The show is about to begin. Its location is public. Its location is secret. PA equipment and instruments are strewn about as musicians set things up. Their power supply is limited, so they hope the batteries won’t run out before all four groups have finished playing.
Attendees were informed that the show starts at 3 p.m. 3 p.m. becomes 4 p.m. The 4 becomes the 5. But the crowd gathered among the heaps of gravel and rubbish, some in folding chairs, others squatting on the sidewalk where they avoid the occasional cyclist, do not seem surprised.
Soon, after a quick sound check, melodic strumming and booming drums signify the start of the show.
This symbiotic community of underground musicians and passionate fans of new sounds and live music did not meet on Sundays in an air-conditioned room or a secluded nightclub. Instead, as they’ve been doing regularly since late last year, they’ve turned an unlikely location in Bangkok into their sonic playground.
Anyone cruising along Praditmanutham Road on Sunday afternoon would be forgiven for missing what was brewing under Chalong Rat Highway. There, a crowd huddled under an overpass remade from a gritty urban sprawl into a post-rock music paradise.
“I think playing outside in the most unlikely places protects us from COVID and relieves others from being stuck at home all day,” Wannarit “Pok” Pongprayoon said.
It’s Bangkok Street Noise, and Wannarit, a hero of Bangkok’s alternative music scene, is its public face. Since August, he and his compatriots have found a way to escape the COVID lockdown and shine a light on the underground with a series of free public performances at quirky venues spotted across the capital.
The first was at a hard-to-find location in an underpass on Rama IX Road near Ramkhamhaeng. Others were staged next to a train track, at a bus stop and green spaces hidden from view.
Sunday, under the highway, several dozen people had been informed a few days earlier of the second event of 2022.
“We’re Million Acre, and this is Street Gig #18. Let’s get started,” frontman Thanapon “Bo” Yoodee of the night’s first band quietly announced to the relaxed audience.
Michael Honeycomb, an American artist, helps with everything from logistics to sound checking.
“It started out of necessity, where we just wanted to play music,” he said. “We didn’t think about doing shows at first, we just wanted to play music outside.”
Most of the time, Bangkok is a place to avoid for those who can. Those not restricted by economic status rush through its exposed locations to head for the next air-conditioned bubble. Bangkok Street Noise reverses this by making the city the scene and causing unlikely interactions.
Curious cyclists and motorbike taxi drivers stopped to admire the scene on Sunday, as other sights drew bewildered but curious locals.
“We choose public places partly because it’s safe, but also partly because we want the music to be more public,” Wannarit said. “We love that passing locals can hear and see something interesting about what’s going on in the scene.”
The smell of cigarette smoke lingered in the air. Occasional banter among the audience gave it an intimate vibe as ambulances and police cars zoomed over the freeway, oblivious to the chaotic fun unfolding below.
The sun started to set halfway through Action Star’s brilliant rendition of The Cure’s boys don’t cry, and after dark, Dear Rasmi’s psychedelic orgy of post-rock guitars and reverb sent the audience into a dancing frenzy.
The lights were quickly installed and quickly provided the only lighting. Spirit Snail, the lineup’s final act, dominated the space with a slower tempo and heavier guitars to deliver a headbanging crescendo into one hell of an explosive, stoner-doom wall of sound.
The music was so dark that some people started to drain early, but when the sound cut out briefly, it didn’t break the trance-like state of those still intoxicated by the ethereal mix of dread. distortion.
Wannarit has a lot of experience in organizing events that manage with good will and patience. With his label, Panda Records, he held multi-day festivals at secluded rock quarries known as the Stone Free. Before the pandemic, he founded the performance-DIY-shopping events Noise Market.
Bangkok Street Noise started after hosting an outdoor show in August with Honeycomb, experimental musician Gate Garnglai and a few others.
“We invited our friends to escape the stress of staying at home,” Wannarit said.
Street concerts started in August. The shows are free and other groups are welcome. Only 5-10 people came to the first shows. But word spread and more wind caught. Sunday’s event saw over 50 people or so.
The group explores public places via bicycle and Google Street View to find places to build walls of sound that can catch the ears and eyes of curious onlookers.
“I love riding my bike and exploring places down the back streets. I love discovering new hidden places near my home,” Wannarit said. “Michael rides a motorcycle and also likes to explore. He knows Bangkok very well.
This means always trying to increase the location of the previous gig.
“We’re also trying to go for more unique places to refresh people’s eyes with the city, because we’re all tired of concrete and cars,” he added.
Past concerts have taken place at Saphan Phut (Memorial Bridge), a graffiti-streaked scrabble patch next to train tracks near Asok, and green spaces such as Watcharaphirom and Piyapirom parks.
“Exploring the city is part of the fun for us,” Honeycomb said. “It’s like an adventure game.”
Their network of musicians and performers provides a wide pool of talent to draw from, although Wannarit is likely to be sprawled out on the lawn, blowing into a melodica.
They are also issuing open calls via social media, asking artists to submit samples for consideration.
“If a group hasn’t attended one of our events, we tell them to check out the event before booking it,” Honeycomb said.
While Sunday’s event featured four distinctive rock bands, organizers aim to keep the lineup diverse.
“When we choose a lineup for a show, we try to never have more than one band with a style,” Honeycomb said, adding that he would love to see more hip-hop and metal acts join the cacophony. .
Between shows, the community keeps in touch through the Bangkok Street Noise group, sharing recordings and waiting for Wannarit to announce the next venue.
But due to the ad hoc and unpredictable nature of the band, organizing these weekly gigs poses challenges.
For one thing, most shows are far from electrical outlets, so musicians have to rely solely on drums.
“One of the biggest challenges of running these shows is power. We run everything on batteries,” Michael said. given a show, the music is off.”
While there’s always an eye open for someone to come and tell them to stop playing, other changing conditions are more likely to be obstacles.
“We had a few situations where it started raining on our gear,” Michael said. “Once a band was playing and they were safe, but the mixer and the computer weren’t. So we just put a tarp over it while I stood there with an umbrella.
So far, groups have only been kicked out of one place once – a park – and couldn’t end up there. So instead of giving up, they moved everything to a nearby overpass.
“What made it so amazing was that the audience helped us get our gear on the road, and within 30 minutes we were back in place,” Honeycomb said.
Another time a park that had given permission changed their mind when they showed up.
“Again, we just improvised and found a place nearby,” Michael said. “From this day on, we no longer ask permission, we try to use the parks less.”
When asked if COVID gave them a break, Honeycomb doesn’t think they are irresponsible.
“I think it’s pretty safe,” he said. “We only do outdoor shows.”
As someone who avoids indoor spaces, he said that was one of the reasons they turned down invitations. That and wanting to keep it out – and free for all.
“It will always be free and accessible,” he said. “The vibe you feel is unique, you know people are only there for the music. There’s no profit to be made, it’s just a passion project.
Could he, however, be a victim of success?
“I don’t want a lot of people at the shows just because it might be more inconvenient for the neighbors around us,” Wannarit said. “We are also afraid of attracting the authorities to hunt us.” He’s laughing.
But the hikes are part of what’s worth it.
“However, whenever we play with people jogging or walking home, I can see that they enjoy what they see and hear, even if they’re not into the music.”
It goes back to the central tension of the art he has created over two decades: setting aside convention while trying to find enough interest to be a viable force.
“It makes me happy to realize that there are things that society in general is ready to accept and welcome,” he said. “I sometimes worry that audiences are getting big for small spaces. Eventually, we would like to buy a van to tour and get in touch with groups from other provinces.
He thinks for a moment before adding:
“We would also like to get more batteries. And do 50 shows. May be.”
Join Bangkok Street Noise Community to learn more. the next show will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday at Bang Na Pier, about a 10-minute drive from BTS Udom Suk.