Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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Punk Rock shakes Bangkok…again


Bangkok is not a rocknroll town, at least not in the literal sense of the word. And the city´s burgeoning punk scene is a modest affair – a tiny conglomeration of young bands, some good, some bad, some ugly, who have few venues to play and no one to play to, except each other.

Last night, Bangkok´s noisiest gathered at Common Ground, a small bar in Banglamphoo – not as glamorous or appropriate as The Overstay, but not as remote either. Common Ground is but a stone´s throw from Khao San Road, Bangkok´s gigantic backpacker ghetto.

Five bands showed up. Their friends showed up. I showed up. The lady boy and her pink friend who manned the door showed up. And that was pretty much it.

The first band, barely out of their teens, Strike Out played primary school hard core. The All Dirtys paraded Thailand´s best mohawks around and played old school oi punk.

Error 99 played an excellent set of Irish folk-punk. Their singer is one of Bangkok´s most enigmatic performers, a nervous Tom Waits decked out in a perfectly white shirt and tailored suit trousers, fronting a great line-up including accordion, banjo and fiddle. The half decent sound system managed to separate the strings from the howls and Error 99 did a good impression of the Pogues on speed. Loud, brash, anthemic, ironic, great.

The Pints played Australian punk rock, if there´s such a thing (of course there is…go and get hold of The SaintsKnow your Product now). The drummer, a skinny tattooed guy who looked like he´d lost his social benefits claim for the umpteenth time, proved to be the most charismatic Pint. Through his sheer exuberance and desperate urge to succeed in a world without success, he managed to give a lesson in punk rock to the Thai bands in attendance. His special brand of down under madness was duly documented and, I think, appreciated.

By the time the Donavan Street Rebels hit the stage at midnight with their special brand of saxophone-driven ska punk, the crowd had spilled out into the street – 50 or so tattooed, all in black middle class kids in search of somewhere to go at night, and an identity.

To afford the bands even a modicum of recognition, more disaffected teenagers from a wider social circle will have to join the throng. In the US and the UK, punk rock was largely a working class movement. In Thailand, the working class has no access to foreign culture (other than perhaps Britney Spears), no money to start a band and no incentive to find a voice of its own – under the rules of the all-inclusive social contract everyone has to pledge allegiance to a prescribed mode of life – a pledge so strong, it barely leaves any room for alternative thought.

Only wealthy people can opt out of the cultural shackles, sport mohawks and flip the finger at society – few of them do and most of those who do mostly flip their fingers at each other for now.

You may laugh, but almost all popular culture starts like this – a small group of young people in a room, talking to each other through an art form, discussing their experiences, attitudes, hopes and vanities.  This haphazard, imperfect way of exploration usually infects others, and whoops, a movement is born.

And the youth of Thailand is so ready for movements. There´s plenty of anger and disaffection amongst Thailand´s urban young. Thousands of the fighters who faced off the Thai military in violent confrontations in May  hardly had any political agenda. Most were just looking to let off steam, to have a party, to have some fun, to express themselves.  That involved trying to kill young Thai soldiers and burning down shopping centers. This points to enormous, untapped deposits of  energy and frustration. But these sentiments, Thailand’s greatest assets, have not turned into a constructive, independent voice yet, not in politics and certainly not in popular culture.

Punk Rock never dies, they say. Bangkok is still waiting for a proper, belated punk rock birth.

Read all about punk rock at Thailand´s worst hotel, the Overstay

Read all bout Bangkok´s finest surf punk band, the Klong Riders

4 Responses to “Punk Rock shakes Bangkok…again”

  1. 1
    hills fan:

    Next time you should shorten your post, try to leave out the parts that people ignore.

    Sent via Blackberry

  2. 2
    Bankgok Zero:

    Bangk(zero)k festival December 18th-26th 2010

    7 Days, 30 Artists, 7 Venues

    The festival proposes several events of different art media: live music, VDJing, dance, art performance, photo and architecture exhibition …

    Events will take place in alternative places – art galleries (Toot Yung) (No Space), clubs – and some more official places of culture as the Alliance Française, as well as free street events.

    The opening party will take place on the 18th of December, introducing all the artists in an atypical scenography: two facing stages, for an arty ping-pong live soundtrack, symbolizing the dialogue between artists from the network.

    The aim is to gather the different networks connected by this festival, and welcoming local artists to contribute to the event.

  3. 3

    Great, very interesting story. Especially the contrast between the somewhat privileged starting point in Thailand compared to the more working class routes elsewhere. cheers & thanks for the good read.

  4. 4

    The Pints are a shit band and a disgrace to Thailand and especially Australia!!!

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