This is what I was thinking 3 years ago when I was still new to Bangkok. For 6 months or so I had entered a comfortable expat routine in the same old bars, listening to the same old shit and hanging out with good people. It was great. It was fine. Well, fine was no longer enough. Comfort doesn’t get things done. Comfort does not help find the elusive witchcraft of true originality.
Enough with Oasis. Enough of Coldplay. Enough of that one song by The Cranberries. Enough of all this being content. I needed more.
With that in mind I began to search for the music scene that I knew must exist but had not yet presented itself. Back in any major city in the UK you cannot move for bands, posters advertising them and their merchandise and on any given night out you’ll easily stumble across many venues with original bands on the bill. But here in Bangkok it isn’t so easy. I had been lazy sure, but here you do have to work a little harder.
With my minimal amount of Thai any request for live music often found me back at the carbon copy cover band bars. Most expat friends (like myself) really only knew of the common areas largely based around and near the BTS line. For months I found myself sticking to the same routines and it took a friend to push me out of this cycle - with his similar desire to find the underground music scene our ambition combined and grew.
We had heard of a band that would be playing at Haus 20 somewhere in the depths of Lad Phrao. Determined to find it my friend and I assembled a group of fellow teachers and crammed into a taxi. It was a school night. We figured we could go to the gig, see a couple of hours and all be tucked up in bed by midnight to continue our working lives in the morning like the good professional teachers we always are. Two hours of traffic later we arrived in Lad Phrao with no clue where this venue was (Google-maps has never really liked Bangkok anyway). After driving up and down for what felt like another hour we ditched the taxi and continued on foot. Grumblings from the group suggested that people were frustrated now. The plan was falling apart, the hard work of trying something new wasn’t going to pay off. People wanted beds and sleep and to stop wandering around places they didn’t know with little seeming reward for their efforts. So we sat in the next bar we found. The obvious solution at this point was to get a beer. There was a covers band playing on the stage. I sang along to an Oasis song – we all did. We had a nice time. Then everyone went home leaving my friend and I to taste defeat. We had tried to break the mould but perhaps we would have to return to the comfy routines.
But no, we would not be beaten. Not when we were so close to finally finding a real band. By this point we were mildly intoxicated and we hadn’t come all this way just to give up. We walked as far as another bar, asking everyone on the way for directions. Most of these innocent people seemed confused - some a little scared. Each bar resulted in another beer and more confidence and hope that we’d make it. Midnight came and went. Haus 20 was still out of reach.. and then.. through a large window pane I saw movement, guitars, and a drum kit..
The place was about to close so they let us in for free. Or maybe we just stumbled in without noticing that we were supposed to pay. Either way, we were in - we had found it!
On the floor at the front there was a madman smashing the effects pedals with his face and shredding the hell out of his guitar. At the back the drummer was causing what can only be described as utter devastation to the kit in front of him with a face like he really meant it too. The bass guitarist seemed calmer until you saw his fingers moving at light speed across his fret board and I’m pretty sure the vocalist was making the microphone bleed. And it was beautiful. We had finally found what we had been searching for. Here was some raw, original music that appeared to have no compromise. This was what these guys loved to do, you could feel it and you felt a part of it as they drew you in to mosh along. A whole new world had opened up and it truly felt like the start of something special. So we got smashed.
It turned out that most of the people in the audience were members of the other bands who had played earlier that night. There can’t have been more than about 20 people (perhaps because the place was so fucking hard to find) but they had all stuck around for the whole show. Shouting drunkenly at some of them over the volume of the impossibly tight riffs screaming out of the PA I soon realised they didn’t want to talk. They wanted to watch it and take it all in. And they were absolutely right so I shut up. At this stage my memory is hazy but I’m pretty sure we only saw a couple of songs and I’ve no clue what they were but I knew I needed more. The band had stopped but the night went on. Work the next day was a lot of fun.
The band that had made their mark so vividly all over the clean cut walls of Haus 20 was Degaruda and they immediately became my favourite band in Bangkok – not least because of the sheer passion and conviction with which they played. Their live show really is something that has to be seen and I have now done so many times, even having had the privilege to play on the same bill on several occasions.
Since then I have discovered so many places trying to help grow this small scene. I have been to many gigs and seen many new venues, some of which come and go quite quickly. Playing in a band myself, we are sometimes lucky enough to be invited to play at venues we’ve not heard of before which helps with the exploration of this fair town and also leads to the discovery of new, great bands all the time. Still in its infancy I’m sure the scene here will continue to evolve but it needs the support of people like you. People willing to make the effort to go and find the original places. Believe me they are out there and once you know where they are you won’t ever look back.
Haus 20: Design and Dine
Lat Phrao Rd, Khlong Chaokhunsing, Wang Thonglang, Bangkok 10310
Also find them on Bandcamp and YouTube
Moose, Ekkamai, August 27th & Fatty’s Bar and Diner, Din Daeng, Rama 9, September 6th 2015
Count the Thief
Also find us on iTunes, YouTube and www.countthethief.com
Next gig: Thong Lor Art Space, Thong Lor, September 5th 2015