Apichat Pakwan, a fusion or hybrid music collective from Isan and the Netherlands, will release their first album, Esantronics, at the end of October. The band released an EP in 2017 but this will be their full-length debut and fans of Isan and electronic music will be delighted.
The press release for the album, which is on Animist Records and distributed by Painted Dog Records, says that it and indeed the band have their origins in the "unusual passion and interest in the music of Laos and Isan by Dutch composer/producer Olivier Schreuder". He studied the local music while staying in Khon Kaen, and it was there that he met a group of young singers and instrumentalists, the latter bringing khaen, phin, sor, Isan percussion and pi Phu Thai (Phu Thai flute) to the mix. Schreuder started to record music that featured the aforementioned instruments and mixed it with a foundation of "dubbed-out hip-hop beats", which the band calls "Esantronics" (a nod to the very different Kinshasa-based electronic street music, often called "Congotronics").
The band began to perform live in 2016 and played shows in Asia and Europe, but in 2017 they added singer/composer Anusara "Bee" Deechaichana, who has written the newer songs on the album, and young molam singer Wominmat "Wiw" Kangjantha. This has, in my view, completed the line-up, which also features dancers and the incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist Pumsakseri "Kwang" Sasida. In addition to their live shows, the band also performs DJ sets that feature molam, dub, tropical funk and something they call "global bass music".
The new album features 15 tracks (on vinyl -- the digital version has 18) that are a mix of original compositions from Deechaichana and new arrangements of traditional songs.
The album kicks off with an intro to the band, performed in Thai classical style with original lyrics, before segueing into an intriguing reworking of the toey style of molam on Lam Toey Pasom. This is followed by an original from Deechaichana called Another Fish, which was recorded on a tropical island and refers to her excitement at seeing fish in the sea (my son's relatives, also from Isan, have the same reaction when they go to the sea). It's a lovely track.
The band also reworks the classic Salawan sound from the province in Laos it gets its name from (of all the styles that originated in Laos, this is the one that has had the most influence on Isan molam). There are also several songs that feature rhythms and melodies from the Phu Thai ethnic group of Isan (a favourite of veteran songwriter Surin Paksiri).
My favourite tracks so far -- and the album reveals different things after repeated listening -- are the spacey dub tribute to the legendary Hongthong Dao Udon, called simply Hongthong, the Phu Thai melody, again dub-style, called Renu Phu Thai Dub, and the moving Kid Hod Bahn. The last, which at the moment is my favourite, is a new take on the feeling of homesickness (perhaps the Lao/Isan version of the Portuguese notion of "saudade"?), that features in so many molam songs and is concerned with the hardships of Isan people working far away from home in the unfriendly big city of Bangkok.
The liner notes explain that Esantronics was recorded in various places in Isan and on various islands in the South, hence its eclectic feel. The album ends with a bang -- literally -- with a reworking of the traditional tune that is used for the Lao merit-making ceremony, Sung Bang Fai, with Isan musician Arthit Krajangsree mimicking the sound of home-made rockets being launched on his phin. Wonderful.
The album is an assured debut by a very creative bunch of musicians. It is one of those East-meets-West experiments that works very well indeed. The Western dub and hip-hop do not dominate the Isan music; everything is fused to create something new and refreshing. The Isan element in the music remains the primary sound throughout -- Schreuder has the good sense not to overwhelm the Isan elements with dub and electronica.
Esantronics is terrific -- an album that suggests the future for Apichat Pakwan is very bright indeed. I think that we can expect to hear a lot more from this exciting Isan-Dutch collective.
More information from the band's Facebook page and animistsound.bandcamp.com.
John Clewley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.