KOKO Gig Watch

Bangkok Indie

By Matt Smith

The Standards frontman Matt Smith gives KOKO Asia a first hand tour of the indie music scene in the bustling Thai capital, including reviews of Battles and New Young Pony Club live.

Easy tigers! So good to have you all with me and it’s an honour to have your attention. This is the first one of these that I have written so I think the best thing to do would be to get straight to it and introduce myself. I’m Matt, Matt Smith and I’m a London born music snob living all the way out here in roasting Bangkok. I was part of the music scene back in London, singing for various bands and doing the rounds of London’s best-known music venues. Moving to Bangkok didn’t kill the passion though and as I now front a banging indie band out here called The Standards, the good people from KOKO Asia have asked if I wouldn’t mind throwing a bit of light on the subject of Bangkok’s music scene and keep you all informed of what’s happened and what’s happening in this super cool city. Naturally and without hesitation I’ve jumped at it and here we are, at the start. And what a start it is too, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Let me first just paint a small picture of Bangkok’s music scene and the way it works. Firstly, and let me make this perfectly clear, contrary to what you might have seen or heard, Thailand and especially Bangkok is home to some great bands who are as confident and musically talented as any band I’ve played with back in London. Secondly, and very unfortunately these bands, the talented ones, are left unnoticed by event organizers and record labels. Unlike England where good bands are given the record contracts and the festival slots, in Bangkok, it’s the cover bands and the teeny bop bands (who actually claim to be indie) that ever get noticed. Give yourself spiky hair, try and sing like Michael Buble or turn out an awesome cover of Zombie by The Cranberries (don’t ask) and you’re pretty much guaranteed an element of success and a booking on nearly every music festival going for the next 20 years.

You see, things work extremely differently here: you don’t need an album out to play Bangkok’s biggest festivals and you don’t need a huge fan base either. Believe it or not, you just have to be liked by the organiser and this defiantly seems to be where the problem lies. Like all festivals these days, Thailand’s have sponsors, and it’s not only the people working at the event-planning companies who are in charge of picking the bands, it’s also the big wigs at the alcohol/mobile phone companies who think they know what’s best for our (or theirs, not sure which) musical ears. And we all know what these individuals who sit in a nice big office, play around with their latest laptop, wear ill fitting suites and sport appalling haircuts know about music don’t we? That’s right, not a thing.

There is a massive ray of light though (in the guise of) fresh and new indie nights and event organisers have been having a great time in the way of battling these forces of evil, trying to destroy the mainstream and expose the underground bands by getting them heard. You can feel it in the air - young, devoted music fans have had a gut full of listening to the same old shit be played to death and they have got out there, booked some bands, knocked up a flyer and made a stand.

New alternative club nights and live music events are springing up all over the city and more and more new, unheard bands are coming out of the woodwork to try out their sound on a by now curious and hungry public. I for one am very much a part of this movement. After helping to start one of Bangkok’s biggest indie nights, Club Soma, I have now gone on to form The Standards and also a second club night, Popscene, a indie/60’s night, and Popscene Live, a live music event. It’s going well and I can only hope it keeps going from strength to strength.

Anyway, what exactly are you talking about Matt? We need examples man!! Stop blabbering on and give us what we came on here for, some Bangkok info. All right, so here’s a little review about what’s been happening:

Saturday the 14th of April
Live @ Club Culture, Bangkok

Now I don’t want anyone to get me wrong, I’ve seen a lot of live music in my time and have been involved (and still am involved) with bands and gigging. I’ve been to the biggest festivals and seen the biggest bands, even played one or two big shows myself but I have to think very hard about a time, a musical time, when something came along and completely knocked me for six in the same way Battles did, late on that Saturday night.

To be honest, I’d only really heard the single “Atlas” and seen a few bits and pieces from TV appearances. But, as it later became apparent, this really didn’t matter. The sheer power and energy the four New Yorkers were able to create literally blew us all away and nearly took the roof of that cool little club. Is it indie? Is it shoegazer? Is it experimental? Is it “noise”? There’s not much singing, more a kind of shout here and there and there’s not much pause in between songs more of a build up and down. But to be honest, do we really care what type of music they are? I certainly stopped worrying about it after about two minutes. This is one of those bands, those rare, rare bands that rise up above any kind of genre classification and just do their thing, which is to create an immense wall of sound and blow their audiences heads clean off.

The crowd loved it; the band loved it, (“They said it was in their top five gigs of all time” said event promoter Paul Solomon); the PA system loved it and the mishmash of mixers, instruments and other flashing hardware they had various instruments plugged into seemed to know what they were built for and appeared to smile at their audience and band, willing them to build the song one more time and let the room have it. Immense, vast, pumping, awe-inspiring, the list is endless. Great support from local artists Gene Kasidit and Revenge Of The Cybermen just added to things and made this possibly the best musical event Bangkok has ever had the pleasure of putting its name to. For those who were there, this experience will take a long time to be beaten and an even longer time to be forgotten.

Saturday 21st Feburary
Tiger Translate Music Festival
Magic Land, Bangkok

Tiger Translate is a four month campaign that kicks off with a music event in the November of one year, shows up in various clubs and pubs throughout the December and January and culminates in a one day music festival late the following February. The Standards were lucky enough to be part of the opening show on November 1st on a cracking stage down Bangkok’s RCA and we were joined by Thai heros Flure and Scrubb. It was a great night and hopes were high for the coming main festival.

Lots of people had been looking forward to it. Firstly, as it’s a day outside, in the sun drinking beer and listening to music. Secondly, because we were lucky enough to be brought over the talents of London electro band New Young Pony Club. As expected we had to sit through quite a few mediocre Thai cover bands (yep, here they are again) with names as daft as “Thank You Teacher” and “Screwdriver” as well as Thai favourites “Slot Machine” and “Tattoo Colour”. It’s all right though - beer’s cheap and we can get a little bit merry and then have a jump about to the Pony’s later.

Then when we get there, we find out they’re not headlining. Odd we thought (and it’s still a mystery why they didn’t headline) but at least we’ll get to see them. Get to see them we did, but hearing them was another thing entirely. You see, the really clever people who organised the event thought it would be a good idea to hold a music festival on a patch of land surrounded by police stations and the private residents of the policemen themselves. So by the time New Young Pony Club eventually came on, the sound had been turned so far down, I was able to have a normal conversation with the girl next to me and be about 20 feet from the stage. The Pony’s looked a bit taken aback by things too. A long sound check earlier that day in the 40 degree heat and now jumping about in it on stage was taking its toll.

Even with a crowd who found it hard to get into a set they couldn’t really hear, the British streak shone through and they still gave it their all. “The Bomb” and “Ice Cream” still sounded great and few new tunes that they tried out sounded very promising, raising hopes for a good second album. Real shame about the sound issue though but I don’t suppose you can have everything eh?

Upcoming Events

So, here’s a few events big and small coming up in the not to near distant future in this city of sin.

Club NME
Friday 3rd May
Club Culture, 9pm-2am, 350 baht
Club NME makes its Bangkok debut courtesy of DJ Simon Subsonic doing his thing for the indie public and yep, here they are again, special guest DJ’s New Young Pony Club. As far as I know it’ll be two of the female members of the band spinning their all time favorites. So come on lads, bye em’ a drink, you never know.

Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow
Sunday April 5th
Club Culture, Bangkok, 500 baht
Club promoters Alarm Clock Panic hold their first event on Sunday with live bands Scrubb, The Papers, Jui Juis and Artfloor. A little pricy but this could be a goodun.

Mind The Gap
Every Wednesday
The Tube, Ratchetewi, free entry
They know their stuff, Mind The Gap bought us Battles and New Young Pony Club and now Bangkok’s best live music event has now gone weekly. Get down to the tube every Wednesday to see three local, national or sometimes regional bands do their thing.


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Date: 7th December 2008
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Xtreme Indie VI @ Raw Bar
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Date: 16th September 2009
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Live With Swine Flu @ The Common Ground, Bangkok 17/07/09
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Hujan Rocks Jakarta
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Hujan left a trail of good memories for the audience that night. I never even heard of the name until they came to Jakarta... read more
Sunburn at Sunburst
Date: 31st March 2009
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Rise of the Machines
Date: 19 March 2009
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Road to Sunburst
Date: 7th March 2009
The final night was thankfully set at my new favourite live music venue. Upon arriving at the lovely Urbanattic... read more
At The Concourse - Me and My Guitar: Zack Yusof
Date: 12 January 2009 & 13 January 2009
This instalment of Esplanade's month long Me and My Guitar series featured two evenings of stripped down guitar balladry... read more
This Charming Man
Date: 9th December 2008
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Once in a blue moon, something cool and unexpected happens in the Kuala Lumpur live scene to liven ... read more
Eastern Indie Eclectic
Date: 27th November 2008
By Johnny Mayo
Marking the start of their November Reign tour, Etc kicked off proceedings as the first band on stage... read more



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