The Lowdowns turn the heat way up
Soul Bar (945 Charoen Krung Rd) on a Saturday evening is teeming with hipsters, and the promise of good music. The Lowdowns are onstage. They’re a funk, soul, groove trio composed of: Kansas-born Michael Selby with leading-man looks on keyboard; Bangkok-bred Panapong ‘Top’ Permpoon with killer cool hair à la Slash on guitar; and Chicagoan Jake Crowl with his trademark beanie on drums. If you haven’t yet heard them play, they put on one helluva show!
Funk as a genre originated in the US in the 1960s when African-American musicians experimented with a new rhythmic, danceable form through a mixture of soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B) music. Today, the term is so broadly applied, from The Drifters to Bruno Mars, that it’s harder to define. The Lowdowns might have roots in funk, but each band member has brought a different perspective, evident in their shows which feel contemporary even when they’re playing old favourites like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”.
Jake hails from a rock/punk rock background, while Top brings a post-rock, electronica sensibility, and Michael grew up around R&B. The mix reminds me of an argument in the movie La La Land—should musicians stay true to tradition, or be blasphemous and modernize with newer sounds and techniques?
The band hasn’t seen the film but they certainly have unambiguous views on the topic. As Jake says, “If you stick with the past, well, it already happened and was a reaction to something specific of that time. We can’t be the second coming of James Brown. We want to be the band that ten years from now, someone else is talking about as having brought something original to the scene.”
“If you’re always trying to prove yourself worthy of a genre, you’re forgoing creativity,” adds Michael. “Songs happen organically not because you’re imitating a sound or staking a claim. We know each other well enough now to riff off each other’s rhythms in our shows. If one of us takes a solo, the others extemporize around it, which is a jazz approach. And the energy of the crowd definitely impacts the direction we take. We like to get people on their feet!”
Top is similarly passionate about funk, which is decidedly different from what he plays with his other band, Cinematic, and he too likes to mix it up.
The Lowdowns’ formation back in 2014 was itself an episode of improvisation. In Bangkok for a movie, Michael got himself an acoustic gig at a local bar and needed a band. He met Jake, who’d recently moved here to teach at Rockademy. Jake roped in Top, and they created an ad hoc group two days before the gig. Pressed for a name, they came up with The Lowdowns—a common term in funk music—but the name has caused some fans to wonder if they’re depressed.
From the beginning, the band has been adamant that funk music could work in Thailand. And three years hence, having played over 200 gigs—most recently at this year’s Wonderfruit Festival—their instincts are paying off. The band will have a new single out in the next few months, and also hope to play outside Thailand soon. Until then, you can catch them twice a month at Soul Bar and also check their Facebook page for upcoming events.
Get Down On It!
If you’re craving hip hop, then head over to ThaBeatlounge (RCA Bangkok) on June 10th and enjoy SuperFly BKK’s sweet homecoming party. Headed by DJ Rory Breaker-Morant it also features the live freestylin’ of an international crew of emcees, dubbed the SuperFly AllStars. They make no bones about their intent, which is to get you groovin’ unabashedly to their hip hop beats. No… scratch that, “the dopest, flyest, gangster-hustler” beats, as they put it themselves. Fancy yourself a rapper? Feel free to step into the cypher and go toe-to-toe on the mic with the AllStars. All in all, expect a fun night with good vibes and an energetic crew.
By Rianka Mohan