Back at the end of 2016 there was a sudden explosion – certain parts of the city were hit night by night by a hurricane called Hypnotic Fist Technique. The band is essentially a high-energy hiphop outfit – fronted by not one but two rappers – strongly influenced by heavy rock, soul, reggae and funk, bringing those elements together for a sound quite unlike anything else in town.
After nearly two and a half years, including the recording and release of their first album – Golden Age : The Sequel – plenty of shows, block parties and a festival or two, the band is taking a low season break, but not before one last show at LF Social Club on Friday. I sat down with half of the rapping crew, Mike Dynamo, to talk about the past, the present and the future.
Mike Dynamo, USA, rapper
It all began at the Wednesday night open mic at the now closed Show Box. “That was where we met, where Initial G and I started rapping,” Mike explains. “We don’t have open mics like that in [Mike’s home town] Austin – I’ve never seen an open mic with a drum set. And it’s a real community and a culture here. I had just moved to town, [guitarist] Ian had just moved to town, so he was jamming, and G used to hang out there. I was just going there because I hated my job, and it was nice to be able to do some music.”
Initial G, India/Cambodia, rapper
Which, in the familiar story, turned out to be a dramatic change of direction for him. “When I moved here I was trying to be an adult,” says Mike. “I was done with music, I’m going to be in business. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
The impetus for seriously making a band came with being booked for the opening party of the (also now closed) L Bar. “Okay, if we’re going to do this we’ve got to get a drummer and a bass player.” As it happened, another gig was booked for the week before. “So our first show was Halloween 2016 at Alchemy. They had just opened and didn’t have the stage outside yet. We thought it would be fine, we could just set up inside – it was not a great idea. But people were feeling it, it was very punk rock.”
Then came the matter of a name. “The naming thing has become mostly my department,” he says. “Hypnotic Fist Technique – it has a bit of a legacy for me, and I thought it would be a cool band name, not really considering the marketing problems of having a three word band name with six syllables in a country where English is the second language.”
As is common in the more originals-focused bands in the city, the diversity of the expat community is reflected in the band. “Nobody in HFT is from the same country: Philippines, United States, India/Cambodia, UK and New Zealand. This is not how bands in the industry normally work.” Not to mention the variety of musical backgrounds. “The metal drummer and the reggae guitar player, and the funk-reggae bass player who’s also a synth master, and then this light side/dark side thing that G and I do.”
Ian, Philippines, guitar
And the Phnom Penh atmosphere is making its way into the songs they write. “I want to incorporate my time here, I want to incorporate what I’ve learned in Cambodia. Take the second track on the album, it’s called The Second You Wake Up. It’s a Phnom Penh love song. It happened so fast, there’s something in the air in Phnom Penh/Something beyond the curve of your mind/We have a little loud conversation, learning each other’s motivation/and we’ve got something delightful in mind. It was the idea of meeting a person in one night, and taking that as far as you can, while still creating a certain level of trust, because that’s what we all want. You want to believe in love at first sight; we are here, in a place where people don’t stay. But: I’ll be there the second you wake up.”
After Mike’s three years in the city, the transience of the scene is strongly felt. “A lot of the people that loved us two years ago aren’t here anymore. That’s the Phnom Penh thing. You are always campaigning, running for office every year. We want to be the best band in the city. Now I go to the open mic and I don’t know who is there anymore. Cambodia changed my politics, made me a different person than I was when I got here. I cannot fathom who and what I would be had I stayed in America. Whoever that person was, I’m not that guy anymore. And I think it’s probably the same for everybody else in the band.”
Damani, UK, bass/synth
While acknowledging the importance of recording, live performance remains their focus. “We are a band where we want to deliver two hours plus of music, to create that experience, very energetic and loose and live. We want to make the impression that we are a mobile block party.” And they are feeling that they have new places to go. “We are very much a group, a crew. A lot of the newer stuff that we’re playing is really interesting, and it’s been more of a coalition, more of a culmination of our sound.
Todd, New Zealand, drums
The new material is going to new places, he says. “It’s a lot more cohesive than the first album, with extra depth. Some of the topics that we like to bring up may not be the best to be talking about all the time. The world as you see it, where you come from, to take an academic approach to certain things – but also still keep the party going. It’s fun to rap about things that are fun, and to shake a butt, but there’s also that element of wanting to do something that is a little deeper.”
So the band is growing up a little bit? “You could say that. Well, it’s more like we’re growing into each other, becoming one giant person.”
What should the crowd expect from Friday’s show? “It’s going to be beautiful. We’re going to play some songs you heard before, and then we’ll be retiring some of them. We’re not just playing the old stuff anymore. When we come back in September, we are looking at a leaner, meaner, very different experience, a much more focused Hypnotic Fist Technique.”