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Behind the lens: 22 neon glimpses of Bangkok through the analogue mind of Seelie

The house DJ & crate digger shares snaps from his unadulterated lens of Bangkok at night

  • Arun Ramanathan
  • 21 July 2022

Liam Rielly aka Seelie arrived in Bangkok seven years ago from Manchester with an insatiable appetite for records and an innate sense of belonging to club culture — and it didn’t take long before he positioned himself as an institutional figure across Asia’s house music scene.

His crafty and knowledgeable sets have seen him perform alongside the likes of Move D, Chez Damier, Prosumer and Jeremy Underground whilst being hosted on global platforms like Red Light Radio, Netil London and Kiosk Radio.He also happens to be the the creative curator behind Siam Soul Club, co-founder of Bangkok Community Radio and founder of Transport BKK, Thailand’s undeniable go-to night for a-la-warehouse house and disco business.

But when the headphones come off, Rielly’s late night musings involve a different form of storytelling; through his lens, the Mancunian artist chases the dull shimmer and Bangkok's vibrant and emblematic neon lights at night. Unlike my home city, Hong Kong, where neon light signs in commercial and red light areas were once the city’s visual trademark, and now about 90% of them disappeared in the wave of rapid-gentrification, Bangkok has still managed to sustain most of it's neon charm, especially when venturing off the beaten track.

But while waiting on that inevitable change, and steering clear from the gentrified bustle of Sukhumvit, Rielly seeks neon glory between Bangkok’s narrow, chaotic and dim-lit back streets. His captures on film exude a warm lack of finesse; the kind that translates into a humbled vision of Bangkok's not-so clandestine bordello-clad nitty-gritty. Rather than shining a light on the infamous red light allure, Rielly’s curious charm adds a more benevolent tone to what might at first feel like disdain to the naked eye.

Liam Rielly takes a moment from his busy gig schedule to speak to me about his shutterbug antics.

Have a read below after checking out the gallery above.

What came first for you, a turntable or camera?

Kam belt drive turntables. 14 and not a clue what I was doing.

How did you end up in Thailand seven years ago?

I initially came on holiday and eventually moved here after a childhood obsession with all things Asia. Shout outs to Bruce Lee, Big Trouble in Little China and the Karate Kid!

Five words that describe Bangkok?

Raw, vibrant, tasty, evocative and hot.

What is it about capturing Bangkok at night that allures you?

I love the atmosphere of nighttime photography, especially in a place like Bangkok where there are pockets of the city that can transport you right back to the 80s. I love the aesthetic of that era, and with Bangkok changing so quickly I really want to capture these places before they go.

What’s the most bizarre gig you’ve ever played?

There’s been a few! But I would have to say playing with Derrick Carter in a disused prison in Lancaster… surreal and eerie having fun in such a bleak place.

What’s the most bizarre photo you have ever taken?

It’s a bit of a running joke, but me and my mate Brent often find ourselves in some sketchy areas when hunting down the city's remaining neon lights ..more often than not in the red light areas of town. there’s always the most bizarre things happening around these spots.. Maybe not suitable for now!

What makes you nostalgic?

So much…everything really. Places, smells, music , food. All the senses can trigger those feels. Nostalgia hits hard. It can be so melancholic whilst making the past seem so perfect. It’s one of the reasons I have an obsession with film I guess. I’m always seeking to evoke those emotions.

Selfies. Yes or no?

Yes in theory, but nah.

Name an album that perfectly sums up Bangkok.

Ah I couldn’t choose one… it’s such a dynamic city. The 'Sounds of Siam' on Soundway Records which was compiled by Maftsai and Chris Menis for those classic taxi rides across the city. Special Touch 'Garden of Life' which was recently reissued by Heels & Souls for cruising the Chaophraya, Dream 2 Science 'Dream 2 Science' for rooftop sundowners and anything on Planet Trip for our late night Transport parties.

Do you have an analogue addiction?

I’m no purist but I guess I am when it comes to records and shooting film. The process of using them feels and means more. but I’ve got no problems plugging in my USB Stick or pulling out my iPhone to take a shot.

Tools of the trade — can you share some of your trade secrets with our readers?

My setup consists of a Nikon F4 and Yashica AF D point and shoot. I would say 90 percent of my work is with the Yashica. It’s pocket size and always on me for those spit second street moments. Built in ‘85, it has a killer Carl Ziess lens and has somehow managed to swerve the crazy price hikes (for now) on all things film. One of the features I love about this P&S (point and shoot) other than its lens is the ability to push and pull the film stock easily with the manual ISO settings. This really helps me be more creative while shooting night scenes across the city.

The greatest lesson a still photo has ever taught you.

Fuck perfection. I love the work of Daido Moriyama. His work can be warped, blurred, out of focus… but it makes you feel.

Is there a creative space where photography and DJing cross over for you?

I recently had an exhibition with 35mmx36exp at 12x12. it’s such a special place in the music scene here in Bangkok. Created by the legendary Hiroshi and now taken over by our good friends who have kept the magical vibe that Hiro created. I will be doing another exhibition later this year as well as partying/ playing there at parties like RomRom, Cosmic Tiger and More Rice amongst others.

Seelie's next Transport BKK event features South Korean vinyl connoisseur and film director Aaron Choe aka Airbear.

Follow Seelie’s gigs on Instagram, or his photography account here.

Arun Ramanathan is Mixmag Asia’s Director. Follow him on Instagram.

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