Today we feature part 2 of Jeremy Hartley of the Thai band The Darlings and his look at the Thai rock and roll scene. So relax as we drift off to the sticky sweet Thai capital of Bangkok for more rock and roll fun. Take it away Jeremy!
The very first concert I saw here was at the bar. Noise restrictions made it impossible to organize concerts there on any sort of regular basis (this lack of a regular venue around which to build the scene continues to be a problem, though not so much that it is a burden, which I’ll explain later), but these regulations are suspended on public holidays, during which Khao San is typically packed solid with people. The first Immortal show I saw featured two nu metal rock rap outfits, Ebola and Cough. To my live-music starved ears these bands sounded not so much like Linkin Park knock offs as straight up rock machines and it was refreshing to see the kids go absolutely nuts when they the bands took the stage. Several months later, the owner organized “Sepulchrefest”, for which he invited a group of nine or ten bands to play short sets that included at least one Sepultura cover. As lame as this concept was, License to Kill and the now defunct Superman, two insane hardcore bands from the Thailand Hardcore Collective, tore the place to shreds.
Sadly, after several months of attracting few customers, Immortal Bar found itself in the unfortunate position of having to find a way to cater more to the automatons wandering up and down Khao San Road. They brought in several DJs who played the sort of B-grade hip hop that brought in the party girls who brought in the soccer hooligans who filled up the register and emptied the beer cooler. I was squeezed out as DJ in favor of guys who could play Nelly and Destiny’s Child without any qualms.
Right around this time a group of people appeared on the scene with a strong DIY spirit.
A punk rocker named Sophie opened Chaos City punk bar, tattoo shop and all-around squat in the northern city of Chiang Mai. The scene up there is very strong, covering punks, rude boys, Vespa-riding mods, black metal, nu metal, garage rockers, everything (which is strange as there are more Thai people in LA than there are in Chiang Mai). The Chaos City house band, Decay of Thailand, put on fierce sets of all covers, which is unfortunate, but they definitely owned those songs. Last I heard, Chaos City closed its doors and the Nasty, the lead singer of Decay, left the band. Sophie is still working to book shows and promote the scene and can be reached at email@example.com , and fronts her own punk rock band Atomic Influx (I think).
A guy named Chris also puts out a hardcore zine, sells CDs and promotes the Thai music scene. He can be reached via his website at Elephant Eye Records. Chris is a good source of information relating to punk and hardcore across the entire Southeast Asian region.
The guys from the Eastbound Downers held their first gig during S Downer’s birthday in 2002. He had rented two barges and a sound system and we floated down the River Kwai (as in The Bridge On, starring Alec Guinness) to the sounds of the awesome metal-core band Zealot and the Eastbound Downers. Everyone got drunk and mean diarrhea. The Downers’ music draws inspiration from a strange mix of bands including At the Drive In and The New York Dolls and they are pretty awesome live.
This party made it clear that if there were ever going to be any shows, the bands would probably have to take care of the arrangements themselves.
The Downers eventually hooked up with Bank, the front man of the strange, experimental keyboard-driven pop group Red Twenty , who helped them record their demo and album at his Bama studio , home to the previously mentioned Adulterer.
After gigging around for about a year at parties, street festivals and art galleries (the excellent venue About Café in Bangkok’s China town), the Downers launched their Noise Pop concert series, a rotating independent rock showcase for any bands playing their own music. The first Noise Pop featured The Downers, Adulterer, the excellent System Suckers (metal), The Darlings (my band, kind of a mix between The Ramones and Weezer, but with more swearing), and the amazing and now defunct Crux (emo-core) at Paradise Disco, in the heart of the Nana red light district. A more rock n roll venue does not exist anywhere in the world, I can almost guarantee it.
Sadly, Paradise changed ownership just as it started to become known as a cool venue. Because the bar didn’t know what it wanted to be, it didn’t have any regular customers. We should have seen the writing the wall when the owner bought a mechanical bull in a bid to build his bar’s clientele. Now it’s one of a countless number of pool halls to be found in the area.
Around the same time that the Downers started getting out and about, a record label called New Destiny appeared on the scene with its own collection of pop punk bands, including Crux, the fun Stage Clear, Young Sing, and the excellent Brandnew Sunset (I saw them play this afternoon. They are probably the tightest band on the scene, playing an emotional blend of emo punk, 80s rock and Iron Maiden. They’re hilarious and totally nice and will probably get grabbed by an international label).
In the past year, the bands under the Thailand Hardcore Collective, Bama and New Destiny have been working more closely together to arrange shows and bring real rock to Thailand. These are the bands and circumstances with which I am most familiar, but there are countless other things happening as well.
A group of guys calling themselves “Dude/Sweet” has been organizing punk rock parties and the occasional concert during the past year. These parties are heavily indebted to the recent garage rock rebirth, but they can be kind of a guilty pleasure.
A band called Futon (comprising an international group of DJs and artists) recently released its “I Wanna Be Your Dog” single under its Rehab Records . The song, a dance cover of The Stooges song, is all over the radio here and rumor has it that the band has been picked up by a British label.
To be concluded next week.
And for more Southeast Asian rock and roll fun check out this post from the excellent blog Coolfer.
And if you think that there is no rock and roll in Vietnam then think again according to this.
This post is like a really cool rock and roll version of National Geographic!