In 2017, Forbes Magazine carried an article suggesting that “the music business may not be much of a business at all before too long.” The author suggests that until a model could be found to properly compensate artists for their work, there is little incentive for anyone to get into the music industry anymore.
In that same year, one Sarayu Sriyuksiri was hatching and polishing plans to launch a new label in Bangkok. To an outside observer, it might have seemed like a bold move given the difficulties the music industry was facing at that time. This new label was designed as an outlet to connect with a small but growing Bangkok House and Techno scene, but also fly the Thai flag for electronica across the global underground.
Electronic music was surely burgeoning in the country and becoming a major part of everyday life for some. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; we all know there’s one staple that reigns supreme; rice. Considered the most important foodstuff, the Thai even have a Rice Goddess known as Mae Phosop.
Sarayu Sriyuksiri, Pakarapol Anantakritayathorn (who goes by the artist name of DOTT) and Mikhail Schemm are on a mission to make underground dance music a staple of local culture just like the rice grain. They launched More Rice Records in 2017, against the bleak backdrop portrayed by the aforementioned Forbes article.
Five years and a global pandemic later, the label has now found form as a physical record store — more on that later. With plans for a first proper party since its inception, More Rice Records is about to get even more real.
“The pandemic has been a huge catalyst,” says Sriyuksiri. “A lot of people of course focused on the negative impact of that, but for the music scene in Bangkok it’s made us much stronger.”
For so many in the music industry, the pandemic has had a transformative effect on how business was run. “All of a sudden, no DJs from abroad were coming and it made the local scene a whole lot stronger,” Sriyuksiri underlines.
He also adds how “When we first started the label, we could only find a few artists, but there are a lot more now. The pandemic and lockdowns also directed more people to discovering DJing.”
Labels like More Rice Records have played a valuable role in providing credible Asian artists with a stronger regional platform than in years gone by. To find an Asian-based artist touring Europe is far less of an oddity than it once was.
The role of the artist might previously have been ‘just’ providing warm-up support to their European or American peers who would typically come the other way to tour Asia and Australia. As of now, change is coming and it’s coming rapidly.
Sriyuksiri’s background in the business world has certainly helped the growth of his label. His calm demeanour belies a steely determination to do things the right way.
Armed with a Master’s degree in Business Administration, Sriyuksiri is responsible for the vinyl pressing and distribution side of operations, while his partners take care of musical programming and curation in the record store.
“We’re currently doing around a release a year,” he explains. “We’ve been very deliberate and ensuring quality control on everything is really important. We’re a vinyl-only operation too, with pressing being done in Germany, so I am responsible for a lot of the background work that keeps the wheels turning.”
In the middle of the worst of Bangkok’s COVID restrictions, More Rice Records collectively took the plunge and opened the doors to a physical store. Sriyuksiri is confident the team have found their gap in the market. “There are many great record stores in Bangkok, but there aren’t many that cater for purely electronic music. For us, it’s our main niche.”
The store design itself is the work of DOTT, who selected the layout, finish and of course the all-important in-store sound system. Curation duties sit with another member of the crew – Ellie Khodayar – who is on hand to offer suggestions or even just a friendly ear to talk to.
The guiding philosophy for the store was to create a community space for people to hang out, buy records, or even not buy records; maybe just to chat, share a problem or make new connections. Almost performing the role of a traditional pub but with added vinyl, it’s now become the hub of More Rice Records’ operations.
The store can be found in one of Bangkok’s more cosmopolitan-feeling neighbourhoods. However, its arrival did create some initial confusion among locals.
“In the early days, we had a few people pop in thinking we were actually selling food. Hopefully we can convert them to vinyl in the longer term,” says Sriyuksiri.
Despite the ravages of the pandemic, the store continued to service a core group of local DJs with fresh cuts from across the world. It also acted as an important first step for many people — frustrated with the lack of nightlife — who had started to dabble with DJing to pass the time.
With restrictions now eased, tourists are making their way back to Bangkok and some are beating a path to More Rice Records’ front door. “We’re very friendly people,” the label founder offers reassuringly. “Sometimes we’re dealing with people new to electronic music and that’s where our fantastic curator steps in.”
It seems that the store has now embedded itself nicely into the local scene. As touring DJs begin to trickle back into town, they are increasingly showing up in-store to play. The store’s space has also been hosting shows for the Bangkok Community Radio station that’s currently squatting with the team in Sukhumvit.
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It’s clear that this is more than just a record shop — it’s a multi-purpose location offering a valuable community resource to a city that is tentatively recovering after a gruelling 18 months.
Five-year plans were usually the preserve of Soviet-era political leaders, but what do the next five years hold for the More Rice Records crew? Sriyuksiri is clear that in the immediate term, it’s time to party.
Because of “you know what”, the team hasn’t been able to put on a proper launch party for the store and missed several release and label anniversary milestones. Beyond that, it’s the releases and supporting even more talented artists that are the team’s top priority.
The More Rice Records label originally launched at Bangkok’s fabled Studio Lam for a night helmed by Manila’s Tarsius and Swiss selector Manuel Fischer. After what feels like half a century later, the party will be swinging by the city’s Zoom Sky Bar, featuring label favourite Doildoshi who’s checking in from Korea to lead the charge up on the roof.
While the More Rice team are buoyant about this five-year milestone, Bangkok — like many other leading Asian cities — has not been immune to threats to its nocturnal culture. In Tokyo, local lawmakers famously banned dancing after midnight in certain residential parts of the city (rules were eventually relaxed). So what of Thailand’s current nightlife situation?
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“Right now, the club situation is a bit tough,” says Sriyuksiri. “For underground music there are really only a handful that showcase those kinds of sounds. We’ve got Studio Lam and Decommune of course, plus Never Normal, Tropical Galaxy and 12X12.” The pied pipers of Bangkok’s party scene are now scouting unusual and exciting one-off locations for throw-downs.
“There are promoters like Transport and Karma who are doing some amazing off-location parties,” Sriyuksiri explains, all of which adds up to a lively, resilient, but ultimately small scene to take care of.
Having the More Rice Records label fly the Bangkok flag for quality, underground music is more important than ever. It’s also even harder work than ever. “It’s tough. Really tough. When we started, there were loads of labels out there,” reflects the founder. “Five years down the line and there’s a whole lot more.”
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Pure passion for music is the fuel that feeds the creative fire for this crew of native Bangkokers. Connecting with like-minded souls over beats, discovering new music, artists and parties is their uncomplicated recipe for fun. Sriyuksiri’s guiding philosophy? It’s quite simple; “If you believe in your music, just push it as much as possible.” Mae Phosop, the Rice Goddess would almost certainly agree.
More Rice Records will be holding their fifth-anniversary celebrations and grand opening of their store on Saturday, November 26, 2022. Get tickets to the event here and follow the label on Instagram here.
[Images by Rui Rodriguez]
Toby Doman is a freelance writer for Mixmag Asia, follow him on Instagram.