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Time running and passing…had meant to post an update before now, but as I’m heading to Bangkok tomorrow for our 4th Anniversary party, I realised I posted nothing about the last event in November, which saw the live debut of The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band. Made up of a Bangkok based rhythm section and two molam veterans from Isan on phin and khaen respectively, the band took to the stage to great acclaim, and will be backing the mighty vocalist Angkanang Kunchai on the 30th March. In addition PB003 (third release on the Paradise Bangkok label) came and went, and we’re just waiting for the arrival of PB004!
More when I get back, but for now, here’s a small clip of the band in action. Enjoy…
I’m not usually prone to ‘end of year’ charts and musical reflections, but an email from Boomkat asking for a 2012 Top Ten prompted me to rifle back through my record boxes and remind myself of various purchases over the last 12 months. It’s fair to say that it’s been an absolutely great year for music. I suppose every year is, on reflection, but this is the first year I’ve had since leaving Asia where I’ve been able to monitor (not to mention purchase!) a year’s music as it unfolds.
It’s true that it might be harder to sell the same quantity of units than it used to, but in a strange way this has almost freed up people’s creativity, and risk taking. Maybe if there isn’t the same commercial pressure, people are left to focus on their artistry. This in turn produces a more integral product, and overall, a more satisfying musical landscape when viewed with hindsight. It might be a bit tougher to make a living, but if quality and imagination soar as a result, maybe this is something we can deal with in the long run.
You can check the Boomkat chart here:
I focused on new releases, although some of those are archival. In addition I’ve drawn up a ‘vintage’ Top Ten of new discoveries of old tracks that peppered my DJ sets this year, whether playing with my spar Maft Sai at Paradise Bangkok, or elsewhere.
10 That Brightened Up 2012 x 10 Paradise Bangkok Burners
1. ‘Ekstasis’ – Julia Holter (RVNG Intl. LP)
2. ‘Hello Skinny’ – Hello Skinny (Slowfoot LP)
3. ‘Strange Passion’ – Various (Finders Keepers LP)
4. ‘Raw Money Raps’ – Jeremiah Jae (Brainfeeder LP)
5. ‘The Jeb Loy Nichols Special’ – Jeb Loy Nichols (City Country City LP)
6. ‘Otherwordly’ – The Pyramids (Disko B LP)
7. ‘Din’ – Fay (Time No Place LP)
8. ‘Voix’ – Egisto Macchi (The Roundtable LP)
9. ‘Electronic Music, Tar and Sehtar’ – Dariush Dolat-Shahi (Dead-Cert LP)
10. ‘Ondatropica’ – Ondatropica (Soundway LP)
1. ‘Pai Na Pai’ – Sroeng Santi (Paradise Bangkok 7″)
2. ‘Samba’ – Balla Et Ses Balladins (Syliphone 7″)
3. ‘Love Won’t Come Easy’ – The Heptones (Rockers 7″)
4. ’Pal Men Jane Kaya Hojaye’ – Akhlaq Ahmed, Nahid Akhtar & Others (EMI Pakistan 7″)
5. ‘Lam Plearn Me Mia Lean Pai’ – Angkanang Kunchai (Lepso Studio 7″)
6. ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ – Masud Rana & Rubina Badar (EMI Pakistan 7″)
7. ‘Ney-Ney Woleba’ – Alemayehu Eshete (Philips 7″)
8. ‘Working To The Top’ – Marcia Griffiths (Studio One blank 7″)
9. ‘Youba’ – The Sway Machinery feat. Gawad Teriamou (Electric Cowbell 7″)
10. ’Keleya’ – Kante Manfla (Djima 7″)
Julia Holter’s ‘Ekstasis’ LP is pretty far removed from my usual listening fare, but there was something about its musical simplicity and haunting poetry that kept it on heavy rotation throughout 2012. It’s impending re-release on Domino will doubtless introduce Holter’s talent to a deserved wider audience. ‘Strange Passion’ on Finders Keepers was definitely my comp. of the year. This collection of post-punk Irish music had a freshness, innocence and honesty about it that belied its age. The backstory of how the music was created in the difficult local landscape of the 70s and 80s, added to its weight. ‘Din’ by Fay pretty much sounded like nothing else, like a fevered compression of post-Timbaland rhythmic reductions. And even if you’re not into Columbian music, you should check the ‘Ondatropica’ LP. Simply put, nothing else sounded as good as this, this year. Recorded at the Fuentes studios in Medellin using vintage equipment, it’s direct mastering to vinyl with minimal overdub work, created a warmth and presence rarely witnessed in so many modern productions. That has to be a lesson for us somewhere as we head into 2013.
You can never squeeze everything into a chart, so I’d also cite Raime’s ‘Quarter Turns Over A Living Line’, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend’ by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Can Tapes, Frank Ocean’s ‘Channel Orange’, Mark Ernestus & Jeri-Jeri, ‘Spiritual Jazz’ 3 on Jazzman, ‘The Hired Hand’ on vinyl, Pole’s rerubs of Roll The Dice, early glimpses of Jai Paul, the Sun Araw/Congos project, ‘Secret Enigma’ on Finders Keepers, Getatchew Mekuria’s latest outing with The Ex, ‘Neph/Phi’ by Klaus, and of course the new Burial….lucky for us listeners, the list goes on.
New ‘old’ music wise, I’ve documented some of my finds on preceding blog posts, but in 2012 I was lucky to be turned onto great selections from Pakistan, East Africa & Indonesia, some new Thai gems from Maft Sai’s massive stock (check http://www.zudrangmarecords.com for the full picture) as well as lovely W.African LPs from City Boys Band, Kyerematen Stars, and too many reggae 45s to mention. And of course, it was a thrill to get the ‘Paradise Bangkok’ label started.
Some of the tracks mentioned in the chart and above are played in my last show of the year for ZudRangMa radio. Part 1 is here:
and the full tracklisting is below:
Hard Times – Jeb Loy Nichols
Love Won’t Come Easy – The Heptones
Happy Song – Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras, The Congos
Cloud Rider – The Pyramids
Mor Khaen Ha Khu – Prasai Jaekankeo (Paradise Bangkok 45 PB001)
High Cost of Living – The Threat (from ‘Strange Passion’)
Lir Saalir – Tina & Soetedjo
Opening – Bruce Langhorne (from ‘The Hired Hand’ Soundtrack)
Chozi Lanitoka – Black Star Musical Club
Abrabo Ye Ntoboase – City Boys Band
Dhinak Dhin Dhin Tana – Ahmed Rushdi
Four Gardens – Julia Holter
Knot Blue – Hello Skinny
Greetings – Jeremiah Jae feat. Tre
People Are Changing – Joe White
These charts and the accompanying radio show aren’t definitive, just a glimpse into some of my personal highlights this year. If it introduces you to some sounds that hitherto passed you by, then that’s all to the good. Merry Christmas, and a prosperous and healthy 2013.
Full update soon, but just a quick heads up about a party on Friday 23rd November in Dalston. Fade 2, myself and special guests playing all manner of good sounds ’til the wee hours. Hope you can make it. More info here:
Right…after this, I promise to stop being such a slack blogger. A big year for us – after returning from Thailand, myself and Sarah had to start making preparations for the arrival of a new baby (Daniel – born in July), a relocation to London (August) and settling Ben & Ollie into their new school (September). I’m thankful to say all these events ran pretty smoothly, and we’re now ensconced in our nice little house in South London. It’s really nice being back, not least because we’re no longer in limbo. No longer preparing to go somewhere, no longer about to change our surroundings again and head back from another place. It finally feels good to be home, and whilst short-term trips are in the offing, we’ll be staying put for the time being.
This makes it a good place to reflect on the past few years. We left for the UK in 2006 – I needed a break from music. 10 years of freelancing, and starting a family had given me a different slant on things. I accepted a full time job in Islamabad with an NGO I’d previously done some consultancy work with, and off we went. We relocated to Thailand later, after visa hassles and general insecurity in the country made it impractical to stay with two small children.
I’ve written elsewhere about getting in touch with EMI Pakistan during our stay, which resulted a couple of years later in the ‘Sound of Wonder’ and ‘Life Is Dance’ comps. on the always consistent Finders Keepers label in the UK. It’s a happy association that continues to this day, and a third exploration into the wonderful world of Lollywood is planned for next year.
But there was something missing in the process. Via direct contact with EMI PK, we got access to their amazing archive which stretches back to Partition. On the plus side, it made the process of getting hold of the tracks, as well as the flawless masters, incredibly straight forward. Umer Sheikh, and archivist Iqbal Asif were always ready and willing to help us with our demands. However, there was never any real ‘digging’ involved. Whilst I would never romanticise this often fruitless task, it is still, for me at least, the most reliable way of building up an understanding of unfamiliar music.
Two buying trips to Lahore had to be cancelled at the last minute due to security concerns, as well as a meeting with the great composer Tafo. I was additionally advised that vinyl that turned up at weekend markets in Karachi was generally in v. poor shape. Original vinyl and artwork were ultimately hunted down via the internet, but that comforting rummage through boxes to unearth the gems proved elusive. Thailand was the opposite – I was spoiled by the range of shops and opportunities to sift through myriad musical delights at my own leisure. Whilst we were naturally thrilled with the end musical results of the Pakistani comps., that personal connection and research time was obviously not to be.
Imagine my surprise therefore, when I was contacted last year by a dealer about a large stock of 7″ Pakistani Eps, which he had acquired through a sound engineer. Better yet, the engineer had built up this collection as the music came out, recorded the tracks to tape for his own consumption, then never played the vinyl again. This was shop stock quality, something I’d never come across, even via Ebay.
I had told myself that unlimited access to the EMI PK archive was enough, but naturally I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wade through boxes of the physical artefact! As well as picking up known tracks there was a host of music I’d never come across, and probably might have passed on, as the artwork wasn’t necessarily intriguing or the composer was little known.
Why should a format matter so much? Surely it’s the music that counts. True enough, but whilst I’ll happily listen to digital files via my iPod, to hold the item in your hand, as it was originally presented to the public is still thrilling. I have nothing against digital – I am not a luddite, but ultimately, what feels better: an Athena poster or the original, signed and numbered print? I still DJ with vinyl. I believe it sounds better, and whilst it isn’t always convenient, I find it easier to relate to as I flick through my box, figuring out what to play next.
Seeking out the original also matters, as it’s the most reliable way of seeing the music as it was first released and presented. You get an idea of how this music was experienced in real time, at the time the listening public initially got to hear it. It’s a form of archaeology, as it always informs you just as much about the context of the music, than just the vinyl itself. Ultimately it’s easier to form a relationship to something three dimensional, than with mere data.
For future posts, I shall try as much as possible to tie in the blog with the radio show I produce for ZudRangMa:
Currently up is a Lollywood special that showcases some of my recent finds, as well as future comp. possibilities. Happy listening, and see you again soon….honest!
Well, time only seems to go in one direction, and it’s been far too long since my last post. Things gather apace for a move back to London, as well as the next release on the Paradise Bangkok label. I have updates too, to write on Indonesia, and Pakistani vinyl…soon come.
Before that though, I wonder if you’d check the mix below. I need over 100 listens to qualify for shortlisting, so feel free to share this with your friends, followers and subscribers.
It’s a whistle stop tour of recent finds from Thailand and Indonesia. Do hope you enjoy…
It’s strange being back in a place so different from the small village in Nottingham I’ve temporarily relocated to, and yet find it so familiar. Bangkok’s streets are still a sweltering uneven mass of concrete crowded with sellers of every type of Thai cuisine imaginable, dogs, shop houses, the odd down-and-out, farang in bootlegged t-shirts, bike taxi gangs, and all the attendant drama of a major Asian city. Prior to coming out me, Sarah and the boys had gone sledging. A week later I’m eating at a pavement stall in my shorts and sandals. Everything is different, but our time here and personal knowledge of the city all comes back with clarity.
The Paradise Bangkok 3rd Anniversary had been a huge success. It was a much bigger affair than some our more intimate parties, but the band really tore the roof off, and seemed as overwhelmed as us from the crowd, (mostly foreigners and Bangkok Thais) and their reaction. It was the first gig they’d played in the city for nearly 40 years, and they buzzed through their repertoire with confidence and swagger. It was extremely satisfying and for the ensuing days me and Nat regularly bumped into people who had been in attendance, whether it was at the bar next to the ZRM record store, or, most suprisingly, in a French creperie uptown. All the feedback was positive.
My first week back was peppered with catching up with old faces as well as discussing with Nat plans for our fledgling label, which we’d also launched at the party. After reacquainting myself with some of the record stores that had aided me on this strange journey back in 2008, it was time to make plans to head to Jakarta. A further round of research and digging was on the cards after last year’s trip, and logistics allowing I was hoping to visit the famous flea market in Surakarta, further inland. Thus far my plans are open, and I’ll hit the Jalan Surabaya first thing. Having checked the weather, it seems that we’re in for a week of thunder storms, barely ideal for looking for records in an outdoor market! What I’ll find I’m not entirely sure on this trip, but, as one man correctly put it, “Fail we may, sail we must.”
Hello there – I know I’ve not been posting much recently, but different projects are afoot (more of which later), that have been occupying my time. This Saturday the 25th, myself and Maft Sai will be celebrating our 3rd Anniversary in fine style. Really looking forward to being back in Asia, spinning tunes, catching up with friends, recording digging and (I hope) a whole load of fine food. Upon my return, the blog will get back to its regular updates on events, forthcoming things of interest and obscure musical gems. Until then, look forward to seeing you on the 25th in BKK.
For more on the event, our friend John Clewley has written about it here:
So, at this stage we’re about half way through our dates in Europe, and it’s been a very pleasant surprise for the most part. Before we embarked on this trip, we had little to no idea how people might respond to the full Paradise Bangkok experience in Europe. We had gotten used to crowds in Bangkok and Japan, who already an expectation of the sounds we play – but from London to Geneva, Lausanne, Munich, Nuremberg and Vienna we’ve had people getting down ’til the small hours to Thai Luk Thung, Molam, roots Reggae, Indonesian psych, and Ethiopian vibes.
There have been some funny moments, such as the drunk girl in Lausanne who wanted to ask me a question, sent the needle skidding over the record, whilst not even being aware the music had stopped! Or the inebriated British tourists in Munich dancing round a chair enthusiastically to Molam, after a heavy day at Oktoberfest.
Gratifyingly for me and Nat, people just seem to be having a good time, and want to know more about the music. One punter even told us he’d driven 4 hours to see us. We’ve been made to feel really welcome, been hosted by a cast of generous people, and I’m pretty sure these won’t be our last gigs in Europe.
Hamburg and London are still to come, and we’re very much looking forward to these. In 2012, we’re already starting to plan for a big party in Bangkok, as well as return gigs in Japan and, all things being equal, spreading the word to the US too.
In the mean time, cheers to all those who came down, and hope to see some more of you in either Hamburg or London. After the dust settles, work begins on comp. No. 2 for Soundway. Watch this space….
….and until then, copy and paste the link below into your browser, and you can check this recent mix me and Nat did for The Quietus. Happy listening!
Change is always difficult, and moving is possibly one of my least favorite things. Thus, much as it’s good to be back in the country of my birth, it’s slightly odd also, be it readjusting to climate, food or body language. One constant however, and one that always assists my mental health when faced with life changes (as far as I’m concerned at least) is music, and more specifically, vinyl records! As I write this, I’m taking a break from unpacking the various Luk Thung, Molam and other South-East Asian discs, which recently arrived after their sea voyage from Thailand.
In addition to this, it’s also nice to have been reunited with my not small collection of discs I stored in my parents’ garage once we departed this sceptered isle back in 2006. You might think it odd, but bringing the two collections under one roof and finally linking up the last five years I’ve spent abroad with my previous existence in the UK, has been an important moment. Speak to anyone who is serious about collecting music, and they will, on balance, be able to place their hands on an LP or single and give the background to where it was purchased, maybe some specific attached memory, as well as some info about the band/artist.
Thus, coming across a small forgotten pile of Ethiopian records took me back to a brief trip to Addis, where I interviewed Mulatu and Mahmoud Ahmed, and was assisted in my vinyl search by a guy called Mengistu, who continued to post me records via DHL, even after I’d returned home.
Similarly, as I go through my Thai shipment, so many of those discs tell the story of ‘Paradise Bangkok’, all the numerous tales surrounding hunting down the elusive tracks, running the parties with Maft Sai, and the many happy memories associated with mine and my family’s time in Thailand.
However, this is not about mere nostalgia. It’s about what happens next. Myself and Maft Sai will be playing our first European gig on September 10th, at a warehouse in East London at the Soundway event ‘Dancing Time’, alongside Cambodian Space Project, Miles Cleret, Vamanos and AJ Holmes, as well as DJs from The Quietus.
After this, we’ll be playing in Germany, Austria and Switzerland during September and October, seeing if the Paradise Bangkok formula can adapt to the chilly climes of Europe. Hence the time I’m spending going through the vinyl archives, drawing from tunes I used to play out in London, and how they will slot into the music that has provided the soundtrack abroad for the past few years. Drawing from, and blending, these past experiences, will most likely determine how this ongoing project unfolds in Europe, and, God-willing, back in Asia in the coming months. Hope to see some of you over the next month. Dates and venues can be found below:
16th September Walden Duplex, Geneva
17th Le Bourg, Lausanne
18th Kab/L’usine, Geneva
23rd Import/Export, Munich
24th Hemdendienst, Nuremberg
1st October The Roxy, Vienna
8th Golden Pudel, Hamburg
9th Peacetanbul, Hamburg
Despite my best intentions, it has taken me much longer than usual to post an entry for my recent trip to Indonesia. However, there are at least good reasons for this. First, and most importantly, myself and the family are getting ready for an extended period of leave in the UK at the end of the summer, so there is much to take care of before that happens. In addition, myself and Nat have been organising some dates for Europe in September, that should hopefully see us play gigs in the UK, Germany, Austria and France. Watch this space for details.
We were also privileged to welcome Isan legend Dao Bandon to perform at what will be our last Paradise Bangkok for a few months – it was heart warming to see the crowd’s response to one of my favorite molam artists. We also recently returned from 3 more dates in Japan. Playing there is always a pleasure, as people have such an open mind musically. Each gig is always different (two in Tokyo, one in Osaka) and allowed us to dig deep into our record boxes.
So, why go to Indonesia? Well, firstly it’s the size of the country, and due to its make up, the potential diversity of sounds that might have evolved across the archipelago. The main difference between this and previous trips, though, was that I knew the country had already been a seasoned destination for vinyl hunters, and only recently the Now-Again label had issued ‘Those Shocking Shaking Days’, an excellently researched compilation of Indonesian psychedelia. However, I was also hoping, as with Thailand, that there would be styles that the collectors had overlooked, preferably something below the western radar that had indulged in its own experiments during the 60s and 70s.
I arrive at midnight, and was greeted by a bevy of prostitutes in my hotel reception, casually looking for business over the thud-thud of karaoke in the next door bar. Not quite the welcome I was looking for. I went up to my room, which 30 years ago, must have been quite pleasant. Still, this much you expect from a 2 star establishment at 20 quid a night!
I had chosen this hotel due to its proximity to the flea market in Menteng, a recommended spot for record hunting. The next day I wandered out into the ambient busyness of a Jakarta morning, dodging traffic, and trying to match my map with the slightly skewed streets in front of me. I quickly found the market, which was literally a whole street of permanent stalls and small shop fronts, largely dedicated to the selling of antiques, ‘antiques’ and wooden and porcelain souvenirs of varying quality.
Half-way down I’m met by an elderly man, who asks me what I’m looking for. I explain and he quickly ushers me down the street to a shop run by a man called ‘Harris’. It is full to the brim with records, both familiar and unfamiliar. I rarely do any research prior to these trips. I certainly don’t draw up a ‘wants’ list for fear that I might overlook something. I want to hear the music with as open a mind as possible, particularly when I really don’t know what to expect. Ultimately, I want to be surprised and walk away with something I hadn’t anticipated.
Development in Indonesian music draws parallels with their south east Asian neighbours, such as the influence of American and British music in their surf and rock n’ roll experiments, culminating in a genuine psychedelic rock scene. Then there are the twin evolvements of ‘Melayu’ and ‘Dangdut’, which contain elements of Indian and Arabic music as well as indigenous rhythmic forms.
Preceding both of these, though, was another form called Gambus, named after the very lute I’d first come across in Sana’a, Yemen. Due to the coffee and spice trade, many Yemeni emigres had settled in what is now Indonesia, and indeed it was one of the conduits through which Islam was spread to the country. This is to say that, like the archipelago itself, the music of Indonesia is broad and unique, containing elements that do exist elsewhere, but which seem to blend together in a special way here.
The summary above I’ve obviously concluded in retrospect, but the different sounds and elements could be traced as I started to sift through the piles in Harris’ boxes. There was the odd psyche rock of an artist called ‘Harry van Hove’, the blistering soul/funk stylings of the Sitompul Sisters, the hypnotic sounds of Gamelan drum and gong orchestras from both Java and Bali, as well as Bollywood influenced Melayu by Elvy Sulaesih. The fact that all this was recorded locally, pointed to the astonishing rich seam of sounds, the surface of which I was merely scratching. I took the first of many coffee and kretek (clove cigarettes) breaks in a little stall across the road. My ears needed to rest.
I decided to have a look around at some of the other stalls, and met a man called Lian. He clearly had experienced a lot of western diggers in his time, and had a contact book with the details of the likes of DJ Shadow, Diplo, Alan Bishop and even a couple of friends from Bangkok. As I would discover, he also had a cunning knack of quickly figuring out what you wanted, and produced attuned piles of discs (most of which I’d take) every time I passed by his shop. As I was going through one such pile, a friend me & Nat had met in Japan called Baba, appeared. I knew he was in town around the same time as me, but we hadn’t made any plans to meet up. It was good to see him, and we spent the rest of the day going from shop to shop.
The next day I wandered up to Batavia, which is the old Dutch quarter. Batavia is also the colonial name of what is now Jakarta. Expecting well preserved streets and quaint architecture, I was amazed to note how utterly run down it was. Many hulking buildings had been left to literally rot and decay, and seem mostly utilised for wedding photos and the like. One I went into had a huge tree growing up through its centre, lending it a dreamlike air.
I heard this was a deliberate ploy on behalf of the government, eventually affording them the excuse to expunge the colonial echoes from the cityscape. True or not, this area of the city has a disjointed almost eerie feel, only offset by the affluent Cafe Batavia in its centre. I took a break there over an overpriced beer, listening to a slightly functional jazz band run through its repertoire.
The next day, I continued my search. The further down the market I went, sellers seemed more intent on charging exorbitant prices for LPs featured on the Now-Again comp, though they did bargain down on occasion, albiet with a disappointed air. However, once I’d figured out the names of the rural styles I was after, these tended to be languishing at the back of the shelves, going for next to nothing. The brunt were sleeveless, denoting a promotional copy gleaned from a local radio archive. Dangdut especially is an unashamedly populist form, often coming under criticism for its subject matter from society’s conservative elements, but it’s prolific output and adaptability has ensured its survival. It’s heavy percussion and simple arrangements draw a direct parallel with molam for me, and as in Thailand, dangdut also had its experimental adherents. Bubbling moog synths, spacey percussion and heartfelt vocals peppered the discs I was lucky enough to find, and I shall post up some sounds soon.
One of the total gems that Lian picked for me, though, was a direct and present echo of the influence of Yemeni music, and Islam in general. An LP entitled ‘Qasidah Modern’ by Fantastique Group yielded an astonishing version of the ‘call to prayer’ over ominous synths and measured drumming. The vocal had the same intensity I’ve heard in the best Pakistani Qawwali to the rawest blues or gospel. It contains emotion I think anyone could relate to.
I spend a pleasant evening in a local ‘padang’ restaurant feasting on spicy beef curry, before adjourning to a cafe next door for Javanese coffee. My final morning turned up a few more musical gems, as well as some antique wooden puppets for my kids, before I headed for the airport. A lone prostitute was still after some lunch time trade as I went upstairs to pick up my bags.
Although it opened up another world of music for me, perhaps more importantly, the trip seemed to offer one of the most obvious links that draws together the music of South and South-East Asia, the Middle East and East Africa. Listen closely and its easy to spot the DNA that allows Thai luk thung, Indonesian melayu, Lollywood soundtracks, and Ethiopian funk to sit comfortably side by side. This broad historical sweep that links trade, culture, migration, music and social history hints to a well of possibilities that needs to be properly explored.
As I head back to Europe, this chapter that has unfolded over the last five years seems to be drawing to a natural close. The next one, however, is only just beginning…