Live music takes centre stage at these Bangkok bars
Our city is no slouch when it comes to live music. On any given night, amid her sweltering sois, can be found a joint with a mic and a melody in a genre of your choosing, whether it’s sultry jazz at Adhere 13th Blues Bar, acoustic folk pop at Play Yard, or take-no-prisoners ska music at Parking Toys. But unlike many metropolises, Bangkok is one where music events are often advertised with little publicity outside Facebook, and word of mouth goes a long way in ferreting out gems.
This month, I lay down some of my go-to haunts that routinely offer compelling music. I also check in with couple-about-town Sienna De L’Orpaz and Sean Carter (aka: UNDA) for local tips. She’s editor of avant-garde magazine The Editor, and he’s a multifaceted rapper and musician whose latest venture, ‘Kai Dao’, is an exciting monthly party that features live jam sessions from underground Thai rappers like ProtoZua. The locations—which have included Black Cabin Bar in the past—are revealed closer to event date so best check their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kaidao.friedegg.
We begin in Old Town Bangkok, zooming in on a particular strip of Charoenkrung Road, where within spitting distance of each other lie three memorable establishments catering to music aficionados. If you’re in the market for unique acts, look no further than the ground floor bar of three-storeyed Soy Sauce Bar, which moonlights (as many as six times a month) as a space for emerging musicians, both local and international. A random evening visit introduced me to Japanese rockabilly and most notably, this past May, it hosted the farewell show of Thailand’s brilliant indie punk-rock band Degaruda.
Around the corner is cozy SoulBar, a favourite of UNDA’s and Sienna’s, that from Wednesday to Saturday showcases soul and funk bands who play everything from Motown classics to jazz. The vibe is chill and on balmy evenings the party spills out onto the sidewalk. A stone’s throw away is newcomer FooJohn Building, in which a French bistro, a cocktail bar, and a rooftop smokehouse vie for your attention. While veteran DJ Justin Mills spins on Wednesdays, join them every Thursday and Sunday as they branch out into live sound with an in-house pianist. Come for the food; stay for the joie de vivre.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t hail this fourth treasure down the river that can be reached by a romantic ferry ride from nearby River City pier. Step back in time at The Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental Hotel, an iconic staple for some of the city’s best live jazz. Bring your pearls and your discerning ear.
Not to be outdone is snaking Sukhumvit Road with a plethora of live music venues hidden in its folds. I highlight two that take it up a notch musically. Hard-to-locate 12×12 is a crammed hipster hotspot hugging a corner of secluded soi Tararom and its social media page is, perhaps deliberately, nondescript. But boy, does it provide a platform for some unexpected and eclectic music—the post-punk stylings of Stylish Nonsense, the funk rhythm of The Lowdowns, and the reggae dub of Hexthree, among others. Best place to discover an artist or even a quirky genre.
Further afield, on Sukhumvit Soi 69, on the third floor of Japanese restaurant Okinawa Kinjo, sits the intimate concert room, LiveCube, that owes its quality acoustics to sound engineer Gabriele Guidi. The excellent line up is Japanese-centric but wedged between those shows is often a welcome surprise—Thai country molam bands, crooners from Cameroon, and to my pleasure, fellow-Indian and soulful singer-songwriter, Mali. Again, their Facebook page is best for information albeit of a limited nature.
For an open-air, beer-in-hand, seats-on-stools experience, Sienna recommends the Ratchada Train Market, close to Esplanade Shopping mall (Thailand Cultural Centre MRT station). “It’s my place to take visiting friends and give them a feel for the pulse of Bangkok. There’s delicious street food, cheap drinks and best of all, super fun, original rock bands at bars like Speakerbox.”
So shrink not, violet, head out the door, and explore. The Bangkok music scene may be discreet but it definitely delivers.
By Rianka Mohan