All there at the square
Victory Monument's monthly luk thung party is fun, free and flirty
Busy Victory Monument, with its buses, taxis and motorcycles, is one of Bangkok's few traffic circles (or roundabouts, as we call them where I come from). It's a busy intersection of roads that lead to all points on the compass.
Noisy and dusty, it seems an odd place to hold a free concert. That is, until you consider that thousands of commuters pass through the area every day, and that it has many shops, restaurants and entertainment venues for the huge number of students who study nearby.
On the first Sunday of each month, Chang Thai has been holding its "Luk Thung Square" free concert just to off the walkway for the BTS Skytrain. There is a covered stage, with seats in front, and the site is encircled by stalls and vendors, some of whom sponsor the event. The concert features one or two big luk thung stars and a whole host of young hopefuls. Astonishingly, given the dust and heat, it lasts from noon to dusk.
The event is the brainchild of popular luk thung man, Mr Chang (Dejathorn Suwinichit). Some fifteen years ago he was working selling ads and organising the much-loved free concert series "Weeti Thai", which I remember going to in Phra Padaeng.
"I was working in ad sales, on the stage shows and radio programmes. Luk thung was interesting and it was so much bigger than I originally thought," he explained. He liked the friendliness of the people in the business, especially the fans. "They gave me the nickname, 'Chang Weeti Thai'."
In 2002, he set up Chang Thailand and started to promote events and hold concerts. That was just the start. He moved on to radio with FM 90, or Luk Thung Rak Thai. Mr Chang said that out of 40 stations that play luk thung, FM 90 is ranked fifth.
"We also have FM 98, the first Isan-language station in Bangkok. FM 90 is for older luk thung fans, while FM 98 is for those under 35. For this group, we only play molam."
Singers get onto the roster of performers by using the Chang Thai mobile app; fans can vote for their favourite singers and buy individual songs online at the same time.
"We are looking for synergy between live shows, TV, radio and social media," he said. "And what we are trying to create is a media entertainment company that focuses on luk thung music."
The shows are more of a review than a full-on luk thung concert, with each singer given time for two or three songs; the bigger the star, the more stage time they get. After each performance, MCs chat with the performer and introduce the next act. Products are displayed and promoted, sometimes as part of on-stage skits.
By late afternoon, the venue is packed. Many of the acts have fan clubs who turn up with LED displays to cheer their chosen star. Toward the front of the stage, fans give money, flowers and huge cuddly toys (perhaps an influence of the kawaii culture of Japan's pop scene) to the big stars. Gone are the days when a simple garland would suffice. Some fans offer an electric hand fan or tissues for the singer to cool off (it's incredibly hot on stage). The mood is always fun and upbeat. Singers are always ready to take a picture with fans.
So far, of the big acts, I've seen Siriporn Ampaiwong and Mike Piromporn, both massive luk thung stars in Isan, as well as Takkatan Chonlada, who I briefly spoke to backstage. Of the molam stars, there was a suitably raunchy performance by Buapan Tungsoe, who is well known for her earthy style and humour; her star has been dimmed somewhat by that of Lamyai Haitongkham, who performed a terrific set of songs. She seems tame next to Buapan, and even Siriporn at her most suggestive. I can't see why anyone would get upset by her shows.
Some of the senior acts also perform. At the February show, I was thrilled to see veteran Chaitong Songporn in fine form as he sang his old hit, Bao Kai Gai Leng. I also enjoyed the mini-set by legend Sodsai Rungphothong last year, with his wonderful high-pitched voice. (You could add Sornpet Sornsuphan to the list of favourite high-pitched luk thung singers, so beloved in the genre.) Rak Nong Porn, a million-selling hit, was the highlight of his performance.
Mark a date in your calendar for the next show, on April 7, and head on down to Victory Monument for some serious fun.
John Clewley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.