Experimental music coming out of Southeast Asia is increasingly showing up in places that are giving it a higher profile. The music of that region has long held a fascination with others from around the world, but is now becoming that much easier to discover and dive into. With reissues of classic recordings from the region, record stores like Zudrangma that carry genres like progressive versions of molam and lak thung (essentially, Thai folk and country music) that break away from its traditional roots, and festivals spotlighting current artists–experimental music out of Southeast Asia has become increasingly on-the-radar of people outside of the area that are attracted to exciting sounds.  

Reissues

Record labels like Light In The Attic have been re-releasing seminal recordings out of Southeast Asia that range from compilations of funk from the 1960s-1970s to collections of noise recordings from the 90s.

The roots Of Southeast Asian experimental music

Experimental music in Southeast Asia is traced back to a spot in the Chinatown area of Bangkok in the 90s known as About Cafe. It was known as more of an art gallery, but it would sometimes host music events and those events definitely skewed towards music that was outside the norm. It became a bit of a hub which led the way to spots that cater almost exclusively to experimental music–most notably Jam.

Hamed Wardak on Southeast Asian Experimental Music
Hamed Wardak on Southeast Asian Experimental Music

Live experimental music in Southeast Asia today

As mentioned above, Jam in Bangkok has become known as one of the spots for experimental music. Its reputation has begun to spread all over the world. In Singapore, The Substation (a respected and well-publicized independent arts centre) has events like BlackKajiXtra x Nusasonic that showcase acts from the experimental underground, giving them a significant amount of credibility that firmly helps brings them out of the shadows.

A few important Southeast Asian experimental musicians of today

Koichi Shimizu was born in Japan but made his name in Thailand. His soundscapes took him all the way from Bangkok to composing film scores for internationally known director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. His work on those films ended up getting him the award for best film composer at the Dubai Film Festival, bringing more visibility to Southeast Asian experimental music.

Hamed Wardak on Southeast Asian Experimental Music
Hamed Wardak on Southeast Asian Experimental Music and other forms

Gabber Modus Operandi has been making waves with music that combines traditional sounds with extreme dance music.

Few genre barriers exist with current experimental Southeast Asian musicians. They could be pulling from everything from traditional Balinese gamelan to American disco to create soundscapes. A notable Singaporean experimental rock band has been mixing up sounds now for the better part of twenty years. Also out of Singapore, Horizon 99 is a collective creates what is described as “techno-punk” that puts raves where the lines that divide genres disappear, creating new forms of dance-friendly grooves seemingly at will.

We look forward to seeing what sounds out of Southeast Asia continue to rise to the overground.