Top: Jaree Thanapura, aka Gramaphone Children, at left, with MC Sinnamon on Aug. 25 at Live RCA Bangkok.
Since originating in the good ol’ U-S-of-A, funk music spread across the world. Thailand was no exception, where a small but vibrant scene emerged in the Sixties. While much of that early music has been lost, folks such as Zudrangma Records spread the gospel to a new generation along with artists such as NYTE, Cyndi Seui and one American-born dude named Jaree Thanapura.
Speaking English in a husky drawl somewhere between his native Kentucky and Malibu beach, Jaree is a mass of contradictions happily occupying one loud shirt at a time. His mop of long hair and slacker aesthetic belie a technical perfectionist who hovers over every knob, slider and setting in his studio to get it all just right.
In American slang, he explains how he got into music after going from ‘80s American kid to ‘90s teen of Bangkok, and eventually, in-demand DJ of the now at venues such as Bad Motel and Studio Lam.
“When I first arrived to Thailand from the states, I solved boredom by learning guitar and drums on my own,” said Jaree, now 38. “I literally took a couple guitar lessons at first though, and got really turned off when my instructor started reading the paper while simultaneously eating nuts, leaving me to practice the melody of ‘Old MacDonald’ on a classical guitar. I went twice and never went back.”
Those two guitar lessons and 30 releases later, the producer’s latest offering “Slice & Dice Vol. 01” is due in September. The album will be released on his label Kitsch Kat and will see him flex his production muscles to the fullest with a nine-track album of sophisticated and stylish grooves.
This is some of his best work yet. It raises the standard of funk produced in the kingdom to an international level along with the likes of George Clinton, Breakbot and Dam Funk.
What is the madness to this producer’s method for cooking up such delicious beats in the studio?
“I stared countless hours at a tiny black-and-greenish LCD screen with tiny buttons and knobs that incorporated a 16-step sequencer,” he says, arcanely. “It was a great experience which allowed me to create new ideas with a different kind of workflow since there were limitations. But these limitations made me think out of the box and that was the beauty of it.”
With Jaree building the album’s beat framework, the vocals came by way of Bangkok city’s own MC Sinnamon, a longtime collaborator of your’s truly, and up-and-coming songstress Pyra. On the track “Jelly Beato,” Sinnamon flips an old school hook ala Kurtis Blow and turns it into Thai-style block rockin’ party rap. Pyra’s contribution to the album come in two tracks, with her in full B-girl rap mode for “Trouble Makers.” But it’s “Move Slowly” where her sultry vocals shine.
Jaree is just as process-oriented when it comes to collaborating with people as formulating his sounds.
“I tend to plan ahead of time before I meet vocalists and musicians who come and collab with me,” Jaree says. “I’ll lay down a melody guide, or I’ll brief them about the storyline, as well as mood and tone before we record. With Pyra I sent her a demo first and when we met, we went through the lyrics on ‘Move Slowly’ and finalized it together.”
To fully experience the Gramaphone Children vibe, Jaree regularly brings it out of the studio and to the dance floor. He’s a featured DJ every month at Studio Lam’s Nite Ride, a funk/boogie get-down along with DJs Lows and Boogie G. In the past year, Nite Ride has made a name for itself as one of the most full-on, dedicated funk nights in Bangkok. Get ready for the next edition on Sept. 16.
Funk in Bangkok has a bright future thanks to producers like Jaree, who says the city finds its way into the music.
“The more you listen to music, especially the roots of any genre, it naturally gives you ideas subliminally. Or sometimes a particular synth sound or bassline might inspire me and open a door in my mind,” he explains. “Bangkok traffic also helps, there’s not much to do in a taxi or car, so I’ll think of something in my head, hum a small riff and beat into my phone and develop something when I arrive home.”
Until next time, may the funk be with you!