Why Your Next Music Pilgrimage Should Be To Bangkok
Move over Austin.
Bangkok is a chaotic, sprawling metropolis famous for its lively nightlife, limitless shopping and culinary delights. But look left of the centre and you’ll be exposed to the city’s vibrant and increasingly diverse underground music scene, which would rival any great music city of the world.
With an international cast of musicians forming bands together, the friendly DIY music scene in Bangkok ranges in style from shoegaze to hardcore punk, fuzzy indie-pop to wildly experimental noise ensembles – plus everything in between.
Apart from the energetic local scene, Bangkok is now included in the itineraries of many great underground touring bands. Recent times have seen amazing gigs in small venues by Deerhoof, Mac DeMarco, Shonen Knife, The King Khan & BBQ Show, Melt Banana, The Dodos, Tonstartssbandht, Thee Oh Sees, Vivian Girls and more.
Here’s why Bangkok’s music scene is truly world class.
Bands That Rock Bangkok
While Bangkok started developing a small indie music scene back in the ’90s, it’s really diversified and grown rapidly in the past few years. There are now numerous small indie labels and bands putting a unique spin on pretty much every genre you could imagine.
A uniquely Thai take on modern psychedelic rock can be heard from spacey power-rock trio Abstraction XL, raga-rock three-piece Chladni Chandi and shoegaze band Hariguem Zaboy. All of these bands released debut albums in the past year or so with pioneering indie label Panda Records.
There is a strong hardcore punk scene in the Thai capital, and one of the most interesting bands in this scene is LowFat. Comprised of Thai and Japanese musicians and possessing an incredibly acrobatic singer, LowFat recently released Hello, My Slaves!, an experimental masterpiece of an album. LowFat’s drummer also sings and plays guitar in the grungy rock band Degaruda, who have a well-deserved reputation as one of the most exciting live bands in Thailand.
Garage rock is also going strong in the city with bands like The Sangsom Massacre, Triggs & the Longest Day and Deadtown Trash. Combined, their songwriting and live performances could put most internationally recognised garage bands to shame.
There are too many brilliant bands to cover them all, but some other groups of note are fuzzy pop trio Yellow Fang, indie dance-pop band Summer Dress, Americana crew Matthew Fischer & the Fishes, instrumental rockers Aire and Bangkok-based Japanese singer Eico, who swathes her haunting folk pop songs in cavernous echo effects.
The experimental music scene in Bangkok is characterised by one-off performances by musicians improvising in small venues and art galleries around town. Pioneers of this scene are the popular duo Stylish Nonsense whose unpredictable performances can range from electro to free jazz, or from ‘70s action movie music to ragged punk rock. Another interesting musician on the experimental scene is Wednesday, a solo performer who builds up guitar and drum machine loops to create a noisy yet beautifully melodic wall of sound.
Venues Around Town
As befits a fast-moving, ever-changing city like Bangkok, music venues tend to come and go all the time. While it can be frustrating to lose a great live house, always having new spaces in which to experience music helps to keep the scene fresh.
One of the most diverse venues currently operating is Zoo, a converted shop-house in the old part of town within walking distance of the famous tourist strip, Khao San Road. Zoo hosts nights ranging from experimental electronica to free-form jazz, with folk, performance art and rock‘n’roll in between.
Also in that part of town is Soy Source Factory, a large loft-like space that hosts cutting-edge art exhibitions, DJ nights and original live music events. Run by the same crew is the nearby Soulbar, which features live jazz and soul music on an almost nightly basis.
The area around the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market is fast becoming a new hub for original live music in Bangkok, with the large and newly opened Live House Studio at JJ Green and a number of small bars nearby hosting original bands. Cool and spacious bar Play Yard is another great venue near Chatuchak – a favourite for local bands launching albums as well as for touring internationals.
JAM is a small bar and gallery in the happening Sathon district that regularly hosts interesting DJ sets and original live performances. Eclectic DJ nights and live gigs can also be experienced at Studio Lam in the Sukhumvit area. Run by the crew that started the hip reissue label ZudRangMa Records, Studio Lam is the place to hear DJs and bands playing left-field offerings like local morlam and luk thung music, dub, African garage funk, Middle Eastern psych and experimental jazz.
The underground indie music scene in Bangkok is relatively new, so there’s a lot of excitement, energy and DIY spirit put into organising shows. It’s not unusual for bands of totally different genres to set up gigs together and attract an open-minded audience that is happy to check out something new.
Bangkok has become a great place to see famous international indie bands in venues much smaller than they would play in most other places. Even better is sampling the growing number of world-class local bands that are putting unique spin on just about any genre you can think of. Lacking the establishment and guidelines of a history laden music city, Bangkok’s burgeoning music scene is unrestricted, wild and alive.
Bangkok’s music scene is blossoming, and the sheer excitement and energy behind it makes it a must for music lovers who should consider heading there if only to say that they saw it first.
(Lead image: Jam Facebook)