Three days, seven venues, 30 different live acts – Bangkok’s new electronica/psych festival is an intimate, friendly and eye-opening event bringing together the cream of Thailand’s alternative music scene along with a few guests from overseas (mostly Japan), for a weekend of noise, experimentation, collaboration, damn good tunes, and even free beer. Yes, a festival with free beer. Join me as I dive into the murky depths of the Bangkok underground…
There are few cushier numbers than the Bangkok security guard nightshift. The building empties out around 6, you put your feet up on your desk, watch a few films on your phone, maybe sneak a couple of cheeky whiskies, and then get a few hours’ kip. Until, that is, some inconsiderate bastard opens a live music venue in your building and you’re kept awake until midnight by Japanese techno. Such is the lot of the security guard at Liberty Plaza, and he’s not happy about it. “OI! FOREIGNERS!” he yells at us as we wander aimlessly around the lobby looking for the venue. “IT’S OVER THERE!!!”
“Over there” is De Commune, a tiny new event space at the back of a largely abandoned shopping and office complex, and the venue for the first evening of the festival. We arrive to be greeted by the punishing nosebleed techno of Thailand’s Nolens.Volens, who endears himself to me by wearing possibly the only Front 242 t-shirt in Thailand (though chatting to him after his set he un-endears himself again by reminding me how ancient I am – he was still in nappies last time I saw F242 live).
He’s followed by the aptly-named Stylish Nonsense, a couple of Thai hippies in billowing kaftans, who deliver a set of loveably gauche, bleepy synthpop that elicits the first tentative dancing of the evening. Bangkok’s Space Telexxx and Japan’s Daisuke Tanabe then up the volume with sets of loud, throbbing techno, the latter throwing in some drum & bass and finishing up with an epically huge hip-hop instrumental.
Highlight of the evening is Osaka’s Yosi Horikawa, whose glitchy folktronica makes him something of a Japanese Four Tet (who, in a scheduling clash of disastrous proportions, is also playing in Bangkok tonight), and his set is a joyous 45 minutes for both the brain and the feet. Sadly the same cannot be said of headliners Jori Hulkkonen & Jimi Tenor, with the two Finns – the biggest names on tonight’s bill – proving a bit of a letdown. Hulkkonen plays pedestrian Euro-house while Tenor occasionally, and largely pointlessly, plays barely audible flute and saxophone on top. When he starts rapping about the Bangkok public transport system (“SKYTRAIN! SKYTRAIN!”) we take that as our cue to leave.
The afternoon programme is taking place, bizarrely but conveniently, in the back room of the Okinawan restaurant across the street from my office. Up three flights of stairs, into a reception room where we are handed free beers (note to festival organisers – this is how you do it), then down another flight of stairs and through a black curtain into a space even smaller than my bedroom. Rendezvous, a spontaneous, unrehearsed collaboration between Thai & Japanese guitarists Nakarin Teerapenun and Kota Taki, are just getting started, and their freeform noodlings, with heavy use of live sampling and feedback, run the gamut from are-they-still-tuning-up incomprehension to ethereal beauty. This is pure shoegazing – the two rarely look up from their huge bank of pedals – and provides the soothing aural balm needed to ease my hangover, although some bits of Sunn0))) drone and a mid-set ‘Holocaust’ moment threaten to make it worse.
After a refreshingly squelchy set of live aciiiieeeed from Thai knob-twiddler Frozensmusics, Sukhum goes all pop with the arrival of fresh-faced Bangkok synthpop duo Cut the Crab. After a couple of Fuck Buttons-y instrumental jams, their set suddenly shifts into 80s synth-funk mode, with the irresistible ‘Try to Forget’ suggesting they could well become Thailand’s own Cut Copy or Juan Maclean. They’re brilliant, they have the confidence and charisma that Thai bands generally lack, and they deserve to be on a bigger stage than this.
We arrive a bit late for the evening session, waylaid by happy hour and burgers at a nearby craft beer bar and our subsequent inability to read numbers, which means we don’t make it to the next venue – Thonglor Art Space – until 9pm. It’s another venue repurposing abandoned office space into a kind of artsy speakeasy – through a discreet front door, down a long passageway, up a fire escape, and through a door marked “WE ARE CLOSED” into a bright, airy bar. The beer may not be free but it’s pretty cheap so we load up and then head downstairs to the stage just in time to catch Jinta, who are a warning to young men of the dangers of listening to too much Jeff Buckley (or indeed any Jeff Buckley at all). They’re very talented musicians and the singer has a voice of such angelic purity it’s often breathtaking, but the material is long, meandering and self-indulgent with little attempt to engage the audience, some of whom – oh alright then, just me – drift off to the bar mid-set to escape their increasingly tedious dirges. I find myself joined by the venue’s resident cat, who considers nibbling my burger-scented fingers preferable to Jinta’s longueurs. I have to concur, and let him nibble away.
Things pick up with the arrival of Thai psych-poppers Khana Bierbood(main picture), whose Spectorish wall of sound mixes traditional Thai pop with garage & surf rock to thrilling effect. Their Kikagaku Moyo-produced debut album is out in January and I for one am very excited at the prospect. As I am by headliners Abstraction XL, whose cerebral moniker belies their gleefully, dumb, heavy, rifftastic stoner rock, and who send us out into the Bangkok night with smiles and ringing ears.
…and I’m really getting too old for this shit, but as I settle in on the rooftop of vegan restaurant Broccoli Revolution with a nice chilled IPA, I feel my energy and enthusiasm returning, just in time for French noisemonger DJ Urine to take the stage. Urine’s act involves the playing of old vinyl records with bits cut out of them (intact vinyl being far too mainstream obviously) on a couple of battered Fisher Price turntables, and we are well & truly in Nathan Barley territory here. But he’s shortly joined by Acid Mothers Temple drummer – and nutter – Satoshima Nani, and as he beats the living shit out of his poor kit and screams into the microphone whilst Urine generates swathes of distorted noise out his decks and throws battered vinyl all over the place (almost decapitating the poor soundman on occasions), and Skytrains speed past just a few feet behind them, it’s a gripping spectacle, albeit one you might not want to experience too often.
A quick Thai curry break and then we return to De Commune for the final evening of the festival. Only a handful of us had 3-day tickets and as we arrive at the crowded venue we scoff at the Johnny-come-lately part-timers around us. Where were you for DJ Urine eh? EH? Bangkok psych rockers Chladni Chandi are the first revelation of the evening, their trippy desert rock evoking early Verve or Mercury Rev, and they’re followed by local heroes Desktop Error, who combine deafeningly loud shoegaze with Stooges riffage and are the best local band of the weekend.
Our ears may already be ringing, but they’ve heard nothing yet. In my review of Temples’ 2015 Bangkok gig I observed that “psychedelia is best when done by people for whom altered mindstates are a way of life rather than a fashion”, and headliners Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso UFO are very much the real fucking deal. They look like a gang of delinquent wizards, and they’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Bassist Wolf clearly believes he is an actual wolf. Mandolin player/guitarist Jyonson Tsu is dressed as Brian Jones, complete with blonde pageboy wig. Drummer Satoshi Nani is, once again, a gripping study in perpetual motion.
And the music they play is just insane, painfully loud, ridiculously heavy acid rock that simply pummels you into gleeful submission. Their finest moment is 15-minute live staple ‘Pink Lady Lemonade‘ which begins with a motorik beat and some phenomenal disco bass from Wolf and gradually builds and builds into a freakout of epic, ear-shredding proportions. Some people leave, a couple of millennials behind me have their fingers jammed into their ears, and the rest of us lean into the noise with big stupid grins on our faces. If there’s a more viscerally exciting live experience on the planet right now then I can’t wait to see it.
And now, please, I need to go to bed.