Sunday, August 7, 2011

Indo-Groove: Freak Fuzz & Funk from 1970s Cambodia & Thailand

What would it have been like to experience the underground music scene in early 1970s Bangkok? It might be of surprise that the place was every bit as decadent, as full of sex, drugs AND ROCK N' ROLL as anywhere else on the planet. What little recorded music that does exist and is available gives us a glimpse of the possibilities. Crucial releases in the last few years from labels like Sublime Frequencies are helping to grow the listenable canon by the month.

I read something in a liner note for a collection of Bangladeshi rock and pop songs that because foreign records were practically impossible to find in the country, and their price exorbitant, very few people had any, not to mention had enough money for a decent record player. There were only a few records passed around a small group of musicians. Somebody might have had a Kinks record, passed it around, the next guy gave it to his friend, and so on. The bands would shamelessly ape a Keith Richards guitar riff or a Ray Davies vocalization. But what came out was anything but a carbon copy

I'm nowhere near an expert on Thai underground music, and Thailand is not and has never resembled Bangladesh, but it wouldn't be ridiculous to suggest that the Thai scene at the time was much the same in that not many American or British artists' records would have been available for consumption. In the case of Cambodia, the radio stations from the American armed forces stationed there during the Vietnam War would have been a major influence. Of course, bands like the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and a random bag of western rock songs were pretty much universal. Their paw prints can be found the world over, including Thailand and Cambodia.
Film poster for a Thai exploitation film circa early 1970s

Certainly, none of the music on this mix would exist in its form without the 'western element", but we have to be careful not to exaggerate its influence. Luk Thung, Northern Thailand's "country pop", and one of the styles broadly displayed on this mix, gradually implemented western and other popular styles. More traditional Luk Thung has a very distinct and unique sound of its own. The sound that most impresses is that of the khene, a mouth organ of Lao origin, which creates a mushroom cloud of trance-like psychedelia. The implementation of the more "modern" elements results in a bitches brew of surf guitar, Kinks-style "You Really Got Me", Latin soul, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, James Brown funk, Hank Williams on acid, even some weird coincidences with late 1960's Ethiopian Jazz (though the connection is an impossibility).

 I picked up a copy of an album called Cambodian Cassette Archives somewhere around 2004. It blew my mind. I have savagely consumed '60s and '70s Thai and Cambodian pop on and off since. However, it must be said that I've failed to convert all but one or two listening buddies to the Indo-Grooves that famously play around our house on random evenings. Thus, its become a mission to pass on those glorious sounds to anyone with a pair of willing ears. Free you mind and dip into the deliciously far out music of Thailand and Cambodia...


Dao Bandon, or is Jimi Hendrix alive and well and living in Thailand?
Just a sip...


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