DJ Korn fights for Bangkok’s right to party
PUSHING FORWARD BANGKOK NIGHTLIFE, AMID CURFEWS AND CRACKDOWNS.
The lights went up just past midnight at Dark Bar as the Italian DJ was hitting the climax of his house set.
Six or seven plainclothes police officers pulled out badges on necklaces tucked inside their shirts. Twenty more flooded in and started lining up partygoers on the dance floor and checking their bags.
For 25-year-old Korn Varasarin, who organized the party together with his DJ collective MELA, it was months of planning and excitement gone to waste.
“I don’t really know the actual reason, but they said it was drugs,” he says. “People only start getting to Dark Bar at midnight. How can the club even make money like that?”
Dark Bar, known as a late-night temple of underground music, closed down soon after.
Since Thailand’s military took over the government in a 2014 coup d’etat, it has cracked down on what it deems as immoral behavior in Bangkok’s nightlife scene. Curfews, raids, vehicle stop-checks ending in pat-downs and urine tests have all been fair game.
While some venues are forced to close their doors as early as midnight, others stay open later – a telltale sign of backroom bribery in a country with a longstanding problem with corruption (Thailand ranked 96 out of 180 nations in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index).
When Korn co-founded MELA in 2017, the challenge was growing an audience under the pressure of political uncertainty. He managed to take the first parties from two guests to 200. Then Dark Bar closed down.
Between crackdowns and soaring rents, it’s not the only small, independent club to close down in Bangkok recently. Last year saw the demise of Moose Bangkok, a stalwart of the local indie scene, and Overground Bar & Cafe, a low-key live music spot.
“The powers that be are actively hostile to the nightlife scene,” wrote Overground owner Graham Lynch on Facebook at the time.
“[Dark Bar’s closure] was a good motivation,” insists Korn. “If it was still there, maybe we’d still just be playing there instead of thinking of something new.”
To deal with the ever-looming threat of midnight curfews, he decided events needed to start earlier.
MELA started throwing parties from 2 p.m. at De Commune, a black-walled live music venue hidden inside a high-rise shopping mall.
The collective’s early events are part of a lush landscape of afternoon party series in Bangkok, such as Kolour and Karma Kruise, which not only escape late-night ambiguity, but are now just trendy.
The gigs have allowed Korn to further explore the “essence of Thai music adapted to Western music,” with dancing beats reminiscent of Thai melodies and instruments. Not just DJs, but artists, musicians and others perform.
“I want to learn more about art from art people, performance from performance people,” he says. “If we share, we can see more. There are feelings and there are stories there. They belong together.”
Lee Antawat, an art professor who organizes exhibition parties at her gallery Speedy Grandma*, praises Korn as an organizer “taking over from the older generation.”
“When you have a lot of limitations, people tend to be more creative somehow with how to tackle these situations,” she says. “He’s leading a younger generation blending together art and music, with different ways to express loneliness, love, frustration and what they are feeling compared to my generation.”
Because of the volatile situation, MELA is focusing on fewer but better parties.
“It’s still random,” he says. “There are still raids. But there’s no controlling that.”
“I don’t think it’s about good or bad anymore,” he continues. “It’s about corruption. We all know that but who’s going to fix that? They don’t care as they hold all the cards.”
Listen to a mix created by DJ Korn exclusively for LURE below or on SoundCloud.