2019: An Incomplete and Selective Review of the Year

For the last Leng Pleng of 2019, we’ve passed the hat around for a collection of memories of gigs that were highlights in the year – musicians, whole bands, regular gig-goers and the all-important sound personnel – to remember what we saw, what we missed (because we can’t be everywhere), and what we should go and check out in 2020.

Mia Lee (Nightmare A.D., Psykic Elektric)

Post-rock/shoegaze indie rockers Simoun played the first of their comeback shows at Cloud on 22 November, with a spectacular light setup and showcasing a bunch of new originals, most of which sounded incredible. The turnout was surprisingly sparse but it was definitely a treat for those who decided to show up to experience a refreshing dose of something different in the music scene in Phnom Penh.   The Community Underground Showcase (organised by Get in the Penh) at Cloud on 6 December – a good end-of-year gathering of people on the extreme spectrum of music, with full band performances (Nightmare A.D., Reign In Slumber, Doch Chkae, Sam Rocker Band & Afterlife Love Machine) and labels hawking their wares (Yab Moung Records and Metal Your Day) – what’s not to like?  It was a fun DIY show that everyone participated in and had lots of fun.  Then the next night, 7 December, The Goldilocks Zone with Psykic Elektric at Alchemy opening up the show was a lot of fun, our first big stage performance.  We are a relatively new band and it was good to play in front of a different crowd and showcase our music. TGZ came on and did the next two sets in stellar fashion and people were dancing drunk by the end of it all. What a night!

Anne Chretien (Mindbridge Media)

A few concerts that I particularly enjoyed:  99 Boyz at Alchemy’s third birthday in September.   The place was packed!  I particularly enjoyed this one as several guests went on stage.  The overall energy seemed limitless, the crowd was totally connected to what was happening on stage and I had a great time.   Two special gigs for me were the first anniversary jam at LF Social Club in mid-September, as well as the closing jam session before the change of ownership.  I was present for almost every Wednesday jam session for over a year, and during open mic sessions, magic just happens.  A great variety of artists collaborating and having fun together, playing all kinds of styles and changing the atmosphere in the room several times throughout the night without losing people along the way.  I enjoyed working as a sound technician during the jam sessions as it was challenging to have a variety of musicians who all sing and play differently, you have to make so many more adjustments than when you’re working on one live band; it also allowed me to meet new musicians and friends along the road, thank you LF Social Club!

The Goldilocks Zone

Definite highlights for us would have been Oh! Dirty Fingers [at Oscar’s on the Corner], the band from China that came at the start of the year, they were fantastic, raw, unbridled madness wrapped up in pulverising riffs.  Releasing our first music videos and singles was a personal landmark for our band, all of which can be found on our YouTube channel and Bandcamp.  A few more bands have got up and running this year which is always great to see.

Darryl Carter (Kampot Radio)

As always, it’s been an interesting year here at Kampot Radio. The transience of expat life has seen presenters come and go and cash flow drama has nearly seen Kampot Radio close down. Having said that, we’ve got a great team on the go, which will be expanding in the new year, and we are now in the process of moving to bigger and better premises.  Our new location not only will mean people won’t have to walk through a live studio to use the toilet, we’ll have a more comfortable green room, a stage and bar/café area which we are hoping will encourage more interaction from our local listeners and provide those with content ideas to get involved.  Highlights of the year are an outdoor broadcast in January from the top of a red London bus, our birthday concert in May featuring many great musicians from Phnom Penh, Australia and Kampot.  A new heavy metal radio show started, that’s proving popular.  We’re also helping to put together an album of the band Channthy Cha Cha.  We’ve interviewed Doch Chkae, Reign in Slumber, Nightmare A.D., Justin Frew, Hills & Bells, The Sock Essentials, Joe Wrigley, Julien Poulson & Dara Sam (KRWF), Geography of the Moon, Jigsaw Collective, Kampot Playboys and more.  A great year it has been, with lots of positive things in store for 2020.

Vanntin Hoeurn  (Reign in Slumber)

Reign in Slumber playing Bờ Rừng Fest  at Da Lat, Vietnam. The festival was organised by a group of our Vietnamese friends, and we were invited by our friends from a band called CÚT LỘN.  It was definitely one of the best gigs we played and one with the best atmosphere to have been part of.  Great performances from different local bands ranging from Hip-Hop to Punk, and the Vietnamese crowd was really engaging and enthusiastic regardless of the genre. So we love Vietnam.   Also we played at Rumah Api in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. What can I say about this place? It had been my dream to play at this venue, and I got to do that.  I’m not going to elaborate more.  I suggest you go and check it out yourself in you’re in KL. Get with the underground!

Magnus Saemundsson (live music connoisseur)

Both the Barang and the Khmer music scenes brought forward many very exciting and fun concerts and performances in 2019, with new talents blooming and a number of enjoyable visits. Two of the three performances that stand out in the musical memory took place at Garage Bar in Phnom Penh, one of the most important waterholes for music lovers. The Sock Essentials gig on August 24 was one of these truly mesmerizing evenings when Ariane Parkes lifted the roof.  Another Garage evening of wonder and beautiful music took place on December 14 when PRERNA, Thomas Hommeyer and Pervez Gulzar, performed their own take on traditional Indian music.  The third took place on November 27 when Geography of the Moon did a really wild and fun gig at the LF Social Club with their unique combination of humour and punk music.

Checkered Past performances at Cloud and Oscar’s on the Corner were among the more memorable as well as the Kampot Playboys on March 22 at Oscar’s – not to forget the Grass Snake Revival on February 8 and Miss Sarawan on September 8 at Bassac Lane, as well as the many interesting and enjoyable gigs in the Original Sessions series.

The Khmer music scene continued to expand and develop. Cambodian heavy metal made its mark on the global scene when the Doch Chkae at last got to play at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany, the biggest heavy metal festival in the world.  The big concerts on 8 March at the Factory for the International Women Day and the three days 1River Festival during Bon Om Touk showed the power and possibility of how social messages and great music can go together.  Small World Small Band continued to deliver original and enjoyable music as part of the Original Music Movement and staying as one of the most popular musicians among young Cambodians. Their performance together with the London Chamber Orchestra on November 2 was also one of this year’s beautiful musical moments.  The most emotional Cambodian musical event this year, however, was the performance of Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia at Chaktomuk Theatre in November, a multi-disciplinary stage production combining music, film, movement and voice embracing musical traditions from both Cambodia and the West.”

Carrie Herbert (songwriter and multi-instrumentalist)

The Japanese art form of repairing broken pottery with gold and as a result making it even more beautiful inspired a new composition by Metta Legita and myself called Kintsugi. We considered our own fragility and vulnerability and how this alchemical transformation turns suffering to gold. This debut performance on 22 November featured Clara Schandler on the cello. It was a special evening of original compositions by myself, Metta and Clara under the stars hosted by the House of Scott, featuring guest visual artist Sombo Mok whose interactive art installation powerfully portrayed how the art of Kintsugi was forged through his family’s suffering. Sombo invited the audience to send messages of support, encouragement and hope on paper airplanes as we considered together what does it mean to see the beauty, the gold within all people regardless of their suffering.

Geography of the Moon

This year we discovered the Kundalini Genie in Glasgow, then The Extraordinary Chambers and the Uncomfortably White Brothers in Phnom Penh. These were cool gigs. From our gigs I’d say playing the last ever show at LF Social Club (where we got noticed in the first place in Phnom Penh) and the famous jump in the swimming pool at Sundance, which we keep hearing about.

Arone Silverman (Pocket Change, Straight no Chaser)

2019 was a growing year for me musically. I was fortunate enough to be included in a range of musical projects and was even able to create a few of my own.   One of the shows that’s been captivating my music psyche is the Get In The Penh showcase series, organized by Yab Moung Records and Metal Your Day. I’ve never been a metal head, but the few times I’ve caught the showcase, I’m blown away by the community and energy of the bands. Specifically, the doom drone duo, Dieu A Quitte, with Gary Parker and Timon Siebel, was incredible. One of the most intense shows of my life. I was fortunate to catch them at Oscars on the Corner, where they had 1000 watts of raw, uncontrollable feedback surging through my body for 25 minutes without a break. The costumes, the props, the setting, the material, the balls really, all came together to bring something unique.

I have been lucky enough to be invited to play trumpet in a couple of bands, including Joe and the Jumping Jacks, a rock-a-billy 50’s party band.  It was the second gig I had with them, the crowd was great, a little intoxicated and interactive which almost always translates to a long show. We played well and I remember having a great time adding colour and soloing on the trumpet. When we finished, a few people came up to me and told me how great I am at the saxophone. It was all we could do not to laugh. For maybe five minutes, people kept saying how great the saxophone sounds with the band. Ha. I love playing saxophone.

Metta Legita (pianist and composer)

As musician, one of my great moment on stage in 2019 was Original Sessions, a concept of an artist’s performance of original music. When Joe Wrigley asked me to play there at the Sovannaphum Theater I was so excited and really want to give the best music that I had – I could explore my compositions with greater instrumentation (a small chamber ensemble with strings and woodwinds, myself on a grand piano). A highlight of music in Phnom Penh in audience: I enjoy The Battle of the Bands, it was great to see so much talent in the Cambodian young music generation – with their skills and musicality they performed their best music.

Poz (super-fan)

Number one: Mekong Open Air 2019 presented by Moms Against Poverty featuring Doch Chkae, Reign in Slumber, Silent and Vartey Ganiva.  It was advertised as a mid-afternoon metal show across the Mekong in Areykesat.  When we got there, the vibe was a little more laid back and family friendly than we had expected: an end-of-year school concert meets dusty village bon.  The whole village turned up; partly out of curiosity, and partly to support the NGO who had put on the concert –the same reason we had come too.  It opened with a traditional Chinese Lion Dance and Ting Mong puppet show before all the bands started playing and then all hell broke loose. Phnom Penh-styled blackened crust and slumdog metal cranked up to 11 poured out merciless and unapologetically from the crackly wedding P.A. speakers without any consideration for the neighbours in true Cambodian village style.

It was the final show for Doch Chkae before they would play at Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany, and Reign In Slumber were also leaving to tour Malaysia, so there was a real sense that the local community were getting behind these bands (irrespective of their own personal musical tastes or understanding of the metal genre) because these were locals boys about to make good on the international stage.  Old grannies and young children were blocking their own ears, and each others, with hands and fingers and shaking their heads in apparent disapproval of the immense noise but somehow they still were sticking around and not going home.    Meanwhile, the teenage boys and girls alike formed circle pits; kicking up all the dirt and laughing and colliding into each other. It was part mosh pit, part romvoung, part ring-a-rosy but all-in-all a beautiful sight to behold: definitely the gig of the year for me because it had all of the elements of a great show: heavy music, DIY sensibility, grassroots involvement and community participation.

Number two,  20 November Get In the Penh show at Oscar’s, featuring Nightmare A.D., Reign In Slumber and Doch Chkae.  After a long hiatus, my favourite band in Cambodia Nightmare A.D. re-formed and re-jigged their line-up by welcoming a new guitarist into the fold.  The gig also coincided with my 40th birthday so I dragged my siblings and my brother-in-law who were visiting from out of town along to the gig too. It was to be their first introduction to the Phnom Penh metal scene so they were a little nervous and apprehensive as to what to expect; especially since they’ve never listened to metal music before of their own free will.  Needless to say all the local bands delivered in spades and Mia even gave me a birthday shout out from the stage in the middle of Nightmare’s set.  It’s starting to become a real habit of mine now to leave before the visiting overseas headliners come on because the local bands are playing so fast and tight these days that anything that that doesn’t match that intensity seems a bit lacklustre and anti-climatic.

Adrien Gayraud (The Schkoots, Moi Tiet, Funan Beat Empire)

First is the farewell party held for Stephane at Champa Lodge in Kampot last month, because of the variety of bands and style, the place of course, but specially the mood and the long streak party. Best watching and playing party.  Second was one of the Get in the Penh shows when The Dumpies (Austin, Texas) played at Oscar in March.  Best rock show ever for the crowd dancing and pogoing.  Third is a gig we played with The Schkoots at Ege Bar. Not so crowded but damn good energy coming from both the audience and us.  Fourth would be discovering bands like Psykic Elektric and Simoun – definitely not my style but a damn interesting discovery.  Fifth is the band of 2020:  Funan Beat Empire! Haha, just promising.

Mirasol Aguila (Pocket Change, Mirasoul)

There are two most memorable gigs of this year for me.  One was with Pocket Change in Bassac Lane.  I love the atmosphere in the alleyways when everyone is singing and dancing, it is always a pleasure to play there.  A second one has to be the gig I did at KWest with the jazz band together with Thomas Hommeyer on sitar and Mathias Aspelin on piano. Everyone turned out for it and it was just such a lovely moment.  I hope I have the opportunity to relive these moments in 2020.

Greg Beshers (The Uncomfortably White Brothers, The Extraordinary Chambers, Cambodia Country Band)

Because of my former night job at LF Social Club, I got to see a lot of shows, but also I missed a lot for the same reason.  I was lucky enough to play a lot of shows myself, playing and doing sound, so it all balances out.  Oscar’s is the stage I have played the most in town.  In 2019 I gigged there steadily three nights a week: Mondays with the Cambodia Country Band (which had been doing Monday night for awhile before I joined in 2018); Tuesdays with Ernie Buck & the Cham Tiks (which formed in early 2019); and of course every Thursday with the very first band I joined after arriving in PP in 2018, The Extraordinary Chambers.  Sadly, as with everything in the world, things change, and only The Extraordinary Chambers are still playing regularly on Thursdays. But even they changed, for the better IMO, with the recent addition of Sal DiGaetano on drums.

Here are my fav shows of 2019 (that I remember), in no particular order: that one time the Kampot Playboys opened for the newly formed Cham Tiks at Oscar’s 11th b-day bash;  Hypnotic Fist Technique’s last show before they went on summer break at LF Social Club was pretty epic; the best double bill that never happened, South East Asia Soul Revue & Checkered Past at Oscar’s – CP had to cancel that night due to injury; Geography of the Moon with Ernie Buck at Oscar’s this fall (right when they moved to town); The Schkoots at LF Social Club and Oscar’s; Funan Beat Empire at LF Social Club; The Perfect Strangers (Bangalore) at Oscar’s and LF Social Club, the Elvis tribute night and the recent 1969 tribute at Oscar’s; being asked to be a part of the Garage party songwriters swap in February; the Miss Sarawan “Thank you the album is done” show at Bassac Lane, the Uncomfortably White Brothers’ show at Duplex with Jazz Johnston & Antti Siitonen, The Goldilocks Zone at Bassac Lane when Ronan got a bra thrown at him; and finally, but by no means last, countless K&E gigs at Oscar’s, watching them move higher and higher into the stratosphere, musically speaking.  I never tire of watching them.

And I will end 2019 as I started it, by gracing Oscar’s stage playing rock’n’roll with my friends, both old and new, in The Extraordinary Chambers. It’s never work for me there, it’s home.  A place to hang out and get a drink, see some music, play some music, and get mocked by the staff incessantly.  It’s the best damn bar and the best damn place to be. Happy 2020!



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