“This is international,” MILLI reminded herself mid-set at Maho Rasop Festival. Remembering the global-minded Bangkok fest’s audience, the Thai rapper began to introduce herself in English. Eventually, however, she gave up, and after acknowledging the crowd with a few jokes and laughs, proceeded to tear the house down, seizing the stage with a statement-making performance.
That moment captures the narrative of this year’s Maho Rasop. The 2018-founded festival’s initial editions established it as a tasteful purveyor of Western indie royalty (think Bombay Bicycle Club, Deafheaven, or The Horrors) and a destination fest on the Asian circuit capable of drawing marquee names. But as Maho Rasop re-emerged for its 2022 return, a quick scan of the third edition’s line-up revealed a shift in approach. While celebrated names did find their way onto the bill – indie rock favourites Last Dinosaurs, A Place To Bury Strangers and DIIV, for example – a clear billboard act was nowhere to be found, an absence that drew criticism on social media.
But a deeper look into the festival’s midcard offerings showed that decision might have been intentional. Revealing a wealth of cult favourites from Asia and beyond, the lineup read like it’d been ripped right out of the playlists of a devout indie scholar in defiance of the popularity-based logic of international festivals. This year, Maho Rasop seemed to champion a purer philosophy to festival-goers: come and be blown away, streaming numbers be damned. And believers who made the trek down to Rangsit Park over November 19-20 were richly rewarded with unconventional programming and outstanding performances by the unexpected and the underdogs.
The festival’s indie rock bread-and-butter demonstrated this dynamic, where smaller, Asian acts consistently outshone the more renowned counterparts higher up the poster. While DIIV, for example, turned in a tame, underwhelming set hampered by technical issues, Japanese veterans Tokyo Shoegazer upstaged all of the festival’s louder outfits with overwhelming volume, delivering a blissful tsunami of rapturous noise through a grand total of 11 amps. As Fazerdaze’s bedroom pop stylings remained largely lethargic on a big stage, Tokyo’s DYGL provided a convincing indie rock counter, delivering an energetic take on their new material which liberally drew on comforting dream pop and British touchpoints like the Stone Roses.
In this spirit, Maho Rasop’s programming was attuned to the pulses of the Thai and Southeast Asian scenes. Experimental rockers Dogwhine won fierce support in an early afternoon set, the crowd shouting along to their saxophone flourishes and post-hardcore intensity, while indie poppers KIKI followed with a colourful, seven-member showcase of their debut ‘Metamorphosis: Final Stage’.
But undoubtedly leading the charge for the Thai contingent was MILLI. Pirouetting, throwing punches and flexing sharp dance moves, the rapper dominated the stage with effortless charisma, all while flanked by a powerful six-piece band. From taking over F.HERO’s verses on ‘MIRROR MIRROR’, to igniting singalongs for cuts like ‘17 mins’, to presenting an effortless take on ‘Mango Sticky Rice’, the MC held a captive audience of converts for an hour even despite sickness, proving herself a consummate performer worthy of her ascendant status.
That regional diversity also extended to the festival’s electronic offerings. Japanese footwork veteran Foodman shone on the first night with an exhilarating cocktail of hyper-revved BPMs and frantic rhythms, while Boiler Room’s first Bangkok takeover from the festival’s Rim Daeng stage anchored the energy of the following day, with glowing industrial rhythms from Malaysia’s Rempit Goddess and hard-hitting drum’n’bass from Thai veteran DJ Dragon.
Despite its unconventional selections, Maho Rasop’s performers hardly lacked charisma and star power, its stages filled with personalities ranging from the coolest to the craziest. Dry Cleaning made an imposing Southeast Asian debut with their sardonic post-punk, storming through a powerful showcase of ‘Stumpwork’ cuts against an ethereal, misty backdrop.
On day two, Korean indie stars Se So Neon were electric, confidently ripping through solos (‘Athena’) and captivating serenades (‘NAN CHUN’), the latter conjuring a magical sea of cell-phone lights. They even had a surprise up their sleeves: after the band built to a rousing finale with ‘The Wave’, leader SoYoon softly introduced “a friend in Thailand”, before welcoming Phum Viphurit out for a duet of her solo track, ‘Wings’.
Aided by its open field setting, Maho Rasop delivered plenty of these magical and heartwarming moments. Some blended with effortless displays of technique: Los Angeles favourites Moonchild delivered a dreamy, neo-soul showcase against a stunning, crimson sunset, while Yussef Dayes took centre-stage Sunday evening, mesmerising with a spiritual display of ghost notes and complex grooves.
But that blend of festival scale and technical mastery culminated in Cornelius’ sublime Saturday set, which felt less like a concert and more like a piece of monumental audiovisual art. Whether it was the collage-rock brilliance of ‘Fantasma’ to the futuristic sounds of his later album ‘Mellow Waves’, the shibuya kei pioneer presented a jaw-dropping retrospective of his 20-year discography with mechanical precision. Over an hour and a half, his quartet effortlessly transitioned between heavenly drone and synthpop to frantic noise rock, all perfectly synced with an astounding light and visual display.
No performer seemed to embrace Maho Rasop’s spirit of omnivorous genre-agnosticism more than Haru Nemuri. The Japanese noise-pop artist drew on albums ‘Shunka Ryougen’ and ‘Haru to Shura’ for a blisteringly intense and cathartic set, moving between emo-adjacent J-rock influences to hyperpop-tinged spoken word, all topped with earth-shattering screams. Spending half her set either crowd-surfing or performing atop monitors, Nemuri was met with a rapturous faithful of moshpits, stage divers and new converts. No matter who she was playing to, Nemuri had a single message: “I hope you can be yourself,” she insisted throughout her set to increasingly euphoric cheers.
That celebratory message matches the ethos of Maho Rasop, which means ‘festive celebration’ in Thai. Drawing power from the spirit of discovery and diversity, the programming experiment of the festival’s 2022 edition was a breath of fresh air in an increasingly homogenous festival landscape. Powered by an integrity and pure love of music at its most magical and life-affirming, Maho Rasop has established itself as a beacon of exciting possibility.