Chiang Mai’s music scene leaves something to be desired.
Sure, there are plenty of bars around the city offering up all manner of live music any night of the week. Despite the frustrating and inconsistent visa laws and the proclivity for well-worn covers, there are some truly talented musicians in our midst, and I have been impressed by the tightness of craft that I have witnessed in places like the North Gate Jazz Co-op, The Brasserie, Bear Bar and Boy Blues Bar. But when it comes to international acts, the cup runneth a bit dry.
As such, I was pretty excited when I found out about Godung, Thailand’s self-described “gateway to new music from around the world.” Godung is the brainchild of GayRay, which is itself a subsidiary of GMM Grammy Public Company Limited, Thailand’s largest media conglomerate entertainment company, which claims a hefty 70% share of the Thai entertainment industry.
“GayRay means ‘naughty’ and ‘stubborn’ in Thai,” said the affable Yuthana ‘Ted’ Boonorm, GayRay’s managing director. “We gave it that name because we are trying to do something different, something out of the box.”
The bilingual, interactive Godung website features news, band profiles, and message boards aimed to engender a vibrant online community where Thais and expats alike can learn about and discuss indie bands from all over the world. Best of all, users can demand specific artists they want to see live in Thailand using the site’s handy Band Request feature.
“It’s not just an empty gesture,” Ted told me. “When people request bands they like, we listen. It allows us to know precisely what people are interested in seeing, what might draw a real audience in Thailand, who is worth booking.”
Indeed, Godung is more than an online community. It is also an active project with a three-year plan sponsored by Tiger Beer, which will allow organizers to bring an additional three concerts per year to Thailand, largely dependent on the specific requests of Godung members.
The project kicked off with free back-to-back performances in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, featuring some of the UK’s newest indie darlings, Kill It Kid, a leather-clad quartet playing bluesy Brit-rock with a bite.
“Godung is all about supporting new things,” explained Ted, “hence Kill It Kid. Nobody in Thailand knew about them before, but we knew they would love them if they saw them live because, well, they are fucking great.”
He is not wrong. After their packed concert in Bangkok, Kill It Kid caused such a stir that Tu from one of Thailand’s most popular rock bands, Bodyslam, immediately booked a flight from Bangkok to catch their second show in Chiang Mai the following evening.
“When you bring big bands to Thailand, it costs a lot of money,” said Ted, noting that when Lady Gaga toured in Bangkok last year, the cheapest tickets set buyers back a shocking 7,000 baht each. “As such, many young Thais cannot even afford to go to the shows they want to see. So why not bring equally good indie bands that they can actually afford, and will love once they know?”
Indeed, it’s often simply a matter of spreading the word about great but less internationally known bands, a task that the Godung website will hopefully help to achieve.
Godung’s three-year concert plan revolves around a simple formula aimed to maximise Thailand’s exposure to indie artists from around the world. Every show will feature three acts: first a Thai band, then a regional band, then an international headliner. But it’s also a matter of spreading the word about the concerts themselves, which seems to be a particularly large issue in Chiang Mai.
The Chiang Mai Kill It Kid show, hosted by Fabrique and headed by popular Thai rockers Abuse the Youth and Thai/British superstar (and heartthrob) Hugo, drew a surprisingly small crowd, despite the fact that it was free (and awesome). The issue might have been that people didn’t know it was free, or that it wasn’t publicised enough in general, but it was a bit disappointing all the same, considering how great the show was.
“It’s very hard to do music events in Chiang Mai,” said Ted, “because it’s very hard to understand what people are thinking here. There are a lot of small music venues, but not many large ones, and people often don’t want to stray from the same places they love to go every night.”
However, Ted also believes that there are country-wide cultural issues at play.
“Thailand lacks a ‘concert culture’,” he explained. “People have gotten used to going to pubs and listening to cover bands for free.”
Indeed, back in America, my nightly activities were often selected based on what band was playing at what venue on any given night. Here, the specific bands themselves are rarely announced in advance, if at all, and chances are that most of them will just be covering the same old tired pop tunes. Seriously, if I hear one more rendition of ‘Moves Like Jagger’, someone is getting punched in the face.
Globally, musicians are learning to adapt to the fact that people simply don’t buy CDs anymore. As such, they have to find other ways to make a living, and an uptick in live performances is the obvious answer. I believe that this is what has spawned the Western world’s drastic increase in music festivals over the past few years, because they are the perfect way to bring live music to the masses on a large scale.
With GayRay and Godung, Ted and his teammates are trying to bring this culture of live music appreciation to Thailand. For the past three years, they’ve been the people behind Thailand’s biggest and arguably most successful music festival, the Big Mountain Music Festival in Khao Yai. But creating a national community of music lovers is just as important, and in this day and age, the internet is often where communities start. Hence, the need for sites like Godung.
If you look at music appreciation as a kind of journey, it might go something like this: first comes the discovery-finding an awesome band or artist that you’d never heard of before. Then comes the sharing of your new discovery with others-riends, family or other members of a community like Godung. Finally, the zenith, the crux, the climax: experiencing that band live in concert. It’s a beautiful thing. And that’s exactly what Godung seeks to provide: tools to enable each step of the music lover’s journey, including the big payoff at the end.
Unfortunately, according to Ted, Godung’s first year of concerts will probably take place in Bangkok, simply because that is where the demand is. Chiang Mai’s poor showing at the free kickoff concert does not bode well for our future, but it also doesn’t mean all hope is lost. It’s a call to action. If we Chiang Maians want to experience these shows in our own city, we have to take charge, prove our desire and spread the word. We have to get online and make demands. Godung promises it will listen.
So what are you waiting for, Chiang Mai? Fight for your right to party.