Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch
I may not be Bodyslam’s biggest fan, but I have a lot of respect for Thailand’s biggest rock band — its unflinching dedication to its art and musical advancement doesn’t seem rest on its laurels or established fame. I understand why the band is where it is today, and I’m convinced it deserves its place in Thai music history.
Say what you will about Bodyslam, but the group has been the reigning king of Thai rock for many years now, and it’s not likely to see it dethroned any time soon.
So it saddens me to see the newest development of the band’s nationwide tour. Bodyslam originally planned to perform over 30 shows across the country, but on Saturday the band and its tour promoter decided to pull down the curtain. It was only the 11th scheduled show.
A melodramatic meltdown preceded the band’s decision to pull the plug on the tour. Apparently ticket sales and sponsorships failed to supplement the tour, which has so far lost around 20 million baht. On Thursday the promoter decided to drop ticket prices from 1,500 to 399 baht, with a guarantee of a photo book for those who already attended a concert. An angry storm from the public ensued, boiling to the point that Bodyslam and the promoter chose to stop the tour.
Part of Bodyslam’s charm comes from its honest and solidified connection with its fan base, which consists of people from all walks of life. Photos of lead vocalist Toon crying backstage after the show were heart-wrenching and emotional, as no one expected it to turn out this way.
I have to say that the call to decrease ticket prices wasn’t exactly well-thought-out, but I suspect that it was a last-ditch attempt to save the tour, and was a slight misjudgement of public reaction.
Still, I admire the band’s and the promoter’s brutal honesty and sincere apology that followed. They have been classy and composed in handling the outrage. They were ready to face whatever this crisis of faith and finance had in store for them. This tour was supposedly going to be the next step for Bodyslam, as its production was of international standard. No expense was spared in the full-scale production, in terms of stage design, sound and lighting — it was an expensive tour, thus the rather high ticket prices. But what the band couldn’t foresee was how Thai audiences would fail to appreciate the commitment and large-scale production, refusing to cough up 1,500 baht.
On the other hand, a lot of Bodyslam fans are youngsters, and 1,500 baht can go a long way for them, especially outside of Bangkok, where one can survive for
a long time on that amount of money.
Bodyslam admitted that it might have been overambitious, and revealed that even if every show had sold out, it would have only broken even. But the group wanted to do something new, to explore uncharted territory.
This also goes to show that Thai music consumers are spoiled, as they’re often treated to free shows. They’re only willing to pay when there’s some sort of festival, where they can see as many bands as possible. Even then, there are always freeloaders who look to somehow gain free entrance.
Thai bands don’t “tour”, as Bodyslam was trying to do. They’re usually hired by commercial promoters to play in pubs or at events, to a non-paying crowd.
That’s how bands make their money, since they can no longer sell their music. Over the years, I often hear people say, “Oh, I like that band very much, but I don’t think I want to attend the show if I’m not on the guest list.”
It’s rather contradictory and tragic. If Bodyslam can’t pull it off, who else will be able to?
How long will we be stuck in this run-of-the-mill pub circuit in which bands just play to get paid?
It’s fine and dandy to enjoy free live shows when they’re actually free, but when your beloved bands try to do something different for the sake of art, you should always be at the forefront to support them.
As a lifelong music lover, I have no qualms about shelling out cash for concert tickets (even though as a hack, I’m pretty much a live show freeloader by default), rare B-sides or collectibles from artists with whom I have long-term relationships, even if I might not agree with some of things they put out.
But that’s how you ensure your favourite bands will stick around for as long as possible. Love and adoration alone aren’t enough to go on.
I can only hope it all ends well for Bodyslam and all involved parties. This is just a little bump in the road.
I know the group can bounce back better and stronger, but in the meantime, just be reminded that there’s no such thing as an eternal free lunch.
Onsiri Pravattiyagul writes about music and contemporary culture for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.