Taking the stage

Platforms for aspiring musicians

Standing in the shadow of Thai mainstream music are many independent artists waiting for the spotlight to shine on them. Guru speaks to music promoters and organisers from leading underground music and jazz communities, who offer aspiring musicians with a platform to showcase their raw talent, about their roles and opinions on the Thai music industry. We've also got an exclusive talk with the co-founder of a secret gig, who lights up several overlooked street corners in Bangkok with music.

Secret Gig: Bangkok Underground

From rocking the crowd himself to encouraging new blood, Nantiphark "Fern" Sinsiwamongkon formed Thailand's underground music connection while running Secret Gig: Bangkok Underground (fb.com/secretgigbkk) for like-minded and aspiring artists. To activate the Thai underground music scene, Secret Gig: Bangkok Underground promotes independent artists and local bands by offering a chance for them to rock the stage (at reasonable ticket prices) so that everyone can enjoy. They organise shows once or twice a month, featuring head-banging music genres like punk, rock, metal and metalcore.

(Photos: Secret Gig: Bangkok Underground)

How did Secret Gig: Bangkok Underground come about?

As an underground artist, I felt like we didn't get much of the spotlight. I've developed quite a connection with live houses and people in the underground music industry over the past few years, so I set my band's first gig while inviting my punk-rocker friends to join me on stage. After realising how much fun it was when we organised our own shows, we decided to gather independent artists from all underground music genres for a community, regardless of genres.

You've been building quite a network with underground music bands across Thailand. What do you do to bring underground music to the fore?

My priority is to round-up underground music people while providing a space for artists where we can rock together. We help encourage new blood and offer listeners access to the diversity of music outside of the mainstream. Honestly, I was thinking about my band and other independent artists who have got good stuff but no place to show it. As I'm building up a connection through Secret Gig: Bangkok Underground, my goal is to promote independent artists, who aren't only Thailand-based but also international. What I really love about it is the exchange of music culture and broadening my horizons in different ways to present and perform music.

What are the craziest audiences you've seen at your events?

Once I had an audience of almost 500 people, even though we normally get only 100. The gig featured a line-up of 11 bands and it was a challenge with the time management. However, everything was under control, not the craziness of the crowd, though. What surprised me was that I noticed many foreigners attending that show and I've no idea how they found out about us.

Is underground music enjoying a buzz?

Yes! In the past, we may have discovered new music only on radio or TV because it was set up by leading music studios. But now, listeners have access to a wider variety of music thanks to the internet, which also provides a free channel for aspiring artists to showcase their talents.

Why do we need more space for independent artists?

From my experience as a performer and an organiser, I believe that many Thai and international artists in Thailand are talented. Yet, there isn't enough space for them to shine. Speaking of underground music, many might see it as an outrageous genre of music, with a few fans who really understand it. However, isn't it better to promote every style of music equally? So everyone can express their true self or what they really enjoy, regardless of being seen as outlandish by the mainstream.

Any encouragement for aspiring artists who want to showcase their talents?

Hit us up if you're a band or an artist looking for a place to showcase your jam. Don't hesitate to send your demo tracks to the music labels. Isn't it better to chase an opportunity instead of waiting? Last but not least, present who you really are and be authentic.

JazZ Happens

It has been 14 years since JazZ Happens (fb.com/jazZhappens) pulled strings, connecting jazzists and jazzophiles across Thailand. What started out as a music club after school for aspiring jazzists under the helm of Nu Vudthivichai, an instructor at the Faculty of Music, Silpakorn University, and other kindred associates, transformed into a jazz community. Providing a venue for aspiring jazzists to showcase their talents, JazZ Happens gained ground as a bustling jazz club 'n' bar on Phra Athit Road for 12 years until they went completely online when the pandemic hit. It's a jazz haven, where ideas and visions are shared, but more than anything, it's a celebration of people.

(Photos: JazZ Happens)

How did JazZ Happens come about?

It all started as a jazz caravan called 'Jazz Her'. More than 40 music enthusiasts, namely students and instructors of the Jazz Studies of the Faculty of Music, Silpakorn University, went on a roadshow across the country, broadening countryside people's minds about jazz. We played groundbreaking jazz music, which was rearranged and jazzed up with Thai tunes to make it more accessible. It was an extra cultural activity for students that we hosted once a year. Even though there were quite a few jazz bars in town, none of them welcomed newcomers to their stages. Therefore, we pulled all the stops to provide a creative space for our students and jazz enthusiasts by establishing JazZ Happens, a jazz club on Phra Athit Road.

JazZ Happens emerged under the motto, 'We're a jazz community for aspiring jazzists and jazz students'. We weren't only offering a free stage but also a club where music lovers could shoot the breeze about jazz. We did give jazz lessons for free while hosting gigs for newbies. We were joined by many Thailand-based and international artists, both no-names and big names, all of whom were willing to perform for free as they just wanted to contribute to our community. After 12 years of jazzing up the neighbourhood, it was sad to say farewell. However, JazZ Happens has transformed into an online community, which is a silver lining after the storm as we can access a wider audience.

How do you support aspiring jazzists in Thailand?

We help match event organisers with jazz students. Think of an artist manager who finds gigs for their clients. Yet, we do it for free. Apart from that, we host offline and online events, but not as often as before.

How has the music landscape changed over time?

It's not changing at all. The industry is stuck in a loop in which jazz communities will be active from time to time. My definition of 'active' is when many jazz bars and events spring up for a short time. Yet, they take advantage of jazz as a gimmick for their business, especially in Bangkok. Instead of offering fans an artistic way to embrace jazz or helping uplift the industry, they mislead the audience about jazz music.

Why do we need more space for independent artists?

The answer is obvious. We barely have space for independent artists. I'm not talking only about musicians but all kinds of artists. The Thai standards always pay attention to art that is labelled as 'traditional' or 'luxury'. It is set as the norm when appreciating art, which is a challenge for independent artists and newcomers to gain ground in their industry.

Any encouragement for aspiring artists who want to showcase their talents?

I must say that many young Thai artists are talented. But what's missing is support and an opportunity for them to shine. Besides, we still look up to and rely too much on the West. Therefore, they're lacking individuality and originality when making music. They should bring out their music by considering the charm of orientalism and our culture, which would be a milestone if they could come up with something groundbreaking yet original.

Bangkok Street Noise

The light of street lamps and music heads are just what Bangkok Street Noise (fb.com/groups/bangkokstreetnoise) needed to organise a show for independent artists. Michael Honeycomb co-founded Bangkok Street Noise with friends, offering a creative space for indie musicians from all genres to showcase their talents. Bangkok Street Noise always hosts shows in public spaces or street corners that are out of sight, whether it's a stage set up in a small municipal park, by a railroad or under a tollway. Look out for them!

(Photos: Bangkok Street Noise)

What's the goal of Bangkok Street Noise?

Our intentions tend to evolve as the project and situation progress. Bangkok Street Noise is a public gathering of people brimming with the same energy: playing music. When we started, the country was still under a curfew. We wanted to perform and bring it back to the public while encouraging independent artists to join our stage. We provide the space and equipment for them to express themselves.

Later, as the project grew, we became aware of more aspects that felt important to us. For example, when we started scouting locations, I noticed that my eyes felt fresh again. I began to feel better as I looked at the city with curiosity and anticipation rather than indifference. I started to see more beauty in my surroundings, too. This feeling ultimately became one of the core threads in this project and still is.

Everyone complains about the environment of Bangkok; the heat, the traffic, the noise and such. You can hear people talking about these points daily. With BSN, we're trying to change that conversation a little. When you go to our events, you'll usually see a lot of cars driving by, you'll hear the sound of the traffic and you'll feel like you're in the city, but somehow it's more comfortable than usual. What we usually perceive as a chaotic landscape starts to have a rhythm. The noise of the street becomes a part of the music.

How do you choose a venue?

Sharing music with the public is one of our main objectives, so our locations are somewhere where people might catch us by chance, whether on their way home, going for a jog or walking their dog. Aside from that, we look for places that are beautiful but overlooked.

Have your events ever been interrupted by the authorities?

There were a couple of times when the police came by to ask what we were doing, but let us continue. Our audience was pretty small, so I guess they didn't care much. We were stopped by park security once, so we just moved across the street and continued. It was endearing to see the audience come to help carry instruments and equipment.

What does a usual show look like?

We organise our gigs every Sunday from 4-8pm in different locations around the city. The site is set up a few days before the event and we post the info in our Facebook group. We usually have four artists or bands scheduled.

As for the vibe, we keep this project strictly non-commercial, so DIY and BYO are the vibes. Bring your own mat or chair for sitting, as well as drinks and snacks, or buy them locally. We do as much as we can to make it a good experience for everyone, but you should also do what you can to help yourself, help others and respect the communities where we go.

What kind of show meets your definition of success?

We had a big turn out for a few of shows, 150+, but I wouldn't gauge that as successful. We're trying to build a community, not reach a number, so I'd say every event has been a success.

Why do we need more space for independent artists?

I don't know if the lack of space is the problem. There are open spaces and empty rooms everywhere in this city. Anyone can organise an event if they try. I do hope there will be new ways for artists to connect to audiences, including the public. As it is now, the way artists and audiences are treated by capitalist institutions doesn't lend much to a creative environment.

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