from the mini-album, which is way better (and also perhaps appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Hi-So). Again, more quiet acoustic guitars and confessional vocals, followed by rock, then silence, then repeat, and finally an eruption into absolute bat-shit noise freak-out craziness by the song’s end. Wanarat’s demented howling at the end of the song’s second cycle is spine-shivering; the rage that powers it, particularly when played live, impressive.
- ... (AKA Por Lew “Enough”) – Spooky, piano-based number that wanders all over the place, like an old Thai teak-house full of schizophrenic ghosts.
- Phut Lom (“Electric Fan”) – Shimmery Sunday morning soundscape which ever so gradually morphs into a rising crescendo of sinister organ-grind.