Wahtihdah Shannon Duffy Digs Deep into Bangkok’s Underground Electronic Scene
Thong Lo’s flashy night scene has always brought out the city’s youngest in packs. Upscale clubs like Demo and Muse offer Bangkok’s elite a seen-and-be-seen environment to break out to the beat of mainstream music. But while Thong Lo undeniably sets the tempo for the city’s nightlife, unbeknownst to the throngs of its regulars, an entirely alien scene of underground techno music has emerged—and it’s quickly gaining traction among those in-the-know.
Though not entirely new to Bangkok, techno music has come a long way in permeating the sois of the city’s underground culture. “It’s a movement,” says DJ Tristan Kino, formerly of Paris. “You call it ‘underground’ because you don’t get everything directly in your hands. You have to keep yourself informed every day…you meet people, talk, and find out when the next gig is going to happen.”
Techno music, though known to exist in much of European and American underground cultures, is not readily understood or even consciously acknowledged among mainstream lovers of electronic music in Thailand. A genre of soulful electronic sound birthed from the dilapidated streets of Detroit in the 80s, techno was an instrumental tool of rebellion among the recluses of society; it was the music that emerged from the anger and resentment that the Detroitians felt at not being “connected” to the city. The movement later turned into a startling passion for the beat. Techno became an iteration of soulful yet precise electronic music that later expanded internationally and resonated among the troubled youth cultures of major European cities.
“Everything happened differently in each country,” Kino explains. “All this music was aimed toward the part of society that was outside—the misfits. For example, the conflict in Berlin was how [the city] came to have focused beats with faster kicks and higher BPM [beats per minute].”
So how is it that in Bangkok—a city whose youth arguably have no rebellious initiative—an ever-growing techno scene has been established without a fundamental countercultural element?
Sebastian Keusch, co-founder of Sunn, Bangkok’s biggest house and techno event series, believes that the city’s flourishing scene is a result of Westerners residing here. “It’s coming from the older guys who grew up with the underground in Europe and the US and are trying to find it in Bangkok, as well,” he explains.
But among the newer generations of fans, Kino believes the underground scene in Bangkok to be more of a result of the excitement surrounding the music rather than the emotional pull and context behind it. “There isn’t a revolt happening,” he clarifies. “It’s just hype here.”
However, in a city where many of the natives have not yet been exposed to techno music, 10-year-old Glow Club in Asoke has been a pivotal game-changer in catalysing the underground scene. “Glow are the true pioneers. It’s ‘where it all started,’ you could say,” posits Keusch. What makes Glow stand out among its underground compatriots is the properly curated atmosphere: a dark room, minimal lighting, and an upgraded sound system in hand with talented acts, both international and local. Yet while Glow and other venues, such as Live RCA, have a distinct advantage in being able to lasso international acts, local heroes like DJ Sunju Hargun ensure residents of the techno world stay satisfied with independent events, including the recurring “Inhale Exhale.” At the same time, the Japanese underground scene heard in 12 x 12 and Goya Bar, as well as the far-flung sounds of Studio Lam, have made waves in the culture of electronic music in Bangkok.
Even Sebastian Keusch has noticed a huge change in the last two years. “Every weekend you have at least five to ten choices—you don’t even know where to go anymore.”
With roots of the underground world taking hold, engrained as relevant in nightlife subcultures, the potential for Bangkok to gain gravitas in Asia’s electronic scene is clear. Keusch agrees, suggesting that Bangkok has everything it needs to become a major player across the continent, from the infrastructure, the central location, and even the quality and depth of international DJs coming to town. “We just need to put it together and make something out of it,” he explains.
Though the techno cultures of Detroit and Berlin were birthed from reactions to socio-political climates, Bangkok’s infantile scene doesn’t have to be a movement defined by resistance. For now, it can be an embodiment of the youth cultures’ ideals or a means of expressing complex emotions. It’s becoming increasingly obvious, in any case, that the city’s techno scene will continue to evolve across time and rhythm. In a few years, Thong Lo will have switched tracks. Are we another Berlin? Maybe not. But, in this context, being Bangkok matters most of all.