The rise of Thai music sensation Billy Chuchat
Musician Billy Chuchat likes going against the grain. When his friends were into partying, he preferred tinkering with a Rubik’s Cube—he placed second at a speed solving contest—or mastering a fast-paced, incredibly coordinated dance move with his fingers called “tutting”, which he decided to record and post on YouTube one evening. It’s a grainy home video featuring 16-year-old Billy in a silver NY Yankees hat, freestyle finger-tutting to a Timbaland song. The video quickly went viral (it’s been viewed over 70,000 times) and changed the course of his life.
Fast forward seven years and today, Billy’s channel BILLBilly01 is one of the most successful music channels in Thailand with almost one million subscribers and more than 230 million views. His baseball hat of old has been replaced by a black fedora and now his videos are covers of English songs by him and his friends, which are remarkably polished for someone who’s mixing and editing out of his apartment.
Billy is of a new ilk of artist emerging on music’s most powerful platform; a skilled-in-everything-from-video-to-vocals-to-viral-distribution wunderkind eschewing the middlemen of big record labels in accessing their fan base. And his meteoric success is partly attributable to the fact that he’s immensely watchable. He may prefer to shine the spotlight on his singers but your eyes gravitate to him strumming a guitar, switching instruments, experimenting on the mixer, or merely snapping his fingers to the beat. His most popular video, a cover by Violette Wautier, has a moment when Violette tries a dance move and Billy, a second later, copies her. She mock hits him mid-song, while he’s working in myriad instrumentation to the melody. It’s a charming piece of showmanship and typical of Billy’s penchant for adding relatability to his otherwise jaw-dropping versatility with sound. Just watch his version of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” where all the music comes from one guitar.
His process begins with the song. “I listen to a song and first I try to focus on what it’s trying to convey. Does the emotion it evokes feel fake or rubbish? If so, I try to turn it into something that’s more authentic.” To which the obvious question becomes, don’t you like the songs you cover? He laughs. “Yes I do but I did go through a phase of covering songs I disliked to bring my own take to them. I’m not a fan of the guitar in ‘Paris’ so Alyn and I took hours to pull off our version, which I prefer.”
Billy isn’t arrogant; he’s just an avid and astute pop culture consumer. “My friends get upset when I criticize songs. But we all have the right to be critical of music, not be mere passive consumers. Popularity doesn’t always mean quality. In commenting on songs, you’re engaging in music appreciation. You’ve got to be able to independently decide what you like or don’t and why. We shouldn’t take good art for granted. Art is meant to be criticized and we’re better for it.”
But the internet is sometimes a scary place with trolls on the loose. “I think every YouTuber remembers their first hate comment. To me, it means I’ve got to be better. I make it work as inspiration to push myself. Beyond that, I don’t let it bother me.”
Billy is also too busy to be bothered. He’s in a band, Tilly Birds, with his childhood friend Third Keith and this year, they’ve released their first Thai EP. Furthermore, he graduates from Chulalongkorn University with his thesis film being publicly screened at the BACC on July 29th and 30th.
Do you see yourself doing anything else post graduation? Billy frowns before declaring with confidence, “You mean a regular desk job? No way, music is it for me. This is my life.”
Four-man indie Korean pop/rock band Hyukoh hits Bangkok this July 15th to perform at Voice Space (BBD Building, 197 Viphavadi Rangsit). Known for their avant-garde music and aesthetic sensibility, Hyukoh is often touted as the ‘Band of the New Generation.’ Tickets start at B2,100 and doors open at 7pm.
By Rianka Mohan