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Big Fat challenge

In its seventh year, Thailand's indie music fest overcomes growing pains, but still strives to retain its fresh edge

Published on November 9, 2007

Big Fat challenge

Paradox, at last year’s Fat Festival.

Known for its innovative, unconventional approach, the Fat Festival always surprised fans with a constant change of festival sites from year to year. From the abandoned Tobacco Monopoly, to the disused Imperial Lat Phrao department store, Siam water park, Nanglerng Turb horse track, to the deserted Dan Neramit theme park - rain or shine, wet or dry, it seemed like there never was a complaint from the festival-goers, who enjoyed the energetic, playful vibes of the event.

But with the festival-goers increasing in numbers each year, the organiser was challenged to find bigger venues to accommodate audiences that gradually increased to hit 30,000 to 40,000 per day.

"The fourth version held at the Nanglerng Turb racetrack was the worst," says Yutthana 'Ted' Boon-Om, the festival organiser. "Admission was free back then and a few hundred thousand poured in, packing every inch of the field and making it hard to manage and keep the show schedule. It was too crowded and too overwhelming."

Last year, the festival found refuge in Challenger Hall at Impact, Muang Thong Thani, where the massive convention hall was turned into a gigantic playground for arts and music. Designed for such an event, it was convenient and controllable. This year, the hall is to accommodate Fat again.

"There are many halls, so if it gets too crowded, we can expand the site. Also, the second time here means less work with the installation and floor planning. We know the premises and things can be easily planned out. This gives us more time to focus on other details. It saves us time and hassle," says Ted.

But while the venue makes things easier for the organiser, devoted Fat fans, who expect the festival to break the rules and be independent, might think the festival is becoming too old and too boring.

"It's not the venue that makes Fat Fest stand out, it's the principle of the festival," says Ted. "We're determined to maintain the concept of the festival and focus on what we do, not on where we'll do it. I think if you come to the festival, no matter where it is held, you will always get the same feeling and the same vibes of Fat Festival spirits. For the last year and this year, the venue is conventional, but the festival is not. We totally mess it up in our own ways and it's still the same funky festival that everyone is used to."

Ted also says that no matter what might have changed during the past seven years, Fat Festival will always remain true to its philosophy of bringing the hidden talents to the limelight and gather together as big a variety of arts and music as possible.

Designed by young multimedia artist Wit Pimkarnjanapong, Fat Festival Seven will stretch wide across halls two and three with five stages and up to 400 booths. If you were among attendees who hated the maze of last year, rest assured that you'll find your way around a lot easier this year. Each zone and stage is conveniently connected. And you can also hop on a bus to take the tour around the festival site.

"This year, we have about the same number of booths and headline bands," says Ted. "But we'll give more space to the art zone where artists will display their works. We're aware that each genre of arts demands different space and equipment, so we'll stretch the space to suit their requirements. Also it would be nice to have more space for the audience to manoeuvre around when they're seeing the works."

Fat Fest's core - music - is the magnet, featuring more than 40 Thai and regional acts. The festival continues to be the biggest, most accessible platform for emerging talents, and every year new bands emerge to the attention of the public. This year, with as many headline acts as in previous years, the line up has a mix of unknown bands sharing the stage with big-name performers. Genres run the gamut, including pop, hip-hop, rock, folk and jazz.

Headliners include Modern Dog, Blackhead, Apartment Khunpa, Paradox, Groove Riders, Yokee Playboy, Futon and Ebola. Emerging bands like Slur, Scubb, Sqweez Animal, Saliva Bastards, Red 20, Buddhist Holiday and Bear Garden will make their returns.

One band that made it out at the festival a couple of years back is the alternative "comedy" rockers Samurai Loud, who will be performing for the third time this year.

"The festival gives small bands a great chance to expose themselves to their fans. Some small bands, our band included, can only get to perform at parties in bars, RCA or places where you have to be at least 20 to get in. With this festival, you can see them all no matter how old you are. It's a great market to share music," says Samurai Loud vocalist Teesit "Van" Laddawan.

Founded five years ago, the self-financed quartet gradually made their way onto the scene when their crazy costumes and energetic show could no longer be ignored. This time around Samurai Loud appears as an established name on the roster. Recently they earned themselves a record deal and their self-titled debut album was released four months ago.

Foreign bands include five acts from Japan, one of which is pop trio YMCK whose most prominent feature is the "8-bit" sound that is akin to the video games of the 1980s. Their unique style of live performances using 8-bit, pixelated animation is also highly acclaimed. This year is their third visit to the festival. The other bands in the Japanese legion are pop trio Velvet Peach 7, jazzy blues group The Travellers, The Fooligans and the solo folk songstress known as the Indigo.

Though some bands keep coming back, some bands have the urge to complain about the organisation and the format of the festival where each band gets to play only a few songs

"It was pretty poor when we performed last year," says Sam Burn, the front man of a Bangkok-based British rock band. "We had a terrible time, and plus the shows were late all day. The mixer we had didn't have a clue. Anyway I think the festival is improving every year, but it still has a long way to go. The organisation still leaves a lot to be desired - there are too many bands that play very short sets that collide with other stages."

It sure is an ordeal to keep the quality on par with the quantity, especially for Fat as the one and only big outlet for the entire country's alternative music scene. So keep juggling and try to catch as many of your favourite acts as possible - this chance only comes once a year!

The Fat Festival takes place from midday until midnight tomorrow and Sunday at Challenger Hall, Impact Convention Centre, Muang Thong Thani. Tickets, good for entry on both days, are Bt300 inclusive of a Fat Code CD, available at Thaiticketmajor and the venue. Call (02) 262 3456 or see www.myspace.com/fatfestival.

Manta Klangboonkrong  

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