Anth in Phnom Penh

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dengue Fever in Phnom Penh!!

Please don’t be alarmed. This post is not about mosquito-borne disease, but rather the biggest musical event in Phnom Penh ... well at least since the internationally acclaimed Micheal Learns to Rock came to town that is. Dengue Fever are a Los Angeles based band who cover, and are inspired by, classic Khmer rock of the 1960’s. I was very excited at the news of their imminent arrival. What was even more exciting was the coinciding visit of my little brother, an avid DF fan.

I fronted up to Pochentong airport and anxiously waited for Roh to take his first steps on South East Asian soil. In the taxi back to my house, I casually mentioned that if he wasn’t too tired we could go see Dengue Fever that night. “Are you serious???!!!!”. He was definitely up for it. However, after building up expectations of his first evening in Phnom Penh our plans were abruptly dashed. In an episode murky with controversy, Dengue Fever did not play. Seven pages of postings on Khmer440 and several letters to the Cambodia Daily later the debate was starting to get personal and worn out. Did the band pull out because there wasn’t the appropriate equipment provided? Was the stage structurally sound? Or was their lead singer being a spoilt prima donna and they just didn’t want to play???

Who knows, and everybody seems to have a different version. Either way, they played at Talkin’ To A Stranger on the following Friday night and it was awesome. Roh and I had dinner with friends before the gig and at the appointed time to leave the sky opened up and big fat drops of wet-season rain began to storm down. After refusing several “Can we go see DF yet??” requests on the grounds that “everything stops in PP when it rains like this”, we hopped on our bikes and headed over. We walked in the door and were immediately greeted by Zac, DF’s guitarist, who had spied Roh’s Dieselhead t-shirt. The evening could not have started better.

After sufficient time had been allowed for the rain to stop and for patrons to arrive, Dengue Fever took to the stage. We had secured a prime front stage spot early on. ‘Stranger’ was chockers with barang and Khmer and it was muggy and sweaty under the canvas tent that had been erected for the gig. The band came on stage and begun to play. An audible ‘aaah’ could be heard as the stunning lead singer, Chom Nimmol, swung onto stage (in particular, from the lovestruck Khmer boys to my right). Microphone in hand she started singing in her high, clear voice. The crowd started to move in time with the music, incapable of resisting the catchy beat and infectious and playful melodies.

In a beautiful moment, transcending all cultural barriers I see my brother singing along in Khmer with a young Cambodian guy he has just met. The front part of the crowd is starting to dance, with more than a hint of Khmer traditional dance moves. This was great! Roh and I both agree that the only thing missing is our younger brother Scrappy. Although, given the Dr Rock-esque keyboard styling intros of the keyboardist and his outfit of brown pin-strip pants we figure that the spirit of Simon was there at least in some shape or form.

Everyone was having a great time and I was reveling in a rare moment of unity between PP residents. It was a nice change from the sometimes extremely segregated night-life of PP. The band finished their last song and walked off stage. They were eventually lured back and did three more songs by the loud chanting ‘moy teat, moy teat…’

Photos courtesy of Pierre

It was an incredible performance; great music, talented musicianship and an enthusiastic crowd. It did really reinforce how lacking the live music scene is here in Phnom Penh. There are a lot of small venues around town that could host similar, small laid back evenings, but this just does not seem to happen. Is it that there isn’t enough music minded Phnom Penhers about with the ability and equipment to put a band together? I was talking with Zac after the gig and he was saying how he really hoped that their visit might inspire young Khmers to get into music. Most of my young Khmer friends love music, they will all sing karaoke if given the opportunity, but none of them play instruments. I can’t believe that there isn’t the interest or talent in Phnom Penh for some really good bands to develop. I suppose we need a confluence of factors, both the people to play the music, the venue for the music to be played and the support of locals coming and listening. Is this such a difficult thing??

Viva live music in Phnom Penh!


  • At 11:19 AM, Blogger mr_john said…

    Hey there Anth,

    Hmm, apparently I have to be a blogger to post on this thing. Hang on a sec.

    Ok, now I have a blog. Goddamnit... I'm a busy man, I don't have time to be blogging.

    Anyway, as I was saying. I think you'll find the music scene's all around south-east Asia are pretty similar. I've seem some good stuff in Jakarta but it's damn hard to find.

    I'll be seeing some local metal soon, so I've got my fingers crossed. One local band is called Total Anal Infection, so they can't be too bad.


  • At 10:10 AM, Blogger Anth said…

    Hey John, good to hear from you mate!

    Sorry about the difficulties with commenting. I put some restrictions on to stop people advertising porn sites on my blog, but didn't mean to be quite so strict! I have fixed it up now.

    Yeah, I have heard that the metal scene is alright in Indonesia. Total anal infection?? Good to see the trend of trying to come up with the most offensive band name possible is alive and well in Indo...

    It's all pop here, and swoony, sickly love ballads at that! (my khmer mates were very hardpressed to name me a modern khmer song that is not about love - falling in love, lost love, unrequited love...) This is sometimes performed live, but rarely in a pub or bar.

    think i am gonna have to wait till i go back to melb for a proper live music fix!

  • At 4:33 AM, Blogger Sonbeam said…

    HI Anth,

    I enjoyed reading your story and so happy your brother had a great trip and extra bonus of DF. Sounds like fun!

  • At 8:21 PM, Blogger jLo said…

    Anth, next time we meet I'm going to demand an acapella rendition of a Khmer love ballad. Just so's you've been warned...


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