Two women who are stretching the envelope and keeping Bangkok interesting
Sujittra ‘Tukta’ Likachai
The home of Sujittra ‘Tukta’ Likachai crackles with creative enterprise from the minute I walk through the door. A sleek double bass, trimmed tuxedo black and white, leans against a wall hung with posters displaying punk and rockabilly hair-styles. Shelves below the prints hold boxed celebrity bobble-heads, jars of pomade, and other motorhead Americana. Meanwhile, Tukta’s husband Kaittipop ‘Vans’ Makrum is bending over a slim woman laid face down on a tattoo table, drilling ink into her bare back.
Standing up from a sewing machine, surrounded by a headless gang of sewing mannequins, Tukta offers a warm greeting accompanied by a wide smile and flashing, bright eyes. She wears a slouch baker boy, faded jeans, and a white T-shirt bearing the stenciled logo of her well-known band Trix O’Treat.
I’ve seen Trix O’Treat perform several times around Bangkok. The city’s only true rockabilly/swing crew, the band performs every Thursday and Sunday evening at Parking Toys, one of Bangkok’s most happening live music venues. They’re also very in demand for special events, including motor shows and local music festivals.
“We started the band around eight years ago,” says Tukta. “Before that I was in a band called Skaberry that did ska and punk. Skaberry put out an album on Grammy, and it did OK, but as we got older and started listening to other kinds of music, our tastes changed direction.”
Tukta says it was her father’s early Johnny Cash records that turned her on to rockabilly. They learned to play the style after listening to a broad range of American rockabilly and early swing artists, and changed their name to Trix O’Treat.
“We have a repertoire of over 70 tunes now, and rotate through them at gigs,” she explains. “Plus, we have seven original songs, which have been released as an EP. There are five more originals ready to go, which we hope to record soon. The problem is, everyone involved in the band is really busy.”
She could be referring to herself. Besides performing with Trix O’Treat, Tukta is a partner in husband Vans’ tattoo business. They used to have a separate studio, but when it got to be too much shuttling between home, tattoo studio, and band gigs, they moved the business to their Bang Khen home. Tukta’s own arms carry a beautiful, graphics-oriented selection of Vans’ work.
Besides rocking together in Trix O’Treat and booking a steady stream of tattoo clients, Tukta and her husband run Siam Greasers, a company that imports a variety of pomades, waxes, and combs for dressing vintage men’s hair styles. They sell their products online via www.thaipomadeshop.com and also locally at barber shops, styling salons, and vintage night markets.
It was only natural that they eventually opened their own barber shop, Bangkok Greasers, in Ratchada Train Market, specializing in pompadours, jellyrolls, ducktails, and other slicked-back greaser dos that would make Elvis, James Dean, or Gene Vincent proud. Unlike their Sukhumvit equivalents, Bangkok Greasers offers cuts that won’t relieve all the cash in your back pocket.
Tukta confessed passion for 40s and 50s teen Americana also led to the establishment of Hotrock, a hotdog joint alongside Bangkok Greasers in the same weekend market. We haven’t tried them yet, but judging from Facebook photos alone, the dogs look authentic, as do the burgers.
What’s next for Tukta?
“I’ve been designing and sewing my own clothes, as a hobby, for a while,” says the rockabilly heartthrob. “I’m hoping to start a small fashion collection focusing on 40s to 50s vintage style soon.”
Floating towards the opposite end of the musical spectrum, Bangkok native Nymph Hutakom looks not to the past, but to a constantly expanding present, with little regard for trends or mainstream commercial tastes.
The only female so far granted full membership to the Thai Composers’ Association, Nymph hails from an artistically pedigreed family. Her grandfather was Sakkasem Hutakom—more commonly known by his pen name, Ing Orn (1918-1986)—and was a famed 20th-century poet, novelist, dramatist and composer. Her father, Santithorn Hutakom, became known to millions of Thais via his Two Worlds adventure travel TV series on Thai channel 5 in the 90s. Meanwhile her mother Nima Rasidee helped found ITV television network, and today works as a producer for Channel 3.
When I catch up with Nymph at an art exhibition opening on the Eastern & Oriental Express train, she’s dressed in an elegant, yet sexy, black-and-white floral print sleeveless, midriff-baring top and matching pants. Her eyes widen as she talks about how her interests in sound and music started early.
“When I was young,” she says, “my favourite pastime was recording random sounds and noises, and my own voice, and then replaying and tweaking them.”
The tweaker eschewed a university path, instead enrolling in SAE Institute for a diploma in audio engineering. Her skills in producing electronica led to a collaboration with The Photo Sticker Machine, a project revolving around the compositions of Vichaya Vatanasapt, one of Thailand’s seminal minds in the genre. For an album Vichaya released on the Hualampong Riddim label in 2011, Nymph wrote the lyrics for and sang on the downtempo/trip-hop “Last Summer.” To this day, it remains The Photo Sticker Machine’s most enduring track.
Nymph continued to develop her unique avant-garde singing style, and soon afterwards recorded and produced an eponymous album of original digital compositions completely on her own. I first met her when the album was still in the mastering stage, and was blown away by her unique lyrics and musical expression.
Although that first album saw limited release (and is unavailable today), it caught the attention of avant-garde music freaks in Bangkok, earning Nymph a reputation as the “Bjork of Thailand.”
On her second album, Nymph steered away from digital music and was accompanied by a jazz trio of piano, drums and bass. Called 4Tet, it was released on Hitman Jazz, a Bangkok-based label that had theretofore only distributed music by international, non-Thai artists. The eight tracks reflected an intimate yet highly imaginative interpretation of the jazz idiom. Nymph’s “little girl” voice created a sound that was nothing like that of any jazz singer living or dead.
It took her nearly a year to finish the album, which was released in mid-2013.
“There were a lot of details to take care of,” says Nymph. “Especially in the recording stage. Thankfully, I was able to get some Swiss musician friends [drummer Christoph Staudenmann, bassist Emanuel Schnyder and pianist Mark Koch] to play on the album, but sending the tracks back and forth took time.
“Although I’m sure there are a lot of talented Thai musicians, I may not have yet found the right ones,” she says. “My style of jazz is different. Each track has twists of Latin, swing, indie and even reggae. The Swiss artists knew what I was talking about. It just clicked when we played together.”
Later in 2013, well-known Thai-Irish director Tom Waller shot a music video for Nymph’s “L’Animal Graffiti,” which saw the artist singing and coyly dancing in front of a large and impassive green iguana. Live performances followed at The Space, Soy Sauce Factory, Renaissance Bangkok, and other venues around Bangkok throughout 2014 and 2015. Most often Nymph performs solo, triggering loops and pre-recorded musical lines while manipulating effects with one hand, and singing into a microphone held in the other hand. Occasionally she’s accompanied by a live drummer.
Audiences at Nymph’s live performances are often spellbound by the display of technical wizardry as well as the charm of her vocal delivery. As much as she can—given the manual demands of her keyboards and synthesizers—she also manages to add sensual dancing to the mix.
Last year, Nymph began doing sound design for live band performances around the city, including at Maggie Choo’s, Whisgars, and Spasso. This has enabled her to bolster her meager musician’s income while at the same time introducing her to many Bangkok performing artists she might not otherwise have a chance to meet.
Meanwhile, her recorded music continues to find its way into other outlets, including local Comet Records compilations, and DJ/electronica streaming sites such as UK-based Juno Records.
“I’ll go back to recording and performing before long,” says Nymph, “but for now I’m happy taking a long break.”