Matt Smith is no stranger to controversy. In his seven year tenure as frontman and manager of The Standards and the event organizer behind Popscene he has both supporters and detractors. He has received both praise and criticism for the way he promotes. While bringing international acts such as Thee Oh Sees, The Cribs, Cloud Nothings and most recently Tonnstartbandht, local bands have been crying foul that while the international bands are paid, the local bands are never paid. His friends and supporters believe he has contributed much to Bangkok with Gary Boyle of the Bangkok Post Magazine saying, "Popscene's hiatus is a tragedy for the local scene. No other promoter puts on international acts for a few hundred baht." Some local bands have painted a different picture of the London native altogether. For Matt Smith, it is time to return to England.
For whatever reason, Popscene has seen the attendance at shows swell to a sweaty jam-packed room as in the case of Thee Oh Sees (Cosmic Cafe, February 2014) and then soar to a low of 25 people for Tonsstartbandht at Play Yard this past December. Following the dismal turnout for what was an astonishingly surreal performance by Tonsstartbandht (with opening acts, Local Machine and Father of Medicine), Matt posted the following on the Popscene Facebook Group:
Tonstartssbandht were one of the best bands i have ever seen in my life. Dynamic, challenging, rocky as shit yet low-fi and psychadelic. Such an utter shame it wasn't better attended.
Unfortunately what this means is that it has now got to the point where I can't afford to do this anymore because tickets aren't being sold.
No tickets sold = no money to pay international bands. After seven years of organising Popscene the next three events will be the last for quite a long time. Please come to them.
Recently, I sat down with Matt Smith and talked about the music business and in particular the challenges of planning a tour, advice for bands and of course promoting Popscene.
The interview was conducted in a coffee shop on Monday, January 5, 2014. There is a lot of background noise and my editing (especially the transitions) and productions skills are still a work in progress. Thanks for reading and listening. Remember the last Popscene show is at Lang Suan Castle on January 17th with The Sangsom Massacre and The Ginkz opening for Iceage.
I have known about The Standards for years maybe dating back to 2009 or 2010. There was a show I attended at The Rock Pub at Ratchatewi February 10, 2010 featuring Goober Gun, Abuse the Youth, Ghost Story (members of that band went on to Degaruda, aire, and Kinetics). This was way before I dove head first in discovering underground music in Bangkok. The Standards were impressive due to their professional package – they had slick rock videos, articles written about them and were doing international tours. I knew who they were – they practiced at the same studio I did with my band (no name, we did one show) and I remember one weekend morning riding the BTS past Coco Walk and seeing them hanging out in front of Music Society probably waiting to rehearse. Once during the 2010 political turmoil, I walked out of the studio and saw guitarist, Paul Smith sitting there smoking a cigarette. I tried to make conversation about the unfolding chaos, but he wasn't game to talk. Fast forward to February 2012. The Standards are playing a gig at Robin Hood with Mattnimare. It's Friday night and there's a special on Tiger for 120 baht. The Standards play an energizing set to a crowded yet seemingly indifferent room. Was anyone listening? I am not sure, but I was. When the show is over, I watch the band pack their gear, remove the Popscene or The Standards banners and exit.
In late 2012 or early 2013, Matt posts a video of a band called Thee Oh Sees from San Francisco. Let me paraphrase: Would anyone go and see this or will you just stay home? I watched three seconds of the live video shot at a Pitchfork festival and knew I'd be there: I would definitely go! The frenetic 4-piece were a band that commanded attention. There were many life-defining moments for a still unborn rock philosopher in the latter half of 2012 and the first half of 2013. Thee Oh Sees was definitely one of them.
I remember walking to Cosmic Cafe at RCA all the way from Soi 8 Sukhumvit with my leather bag with a laptop and camera. The show starts off mellow with Class A Cigarettes a prog rock kind of instrumental band. Then the hardcore punk band TSOS fronted by Ed Rudy blazes through their ridiculously fast-paced set. Next, The Standards take the stage and deliver the uplifting rock and roll hymns influenced by 90s Britpop. When Thee Oh Sees take the stage, let's just say there is an epiphany despite the heat, humidity of the room. By the end of the week, I'd started my Weebly blog, uploaded Thee Oh Sees video, wrote some commentary. One could argue this was the moment the Rock Philosopher was born. Sure, I added a few posts later and predated it so it looked like I had existed all along but this was the very first post. You can read my blog post of the show here.
So as much as the integrity of Popscene was under question to the extent I have to admit it was hard for me even to be objective at times, I do feel indebted for the experience of witnessing such an amazing live performance. Were not for Thee Oh Sees, would I be an uninspired mass of flesh without a soul with no passion and mission in life? The answer to that we will never know but I am grateful.