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 Saints‘ Know 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.