Music

Slot Machine plans to show Fuji fans how Thailand rocks

by Patrick St. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

Thailand has been a destination for Asian artists looking to expand their markets. From J-rock to K-pop, fans in Bangkok have been able to listen to their fill. Rock band Slot Machine wants this to be a two-way conversation and the members say they’ll begin it this year by being the first Thai band to play a major stage at Fuji Rock Festival.

“We are so proud of that,” lead singer Karinyawat Durongjirakan says in the group’s dressing room following a show in Bangkok’s spacious Muang Thai GMM Live House, situated on top of the world’s sixth largest shopping mall. “We want to make the audience go, ‘Wow, this is from Thailand! This is what Thai people can do?’ “

Slot Machine’s Sunday morning set at the Red Marquee stage is part of a bigger push. Already one of the biggest rock bands in Thailand, Slot Machine will also plays festivals in Taiwan and South Korea this month. The band has just released an album called “Spin The World,” a collection that lays out its international intentions. It’s sung in English and, in a move Korean groups have used to great success, features production from a seasoned Western name — Steve Lillywhite, who has worked with groups such as U2 and The Rolling Stones.

“The first time I saw Slot Machine was in this same hall, a year ago,” Lillywhite says after the show. “What I loved about it … the music was fantastic, the singing was so special, but I got the sense the audience was part of something big. They were young, I didn’t expect that.”

That’s the sort of fan who is at the GMM Live House on July 13. When Karinyawat points the mic toward them, they shout songs back at him and flash Slot Machine’s special hand gesture — hands joined together like a triangle, a tighter variant on Jay Z’s dynasty sign. On top of the crowd, 40,000 tune in via livestreaming service Line TV.

Slot Machine has had a lot of time to develop a fan base in Thailand. The group initially formed in the early 2000s, featuring Karinyawat and bassist Atirath Pintong. The final line-up came together in 2006, with the arrival of guitarist Janevit Chanpanyawong and drummer Settharat Pancgchunan. Since then, they’ve created everything from soaring ballads to thrashier cuts to reggae-inspired tunes. The variety is thanks to each member’s personal influences.

“I love L’Arc-en-Ciel, they have very good melodies,” Atirath says. Janevit loves Nirvana, while Settharat digs the Latin touch of Santana. Karinyawat, meanwhile, opts for John Lennon.

Yet Thai sounds also pop up in their rock. “Thai music, it’s in our blood,” Karinyawat says, while Atirath adds that “on special days, like New Year’s, our grandfathers would always make special songs in Thai. We were surrounded by it.”

Sonic markers of Thai music come across on “Spin The World,” but the band admits it was tougher writing lyrics in English. “When I write in Thai, I can tell everything … I can bring in Thai culture, and Buddhism,” Karinyawat says. He adds that Lillywhite helped a lot in getting the right type of English into their new songs.

Slot Machine is excited to visit Japan — Atirath announces that he’s a “manga otaku” and gives a shout out to Nakano Broadway — but also has an eye on the bigger picture: tours to England, potential opportunities in China. Fuji Rock is just the first step to getting Thai music on the map.

Slot Machine plays the Red Marquee at Fuji Rock Festival at 11:30 a.m. on July 24. The festival takes place at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture on July 22, 23 and 24. For more information, visit www.slotmachine.band or www.fujirockfestival.com.