OK, the rain is still lingering but we finally got there – November has begun and time to put on your dancing shoes and enjoy the beginnings of the high season. A number of large music events and festivals are in the works for 2018-19.
First up, Anton’s Isselhardt’s International Music Festival Phnom Penh will reach its fifteenth (!) iteration tonight at Raffles. Check out the listings below for full details of the four concerts taking place over the next few days – all of which will feature world-class players performing classical music.
There was a moment in Phnom Penh at the end of April 2015 when the closure of two of the expat music crowd’s favourite venues – within days of each other – precipitated a doomy ‘end of an era’ outlook amongst many gig-goers. Unfortunately, this view, distilled in a Phnom Penh Post article entitled ‘Live Music Bubble Bursts’ and destined to rank highly in Google ‘Phnom Penh music scene’ searches forever more, has hung around for much longer than anyone could have expected. By any measure, there are far more venues and gigs in Phnom Penh at the start of ‘high season’ 2018 than there was in November 2014, when Slur Bar and Equinox were the two go-to live venues for expats in the city. To this day, we still hear people open conversations about live music in Phnom Penh with questions like “so, is the scene really dead??”
In hindsight, the moment that the Post article described was by no means an end-of-an-era but simply a sudden end-of-season ‘correction’ in the market – a season that saw the Phnom Penh expat leisure dollar reject almost all the newly-opened venues that put live music at the centre of their business model. As longtime Phnom Penh musician RJ Marshall commented to Leng Pleng in a past interview: “a lot of places opened and it wasn’t entirely clear what was going to happen to them.”
In the years since, while a number of expats have clung to the doomy ‘it’s not what it used to be’ outlook, the expat-oriented live music scene went back to doing what it did in the beginning – weekend pop-up gigs in small bars and ‘boutique’ dinner-time acoustic shows. It’s just that now, there are many more of these small shows – in addition to the few venues making music work 5, 6 or 7 days a week , AND a good helping of events and festivals to make things even more interesting. Don’t take our Leng Pleng word for it…. get out there and see for yourself… and please, naysayers, at the beginning of ‘high season’ 2018… drop the ‘scene is dead’ conversation!
Why all this retrospect, I hear you say? Well, this week, one of the original legends of the Phnom Penh music scene – back in the post-UNTAC days when the streets were unpaved and you sometimes had to dodge bullets during encores – is back in town:
“The Drunks started as a bit of a joke, but ended up becoming the Friday night bar band at Sharky Bar for four years. Stiff Little Punks also played Sharky many times, big thanks to promoters Big Mike (RIP) and Ross. We also played lots of tiny places such as Candy Bar and so on, playing sets at 3 am… madness…
The Lazy Drunks time is a bit of a blur but lots of fun, must have involved about fifty local musicians in all. My favourite online review described us as being like a musical version of Dad’s Army but without the laughs – our drummer was 22, but some members were as old as their sixties. Respect is due to them all.”
As you will see from the interview, musos like Ian Anderson and Dave Maybe kicked off what we call the Phnom Penh expat music scene in those handful of riverside watering holes in the late 2000’s. Ian and Dave will be back, with bells on, as Stiff Little Punks, this Saturday at Oscar’s On The Corner.
A few blocks up the Phnom Penh riverside on Saturday, a huge fundraiser will be going on at Chinese House for the Early Years Behind Bars charity, which supports children living at Correctional Center 2 in Phnom Penh. While organisers expect a sell-out, some tickets for the show featuring South East Asia Soul Revue, Miss Sarawan, Miserable Man and Hills & Bells are available via the Facebook event page.
The extremely talented Miserable Man will be playing a special ticketed show at Sundown Social Club this Sunday. The series of ‘Original Sessions’ concerts features Cambodian-based and visiting international artists in unique locations around Phnom Penh. The aim of the series is to provide an alternative context to the noisy bars and restaurants which, although we love them, are often not the best setting to appreciate an artist’s original music. Here is the vid from the most recent Original Session, which featured a stunning performance by Vartey Ganiva at Factory Phnom Penh.
Whatever you’re up to over the next few days, stay safe out there and… see you around the traps!
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