CHIANGRAI TIMES – It started as a humble DJ session in a Bangkok bar. A few years later, it has traveled to Japan and Europe, spawned two CD compilations on international labels, and transformed into a biannual showcase starring some of Thailand’s most important musicians.
Welcome to Paradise Bangkok, a live-music and DJ night that draws crowds of young Thais, expats and visitors looking for an alternative to Bangkok’s clubs in the well-worn nightlife areas of Thonglor and RCA. But while the event’s first outing was in 2009, its roots go deeper: to the late 1960s and 1970s, an era when lukthung and molam, musical genres from Thailand’s rural north and northeast, were pressed onto seven-inch records.
Co-founders Chris Menist and Nattapon “Nat” Siangsukon, known as DJ Maft Sai, are “diggers” — obsessive hunter-gatherers of rare vintage sounds from around the world. They met in late 2008 while scouring Saphan Lek, an area of secondhand record stores in Bangkok’s Chinatown.
“Most people won’t be aware that there was once a really thriving recording industry in Thailand,” said Mr. Menist, a British writer and U.N. consultant who moved to the city in early 2008. “It’s [part of] the untold history of 20th-century music, which is so dominated by the bigger countries and the prominence of the English language.”
“As a Thai, I knew about lukthung and molam,” said Mr. Siangsukon, who owns ZudRangMa HQ, a Bangkok record store tucked away in an alley that also houses a bar-gallery and pop-up events space. He moved from Bangkok to Australia as a child, then to London as a teen. When he returned in 2007, he began digging for records to avoid the high costs of imported albums. The lukthung and molam he found were different from the tinny, commercialized tunes commonly played in Bangkok taxis and on Thai popular-radio stations.
“The production I found in the old records was like nothing I’d heard,” he said.
Lukthung has a driving beat, while molam is propelled by vocals and characterized by instruments such as the khaen (bamboo mouth organ) and the phin (a three-string guitar). Though Mr. Siangsukon was drawn initially to ’70s Thai funk covers of Western songs, he now prefers the “purer” sounds of these genres.
Messrs. Siangsukon and Menist shared their finds at a 2009 party they called Paradise Bangkok. Initially held every two to three months, the party changed its format last year to allow the records’ original artists, many of whom are in retirement, to play their classics for a modern audience.
Last June, the event featured molam vocalist Dao Bandon, whose song “Mae Jom Ka Lon” (Slippery Women) was featured on the soundtrack to the 2011 movie “The Hangover Part II,” set in Bangkok. On Saturday, to mark Paradise Bangkok’s third anniversary, another molam luminary will be spotlighted: producer Theppabutr Satirodchompu, the man behind many of Paradise Bangkok’s most popular selections. Eight-piece band Wong Dontri Molam Theppabutr will travel to the Thai capital to perform at the event.
Mr. Menist, who moved back to England last year, will also be in Bangkok for the event. He and Mr. Siangsukon will spin on the sidelines in between sets, playing underground vintage music from around the world, including Ethiopia, Pakistan and Indonesia, in addition to Thai songs.
Paradise Bangkok is capitalizing on this weekend’s anniversary by launching its record label, starting with one album featuring molam and lukthung tracks previously available only on small, private pressings. “These days this kind of Thai music is considered rare. The price is increasing, and all the originals are starting to become so expensive that only serious collectors are able to afford it,” said Mr. Siangsukon. “For us this music style is for everyone.”
Two CDs have already been released with British labels: “The Sound of Siam: Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz and Molam from Thailand 1964-1975” on Soundway Records, and “Thai? Dai! The Heavier Side of the Lukthung Underground” on Finders Keepers recordings.
Meanwhile, Paradise Bangkok has taken its DJ show on the road. Last year, it toured London, Tokyo and Osaka, as well as cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Potential Europe and U.S. dates are in the works for later this year, while a collaboration with Japan’s Em Records to reissue the work of Thonghuad Faitad, a sor (Thai violin) musician, is due next month.
According to Mr. Siangsukon, the tour was inspired by Paradise Bangkok’s early success playing in Japan. “The Japanese like that it’s roots music, soul music, but from this region,” he said. “They want to find out more about Asia — they’ve been listening to U.S. stuff and Europe stuff for a long time.”