Your ultimate guide to Bangkok’s indie scene
Think a trip to Bangkok is just about shopping, eating and massages? Think again: discover a completely different side to Bangkok through its underground art and music scenes.
- May 2019
A go-to destination for foodies and shopaholics, Bangkok offers street food, Michelin-starred restaurants and everything in between, as well as more markets and malls than the average visitor has time for. What tourists often overlook, however, is the less mainstream but no less important underbelly — a space inhabited by a growing community of creative, cerebral people with unique voices. So the next time you’re in town, go off the beaten track and be bowled over by what Bangkok has to offer on its other side.
Look away now if you only want to see pretty things. These underground galleries aren’t afraid to touch on controversial issues and explore experimental ideas across a variety of media. Scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll be rewarded with an insight into what really makes Bangkok tick.
Considered by insiders to be the most ad hoc and underground art gallery in Bangkok, Speedy Grandma is an independent space that aims to encourage a community of Thai contemporary art enthusiasts. Located in a gentrifying part of town and counting an izakaya and a tattoo parlour as neighbours, they have primarily run art exhibitions for the last three years, but now have plans to focus more on artist talks and workshops, bringing audiences closer to the creators.
WTF Gallery & Café
While WTF Gallery & Café’s fundamental goal is simply to bring people together over great local and international art (in their gallery located on the second and third floors above the bar), they have cemented their reputation as one of the few places in Bangkok that will showcase work that no other venues will, “either for lack of commercial appeal or fear of authorities,” as partner Christopher Wise puts it. Their current exhibition, 577012144, which is on through June 2, features a female political prisoner who collaborates with a local artist to reveal the inhumanity of life in a Thai prison.
SAC Subhashok The Arts Centre
Housed in two beautiful modern buildings in Sukhumvit, this private art space was founded in 2012. They started out working with young graduates and hosting degree shows, and today it’s still the place to visit if you’re looking for emerging talent coming out of Thailand and Southeast Asia. “Most of our artists are new faces, which makes us a good place to see a different side of the Bangkok art scene,” says managing director Jongsuwat Angsuvarnsiri.
As different as their philosophies (and sounds) may be, what unites these set-ups is a desire to raising the music bar in Asia, bringing greater diversity to the local arena, and unifying people through their love for good music.
Founded in 2016 by a group of friends who wanted to harness the positive, transformative power of music to make an impact on the less fortunate, Karma Klique is a non-profit that is trying to drive social change. Their modus operandi? Throwing one helluva boat party. “We push the boundaries with our artist selection to bring something different to Bangkok, showcasing the best electronic talent from around the region,” says Luke James of Karma Klique.
So far they’ve raised over 300,000 THB for charities like the Warm Heart Foundation. Although they’re most famous for their boat parties, they’ve also held other concept events like Karma Kitchen, a day event featuring food trucks and DJs, and Karma Kastle, a two-day party in a converted Spanish-style villa in Khao Yai.
Black Cabin Bar
For those who just want to walk into a brick and mortar venue and listen to really funky live music over a delicious cocktail, Black Cabin Bar is for you. This three-year-old underground live music venue curates a line-up of bands that do their own interpretations of songs from genres like Brit rock, alternative folk, and rock n roll.
Thanks to Black Cabin’s hard-to-find location away from the nightlife district, most of their guests are people who come especially for the music — and they’re welcome to get up and jam with the bands. “We were tired of the same cookie-cutter songs being replicated in other bars in Bangkok. Our bands do covers, but they are original compositions you won’t hear anywhere else,” says manager Kit Fongtanakit.
It might be the new kid on the block, but two-year-old gig organiser Soundistan seems to have found the formula to a great night out for people who love discovering indie music scenes. The carefully curated acts come from all over the region, and the gigs usually take place in small venues that already have a strong base of music lovers so there’s always a palpable energy at its gigs.
Soundistan also has big ambitions for the future of live electronic music in Asia. "The underground and alternative music scene is more than just a few people in their own cities. We want to create an ecosystem in Asia where these like-minded individuals can connect. Community is always at the core of any successful underground scene,” explains creator Sameer Arshad.
The performing arts scene in Bangkok has come a long way in the last decade, with more independent platforms existing now than before. Check out these three companies that are plodding on and pushing boundaries with every show.
Although B-Floor is a fairly established name in the industry, they still consider themselves a small theatre company that’s part of the underground. Since its inception in 1999, B-Floor has been fearlessly staging performances that address issues civic society might not feel comfortable discussing openly, such as daily injustices or violence in Southern Thailand. The shows are abstract and experimental so while they might not be for the masses, they are for people who want to hear voices of dissent.
Bangkok Lyrical Lunacy
Lylu, as this organization is also called, facilitates and promotes spoken word arts, which includes spoken word poetry, emceeing and singing. They’re all about encouraging people to share their unique ideas and voices on stage without fear, while fostering a community that prioritizes human connections and is hungry for fresh perspectives.
Democrazy Theatre Studio
Given their name, it hardly comes as a surprise that this theatre company in Lumpini describes itself as “an alternative art space that strives for freedom of expression and provides new experience in theatre and the performing arts”. They were founded in 2008 in response to the dearth of black box theatres in Bangkok, and have now become a respected household name in the circle.