No contracts, no business meetings...
On October 31, Thai indie label Panda Records will celebrate their 16th anniversary at a beautiful old disused cinema in the Pinklao area of Bangkok. I've been lucky enough to be involved with Panda from pretty much the first gigs I played in Bangkok, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts about what this cool creative community means to me.
Panda Records is a rarity these days — an independent music label that prioritizes the promotion of interesting original music over making money, gaining critical acclaim or topping charts. A list of the bands that have released music with Panda reads like a who's who of the Thai indie scene of the past decade (there's a probably incomplete list at the end of this article). The label was started in 1999 by university friends Wannarit 'Pok' Pongprayoon, June Kalambaheti and June Somsiri Sangkaew in order to release their own music and the music of their friends.
Panda has always given the bands they work with total freedom to release and present their music exactly how they want. Once an album is released, it's mostly up to the bands to get gigs and promote their music. In other words, Panda Records is basically a small community of musicians, bands and artists who do it for the love of music and to do something creative for the local community. All the bands employ a hands-on, DIY approach to everything they do.
When I first came to Thailand with the intention of staying around 2007, I did some searching online for interesting music in Bangkok. The most intriguing stuff seemed to be connected with an underground art gallery and performance space called Nospace, and a small music label called Panda Records. I went along to Nospace, then situated in an old house just off Sukhumvit Soi 71, and met the owners Bank Sorrawis Insiriphong (who was also the lead singer of Panda band Redtwenty) and Yoko Sakamoto (a professional photographer who has captured many great publicity shots and album covers for local bands).
Bank offered me a gig at Nospace, and I performed solo under the name of Plastic Section. A lot of the Panda gang came to the show, including Pok and June from Stylish Nonsense, June from Bear-Garden, Tat from The Darlings, Pong from The Temporary Channel [Pong now plays guitar in Triggs and the Longest Day.] and visual artist King Nowhere. After playing shows like that for a while, Pok invited me to make an album for Panda Records. I invited a few new friends to join me, and those informal sessions resulted in the first Basement Tape mini-album. It was all done in a spirit of fun — just a group of friends hanging out, having a few drinks, sharing ideas and making music. That's the kind of spirit that comes to mind when I think of Panda Records. No contracts, no business meetings, no thoughts about being part of any kind of "music industry"; just friends getting together and creating something.
At that time, there didn't seem to be many foreigners playing in original bands in Thailand. The indie music scene was very small, and everybody pretty much knew everybody else. Since then the scene has grown, diversified and become much more international, which is a great thing, especially as it has remained a friendly and cooperative community. There are also amazing bands and small enterprising labels in Chiang Mai, Korat and numerous other parts of Thailand.
In this climate of energetic creativity and great music-making, Panda Records has grown under the guidance of Pok to include a diverse roster of amazing bands. People involved with the label have also created some amazing music festivals, including Stone Free, Keep on the Grass and Noise Market.
It's exciting to think about the music and bands that Panda will work with in the future. For what they've already done they deserve to be listed alongside the most interesting and creative underground labels throughout the world.
Bands associated with Panda Records include:
The Cat Cat Catz
From the Makers of Casablanca
My Post Life
Ooh and the Ballyhoo
The Sticky Rice
Read a review of Panda Scream Compilation CD (2004)