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Phuket Music Scene: Time to take the Thai alternative?

Musicians who have worked here a while have told me that it’s getting harder for bands playing Western cover songs to find gigs. Why might this be? Is it because there are too many bands? Not enough tourists perhaps? Maybe there is another reason…

By Andy Tong Dee

Sunday 12 February 2023, 11:00AM

Odd’s Blues Team playing in the walking street.

Odd’s Blues Team playing in the walking street.

I was in a Thai bar recently, enjoying some excellent Thai music, when the singer suddenly said, “The next one is for the Falang!” The band then launched off into Hotel California recorded by The Eagles in 1976. I closed my eyes and groaned. This was the last song on earth I wanted to hear.

There were a few other Westerners there, but all were a lot younger than me, and they too seemed unimpressed. I was 18 in 1976 and not an Eagles fan, and I have heard this song done to death in Phuket for 12 years now. Okay, it was a Thai country music bar, but if she really wanted to entertain those young Western tourists, she really should have chosen a song more up to date.

You see, I rarely hear a Western song played here from after 1990, so maybe the problem is that today’s younger visitors and expats are being turned off by the songs being played. Why? Well, studies have shown that it’s the music we enjoyed while teenagers that sticks with us forever. We’re rarely stuck entirely in our teenage past, but how we love to hear the songs which remind us of our happy, carefree days when we were young. 

So, if this is true, what songs might Western audiences here prefer to hear bands play? From what decade would they be from? Just the 60s and 70s?  But Western live music in Phuket is already almost entirely cover songs from before 1990, which would only resonate with those over 50. So how about playing some from the 1990s and after? How about catering for the two forgotten generations under 50?

As bands here almost invariably play Western songs written before 1990, they might think there is no competition, that customers have nowhere else to go. But there is competition. Many are drifting off to bars with DJs instead.

And can you blame them? Do 30- or 40-somethings really want to listen to covers of Bill Withers, Bob Dylan, CCR or Beatles songs? How about playing some music from their teenage years ‒ Bush, Elastica, Garbage, The Foo Fighters or The Killers? Time is not on the side of those musicians and venues reluctant to change. The longer such live Western music stays frozen in the pre-1990 past, the greater the threat to it as years go by.

SAii Laguna Sunday Brunch

DJs here are already catering for a wider international audience, cleverly integrating samples of Russian Techno and Indian Bollywood songs into their sets for example. Because of such ingenuity, such DJs can have a far broader international appeal and they cost far less than a five-piece band.

Then there’s another growing threat to bands playing western music ‒ Thai pop music. I have noticed that Thai bands playing Western songs are increasingly including Thai songs in their set, songs that are well received. Let’s face it, people don’t travel halfway around the world to eat fish and chips and listen to Van Morrison covers. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before we see a Thai venue on Bangla Rd playing Isan dance music to bring the punters in. I’m 100% sure it would be a massive success.

So bands playing Western songs here now face three growing challenges: from demographics, DJs and Thai pop music. Customers are already going elsewhere. I now go to Thai live music venues and festivals far more often because I know I won’t hear the same old, tired, worn-out, done-to-death, pre-1990 Western cover songs there.

Maybe you, too, are interested in joining me in taking the Thai alternative. If so, I’d firmly recommend you check out ‘Ther’ on the Seahorse (Nimit) traffic circle and Sure Pub on Kra Rd in Phuket Town for exciting Thai pop, and maybe Baan Krua Nok in Kathu by the Patong Hill road intersection for excellent Thai country music.

Maybe I’ll see you there too, but whatever you do, DON’T request Hotel California!

Andy Tong Dee is a local expat and musician. Find out more about Phuket bars playing Thai and Western music at his website

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