In my relatively short time here in the Kingdom, Thai music is one thing that interests me greatly, yet it seems to be, for me at least, a very difficult genre to really sink my teeth into. The few stores at Kad Suan Gao that I’ve found that have LP’s have a limited selection and the records aren’t exactly cheap. But every now and then I’ll hear a dusty radio in a som tam restaurant with some catchy music and I can appreciate the musical heritage of this place. But these are deep waters.
There have been a few people who have, in many ways, brought life into the Thai music scene and brought the music like Isan Dancehall and Molam to an international audience. Zudrangma Records is an excellent source for quality and authentic Thai music especially at their record store in Bangkok on Sukhumvit soi 51. DJ Maft Sai and Chris Menist have been putting out mixes entitled “The Sound of Siam” now for years on Soundway Records and you can easily listen to them on their Soundcloud. Zudrangma has also been buying the rights to classic Isan and Molam dancehall sounds and printing these classic tracks on vinyl. In doing so they have given us a window into this otherwise elusive genre.
I was fortunate enough to see Maft Sai DJ at the Warm Up Cafe Lounge and it was one of the best musical experiences I’ve had here in Thailand. The dance floor was filled with people, mostly Thais, and the crowd was moving and shaking like nothing I’d seen before in the land of dance floor tables. Shortly thereafter, I was able to catch a bit of a DJ set he did at a small intimate gathering in a Nimmanheiman store house. Simply put, his DJ sets are amazing. Impeccable selection of music that can get the locals dancing and you can’t help but join in.
The two have recently assembled a band together and released a record through the Zudrangma label. Menist sits in on the drums and is joined by Sawai Kaewsombat on the khaen (a sort of bamboo harmonica) and Kammao Perdtanon who plays the traditional lute. They throw in a drum set and a bass and recorded an album that pays tribute to classic Thai music while also bringing in influences like dub, reggae, blues, and folk. The album was pressed onto 500 limited edition vinyl but can also be picked up online. They truly pull off what the title of the album implies: 21st Century Molam.
The international attention recently hit a new peak when Menist was a part of Four Tet’s “Four Tet & Friends” event that was featured on the Boiler Room London. During his set there, the sounds of Thailand were ringing through the ears of some of the world’s best underground music producers as well as available to anyone with internet access. Catching the ears of Four Tet is enough evidence, for me anyway, that Thai music and its musical traditions most definitely have a place in the global music scene as well as here.