Monday, June 28, 2010

As the northern summer starts to bite into the local scene ... 23 - 26 June 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, a new contender for best expat band in Cambodia ... but first a quick chroniciling of the week's CSP adventures.

Wednesday night at La Croisette, either side of 2 simultaneous football matches, the Cambodian Space Project did its thing, starting with a duo hampered by broken strings and including a flight across town for supplies, growing into a 5-piece Khmer rock'n'roll machine, that by 11.45, after a blistering second set, finally pulled to a close.  Special thanks to those who attended the first, wandered off for the football, but then returned for the second.  Such as new big fan Andy.

It was a quieter, more sedate Thursday night - Expresso Thmei at the opening of The 252, a new upmarket guesthouse on Street 252, where we played in front of a large swimming pool (which proved too tempting for one invitee) and a rather different than usual audience.  And no broken strings.  And also Andy. 

On Friday afternoon, the PSE school at Stung Meanchey had an end of year musical celebration that featured some great (and also some admittedly not so great, but heartwarmings) singing and dancing by kids of all ages.  The Cambodian Space Project was invited to headline, and it was one of the best experiences we have had, with 2,500 children dancing and singing along.  An absolutely exhilarating time, electric energy, and a chance to do those rockstar things that you are always a little embarassed to do in front of a grownup crowd.  The kids were both inspired and inspiring, and as my mate Ken said, a great view of the future of the nation. 

And now - Saturday night.   Los PoporksEquinox.  Fab. 

I haven't seen these guys since they opened for the CSP back in January, but they've morphed into something really special.  They played as a ten-piece - with two guitars, bass, drums, percussion, three singers, two trumpets, a flute, a keyboard, an occasional harmonica ... rambling across open fields of African beats, some deep soupy funk, some double-time French jazz, dipping into reggae and then jazz fusion ... and as a highpoint in the middle of the second set, a scandalous segue from the swinging-like-a-(expletive deleted) Take Five into a massive Whole Lotta Love without breaking stride.  Just outstanding.  The crowd stayed thick and bouncing through to the end, including two encores.  The sad part is I understand they're breaking down into something smaller for the European summer - just when they had proved themselves necessary!  Don't miss these guys the next time you have a chance. 

Also, on a non-musical note, make a point to check out Cambodian painter Dina Chhan's new exhibition (also, unrelatedly, at Equinox). 

See you around the traps. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

‘I do like Mondays...’ - 21 June 2010

 Guest report from Laurence W. Talbot on the Memphis Fete de la Musique ... thanks and more please!

Monday night in Memphis (Phnom Penh not Tennessee!), and a packed house of sweaty patrons swayed, rocked, rolled and jigged to the musical feast for the ears and eyes that was ‘Fete de la Musique’ Memphis 2010. Hosts Bona and Mel were rushing around, ensuring that all the acts had a great sound and that all, audience and performers alike, were kept well refreshed for the evening’s entertainment. We even got to sing a raucous version of ‘happy birthday’  to Mel to help her celebrate being another year older as midnight rolled us into the next day…. But first let’s go back in time just a few hours….
First to grace the fantastic new stage in Memphis was ‘The Minstrel from Russia’. Introduced in effusive style by Rosanna, our compere for the evening. Sergey eased the eager crowd into the nights festivities with a set of immaculately fingerpicked guitar tunes, showcasing his consummate skills on the fretboard. He was followed by Skip, former frontman with UK 80’s new wave band Radio City, who clearly hasn’t lost any of his punk energy as he powered through a short sharp blast of a solo set of his own compositions that threatened to raise the roof clean off the bar. The musical mood changed with the arrival of Kheltica and their engaging hybrid of Celtic influences, but the energy levels remained the same and outbreaks of jigging and reeling greeted their spirited renditions of traditional Celtic folk tunes. After a short break to draw breath, the stage was then boarded by a shipful of Mekong Pirates, who sent the audience into happy delirium with their unique blend of Mekong-flavored funky snaky rhythms. Memphis main man Bona stepped up to add some tasty licks to several numbers, including a driving version of Cambodian rock classic Cyclo.  Compere Rosanna showed her eclectic side with a rap number leading into an accapella version of Amazing Grace during the band changeover, then Section 5 maintained the energy levels with a set of classic rock covers matched by a great visual presence that kept the floor moving . They were followed by Srey Nuch and band – they struck me as being a Cambodian version of early Blondie, an authentic  60’s  based girl group sound with a raw edge and a very formidable front person in the striking Srey Nuch… very impressive indeed. Memphis’ very own Rock Xpress took to the stage in the early hours to bring the evening to a rousing climax, Dani leading the charge with a selection of songs by Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, then Bona calling Skip back to the stage for some powerhouse blues a la Plant and Page and ending with a screamingly hard version of Born to be Wild that set the seal on another wonderful night of music in the Penh. Go to the Memphis Facebook page ( to see Ramona’s cool photos of Monday night in Memphis.

Laurence W. Talbot

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fete de la Musique dans Phnom Penh: 16 June 2010

The Centre Culturel Francais hosted a great night last night to celebrate Fete de la Musique.  Unfortunately I arrived too late to see the Khmer performers, but I managed to catch most of the set by PP favourites the Mekong Pirates (but more of them later).

The headline band, Java, played a fascinating blend of hip hop, rock, traditional French ... and a taste of most other things you could think of.  The lead singer prowled around the stage looking like a gallic Brian Johnson of AC/DC, crooning, bellowing, spluttering out rap, inciting the crowd to dance, to run to the left and to the right, to sit down ... and even went crowd surfing.  All this backed by drums, bass ... and accordion.  And it rocked.  It reminded me how important energy is in performance, and how audiences respond in kind. 

We were twisted and turned by the light show, by the shifts both stylistic and dynamic, made all the more powerful by the fact that it was drums, bass ... and accordion.  And this point was made with greatest subtlety during the evening:  "Accordion!  Sexy!  Accordion!  Sexy!"  Even the English speakers, who understood little else, got that one.  Speaking of which - I was also reminded how much better music can sound when you don't know what the words are.  The most banal and mediocre lyrics just don't matter when heard in another language. 

Java came back from an encore dressed up - the singer in some kind of papal MC outfit, and the band in long red robes that made them look distinctly like judges of the ECCC.  Just with different hair.  But that was only the beginning.  Both bands decamped to Equinox (newly fitted out with upstairs stage and sound system and noise baffling structures) where the Pirates set sail with what they do best:  tight, cramped, fighting out of the corner under power of a reggaefunkshuffle with spiky horns popping and braying, the sole vocal mic passing from hand to hand to horn to horn.  It was after midnight when Java took to the stage, launching into some progrock type funk that morphed into a rap, that morphed into ... well, you really had to be there.  It was quite a night.  Viva la musique. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

A quick one before the kickoff: 11 June

The Cambodian Space Project returned to Lotus Blanc on Friday night, boldly going on in opposition to the opening game of the World Cup, in the second of their big Friday nights.  The night began with a bit of busking - playing acoustic out in the gateway, frightening the passersby with some of the new repertoire that has been creeping in over the past few weeks.  Later the 7-piece line up pushed through two full sets of the tight, funky lean sound that is the current sound of choice (we await coming developments that may morph the sound one way or another ... travel broadens the mix) with some impressive and expressive dancing from those members of the audience who were compelled to move a bit.  

The World Cup is certainly going to slow music matters down for the next few weeks, but the Leng Pleng gig guide still looked full over the weekend.  My pick for the coming week is the Fete du Musique event at the Centre Culturel Francais Cambodge on Wednesday night.  Might see you there. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Railway Station rocks, and other events: 3 - 6 June

Way back last Thursday, so long ago I can hardly remember, the Hellhounds played their last for a while at Sharky Bar - a break forced by the temporary departure of the Swedish Ambassador for a good two months.  This hardworking jack-of-all-axes will be sorely missed by the musical community of Phnom Penh.  We gave him a good send off from Sharky and know that the Hellhounds will rise again.

Friday night, back at Sharky again, was another familiar instalment in the saga of the Lazy Jazz Drunks, including line up changes within an hour of taking the stage, and a general shortage of traffic police on the stand.  Still, we saw - and heard - the highly entertaining bass debut of the Mythical Dude amid some thumping and valiant blues rock complete with false endings, a brief guest singer, and some weird and wonderful jamming on an extended Whole lotta love.   Some pics are here:  Sharky Blog

The big night of the week of course was Saturday, when the much unused Phnom Penh railway station was converted into a party venue, including a train trip off to a rice field, where the Phnom Penh Hot Strings delighted the delightable crowd, then returning to a great gathering of people who rocked out to the Cambodian Space Project on the platform.  This is well documented here and here.  A great night that was only hampered by the DJs coming on too early  ; )

Then on Sunday the public debut of Espresso Thmei took place at Paddy Rice.  And not such a bad crowd for a Sunday night either.  The pocket-sized version of the CSP mixes in a number of brand new songs with the regular CSP repertoire, and, through the different and more acoustic setting, brings the lovely voice of Srey Thy well to the fore.  And it's a pleasure to play.  And Thy's newest biggest fan wrote it up as well.

see you around.