This is an interview with diehard Bangkok music fan.
What years did you live here?
Describe the environment for original music when you found it. Make note of names, dates, venues. Use descriptive language to add the ambience.
In the old days of the late 90s, there didn’t really appear to be a scene, at least for a newcomer farang like myself. The economy had tanked and expats were leaving the city in droves. There were a few expat bands that played around the bars of Sukhumvit and beyond, the best of which was a three-piece called Jawa who played a mix of originals, covers, and covers re-skinned as originals (so “Farmer John” became “Farmer Somchai” and “Copacabana” became “Nana Plaza”). I even played bass for them for six months which was a lot of fun.
Starting around the new millennium, there was a lot of energy coming out of the print media at the time: Stirling Silliphant at Bangkok Metro and Manond Apanich at The Nation, and the two of them plus Dino and Top Tarasin kicked off the Eastbound Downers and began ROLLCALL which was a weekly email-only gig listing of events around town. This dove-tailed with a growing Thai scene of indie musicians and bedroom bands, of which Panda Records and their bands were a part, plus Bank Red Twenty and his Bangkok Alien Music Alliance label. Things started moving more quickly. It was a good time. You could almost guarantee a good gig every weekend, and I’d come home with a pocket full of beer-stained CDs, raving to my wife about some amazing and then-obscure band I’d seen at About Café, Code Bar or Asok Bar. Cool bands from overseas were touring here: buddhistson, Astreal, Muon, Factor 2 Grace, Furniture, Force Vomit, From Whence He Came. There were some incredible gigs!
What bands do you recall from your time here?
Too many to list here! Bands I saw:
Early days (expat bands): Jawa, The Bastards, John Michel and the Winners (I played bass in two of those!)
Early underground scene: Lucy Suicide, The Eastbound Downers, Futon, The Darlings, Goose, Desktop Error, Assajan Jakawan, Red Twenty, From The Makers Of Casablanca, Brand New Sunset, Death of a Salesman, Adulterer, Samurai Loud, Meaw er+, Stylish Nonsense, Bear Garden, Saliva Bastards, Kid Insane
Now: Basement Tape, Plastic Section, Deadtown Trash, Degaruda, Sangsom Massacre, Chladni Chandi, Hariguem Zaboy, Monomania, Yellow Fang, aire, W.Map, Gardener Twins (and a whole bunch more I haven’t managed to see but have bought their CDs)
How has the music scene grown since your time here?
Now there’s multiple shows every week, there’s festivals and events dedicated purely to indie and underground, there’s subsidiary businesses catering to these events – it’s becoming a community. In the old days it was like attending secret shows hopefully once a week, whose location always felt like a closely guarded secret. The cool factor was high, but the quality and diversity of bands was a littler lower, and a weekend without gigs was a disaster.
Also, back in 1997 when I first came to Bangkok I was told by a Thammasat student on Khao San Road (who shall remain nameless) that I couldn’t play in any band because I wasn’t handsome enough. That attitude is gone!
In your opinion what are the most influential bands in Thai independent music in last two decades? Explain all your answers.
There’s a few! Modern Dog and Crub for getting everything started. Futon and Apartment Khunpa for starting small and going big. Dino and Top Tarasin and every band they’ve ever been in for the last 15 years, because they’re like the Henry Rollins and Ian Mackaye of Bangkok music. Goose for bringing post-rock to Bangkok, along with an uncompromising aesthetic for noise. Assajan Jakgawan for flaming out all too quickly. Basement Tape and Plastic Section for switching it up, and Talkless and Slow Reverse for kicking off the dream-pop electro scene. Anyone at all playing in the last few years: there’s some amazing stuff out there!
With rise of digital age, what do bands need to do to see cash flow?
I have no idea. If I could solve this problem I’d be living and working in Bangkok as a musician, as opposed to working as a teacher out in the deserts of the Middle East!
What do Bangkok bands need to do to make it on international stage?
Be themselves. At some stage they have to make a decision on what they’re in it for. If they want to “go inter” they need to avoid signing to a big Thai label, which invariably compromises their ‘sound’. They need to put out consistent releases that demonstrate the development of their own unique musical aesthetic and they need to get out there and start touring, first with nearby countries, and then farther afield, such as Japan and China. Unfortunately the pursuit of this vision costs both money and time, and given most indie Thai musicians have at least one, two or even three other jobs, it’s extremely challenging.
Some bands you have witnessed became quite popular. What are some of them and to what do they owe success?
Desktop Error on the So:On Dry Flower label come immediately to mind, because they’ve put some consistently good albums (‘Keep Looking At The Window’, ‘Ticket to Home’, the ‘Songs From Home’ DVD), refused to compromise their shoegazer/post-rock roots, and toured to places like Japan.
Other successful acts that stick in my head are Gene Kasidit, for the amount of hard work they put into their career from the early days in Futon to now; T-Bone, who have been playing ska across the world for nearly 20 years now; and Yellow Fang, who have recently toured overseas as well.
Venues come and go in Bangkok. Which ones do you recall?
In the old days we played at a venue in Times Square called Half Moon Street, Warblers over on Soi Nana, as well as the Witches Tavern on Thonglor, the Living Room at Clinton Plaza, and King’s Garden down in Patpong.
For the early indie gigs I went to, they seemed to be split between Code Bar on RCA, Asok Bar on Asok, Noriega’s on Silon Soi 4, and a few other places around town. There was a nameless pub on Sukhumvit Soi 24 that had a few gigs, and also Peer Share on Ekamai. Plus About Café over in Chinatown had a whole bunch of different shows on, but unfortunately the cops would turn up fairly regularly there and close things down.
Nowadays, when in town, I seem to wander between Fattys (my favorite bar in Bangkok), Whiteline, Skytrain Jazz Bar, 1979 vinyl and unknown pleasures, Moose, Overground, Overstay, Play Yard, The Beer Cap and a few others.
Where do you buy music in Bkk?
I buy all my 1979 vinyl and unknown pleasures, 8 Musique, DJ Siam, happening shop, Nong Taprachan, at shows, and from bands. Also Archive Project on Facebook do an excellent mail delivery service.
What are your fave bands now and why?
Live, I always like seeing Degaruda, Plastic Section, aire, and Deadtown Trash if they’re playing. These bands always have great live presence and energy, plus good songs! There’s an awesome band called W.Map, which I’ve caught a few times (and when they finally release a CD I’m gonna be first to buy it!), and Monomania are always good (as are Hope the Flowers). Jinta and Yellow Fang blew me away at their Sofar Sounds gig. Bands and musicians I like to listen to and want to see live (but haven’t yet) are Inspirative, PC0832676, Sugar Analog, Free Typewriter, Celebities Owls.
How did you become involved in the music community?
I came back to Bangkok on a holiday and started looking for places to play at and bands to play with for our Saudi-Arabian punk band Wolves Versus Fairies. Then I discovered your blog, and this huge sprawling Facebook scene of bands, events and venues, and realized the scene had kept going all these years and was even more diverse and varied than before.
A lot is said and misunderstood about Panda Records. As a fan of the label how would you describe it, its ethos and guiding principles and organizational structure the way you understand it?
Panda Records are amazing. They were here virtually at the start, they’re still here now, and the diversity and quality of music and artists they release is unparalleled in Thai indie music history. I still have my copy of the ‘meaw er’ CD autographed by Pok and June from their Fat Festival gig! ;)
Andy lives in Saudi Arabia but on sojourns back to Bangkok, he can be found haunting music shops and underground music events. His reviews and commentary on the Bangkok music community have been indispensable to my understanding of the community and it's an honor to have him as a contributing blogger.
You can read more of Andy's thoughts on Bangkok/ Thai local bands here.