The inaugural "Sonic Bang" festival was the highlight of a year that saw foreign and local acts flood the Kingdom's music scene
Thailand’s music fans, both local and expatriate, have enjoyed a diverse range of foreign sounds this year, with everyone from veteran crooners Engelbert Humperdink and Tony Bennett to leading rock acts Paramore and Deftones stopping off in Bangkok at venues big and small.
Teens have screamed at Justin Bieber, metallers have moshed to P.O.D, Lamb of God, Matchbox Twenty, Behemoth, Sum 41 while the 30-somethings have swooned over Ronan Keating. Pundits have also coughed up big baht to catch such big name acts as Santana and Glenn Miller while electronic music junkies got their French house fix courtesy of DJ David Guetta. Even jazz enthusiasts got their fix with a week-long feast on Koh Samui, which also featured leading Latin acts, and just this month, were able to catch a memorable performance by Natalie Cole at the River Jazz Festival 2013.
But the star of this year’s shows was undoubtedly the Sonic Bang fest held in August at Impact Arena, Muang Thong Thani. Thailand’s first “truly international music festival”, put together by veteran promoter BEC Tero Entertainment, featured more than 10 international and regional acts including Pet Shop Boys, Placebo, Ash, Jason Mraz, Pitbull, Owl City, Fareast Movement as well as big name acts from South Korea and Japan. The first in what organisers Bec-Tero have promised will be an annual event, it was the most sensational and biggest music gathering, at least in terms of the selection of acts, the country has ever seen.
“We’re very proud of Sonic Bang. We worked for a very long time to put the event together,” Bec-Tero’s deputy managing director Neil Thompson told XP. “Sonic Bang is a music festival where the atmosphere is as important as the music itself. Thai audiences are new to the concept of having to rush from stage to stage to catch their favourite bands; normally they just wait for the one highlight act to take the stage. Sonic Bang is about the vibe, about sharing the experience with friends and about exploring new, independent acts that might not have a chance to have their own shows, or acts that you’ve never heard of before. Also, it helps to develop the local artists. We aiming to chance the course of music festivals in Thailand and we’ll definitely continue Sonic Bang in 2014.”
The Korean wave once again washed up on Thailand’s shores this year, with such big names as SHINee, Kara, Beast, Infinite and T-ara taking part in the MCB bash in March and the freshly demobbed superstar Rain playing a set as part of Sonic Bang. Canto pop got a look in too with a gig by Eason Chan while Japanese heroes One OK Rock had the teens screaming at a show at CentralLive.
On the Thai side, pop stalwart Thongchai “Bird” McIntyre sold out Impact Arena three nights running, rockers Micro reunited and seven of the country’s popular songstresses, among them Mai Charoenpura and Marsha Wattanapanich got together for a night of tunes old and new. And of course, there were the usual concerts by alumni of reality talent show “Academy Fantasia” and the young stars of RS’s Kamikaze label.
Concerts aside though, the biggest focus of Thailand’s music industry over the last 12 months has been on how on how best to exploit the ways in which music is sold, consumed and shared.
Record companies have invested heavily in digital promotion and are seeing their artists reach wider audiences than ever before.
GMM Grammy posted the video of “Klai Khae Nai Khue Klai” by rock quartet Getsunova on YouTube and was delighted when it hit a record for Thailand of 95 million views. Luk thung singer Ying Lee Srichumpol enjoyed similar success with her “Khor Jai Ther Laek Ber Tho”, which has so far been viewed more than 72 million times and the hits are still coming.
RS meantime found a new star when they asked their little known luk thung singer Baitoey RSiam to feature on pop dance trio 3.2.1’s “Rak Tong Perd (Naen Oak)”, which has attracted more than 78 million hits in less than seven months, while Surachet “Ek” Suntharasri's “Thi Rak (Ther)” became the company’s most downloaded single.
“This year, we’ve really seen how artists become known through social network like YouTube. It’s the same all over the world and it’s going to continue,” says Piyoros Luckcam, editor and webmaster of “Musicexpress” magazine.
“These days a song isn’t only promoted by itself but in parallel with a TV series, movie, game or even advertising. American rock band Linkin Park released an app for devices, a game called ‘8-Bit Rebellion!’ and followed up with an iTunes bonus track on ‘A Thousand Suns’. The emphasis is no longer on how much you earn but how many people are listening to the songs.”
But while everyone in the industry acknowledges that the pace of change in playback and communications technology has altered long-held popular perceptions and attitudes about music, not all of them are totally enamoured with the results. Boyd Kosiyabong, the established lyricist and founder of LoveIs, is one such sceptic.
“The reliance on high-tech product development is great for bringing the audience closer to their favourite artists but it is also detrimental to their income from album sales,” he notes, “Artists or their labels no longer invest tens of thousands in promotion and concerts; they can just upload their work to YouTube or Facebook.
“Consumer behaviour has changed. Young people, the traditional fans, are far more interested in themselves as individuals. They constantly tell their stories through Facebook, Line and Instagram and judge their popularity by how many comments they get in return. My generation used to enjoy talking about our favourite artists as well as songs and movies. Today, even though they might share a message about an artist’s song or music video, it’s still very much in the context of ‘me and myself,” says Boyd.