Most student backpackers head off to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia with the latest Paulo Coelho under their arm and the desire to find themselves, returning several weeks/months later skinnier, seriously tanned, shell jewellery adorning their wrists and neck and some wishy-washy new philosophy by which to live their lives. Ethan Holtzman fared a little better. After extensive travel in the back of local trucks round the winding local roads of Cambodia listening to tapes of local rock music, he returned to LA and decided, along with his brother Zac, to start up a band and give the Western world a taste of Khmer Rock.
During the Vietnam war, after hearing American pop music on Armed Forces Radio, bands in the region started to interpret the likes of The Beatles and The Doors and forged their own hybrid sound. With a heavy focus on psychedelic-like cuts and reverberated vocals, the music that evolved was nothing if not unique. Unfortunately the rise in popularity of Cambodian rock was cut short due to the chaos that ensued thanks to the Khmer Rouge’s arrival in the Seventies.
But this little-known musical genre is set to make a glorious comeback thanks to the band that the brothers started in 2001. Dengue Fever are five Silver Lake hipsters fronted by Cambodian singing legend Ch’nom Nimol. In the name of authenticity, the boys decided they needed a real Cambodian singer to head up the outfit and began to trawl the Long Beach nightclubs to find their star; searching in the Little Phnom Penh area, they came across Nimol singing at the Dragon House club. They succeeded in persuading her to join them and the band’s first, self-titled album was a mix of Sixties Cambodian rock covers, including the pretty brilliant ‘Shave Your Beard’, a cover of the mightily popular Ros Serey Sothea classic about a jealous women who is suspicious of her husband’s newly-grown facial hair, alongside tracks from the hugely prolific composer Sin Sissamouth.
Since then the band have released two more albums and gained in popularity. With cult claims to being on the soundtracks of the 2005 Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers and stoner series Weeds, a Peter Gabriel backed recording-deal and a new documentary out following the history of Cambodian rock music called Sleepwalking through the Mekong, Dengue Fever look set to break out of their Silver Lake dive-club concert routine and play bigger venues to crowds who are drawn to their mish-mash of sounds and to a band that is most definitely a break from the norm.
Dengue Fever aren’t for everyone; their music isn’t exactly accessible to all. But if you are looking for originality, Dengue Fever deliver that in spades. There is literally no-one like them that springs to mind when looking for comparisons, and their funk-infused, psychedelica pop-rock would make a pretty excellent soundtrack to bleached-out, relaxed long summer days.
June 30th, 9.30pm
Nou de la Rambla 111
Metro: Paral·lel (L2 and L3); Bus: 20, 36, 57, 64, 121, 157