Converse: Electric Esan

Under the dappled shade of swaying tree branches, “Kan” Pansan Klongdee bent down with his microphone, getting up close to the traditional stringed instrument he was preparing to record. Behind them, the wind blew across fields that stretched as far as the eye could see, while water buffalo grazed and insects chirped. He was making recordings of the Thai phin and khaen instruments, which were played by Kammao Perdtanon. But the rural settings of Roi-et province and Esan music that drifted across them belied the real purpose of the session: Kan was there to make dance music for the latest project of Converse Create Next.

Kan traveled out to the countryside with Maft Sai to capture an Esan flair for their new collaboration, an acid disco track called “Zerng Club.” It features squelching bass that worms over propulsive kicks and snares, while hypnotic wooden clicks hum in the background like cicada. The jangling phin, which is a wooden loot with a naga carved into its head, leads the track while the khaen, a bamboo mouth organ, warbles subtly in the background.

These traditional instruments hold a special place in Kan’s heart: His grandfather—who played music for Esan spiritual rites—taught him to play them when he was a child. But there are no recordings of his grandfather’s music and Kan has forgotten how to play them. So this was a way to reconnect. “They have a lot of nostalgia for me,” Kan explains. “Whenever I visit the area it feels like coming home.” (“Zerng” means “dance” in the Northeast Thai language.)

Kan is better known for making post-punk in the rock band Dogwhine, rather than for producing folk dance music. He has a quiet side project making experimental, ambient, and beats-driven tracks, and can often be found partying at Never Normal and De Commune dance parties. This was the first time he’s made electronic music in a professional studio with a producer, and he credits Thanapol Anantakrittayathorn from the Supergoods band for helping bring the track across the finish line. “It was a challenge mixing Isann scales and rhythms with Western-style beats,” he says. “I learned a lot on this project.”

It was the first time Kan used traditional music in a personal project, but that’s where Maft Sai shines. He’s a record shop and label owner, venue operator, DJ, and musician tying the funky, rootsy side of dance music with traditional and local Thai music like Mor Lam. He’s also cofounder of The Bangkok Paradise Molam International Band, which counts phin master Perdtanon from “Zerng” as a member.

Overall, the project was something that pushed Kan beyond his comfort zone and the end result is a sound you don’t often hear. It’s something he definitely wants to do more of and says to expect it in the future. But for now? “I hope the song makes you zerng like the name suggests,” he laughs.

This post was sponsored by Converse.