On a virtual island populated by digital temples, a pixelated muay thai boxer and a mythic creature haggle at a market as square balloons displaying NFT art float in the sky above. This is the perfect metaphor for the music of Roc Chyarop Burapat, who under the alias of Sounds Of Future Siam, pairs traditional Thai music with contemporary electronic sounds. A perfect example is his new EP, Timeless Nora, which combines the instruments of Southern nora culture with rolling bass music (and which we’re premiering here today).
Over the course of five tracks, Roc combines the hypnotic instrumentation of nora dance culture with thoroughly modern sonics. Wailing oboes and glittering symbols are mixed with warbling subs and driven percussion. There are six traditional instruments that are played along with nora dance performances, and he weaves them throughout the entire project. They were recorded in Pattani, in the far southern part of Thailand along the border of Malaysia, and played by a troupe called Nora Chalerm Prapa.
The aforementioned digitized Thai world is more than a metaphor—it actually exists. It’s a metaverse island hosted on several platforms and called Nimit Rattanakosin. Roc created it as part of his Nimit Nation Web3 project bringing Thai culture to the digital world with the goal of bridging cultures. In addition to the virtual land project, he’s working on a series of AI pieces, combining characters from the royal Khon drance drama with cultural features of other countries, based on prompts suggested by the ambassadors to Thailand from each of those countries. And he’s creating a digital art series, modeling new masks based on real ones from different parts of the country. Sounds Of Future Siam is also no stranger to visuals, and his videos often feature animations.
Originally, Roc had very little interest in traditional Thai music. As a kid, he listened mainly to 90s electronic artists like Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers, and alternative Thai rock that his older brother passed along to him on cassette tapes. “Thai music was never introduced to me in a cultural context. Even if it was, I still wouldn’t have seen the heart of it back then,” he says. “I took it for granted.” When he left for university in Melbourne, he had his first experiences with club music and started DJing and producing French house and nu disco. After graduating, he got a job producing Khon performances in Australia and around the world. It made him look at music through a new lens—as a way to bring people together, starting with his own heritage.
When he returned to Thailand, Roc started traveling around the country, where he met people like a monk trying to save the remaining buffalo in his area and a firefighter battling rural blazes. Roc had been working at an agency connecting the “hipster demographic” with corporate clients by using buzz words like “equality,” but it suddenly rang hollow. “All I was doing was making one entity richer,” he recalls. “We weren’t impacting anyone, so what was I contributing my time to? I decided didn’t want to be a part of that anymore.” Instead, he wanted to work on projects with real social impact.
During those travels around Thailand, Roc met masters of different instruments, who would show him how they’re played and what they sound like. They rarely played archive their work, so Roc has been creating his own recordings and accepting those sent to him by others (which he uses in his Future Sounds project). One khaen master from the northeastern Isaan region who reached out to him and wants to record new lines has no other means of doing so. “He doesn’t have a USB or speakers. He doesn’t even have a boombox.” Roc noticed there’s a lack of opportunities for many of these musicians. “These regional artists, like those in esan who play phin and khaen, feel hopeless because there are no job opportunities in music.” He says their only options are when temples pay them for weddings or they become monks.
Bringing these artists into the world of contemporary music provides new paths for them. He points to Morlam International as a rare example of Thai artists who were able to cultivate their own unique sound rooted in local traditions and earn a living from it. “There are a lot of players who may have their own community sound that they want to blend with traditional sounds,” he says. Roc sees potential for people’s pride in their heritage to propel things further, giving them a reason to care about these sounds in new contexts. “No matter what your background or place in life, you can engage with these cultural symbols.” It’s a vision for the future that emphasizes the value of the past.