The history of popular music in Thailand has been a pretty woeful affair. Twenty-five years ago, it was Asanee Wasan that were credited with bringing Thai music into the modern era. For someone stepping off a plane in what was then the post-punk era, Asanee Wasan’s soaring power chords and painfully slow rock ballads equated more with ancient history than anything contemporary. Fortunately though, things did change – at least for a while.
Thailand’s ‘New Wave’ happened about 15 years after the fact, but it was worth the wait… Bands like Modern Dog, Clash, Silly Fools and Paradox emerged to offer something a bit different alongside the nation’s usual fare. It got to the point where an ex-member of Suede was in a band in Thailand (Futon). And they were all pretty decent bands… Modern Dog for example opened for Radiohead’s visit to Bangkok, toured extensively world-wide, and in 2006 blew bands like Franz Ferdinand off the stage at Bangkok 100 (even though they were on earlier in the day). Grunge, Indie, Punk, New Wave, Death Metal, Hip Hop, House – whatever the musical style someone, somewhere, was experimenting… But unfortunately the momentum didn’t carry.As with elsewhere in the world, Thailand’s music industry adapted and survived. Slowly, but surely, “alternative” was tamed, packaged and brought into the mainstream. Today, the kingdom’s music scene is, to say the least, predictable – a steady and sure product of similar sounds generating an equally steady source of revenue. The time is right for a new ‘Modern Dog’ to shake things up a bit. Perhaps ‘The Standards’ are the band we are looking for.
The Standards are a musical oddity. They have been around for about 4 years and their lineup includes 2 foreigners and 3 Thais. Front man Matt Smith provides the vocals while Nay Voravittayathorn hits the drums, Manasnit Setthawong (nickname Nit) provides keyboards, Paul Smith plays lead guitar and Sithikorn Likitvoarchaui (nickname Mc) plays bass.A chirpy Cockney from Woolwich in South London, front man Matt certainly has the front man look (ala Damon Albarn). He played in a couple of bands in the UK, most noticeable being Foxtail, a London-based band with ‘Mod’ overtones. Despite lots of concerts and coverage in the NME, nothing ever got to vinyl. After moving to Thailand he missed being in a band and he very quickly helped pull The Standards together.
Unlike other Thai bands, they don’t have the promotional weight of a mega-corporation behind them, and despite this – perhaps because of this – they are doing the business. Considering the context they are working in, The Standards have a very unique look and sound. They’ve played most major venues in Thailand (including club Culture near Khao San Road, and Immortal, which used to be on Khao San Road until a couple of years ago), their music videos are played on MTV, they've played live on MTV, and they supported megastars “The Charlatans” who played Bangkok in 2010.
"It’s easier to get your music out to an audience these days,” suggested Matt when we spoke to him. “Back in the day it cost 600 or 700 quid an hour to record in a decent studio, but these days you can do everything on a Mac.” That flexibility led to the band putting together “Well, Well, Well”, a three-track EP on CD and “Nations”, a full-blown album which sits nicely amongst the racks of CDs by foreign artists found in record stores around Siam Square. “We tried working with some of the local producers, but it didn’t work out. We wanted more of a live sound. At the time we have a regular event called Popscene at Bangkok Rocks on Sukhumvit 19, and we recorded everything there. The owner just let us use the place afterhours and we did things like record the vocals in the toilet so we could get the right sound.”
The band’s big sound and attention to detail has translated into a powerful live act which soon amassed a solid following of locals (20%) and expats (80%). In the short time they have been together, they have toured extensively – they did an Asian tour with 9 concerts in Singapore, Borneo, Malaysia, and a three day festival in the Philippines. More recently they played CAMA in Hanoi. Quite an achievement in its own right, but all the more impressive when you consider they manage themselves.
“The fact that we manage ourselves means we can do what we want”, added Matt. “The Thai alternative sound is more like British music in the 80’s, but our sound is more influenced by bands like Kasabian and Arcade Fire. It’s very different from what people are used to here. If we really wanted to make something of ourselves in Thailand we’d have to change our sound and it wouldn't be worth it really. It’s hard work doing everything ourselves, but we just enjoy it.”
Historically, “it’s all about the music” is a sentiment that has been relegated to cliché, but as far as The Standards are concerned, it really does seem to be the case. With a sound that doesn’t fit the local scene and no managerial support, The Standards have created a niche in Thailand’s music scene that allows them to keep doing what they like doing – playing their music. Now, with that under their belt they are taking on what might be considered the ultimate challenge – a tour of the United Kingdom.
Matt has been the focal point in the organization of The Standard’s UK tour. They have organized everything themselves. They’ve contacted the venues, begged to borrow equipment, and apart from promotion by the venues themselves, promoted it themselves. To pay for everything they have organized their own sponsorship. “But we aren’t going to make any money out of it,” points out Matt, “quite the opposite in fact”.
He’s breaking his neck 24/7 organizing a tour that is going to put the band out of pocket… I guess the question “What’s the effing the point?” would come to anyone’s mind. The answer it seems reinforces the “it’s all about the music” concept.
“We’ve just got to go there just to see what happens. We aren’t aiming for world domination or anything, but we just have to know. We have to know how we compare against the big boys. If we don’t do it, it will always be on our minds, so, yeah, it’s a pointless exercise. We hope to get people talking but there’s no real objective beyond that”.
The Standards take their Thai homegrown to the UK in July 2011. Here’s a breakdown of the tour:
The July dates are:
01/07/11 – Camden Rock, London
03/07/11 – Bull And Gate, London
04/07/11 – Workshop, London
05/07/11 – Haymakers, Cambridge
06/07/11 – The Shed, Leeds
07/07/11 – The Blue Cat, Stockport
09/07/11 – Alan McGee’s Greasy Lips, Jamm, London
10/07/11 – Rhythms Of The World Festival, Hitchin
More info on the Facebook event page.
Pictures Miki Giles