Do you like live music?
Are you planning to visit Bangkok?
Does the idea of exploring the local underground music scene that even the locals don’t know about excite you?
Here are 7 reasons why Bangkok should be your next music destination!
1. Venues, Venues Everywhere
Lacking clear zoning regulations, Bangkok is scattered with live music venues, giving it a charm unique from other Music Cities. You can find them in the city center, the old town area, and even in residential areas. Some are like hidden gems – tucked away deep in the ‘ซอย’ (‘soi’ = alleyways) away from the main roads.
If you ever came to Thailand and partied with the locals, you may notice that there are a lot of establishments that have live music; however, most of them would have house bands playing popular Western and Thai cover songs. But we’re talking about venues with original music played by local indie artists that even the locals don’t know about.
Each venue is unique with its own charm. Some are normal establishments with house bands or just some music playing on the loud speakers, but on special occasions have concerts featuring local artists e.g. PLAY YARD by Studio Bar, Parking Toys and Saxophone Pub and Restaurant; some are cafes and/or art galleries such as The Jam Factory, Soy Sauce Factory and BANGKOK CITYCITY GALLERY; and some are record stores, like Nong Taprachan and 1979 vinyl and unknown pleasures.
Check out the map below to see examples of venues where local original bands normally perform.
2. Genres, Sub-genres, and More
Bangkok is a city with a population of more than 8.2 million people – 14.5 million if you include the whole metropolitan area. It is a melting pot of different races, cultural backgrounds and lifestyles, making it a rainforest of musical diversity.
Although the Thai mainstream market is flooded with Thai-pop, Thai-rock and modernized Thai-country music, ‘Luk Thung‘, there are many other genres and sub-genres popular in small niche groups, like instrumental post rock (Inspirative), math rock (Two Million Thanks), jazz rock (InDeedweNeed), dream pop (Jelly Rocket), British garage rock (Yellow Fang), electronic synth pop (DCNXTR), hardcore punk (LowFat), political thrash metal (Killing Fields), etc.
Fungjai.com is a local music streaming service, streaming virtually every musical genre available in Thailand, by artists who are mostly from local indie labels or are DIY artists. Fungjai doesn’t have an English-version of the website yet, but it’s pretty simple to guess and click around.
3. Friendly Music Communities
Local music gigs are organized by several promoters, indie labels and musician communities who reside in Bangkok. Some promoters are more dedicated to specific genres, like MELA (techno & electronic) and Thailand GRIND FEST (grind core), while many would crossover between several genres, for example Conflakes, DOOD and Scene Seen Space.
Out of all indie labels, Panda Records is both a record label and a musician community with almost 40 bands associated with it since its start in 1999. It is founded and led by Wannarit ‘Pok’ Pongprayoon – an intelligent, soft spoken man who is dedicated to creating music and helping others express themselves through music. He also started Stone Free Music Festival and Noise Market – an arts, crafts, music, film and food festival held annually at Museum Siam. Other music communities, including music labels and media are for example Banana Record Thailand, Smallroom Bangkok Pop Music Label, Parinam Music, Rama II Hardcore, Kodindy, Spicy Disc, Cat Radio, Happening Magazine, etc.
There are also expat communities who organize their own gigs while also collaborating with Thai communities, for example the Japanese musician community led by hardcore punk band, LowFat; and Japanese-Thai record label, dessin the world. Western expat musician groups have also been very active, frequently hanging out and performing at Fatty’s Bar & Diner, and helping out Sofar Sounds Bangkok – a branch of a global network of artists and music lovers.
Above, Yellow Fang playing at a Sofar Sounds Bangkok event.
4. Music Festivals and Markets
Music festivals and markets are especially popular during the winter/dry season between November and February, when the sky is clear and the weather is a bit cooler than usual. You can find several music festivals in Bangkok almost every weekend during this time of year, and many more located not so far from the city.
Music festivals with a majority of Thai artists are for example Big Mountain Music Festival (@ Petchburi – mainstream & indie), Overcoat Music Festival (@ Phetchabun – mainstream), Grass Tone Sound (@ Nakhon Ratchasima – indie), Stone Free Music Festival (@ Saraburi – indie), Keep On The Grass Folk Music Festival (@ Saraburi – indie folk & acoustic), Cat Expo by Cat Radio (@ Bangkok – mainstream & indie), Noise Market (@ Bangkok – arts, crafts, music, film and food festival), etc.
Music festivals with a majority of international artists are also popular, for example Wonderfruit Festival (@ Chonburi – arts, music & food), Arcadia – The Bangkok Takeover (@ Bangkok – electronic), 808 Festival (@ Bangkok – EDM), Waterzonic (@ Bangkok – EDM), etc.
5. International Touring Destination
Apart from globally famous artists, several smaller indie and non-mainstream artists also stop by Thailand to perform during their tours, organized by local promoters like HAVE YOU HEARD? (e.g. Perfume Genius, Neon Indian, Wild Beasts), Indy Pop Concerts (e.g. Obey the Brave, Dragonforce, Enforcer), Mind The Gap (e.g. Braids, Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams) and Alterverse (e.g. Battles, Bottle Smoker).
Above, promotional video for Canadian band – Braids, and Thai band – Monomania, organized by Mind The Gap.
6. Window to Thailand’s Local Music Scenes
Bangkok is the capital and the largest city in Thailand. It is also the country’s political, commercial, industrial, and cultural hub – including music.
Thailand has other cities with strong music scenes and communities, such as Chiang Mai (e.g. No Signal Input, Summer Disc Music Label, Made in Chiangmai) in the north; Khon Kaen (e.g. KK Underground, Ex-sys Studio) and Nakhon Ratchasima (e.g. 3rd World Music, 1005 Records) in the northeast; and Phuket and Hat Yai in the south. And many if not most of those local artists come tour in Bangkok every now and then, which gives you the opportunity to see local bands from all over Thailand.
7. World-renowned Tourist Destination
Bangkok is already a world-renowned tourist destination, famous for its history, culture, food and nightlife – plus the ease of travel and low cost of living.
You probably won’t easily run out of things to do in Bangkok; but even if you do, you can get out of Bangkok to chill-out at the beach, white-water raft or do whatever the heck a tourist would do!
To summarize why Bangkok should be your next music destination, Ben Edwards – an Australian musician who now resides in Bangkok – says it best:
“Bangkok is a city of chaos, contradictions and constant change—just the sort of environment that encourages a lively, exciting and ever-changing underground music scene. It’s a friendly scene that includes many different genres and an international cast of musicians, artists and music fans. While many great small venues have come and gone over the past few years, musically the scene seems to be growing more diverse, interesting and energetic.”
– Ben Edwards – singer/guitarist from Bangkok rock ‘n’ roll band, Plastic Section (Source: CMJ.com)
Hope this sums up everything! See you at an underground gig in Bangkok somewhere!
Piyapong ‘Py’ Muenprasertdee
Co-founder and Community Manager of Fungjai.com