Guitar and loop pedal virtuoso Dustin Wong, formerly of Baltimore noise-rock band Ponytail, is treating Bangkok to two nights of the intricate, experimental pop that saw him signed to iconic US indie label Thrill Jockey. BK caught up with him ahead of his shows at Harmonica on Nov 9 and 10.

How did you first start playing music?
I started like any teenager; I got a guitar and just started to fiddle around with it. I didn’t really have any idea so I started with shapes on the fretboard—using squares, rectangles and triangles as templates to explore the instrument. It was only a few years ago that it finally clicked and I got to really understand the geography of the instrument. With looping, I’ve been working with this idea for 11 years now. Being a self-taught guitarist, discovering new musical ideas is always such an exciting feeling; like going to see a movie without watching the trailer.

Is recording an important part of your songwriting process?
It is very important to let me instantly observe what I’m trying to make. I recommend it to anyone writing music. I record each song by itself, then in sets of songs, and then I go back to the drawing board. The songs themselves are important but also how each song leads to the next song, the flow as a whole. I think studying film in college has a lot to do with this; editing is very important to me.

Ponytail broke up around a year ago; do you miss the band dynamic?
I really do love working with people on music; it’s very exciting. Even after the band broke up I’ve played with other people casually, so the collaborative element is still very active in me.

You granted private Skype sessions to fans who pre-ordered your record; how highly do you value intimacy with your audience?
A lot of times I'm in a confined space where I can't project sounds through speakers so I have to use headphones. These offer a very different, more intimate experience; there are times where you almost feel like the music is merging with you. That’s the kind of experience I want listeners to have—a very personal relationship with the sound, a feeling that they are becoming the music they are listening to.

You recently asked your fans to describe their dreams which you would turn into music; where did this idea come from?
I had a dream on New Year’s Eve this year. It felt very profound, the imagery and everything about it. I can't go into it much, but it included: lightning in the color of a rainbow drawing images of animals onto the sky, the horizon lifting up like a page being turned from a book, revealing the map of Japan and a mountain with a Buddhist temple with tiny shimmering mushrooms all around it… After this, I wanted to dive into other people's dreams and, by making a soundtrack to their dreams, let the music be this kind of glaze—like how a glaze can bring out the colors of a painting, have the music bring out the images of the dream.

Can you describe your live set-up?
It’s very simple, I have my series of eight effects pedals and my guitar. I don’t use an amp; I just go directly into the house speakers, so I can utilize the whole venue as one big amp. The performance itself is just a reveal of my creative process, one melody, one layer at a time.

As a Chinese/American born in Hawaii and raised in Japan, does cultural identity play a role in your creative process?
I definitely think so. There is no way of denying it. But in my case it’s a bit different. A Chinese/American growing up in Japan is a bit strange. There was definitely some prejudice around me growing up and even when I was in the US, being an American growing up in Japan, you were considered a little bit different. With my music, as with everything really, I want to integrate everything, be it culture, ideas or beliefs.
 

 

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ZudRangMa Records and Preduce Skateboards have teamed up to bring over Dâm-Funk, often referred to as LA’s “Ambassador of Boogie Funk” due to his love of vintage synths and drum machines. BK catches up with the prolific artist and founder of LA’s happening underground party night Funkmosphere ahead of his gig at Sonic on Nov 3.

How would you describe the music you make?
I create original modern funk music and such via the record label Stones Throw, yet when I DJ, I spin boogie-funk more than any other style.

What’s the state of modern funk?
It’s still fresh. More artists are now experimenting with it and interest has risen greatly among worldwide music listeners, since the days of [debut album, the ambitious 5LP set] Toeachizown, which was released in late 2009.

Tell us about your Funkmosphere nights.
Funkmosphere, the club and brand, is now six years old. It’s a place where we tend to spin wax only and it caters to the funk, boogie and modern soul crowd. There’s a heavy lean on music, mostly rare, that was released in the very late 70s to mid-80s, but without the tongue-in-cheek corny vibe that had been attached to it so often before we came onto the LA club scene. We have two nights a week. Both are free entry.

What is your philosophy when it comes to DJing?
My philosophy is letting the songs play, without too many tricks, such as scratching or the like. I like to let the songs breathe for the audience’s sake. Just keep it groovin’. I still enjoy digging for records and I do it all over the world. Yet, collecting instruments has become more my forte these days.

What can Bangkok audiences expect from a Dâm-Funk live set?
A mix of melodic funk and boogie sounds by interesting artists through DJing, mixed with live keyboards and original material throughout. The audience is always an inspiration. I like to feel we’re all in it together and it’s not just about me.

Has collaborating with people removed from the funk sound (Nite Jewel, Ariel Pink) had any influence on how you make music?
They’ve all been great experiences. I dig all styles of music, though, so that’s why I’ve always been open to experimenting with different artists.

You often refer to your music as a lifestyle; how often do you record?
I’ve got so much unreleased material that has been recorded over the years that I could just stop now. But this is too real for me. I have to keep creating, just based on life. It’s just about staying me and, at any time I choose, creating for the universe.

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ULUVUS (You Love Us) are a Vientiane-based expat rock band whose sound blends power-pop and hair-metal with mor lam—oh, and they sing almost entirely in Lao, often with hilarious results. Now, the five-piece head to Bangkok in support of their recently released second album, 55555 (also available as VCD containing 15 music videos). BK caught up with their enigmatic frontman Chris Crash ahead of the band’s concert at Cosmic Café on Oct 13.

How long have you all been living in Laos?
Long enough to remember how much fun it used to be getting censored! Before ULUVUS a few of us were in a band called Soviet Reunion. The first time we played at a big public concert, in 2005, thousands of flyers had to be binned after an official objected to our name. We appeared simply as “Reunion.”

What are your day jobs?
Modeling, product endorsement, cameo roles in Lao films, that kind of thing. Actually, that last one is true. I have a role in the upcoming film Big Heart, due for release next year.

How did the band form?
In the usual kind of way—drummer Tom O’Hawk started asking around town for other people with time on their hands. The turning point was when our label Indee Records asked us to be the fake backing band for a Lao solo artist called Sook. We had to pose for his album cover and shoot a music video with him. The video was banned from Lao television as there were dancers in it who were wearing short skirts. Sook’s career never recovered, but ours was kick-started!

Tell us a bit about your new album, 55555; what’s with the title?
The main reason is that people like to laugh at our band, for lots of reasons—and we like to laugh at the whole thing, too. 55555 is shorthand in Laos and Thailand for the sound of laughter. Auspiciously, there seemed to be lots of other 5s around—it is the year 2555, there are 5 of us, the album cost 5,555,555 Kip to make, and, er, that’s it.

Your lyrics feature a lot of wordplay; do locals ever pull you up on your Lao pronunciation?
We spend a lot of time hanging out with our Lao friends, talking about food and losing money at pok deng [a card game]. But, of course, our pronunciation isn’t perfect…this album is better than the first though!

Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
Mainly urban youth culture. But inspiration is everywhere: late night noodle soup shops, traffic policewomen, power cuts, wearing socks with flip-flops.

You seem to spend a lot of time making music videos; how important is this visual aspect to your music?
The karaoke lyrics running across the screen definitely help some people to understand what we’re singing! The videos are a lot of fun to make. Dancing barefoot in a paddy field with a troupe of lam vong dancers is a good feeling. But look closely and you’ll see that we usually don’t know the songs that well at the time of filming.

What can Bangkok audiences expect from a ULUVUS concert?
At some of our gigs in provincial Laos, armed police have stood between us and the audience—we’re not sure if the band or the crowd were being protected. So in the big city we hope at least for the sound of tasers zapping in the hot night air.

What’s been your most memorable gig?
Playing at Lao boat racing festivals is always good—trying to keep playing while the equipment is literally sliding down the banks of the Mekong, and grandmothers are pouring whiskey down your throat mid-song. Supporting Thai band Clash in Vientiane in front of 20,000 screaming fans was also brilliant. The concrete floor of the venue was actually shaking under the weight!

Outside of covers bands, what’s the Lao live music scene like at the moment?
There’s a lot of talent around. Both our albums were produced by Sam Intharaphithak, who is an amazing producer, but also a wonderful artist. Bands like Veska, Boxer, the Oilinezz and Translator are also quirky and fun. We are still in awe of Cells—Laos’ best rock band, featuring stellar songwriting and world-class musicianship. In terms of gigs, there are exciting times ahead—music festivals are planned for both Vientiane and Vang Vieng over the coming months.

After Bangkok, where next for ULUVUS?
Every ULUVUS tour ends at the Long Cheng bowl [site of a secret CIA airbase in Laos during the Vietnam War—and still officially off limits to foreigners]. The acoustics are amazing.

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Sep 20 : Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

To kick off concert season, they don’t get much bigger than Noel Gallagher, former songwriter, guitarist and vocalist for the legendary British rock band Oasis. Three years after the band’s acrimonious split, Noel is still not on speaking terms with brother and former bandmate Liam. But, not to worry, he will finally return to Bangkok as part of an Asia tour with his High Flying Birds project. Expect a bunch of classic Oasis sing-alongs like “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Little by Little” together with newer solo material. Thai crooner Hugo will open.
Where: BITEC Bangna, 88 Bangna-Trad (Km. 1) Rd., 02-749-3939.
Tix: B1,000-3,000 from Thaiticketmajor
Brought to you by: Rock N’ Rolla

Oct 4: Keane

Hot on the heels of the rock n’ roll royalty, another slightly younger Britpop sensation, Keane, will arrive on our shores. Since releasing their first studio album Hopes and Fears (2004), which saw singles “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Everybody’s Changing” become worldwide hits, the band has constantly fought off rumors of a split, while frontman Tom Chaplin also had a stint in a clinic for drink and drug problems. But they’re still kicking around and Bangkokians will be treated to tracks from their fourth album, Strangeland, which came out last year.
Where: Moonstar Studio, 701 Ladprao Soi 80, 02-539-3881.
Tix: B1,800 from www.we-booking.com
Brought to you by: Lullaby Entertainment

Oct 8: Maroon 5

Had enough of Brit-rockers? After bringing us their Jagger-like moves this time last year, American pop-rockers Maroon 5 return to Bangkok in support of their newest album, Overexposed, which contains the hit “One More Night.” But it’s too bad if you don’t already have a ticket—the concert sold out just one week after going on sale. We can only hope that Adam Levine and co. pencil in an annual trip to Thailand.
Where: Impact Arena, 99 Popular Rd., 02-833-4455.
Tix: Sold out
Brought to you by: BEC TERO

Nov 17: Culture One 2012

Thailand’s original outdoor electronic event Culture One Bangkok is set to get even bigger this year in celebration of its 5th Anniversary. The organizers are promising five big stages packed with over 30 Thai and international artists including Dash Berlin (Holland), Sean Tyas (USA), 808 State (UK) and Young Knives (UK). There’s also the curious inclusion of Happy Mondays percussionist/mad dancer Bez, with more still to be announced.
Where: Lakeside BITEC Bangna, 88 Bangna-Trad (Km. 1) Rd., 02-749-3939.
Tix: Early bird tickets are now up for grabs at B1,500 from Café Democ (Silom Plaza) and Dickinson’s Culture Café (Pra Artid Rd.), with this type of ticket requiring you enter the venue before 7pm. Pre-sale tickets are B2,000 from We-booking.com (from Oct 1 onwards) while it will be B2,500 on the door.
Brought to you by: Club Culture

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