Pisitakun is one of those artists you don’t come across too often. He is quietly creating complex, boisterous, and expressive music from his base in Berlin. His most recent record, titled Kuantalaeng, his surname, gets back to his Thai roots. Growing up in Thailand during a period of political instability during 2000s, he has been busy creating various forms of art which comment on political power and history.
Since Pisitakun joined the label Chinabot in 2018, he has been releasing music which fuses traditional Thai instrumentation with harsh electronic sounds. Throughout his career, he has been focused on questioning political corruption, through an entirely unique avenue. His recent album Kuantalaeng is an important addition to his portfolio. Each track is named after a famous Thai dish, such as Gaeng Som, or Khao Soi. The sonics of the tracks reflect the flavour of the dish, whilst also having an undercurrent of something more sombre or abrasive.
In our discussion, he describes the way in which Thai people smile and laugh for protection, but underneath there are other emotions lurking. This project is a perfect example of this. The album cover reflects something which you might find on the outside of a restaurant in Thailand, advertising the place light-heartedly, but when you get into the album, there is more than just smiles. We had the chance to talk to Pisitakun, discussing his career as a musician, interest in food, and about the new record.
Hello Pisitakun, it’s great to be speaking to you. Congratulations on your new album Kuantalaeng! As the track list is all named after Thai dishes, I must ask: What is your favourite one?
My favourite dish is Soi Chu, which from Northeast Thailand or Isan, especially after a cow has been freshly slaughtered for various ceremonies or significant merit-making rituals. Different types of offal are thinly sliced and served with a dipping sauce made with phia or khi phia (a slightly bitter mixture containing a cow’s bile). I really love this one. But it isn’t in this album. I selected the track names from the dishes recommended by many travel websites to Thailand, and I chose my favourite ones from there.
It’s interesting that the flavour and setting of each dish influences the song itself. Khao Soi, for example, being a punchy spicy dish, has the energy you would expect with such a name. Was this a conscious thought for the project?
For the process of making this album, I made the song first and chose the name after. Khao Soi is one of my favourite dishes. In the first track of the record, I wanted to bring an emotional and complex sound together with the voice of a revolutionary song that I like from the ‘70s in Thailand. It is the same thing with Khao Soi. The test is complex, spicy but sweet, and when you put the lime it gets sour.
Being from Thailand originally, is the project also inspired by a certain degree of homesickness, or nostalgia from your life there?
Yes, homesickness and nostalgia make me think about where I belong now. What is the past and how can I move going into the future? That’s the question of my life.
It’s interesting that you now have a dual identity of sorts, being currently based in Berlin. Your music fits right in with the Berlin experimental scene. Is this something that attracted you to the city originally?
I moved to Berlin because I got the DAAD artists-in-Berlin-Program for a year, but I stayed in Europe for another reason. What I like about Berlin’s music and art scene is the complexity of the people who conform it, they’re from all around the world. It heals my homesickness and allows me to learn more about a lot of different cultures from different countries.
Food is central to life regardless of location. We all have to eat. Would you ever create a project based on German food? I would love to hear Pisitakun’s take on currywurst.
Not yet, but that would be nice because I like to eat currywurst late at night (laughs).
Could you tell us a bit about the road that led you to this point? How did you begin making music, and has it always been bombastic and experimental, like on your most recent project?
I know music from what my family listened to, from festivals and ceremonies in Thailand, but I never learned music theory or history. Most of the time, I compose by concept and listen to what I like.
For me, an experimental song begins without knowing the end result. I just try to compose the sound following my concept and what I want. But for the next album, I really want to stray away from my current identity to learn more. That’s why Kuantalaeng is about my past, homesickness and nostalgia.
I also sense a degree of darkness in Kuantalaeng. Despite the joyous, inviting album cover, there is something dark hidden within the music. Are you trying to convey a kind of undercurrent within the work?
Yes. It’s something cultural I guess. I laugh a lot when I’m having a serious conversation, but many friends here in Europe don’t understand why I smile or laugh. For me, the joyful is linked to different ceremonies with many emotional layers – ceremonies for the death, weddings, sickness, etc. By smiling or laughing, we create this protection for our mental health. You hear a lot of times that Thailand is the land of smiles, and that’s why. We smile and are joyful for many different reasons. I’m not sure this is the answer to your question though.
I wonder how you translate the album into a live performance. Are you working on an upcoming tour or gigs to bring Kuantalaeng to life?
Yes, my idea is to teach people how to cook and eat Thai food through my music.
Is there anything coming up for you that you would like to tell us about? Any projects other in the works?
Now I’m working on another project called The Three Sound of Revolution It talks about revolutionary sound, and you can follow up the project on this website.
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