... elicits the shadowy side of the human psyche...
Popscene returned to Bangkok’s live music scene with vengeance last weekend at Jam Cafe, by playing host to some of Bangkok’s finest local bands supporting the main act, Demarks Marching Church. Raising the curtain on promoter Popscene’s resurrection, was the native collective Hariguem Zaboy. The four piece subtly aroused the senses of the small but burgeoning crowd with some luscious shoegazing vibes. Lead singer Rungsimun Suwiruttanapast’s Slowdive-esque vocal dovetailed effortlessly with the fuzzy, shimmering guitar sounds of Napan Pichaikool. The very accessible tunes and punkish rhythms made the opening act an astute choice indeed in which to warm the souls of the audience and set the tone for the evening.
Carrying the baton for the second leg, was the prosaic The Pillers. The cleaner “bread and butter” sound of The Pillers featuring esteemed journalist Gary Boyle on bass and the ubiquitous Iman Ismail on drums was a sharp but engaging contrast from the more introspective Hariguem Zaboy. Lead singer Greg Morrissey is unafraid to wear his lovelorn heart on his sleeve, wistfully authoring tales of longing and loss, delivered with the Mancunian Morrissey-esque maudlin tone. The Smiths’ reflections are perpetuated further by the lesser known Morrissey’s chiseled features and immaculate hair, giving him a striking visual presence, allied with a powerful, overwhelming vocal, complete with feminine hip swinging. “Bread and butter” and stripped down the songs may be, but of course there’s nothing wrong with bread and butter, especially when the filling is tasteful. The root of the band’s discerning musical pallet, lies firmly at the Manchester music altar, with the chiming guitar vividly referencing the Stone Roses. However, to portray the band as simply a “nuts and bolts” northern English folk/rock band is somewhat unjust. The clever intervention Chigusa Tomita on trumpet (Chigusa-san is also known as Plastic Section bassist) augments the otherwise vocally dominant sound, with a welcome quirky ska distraction. Furthermore, the unison head-nodding of the crowd to the bands hooky melodies and toe-tapping rhythms of Boyle and Ismail are testimony to The Pillers ability to pen a good tune.
So to the main event, the highly anticipated Marching Church. The band’s singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt much maligned and revered in equal measure, creates a love/hate perspective which sharply divides opinion, which - if nothing else - gets people talking. As one of the previously uninitiated, my personal judgment was very much reserved. Regardless, only two songs into the set and the marmite (love/hate) quality of the band was made abruptly clear. The heavy, foreboding sound is definitely not for all and is challenging on the ear and far from easy to access; rest assured Marching Church will certainly not be heard in coffee shops or corporate elevators. As discussed with fellow Bangkok music fan and musician Joe Cummings prior to the band’s appearance, to be loved and hated in equal measure, must surely supersede being simply liked by everyone and therefore open to accusations of blandness.
Initially on the fence, by the intro of the third song, I was firmly batting for “team love”. The lead singer providing an antagonistic but undeniably captivating focal point for the band, as he sways back and forth/left and right in an uncoordinated ape like fashion, addressing the mic with a Jim Morrison style irreverence. The instrument players, in contrast, remain far more statuesque with a Kraftwerk like intensity. Conversely, the sound is far removed from the mechanical precision of the aforementioned electro pioneers, as Marching Church’s loose marauding rhythms and weighty bass tones create a dark hedonistic and malevolent ambience, reminiscent of the Doors and Joy Division at their brooding best.
The bands overtone is certainly one that elicits the shadowy side of the human psyche, but refreshing levity is provided via the shallower, up-lifting tracks - Heart of Life with its pounding Motown beat, Strokes/garage rock like rhythm section and fast/slow dynamic, alongside King of Life with its funked up horns, sounding like Screamadelica-era Primal Scream fucked-up on Ketamine. Pinpointing exactly where the band’s sound and dark ethereal quality emanates from, is very much open to interpretation. Those pitching for the hate brigade, may cite the sound as bordering on the wrong side of derivative, and lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt as being a contrived, self-loathing wannabe. The lovers, on the other hand, may argue Marching Church are the “real deal” and “mean it man” and believe Elias Bender Rønnenfelt to be an under-ground rock demi-god. I remain unconvinced either way upon this issue and the splinters from the fence upon which one sits, remain firmly entrenched where the sun don’t shine.
So the jury remains out on Marching Church and they will no doubt continue to riven opinion. Regardless, the hugely appreciative audience at Jam Café last Saturday night are certainly believers that - love or loath them – Marching Church are without question, worthy of your attention…. guilty as charged.
- Adrian Heron