Every year, the tiny town of Wacken in north Germany hosts the most prestigious heavy metal festival in Europe. Tipped off by a documentary by the Subtropical Asia group about Cambodian death metal band Doch Chkae, the organisers extended an invitation for them to perform at Wacken 2018. Unfortunately, time was tight, and the hasty attempts to get visas for the lads failed.
This year they have been invited once more, and with more time and more organisation, the campaign is on again, with efforts at both ends to boost the profile of the cause, gaining the support of politicians and the media.
A couple of weeks ago Doch Chkae spent three days at 60 Road Studios in Siem Reap, and managed to record five songs for an EP planned for release at the end of June. In an effort to recoup some of their costs, they will play a show at Cloud on Saturday, officially launching their effort to make it overseas.
The origins of the band are found in the background of their mentor, Timon Seibel, from the NGO Moms Against Poverty, who has a background in art therapy. “They were in our school, the guitarist, Vichea, and the singer, Theara, also the drummer, they were the most aggressive ones. [We tried] sports like soccer and boxing and some painting but still the problems were always the same. Aggression problems, never really attending school. And then we brought them to one metal show, Sliten6ix, and when they saw that it was the first time they got really excited about something.”
“When working with young people, there is not one recipe,” says Timon. “You always have to look at what triggers the person, where is the self-initiative. There is always something, but sometimes it is really hard to find.”
The acts of creation also provide a vehicle for self-expression. “They take things that they shout about and express something that makes them troubled, and then slowly they can find ways to not make it too personal – very often it’s family dramas or other trauma. With Theara, I say just make it super personal, you are aggressive enough to take it on. For other people, they may find an animal character, so it is an animal story about their issue, without making it personal.”
“We say once you enter this [rehearsal] room you need to leave behind words like good, bad, nice, not nice. All these categories that you always have to deal with in real life, they don’t count anymore. You always get grades, that’s not good enough, you have to try harder. This doesn’t count for music, the way we see it. After a while if they say we want to do a band, and then it’s different; you set goals and you talk about what you have to do now to reach these goals.”
Since the appearance of Doch Chkae, singer Vartey Ganiva has also risen out of the same programme, which has prompted efforts to expand this art/music therapy approach to other areas, including the Stung Meanchey dump where the lads grew up.
“We also want to reach out to other NGOs and to offer that for the problem kids, school dropouts. For some it is it helps them to stabilise, to focus. The working title for these workshops is Flying Shit Town School for Metal and Hardcore, but maybe we will change that,” he adds with a grin.
“They are a death metal band now, but if it wasn’t for them, this music therapy, these music workshops we are about to start on a bigger scale wouldn’t have happened. For them it’s quite an achievement.”
Appropriately, for the show on Saturday they will play alongside Reign in Slumber, the new band that emerged from the ashes of Sliten6ix who first inspired them. Timon is quick to pay homage. “Tin and Alan, they are the godfathers, they triggered the whole thing. They inspired a new generation, they really made it happen.”
Come along and help them make it happen at Cloud on Saturday, from 8 pm. The $2.50 door charge will help defray their recording costs.