My favourite thing about summer in Europe is the roll-up of music in the heat of the sun, evening air or under a set of stars. I always remember making the trek from a Croatian fort that had just finished up the sets of the night back to the campsite, when the first pink wisps of the 6am sunrise were starting to peak. There is no other word than magic and it is a feeling you scarcely have anywhere else than the wind-down time at a festival.
There’s a lot of magic in Thailand, from the northernmost mountains to the southern seaboards. “Thai peopew” (people) are unique. The food is a wonder. You could spend everyday of the year in a different coffee shop. But music is kind of just that buzzy noise you have in the background to stop the coffee shop becoming too quiet when no one wants to talk to each other. The only time it becomes distinct is recognising a particular lyric and realising what you’re hearing is an acoustic and powerless rendition of Creep by Radiohead. On repeat.
Until recent, very recent, all I could think about Korat’s music taste was that it was cute. Cute because with every phonetic cover of modern and classic western pop songs, you could imagine a well-made-up and pretty girl sat in a café garden singing along, and an equally pretty boy playing acoustic guitar next to her. On top of this, the teenie tiny amount of nightlife shows a love of EDM that I tried my best to get on with but again, it too felt… cute.
Korat is trying, bless its little cotton socks. Just before the turn of the new year, Grass Tone festival played to thousands of people. Okay, maybe not… Actually, there was about a hundred of us. Despite this, I give serious props to those who were involved with setting up the festival – they’d taken a track circuit on the outskirts of the city and made it into a weekend hideout from the urban landscape, with masses of fairy lights and hay bales. There was even a sculpture that was not too dissimilar from that of Burning Man festival, which in the prepping photographs, looked quite majestic… In actuality, it and I were about the same height. The headline of Saturday night was apparently the king’s cousin too!
Though there were few, it’s rare to find somewhere with people as friendly and interesting in such a small area as I did that weekend. From the off, walking around the circuit with my farang partner in crime and copious amounts of pillows and throws, a trio welcomed us for a drink of whisky once we had our hands free. Some were from the city, some had come from Bangkok, some from the north and though we all had varying degrees of English, we all had something bigger in common: a thorough appreciation of music. All kinds of music. Post rock, to western, to the “techa-techa-techa” coming from the Loco Room dance tent. I learnt more about Thailand and the different perspectives of those my own age in that time than I ever had; some of the people I met that weekend have carried on enriching what are inevitably going to be my last few months in Nakhon Ratchasima.
Then came Cheeze. As marketed as a carboot festival, suddenly it became unclear what to expect exactly. Promoted for the weekend was homemade crafts and arts, music, an outdoor cinema, food, drinks, sports activities and a lot more. The one hour stand-still traffic was kind of worth it when upon arrival we found the place to be totally packed out. People had come from the capital, the outskirts of Ratchasima and further northern provinces to be at the festival, selling goods of all sorts. Pop-up cocktail bars bordered next to hand-printed shirts and “vintage” (read old) flannel shirts and toys. Beyond that were classic VW cars and stations to make your own flower headbands. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an area with such a high hipster density before, and there is no subtlety in the Thai hipster scene. The outdoor cinema was an amazing idea, even if the English language film showing at the time didn’t seem to make any sense except to be simply weird. Perhaps I’m just not “deep” enough.
Where I felt a small festival like Grass Tone with not much but the music DID have its advantages was that the music stayed throughout the night at the same kind of level. The quality never dwindled and the genre stayed alternatively charming. Cheeze festival showed moments of musical greatness and then was almost immediately followed by something that is heard as a thumping buzz from every pick-up truck in Korat. I’m no longer sure if the Thai hip-hop was as amazing and original as I thought it was at the time or just sounded that way at the peak of two mojitos, but that too because a very “vanilla” music jig after 1am. So close, and yet…
The musical endeavours aren’t over yet. Though there is change coming for Korat, very slowly but surely, seek further afield and you shall find. Of recent, I’ve discovered that my feelings of resentment to Bangkok might have been displaced. My first night in Thailand (ever) was spent down the infamous Khao San Road in an 80 baht cocktail bar watching 16 year olds selling laughing gas to #hench “lads”. I decided maybe a little too quickly, from the the high population of tourists, the dumb touristy stuff for tourists and the level of pollution that Bangkok wasn’t for me. Had I filled out my 6-month contract at my school and then decided to head home, there would have been no chance of the city growing on me. It’s in the past month I’ve found what I was after in Bangkok. What I found in Grass Tone, other sharing a solid appreciation for music and things that often go hand-in-hand with music, I’ve now found on the rooftops of Bangkok, and in bars hidden down the many sois of Sukhumvit.
Two weeks ago today, music lovers were invited for a Valentines Day special to the rooftop of Mövenpick hotel, where Sunju Hargun played back to back with the most renowned techno DJ of Thailand, Nakadia. The night was kicked off with Korat’s own star, Tj Tiesjungle. Sometimes, I feel that the music taste of Thais influences the DJs to play music the crowd will like. This is often a repetitive pattern of rises and drops in EDM. There is very little change. On Valentine’s, there was a freedom for Tj to explore something other than the sound of commercial dance. When the sun set, the decks switched to the most playful and energetic b2b I’ve ever heard. Both DJs were incredibly friendly – it was a little more like being at a house party where the DJs were just your mates, taking turns to dance with you and check if you’re enjoying yourself.
The good stuff carried on longer than I could physically stand after 4 hours of straight up boogying and a midnight bus to catch back home, in time for my classes the next day. Though I felt like I needed 20 cups of tea to make it through school on Monday 15th, I also felt refreshed, in a way that only dancing to your favourite music can make you feel. The time until I’m homeward bound is officially ticking, but I think there might be a couple more times to dance in the Land of Smiles before that.