By Lisnaree Vichitsorasatra
BANGKOK — When Wannarit “Pok” Pongprayoon was a ‘90s teenager, his parents signed him up at a Yamaha music school to learn the electronic keyboard. It was kind of a trend then.
So he took his place at the first lesson and dutifully listened to the instructor, but when it came time to play, he just wouldn’t play the correct notes like all the other students. Instead of learning the conventional way, he just listened and played.
“I listened and followed what the teacher was playing,” he said. “I realized later, when I became a music teacher, that this was called ‘ear-training.’”
Two decades of broken conventions later, Pok leaned against a stage Saturday at an old theater in Bangkok’s Pinklao area as 22 bands celebrated the 16th anniversary of Panda Records, the label he founded to bring together the cacophony of tribes that make up Bangkok’s ardent original music scene.
A few hundred people, mostly teens, danced and swayed to their favorite bands, most unheard of in the mainstream. The roster included Monomania, Summer Dress, Abstraction XL, Plastic Section, Chladni Chandi, The Sticky Rice, and RedTwenty – just to name a few.
“Thanks for P’Pok, who saw something in us!” someone shouted from the stage.
The sounds weren’t what many would call melodious – some yelled, some sang in broken English – but it meant something to the authenticity-starved youth dancing away in the haunted Halloween theater. The place was small, but the heartfelt, unpretentious vibe brought it to life.
Everybody knew each other and heckled the musicians on stage. People were allowed to be themselves, to hear and play the music they love – even if others think they stink.
And at the center of it all, with a grin framed by a rough chevron of mustache and stringy long hair, stands Pok.
Pok, now 39, started Panda Records as a nonprofit label in 1999 with friend Somsri “June” Sangkaew to support underground musicians.
Today it’s a movement representing the new sounds of Bangkok, though little heard beneath the din of Grammy-pop, and has spawned the Stone Free Festival and Noise Market events.