2020: An Incomplete and Selective Review of the Year

Just like last year, for the last Leng Pleng of the year, we’ve passed the hat around for a collection of memories of gigs and other music highlights for the year – musicians, bands, regular gig-goers and venues – to see what was actually memorable.  As it turns out, quite a lot.

Darryl Carter – Kampot Radio

The big dipper has been hitting new highs and lows this year.  Sticking on the high side, one of the great things to come out of this year is people with time on their hands that don’t watch Netflix.  We learnt how to facilitate remote content as we had some of our team stranded overseas, which led to me head pecking those I’ve been pecking away at over the years to present a show.  Our scheduled content has exploded and still is as a result of this.

We now have our Patron Saints of Kampot Radio presenting weekly shows, Scoddy Bywater & Justin Frew from afar.  Our metal presenter Paddy Robinson was phoning his very heavy metal shows in from a chicken shrine in the Thai jungle.  We’ve got three outstanding DJ’s doing sets, Mute Speaker, Suspect Sessions and DJ Scamper (UK CSP session guitarist).  Our daytime team is still going strong too although we get confused when it’s okay to shake hands or wear a mask whilst presenting.  One of the good things is when I set condition to code red, nobody can touch anything they don’t have to, so no one gets in the beer fridge apart from me.  These changes have also encouraged us to think further than the studio to make the great things happen and are regularly interviewing musos and people of interest remotely.

Without doubt the biggest highlight though is the birth of Kampot Radio Records and presently building a recording studio to capture some of the musical greatness in a shared passion.  As seems to happen in radio land, everything went tits up two days before we were due to launch our first album Channthy Cha Cha – One Night in Phnom Penh.  A live recording of a gig the band did in 2017, however we tweaked the model we’d worked on for over four months and released it online and stashed over $1,000 of merch under Scoddy’s bed until the time is right to put on a launch gig with CD’s and T-shirts available.

Mia Priest – Psykic Elektric

My musical highlight of 2020 would be playing on the last night of Zeppelin Café with Blood Bricks tearing open the show.  This show was especially important to me as I haven’t had a chance to play with Blood Bricks (every person in the band is a friend of mine) since my other band Nightmare A.D. is on hiatus, and Jun (owner of Zeppelin) has been a friend of mine before he moved the bar from street 51 to 278.  I also knew that this was one of the last Blood Bricks shows as well, as Tin (vocalist) was leaving for Seattle with his fiancée and they were planning to dissolve the band after.

Playing in Psykic Elektric has been a positive experience for me in general; seeing the crowd surround us and dance to our music that night was exhilarating to say the least.  It was a full house, with sweaty bodies packed together in drunken revelry.  In any other country, this wouldn’t have been possible and I’m thankful we got to do this before the community spread happened.  Special thanks to Scoddy for organising this as well as Ned from Blood Bricks for sorting out the backline; it was the best show I’ve played in a while!

Colin Grafton – Blues Routes, Blue Wave

2020 has been so confusing I can’t think of much, so I’ll just ramble on a bit…

On the positive side, as Leng Pleng has said, we have more live music going here than most places on the planet.  It’s (almost) (relatively) a musicians’ paradise if we compare it to anywhere else. To those who complain about the meagre earnings, I would say go to Japan and try to make a living out of music there.  Or Britain.

Since a lot of 2020 is a past tense blur, I should ramble about more recent events.  Like last Sunday: a dip into Tacos Kokopelli for the Sunday Sundowner Sessions and then Oscar’s for the last open mic.  I’m not very good at Sunday afternoons, as has been observed I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the ‘pub-oasis’ feeling of TK with its superb resident players and its unique mini-harmonica band that only plays in the key of C.

Another music event I enjoy, which others might not mention, is Anton Isselhardt’s ongoing series of classical music concerts.  They cost us ten bucks each but it’s worth it.  I haven’t been a big fan of classical music (Bach’s Musical Offering, Bartok’s Music for strings, percussion & celesta and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring are actually the only ones in my vast CD collection) (and the Stravinsky is too much for me nowadays) – a l until Anton’s inspired series came along. I love his opening speeches too.  Thanks to Anton for turning me on to classical just before it’s too late!

This is so difficult – I’ll try names. I tend to prefer women singers. Nothing sexist here, I just prefer the sound of a woman’s voice, especially if it’s Intan Andriana or Mirasol Aguila or Love of Whisky Got Groove.  I saw Love last Saturday and she blew the place away. The band hadn’t had time to rehearse but she steered them through three dynamite sets.  And before that, Ariane Parkes’ delightfully bubbling energy of a lighter nature which matched the turquoise shoes perfectly  (I’m sure she has springs in all her shoes). Marianna Hensley – ah, that’s a memory of 2020 — singing acoustic in Tacos Kokopelli with such feeling you could (almost) hear a pin drop.

As for our own activities, I seem to be wrapped up in blue again. Blue Wave, the new bossa nova jazz combo with Takeshi and Mari Yamauchi, and Keiko Kitamura; and Blues Routes with Pavel Ramirez and Keiko.  Also a bass player (often but not exclusively Alejandro Tiger) with both groups, which has made a great difference to everything, setting the guitarists free from their loopers to stretch on solos.  Which reminds me of the formidable slap wham string bassist, Daisuke Yasukochi, who seemed to be playing everywhere with everyone and almost every night until he was recalled to Tokyo by his company. String bass is something we don’t see much in Phnom Penh. Daisuke was fun to play with, and now he’s back and freshly out of quarantine, so I hope he’ll be slapping away next year.

On a more sombre note, we have seen the gradual demise of Mekong Daiko, the Japanese drum ensemble, many of whose key members have dropped out for various reasons, leaving only Keiko to steer the sinking ship.  Hopefully there will be a fresh awakening of interest in the New Year. And a word of sympathy to drummers in general — and there are some fine ones here, who are having a hard time getting work because they make too much noise and attract too much attention from the wrong people.

Steve Porte – court photographer

Tough year. My personal top five:

  • Benefit for Borin at Oscar’s on the Corner. The music community coming together to support a friend in need.
  • New and sadly short lived band Blood Bricks. Some favourite players making interesting original music.
  • New band Maki Orkestr. Some familiar faces and a few newcomers playing a style of music not often heard in Phnom Penh.
  • The Conspiracy Theory. Because who doesn’t like bands that cover Zappa.
  • Vanntin Hoeurn’s departure. Not happy about the hole he left in the local music scene, but happy to see him and Janelle starting on a new adventure.

Mike Dynamo – Hypnotic Fist Technique, Funan Beat Empire, The 99 Boyz, Initial Dynamo

Boy has 2020 been quite a (rough) year! But since I was asked, I’d love to share some of my favourite Phnom Penh music events and a spread a little love while I’m at it!  So strap in, spread your cheeks, and let’s gets wild!

Pay The Piper: Battle of the SexesHypnotic Fist Technique vs Pocket ChangeHFT has been operating for a years in the Kingdom of Wonder going back to our Show Box open mics, so it felt amazing to do something different and create the perfect storm of performance, storytelling and musicianship with our cohorts in Pocket Change!   Hypnotic Fist and Pocket Change had a musical battle that rivalled the Spartans at Thermopylae! The Battle of Midway! Like… like… Scott Pilgrim vs the Kutanagi Twins!  But alas… like Joan of Arc at Orléans, it was the women who won the day as Mirasol and Kim ultimately defeated Mike Dynamo and Initial G.  Luckily they were gracious enough to sing and party together with us after that and dare I say… I had the time of my life.

Checkered Past – ska music for everyone.  I love ska music. It’s fun, it’s bright, it’s the dreamwork that comes from the teamwork.  I also played ska for years myself! Whether I saw them at Duplex or Oscar’s, it was always a great time with catchy tunes, great outfits, and the most dynamic frontwoman in town.  When shows come back, go and show some love. As my old bandmates used to remind me, “you can’t act hard with a trombone in your face.”

The Corona!!! music video.  It was a wild idea from a few crazies, but was worth fighting through the COVID tinged summer doldrums to do something fun.  And with a little help and a lot of work, we came up with the Corona!!!
music video.  We know this year has been the hardest on record for most of us, but at least this thing is a work of art! Big thanks to Jesse Ricketson (Mee Cha Records), Arone Silverman a.k.a. Yaco Silverstrings, everyone that helped us make it like Chris, Kevin and his four wheeler, and Quentin. Find it on YouTube and Facebook then share with your friends and watch it again.

Funan Beat Empire live @ Institut français du Cambodge.  Unfortunately, I’ve been sworn to secrecy about the events of that performance, but let’s just say the cultural sharing went both ways that night!

Love Sessions Part One
w/ Initial Dynamo.  Of course Cambodia has talented young Khmer rappers, it always has, and it was a great fun being hit up by the great DJ Niko Yu to do a live performance with a few from inside Love Lounge!   Initial Dynamo is the brainchild of myself and Initial G, and an opportunity to team up with some producers like CIC Man, DJ Caution and Niko Yu himself to blam blam some brand new tracks in the earholes of everybody witnessing. The attitude my change, but the exquisiteness will never. So big shout out to our new homies that performed with us: Sang Sok Serey, Ounter, Khmer Klan, and Monyroum.  Keep going, keep performing and playing together. Keep working.  We’re looking forward to hearing and seeing more as the world opens up. In the meantime, we know you’ve been waiting… so prepare yourself for the greatness… of Initial Dynamo.

Also a big ol’ goodbye to Ian, aka Saska Chewan. He was one of the best parts of Cambodia the whole time he was here.  Guitar player, singer, bandmate, friend, 99 Boy, and of course human jukebox.

Magnus Saemundsson – live music connoisseur

It was the strangest of years, it was the quietest of years, but still 2020 brought some beautiful musical moments to Phnom Penh.  Some in the virtual space, some in real life.

Two of the most enjoyable on-line musical series involved Marianna Hensley.  One was the beautiful Americana performances with Joe Wrigley, or to quote the former US Ambassador, Bill Heidt: it is odd the most authentic Americana musician in Cambodia comes from England! The other of Marianna’s on-line performances was the most enjoyable and fun Mimi and the Merrymakers together with Mr. B and Scoddy, engaging kids and adults in Cambodia, Australia, Thailand and the UK to name a few places.

For me personally the most unexpected performance of Marianna & Joe took place at Botanico in November, way past the rainy season.  An unexpected huge tropical rain drowned the planned performance but instead turned it into a spontaneous singalong in the rain.

The excellent PRERNA with Thomas Hommeyer on sitar and Pervez Gulzar on tabla had some fabulous performances with the addition of Veronika Janouchová on saxophone. The addition of the sax to the, for the uninitiated ear, deeply Indian music moved it into another dimension. Fun, spiritual, soothing and happy.

Veronika was also part of the foremost musical highlight of this strange year, Rocket Science. Not only did it prove Ariane Parkes as a superb songwriter but also that new arrangements and a different instrumentalisation make songs you know by heart into new and unknown songs.  The setting of Ariane on song, Scott Bywater on guitar, Veronika on keyboard and saxophone and not least the wonderful violinist Onnelli made the very few performances of Rocket Science into a splendid memory of this strange year.

Will Canuck – the first world problems

2020 is definitely a tough year to pull musical highlights from. Actually as an old fart really only interested in music purchases taken from the dinosaur shelf of Dad Rock 6.0, compiling such a list has been a challenge for a few, um, okay, decades.  Can’t say I purchased any new music this year.  Alice Cooper’s next release Detroit Stories isn’t out until February of 2021 – like I said: old fart.  To that end, let’s shift to live music moments worthy of mention.

I’m going to cite a venue first. I discovered Oscar’s on the Corner not long after arriving here in 2019 but it was only in 2020, when I decided it was time to build a band again, that I started attending their Sunday night Big Baaad Jam.  Don’t think I missed a single one from the inaugural evening.  After a few weeks of venturing on stage and confusing whoever I was on stage with by only intermittently shouting out chord changes to one of my originals, I found the players I needed to build a better mousetrap, one I would end up calling the first world problems.

We made our full set debut on the 26th this month after a few false starts of bookings, all cancelled by the measures that followed the November 28 incident at Aeon Mall. So that show, in an unapologetic bit of self-promotion, was my “live” highlight. Have to mention though that I was lucky to experience more than a few “hair on the arm” raising moments over the course of the year listening to others.

One standout was a benefit evening at Oscar’s held on behalf of a staff member who was in hospital following a traffic accident.  The evening featured incendiary performances by one and all: the K&E band, the Cambodia Country Band and The Extraordinary Chambers.

There was also a night at the sadly ended Big Baaad Jam a few weeks back when every act who graced the stage was on fire.  I’d intended to head home after our mini-set but the music was just too damned good to leave.  That stuff happens sometimes.  Something in the air occasionally I guess.

My peak musical experience this year was neither live or a recording. Rather it was cinematic.  I finally got around to watching the film Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll.  The film was gripping to say the least.  It answered the question of why I fell in love with this country the minute I stepped foot on Khmer soil.  I could feel something special about this place, and while damned if I knew what it was, it was viscerally, almost physically there.  Turns out, and I am convinced of this, the unique musical spirit of this nation that is so well documented in this film, floats omnisciently, just waiting for receptive souls infected by the muse to become part of its amber.  And there it is.  A year mostly bereft of musical highlights, rescued by a late-night streaming binge.  Magic.

Samurai Saloon, Kampot

2020 could have been better but it’s all right.  Our open mic is still a success and attracts the best players in Kampot (also Phnom Penh and Siem Reap). Sila’s specials are hit on music and event nights.  Our monthly heavy metal night is great fun especially with some crazy games.  We just had our first ladies night which went amazing well for a last minute idea over Christmas.  Coming soon is a country & western night.  Highlights of the year?  Killer open mics, Rage Jam, Bob Passion, Joe Wrigley with Mariana Hensley and Miss Sarawan, Dean Wolf Bailey, Kampot Playboys, DJs LXR, Sam, Keimo, Professor Kinski, and too many others to remember. Looking forward to 2021.

Phnom Penh Ukulele Circle

 This year we have experienced the usual ebb and flow of regular attenders, made a little more difficult by the sudden closure of our former home of over two years, Masamune, a victim of COVID, in August.  After a couple of false starts we wound up at YK Art House/Bong Bonlai restaurant, where we finally have a light, flexible and friendly space to play.  The last couple of months as brought a new stream of players and beginners along, giving us a new burst of energy.  We’re still on every Tuesday at 7.30 pm – come try it out and fulfil that New Year’s resolution to learn ukulele.

Greg Beshers – Uncomfortably White Brothers, Joe & the Jumping Jacks, The Extraordinary Chambers, Cambodia Country Band, Mimi and the Merrymakers

Hmmmm.  It seems so much has happened this year, we travelled at the speed of sound all while standing still.  Way back before the March closures, I sat in a few times with Chi-Town, both the Uncomfortably White Brothers and the Jumping Jacks went to Kampot, the UWB also played a Valentine’s show at Bassac Lane and our last show of 2020 was shortly thereafter at Sundance Saloon before my brother Ernie Buck went back to England for a spell.

I saw shows by Geography of the Moon, Gonzalo & Poca, Miss Sarawan, Scott Bywater, Pocket Change and many more.

After the shut down things get hazy, as they do for everyone I am sure.  The days blended.  I did a Woodhouse session down at the Mee Cha Records studio, which was great.  I came up with an idea that became Sssessionsss, a loose talk show format video on YouTube, and I can honestly say that filming those ten episodes helped keep my sanity.  I’m proud of the diversity of our guests and how we all stepped up to learn and perform five or six new songs every week.  Granted rewatching a few episodes now it all seems a bit ridiculous and amateurish. But it was fun! (Thanks Rob Narciso & Nara Tsitra).

I also did a weekly kids show with Mimi & the Merrymakers on Facebook Live for over three months while schools were shut down.  And we played Odom Gardens’ opening day party too, which was super cool.  Again, it was another boost to keeping sane and regular, and I got to play train songs!

Things opened up and my regular gigs resumed, but the days kept blurring. They still do.  The Conspiracy Theory’s weekly gig at Oscar’s on the Corner was great while it lasted.  I also caught The Goldilocks Zone at Oscar’s, which was awesome, and a few others I can’t remember due to my memory being fried.  The Two Jacks played the first show of Zeppelin Cafe’s closing month which was pretty great, and the Three Country Dudes (stripped down version of the Cambodia Country Band) played a few shows as well at Odom, Bassac Lane and Alchemy.

Now New Year’s Eve is upon us and I’ll be playing with the first band I joined when I moved here, The Extraordinary Chambers, at Oscar’s on the Corner.  It’s my third New Year’s here in Phnom Penh and my third NYE gig at Oscar’s.  Back in the world I left, I never played on NYE and never wanted to either, but here I do, and it seems right since I feel like I stepped through the looking glass a long time ago. Happy 2021!

The Box Office

Our standout performer highlight for 2020 has been Hugo St Leger who seems to have taken to music-life in Phnom Penh like a seasoned pro twice his age. Being fortunate enough to have him professionally running the popular open mic every Wednesday at newly expanded The Box Office is a delight for all.

Hugo St Leger – But of Course

Experiencing the entirety of The Conspiracy Theory: from its birth, to regular gigs, to its unfortunate stoppage, though I unfortunately missed the last gig.  A wonderful and tight band providing alternate takes and grooves to already fantastic tunes.  Always leaving the audience amazed.  They are sorely missed!  It was like Christmas Day came early when I woke up and saw a message from Brian Wood asking if I’d like to join them onstage to play Heroes, an absolute pleasure!  I’ll never forget their legendary first gig at Oscar’s on the Corner where they played Sympathy For The Devil for 15 minutes, and managed to make every single second of it absolutely fantastic and entertaining, packed and perfect that night was.  From spine tingling guitar solos from Pavel Ramirez, the great characteristic roar of Brian, the down and dirty tight as hell grooves from Stan Paleco, to the headbanging groovy beats and gut busting drum solos from Ricky Haldeman, they really REALLY rocked.

The phenomenon of The Box Office Open Mic Night.  A smaller than small venue being turned into a larger than life atmosphere was just incredible.  Packed to the point of literally being unable to move from one side of the place to the other, whilst good music was played by all, and musicians of all walks of life playing all sorts of genres, it was a wonderful time to be alive.

Shameless promotion inbound… but of course, it has to be: the debut of But Of Course!  After months and months of preparing, having gone through enough singers for a lifetime, and at a time where I’d just decided to stay in Phnom Penh, the debut gig was one of the best nights of my life, blessed with the good fortune of a packed and engaged audience, we had an amazing time.  Most notable (for me) was jumping into the crowd on the solo for Shoot To Thrill, it truly felt like a dream come true from watching Angus Young as a kid, and learning to play guitar by watching videos of AC/DC, nothing will beat that for a long time in terms of thrilling personal musical moments.  We all had an amazing time and enjoyed the fantastic feeling of a post gig celebration together as a band. 14th November 2020, what a night at Oscar’s.

Music for Borin.  I get goosebumps just thinking about this night.  To think that the whole music community (and more) here came together for such an event to support Borin was just wonderful.  Seeing literally everyone I could and couldn’t think of there made it such a special night, the music was absolutely fantastic, and the atmosphere is one that won’t be soon repeated, it really made the night, even got me up and dancing all night!  For the following week I couldn’t move my neck at all from all the dancing!  Stan Paleco said it best that night: “We rock and roll for the whole world tonight!”

The birth of Cheap Charlie.   It was an ordinary Wednesday night after The Conspiracy Theory had put on a fantastic show.  Chatting away on the balcony of Oscar’s, there we were, and along comes Sochi, and Brian asked her if she had any new songs she’d written.  She started to sing the words to the song, we were intrigued; we got the message and the aura of the song.  So Stan picked up Brian’s acoustic guitar, and started strumming away some chords, and they clicked almost instantly, before long Ricky started tapping away at the acoustic guitar hanging on the wall like a cajon, and Brian stepped in on the backing vocals chanting “Cheap Charlie, Cheap Charlie, Cheap Charlie.” And the rest is history as they say.  It was a wonderful experience seeing the truly organic creation of a song in 10 minutes.

I Can’t Stop Loving YouThe Extraordinary Chambers could have an entire list to themselves for 2020, but truly nothing beats this performance for me. Chea Sophal had rejoined the band to play keyboard, maybe his first or second performance back, around late October to early November.  The song begins, with the signature riff and Scoddy’s vocals, the atmosphere changes every time they play this song, but it was truly a moment in history that night, watching and hearing Scoddy truly sing his heart out.  Watching, it truly felt as though he’d written the song himself, and you truly felt every last word he sang.  Then Sal DiGaetano on the drums starts picking up the volume and builds to the climax with Dave Zdriluk and Greg Beshers following with their rhythmic beats and riffs, as Scoddy, at the top of his lungs shouts out the chorus.  Bringing it back down the verse, Greg then gave us an incredibly impassioned solo, starting slow and giving it that lovely blue feel, before building to a truly hard hitting and intense high, and then… Mr Sophal gave us a keyboard solo for the ages, starting slow and jazzy, keeping the audience relaxed and engaged with his wonderful style, before building to the most incredible part of the solo, letting his piano scream, providing such an atmosphere and feeling that he near as damnit brought us to tears, providing a moment in time that everyone from Billy Powell to Beethoven were looking down and tipping their hats.  The lads then giving us one more absolute climax of the song to really grab our hearts before bringing an end to the song: “Dreams of yesterday…” An astonishing performance by all, and one that truly kept me from leaving Phnom Penh.

Marianna Hensley – Mimi & the Merrymakers, Grass Snake Revival/Trio, Marianna & Joe

For all that 2020 might be considered a lean music year in Phnom Penh, I’m struck by how many memorable music moments I have: early March at Farm to Table when ISPP’s Primary School show choir InChoir, Brynne Whitaker and Pip Cree joined Mimi and the Merrymakers to celebrate International Women’s Day; a one-night-only performance with Ryan Cook & the Inbred Outlaws; St. Paddy’s Day with
Grass Snake Revival
, which turned out to be the last night of live music in Phnom Penh before the first wave of COVID shut-downs. And then…MimiLive!

This year will forever be the year of livestreaming in my mind, with all the attendant weeping and gnashing of teeth as streaming software and at-home audio set-ups were figured out.  With schools closed and public events cancelled from March, my intrepid Merrymakers (Greg Beshers and Scott Bywater) gamely agreed to join me for a weekly livestream in response to requests from parents for some musical diversion for their little ones who were trapped at home.  What we thought was going to be a few weeks of livestreaming turned into twenty-one live performances over the course of nineteen weeks.  It was more than we ever bargained for — especially in terms of the outpouring of love and support we got from not only folks in Phnom Penh, but also from Cambodia alumni and COVID exiles and far-flung family. There are too many fond memories coming from MimiLive! for me to recall them all here.

Emboldened by MimiLive!, I was very happy to join
Joe Wrigley
for several weeks of Americana-inspired livestreams while public gigs were still few and far between in Phnom Penh.  There was a sweaty mid-year afternoon at Mee Cha Studios recording backing vocals for Jared Bibler’s EP Borrowed Time.  Then came celebratory farewell performances with Rhiannon Johnson and friends. As the year waned, there was an incredible season under the guidance of Carrie Herbert where music and expressive arts were used to explore themes of resilience and well-being.  And then there were joyful return performances of Grass Snake Trio plus one very wet night at Botanico with Joe that turned into an audience sing-a-long. As 2020 now ends, what I carry from this year-like-no-other is an assurance that music (shared and received) brings hope and healing and consolation even through the most tumultuous times.

Gone Marshall

One notable musical highlight of 2020 for me would be witnessing the transformation of Zeppelin Cafe into a full blown rock venue for the October 2020 ‘Party Month’ as long time maestro Jun prepared to close down his venue.  Never saw it so packed upstairs as the nights The Goldilocks Zone and Psykic Elektric were playing, though it was notably packed as well for many of the other acts:  The Two Jacks, The Sock Essentials, Gone Marshall, Fathers of Medicine and Blood Bricks.

Ned Kelly – Blood Bricks

  1. Blood Bricks’ first show at Oscar’s with The Schkoots. I honestly wasn’t sure how the audience would react to it but it turned out the answer was: positively.
  2. Playing down in Kampot at Banyan Tree with The Kampot Playboys. When I arrived there the night before I was slightly impressed and quietly amused by the sheer size of the indoor/outdoor bar and show space at Banyan Tree, like a huge drunken playground.  I knew that whatever crowd there was to draw in Kampot would be there for the Playboys if nothing else. But I still imagined the vast expanse of seats and tables and cushions and so forth would remain largely empty while a crowd of more modest proportions congregated directly in front of the stage and thereabouts. I was way off. The Playboys filled that entire goddamned place up. It was full and it was BUSY.It was also a nice gesture on their part to even agree to play because they were between drummers or had to use a fill-in, something along those lines had them turning down the all-day festival that happened the week prior to our show, but hey, when Vanntin Hoeurn asks for something in Cambodia, he gets it more often than not.
  3. Playing at Cloud with The Goldilocks Zone. The place was packed out to the sidewalk. Every inch of it from the garden to the balconies to the stage. The show featured some really cool visuals / animations projected behind us on the wall while we played and a lot of people who’d been paying lip service to seeing us but hadn’t yet actually showed up were there. To see The Goldilocks Zone, yeah, obviously, but we were a punk band which breaks down like this: as a band we were engaged in the “performing arts” and without an audience there isn’t very much thrill to performing your arts, no matter who you are. However, as a band we were of the punk variety, which meant that we did not give a whole lot of fucks about whether everybody watching us play happened to like it or not. We’d prefer that they liked it if it was up to us, but it never was, and thus our default position was the traditional punk one: You don’t like it? We don’t care + DIMES AMP is our reply.To return to my narrative: So, as most musicians understand or can sense intuitively, the next best thing to having a big crowd come to see YOU play is just having a big crowd to play for, period.  TGZ was kind enough to provide us with just such a crowd on no less than three occasions. And for that we thank them.
  4. This is as ridiculous as it sounds, but as someone who went on tour as a roadie/merch guy many many times with underground bands endlessly driving vans across the USA, one area of music business expertise that I understand best is selling merch, and t-shirts in particular. I’m proud to say that in the brief 113 day window that were “publicly” a band we sold north of 50 t-shirts out of 60  total (we gave away X number of them – to ourselves or other people – but not more than 10 I’d reckon). And that’s as a punk band, in Phnom Penh, during a pandemic that saw at least 50% – if not more than that –  of the expats in the city flee for home. Yeah, okay, it’s not exactly winning a Grammy or playing Wembley, but it’ll have to do.
  5. Having written the songs, I decided early on that I’d attempt to mix the record and either learn how to do it well enough to release something passably decent or die of old age trying. Jesse Ricketson from TGZ helped us out by recording our drum tracks and then I recorded Tin’s vocals at the Japanese Guitar Shop using their ultra-budget microphones in one session (and only one complete take for most of the songs). Hey – that place costs $10 an hour, so in my opinion, we spared no expense when it was time to hit the studio. But it was $20 well spent, because we had nowhere else to plausibly record someone screaming nonstop for a couple of hours to music that only he can hear.Rob Narciso and I had the luxury of recording our parts at home, at our leisure, even after the band had said bon voyage to Tin as he sailed off in search of the American Dream (I’m pretty sure he sailed there, yes. And I also believe he mostly went there in search of opportunity, because marriage can suck it. No offense to Janelle intended, just the institution of marriage itself. Tin will get the reference even if you, dear reader, will not).And then I spent the past month mixing and remixing and experimenting and failing and then finally succeeding at least enough that I was getting more positive comments than negative ones and so I did my best to resolve the complaints and sweeten the things people were sour on and then we finally released the damn thing FOR FREE on Christmas and you can listen to it right here.PS: Yes, this entire lengthy contribution to Leng Pleng’s highlights for 2020 was essentially a stealth promo for our one, only, debut, final, and best of the greatest hits record. Enjoy.

Farm to Table

Joe Wrigley, our music curator and owner of Above & Beyond events, was an incredible activist when the COVID crisis hit this year – coordinating Farm’s Acoustic Friday performances to go live online so that we could still continue to support musicians and connect with our community during lockdown.  Our Facebook Live series included 14 awesome artists: Joe & his wife Mealea, Metta Legita, Carrie Herbert, Gonzalo Rodino, Mirasol Aguila & Arone SilvermanPoca de FeoPhanit Yem aka Wren, Euan Gray, Scott Bywater, Antonio & Gerard, Lisa Concepcion, and Clara Shandler.

Once we were able to reopen, Carrie Herbert gave a concert so moving that spectators compelled us to host another.  Carrie supported Farm to Table with these special events during the time period we did not know if we would be able to stay in business because of the economic impact of COVID, so her concerts were particularly poignant for us. She has sadly departed Phnom Penh for now but we can now hear her original music online as she just released the official album, Home with You.

During a year that has been exceptionally hard on kids and families, Marianna Hensley offered outstanding performances as Mimi & The Merrymakers.  Together with Greg Beshers and Scoddy Bywater, Marianna prepared a Girl Power show for Women’s Day, a Celebrating Diversity theme during Pride Week, and capped the year with a fun & festive Halloween performance.  She also led livestreams on Facebook to entertain Phnom Penh children during the times when gathering in-person were not possible.

The Goldilocks Zone

We really enjoyed the emergence of Blood Bricks this year. A great live band who had a fantastic sound, and we loved sharing the stage with them.  We were sad to see them come to such a sudden end.  However we are of course interested to see what Tin does next musically in Seattle and what the other members do next in Phnom Penh.

Little Thieves are also an intriguing new band who seem to have developed really quickly and have a sound that is different to a lot of bands in Phnom Penh.  They are good guys and we also liked playing shows with them this year.

From our personal perspective the Zeppelin Café closing show was particularly special.  There was a raucous atmosphere and we were proud to be part of their month of closing shows.  We also had a show at Ege Bar earlier in the year which was an amazing night.  I’ll be interested to see the new music that emerges next year out of the shit that went down in 2020.  Overall we are all happy that live music returned to Phnom Penh and long may it continue in 2021.

Poz – superfan

Despite the introduction of their highly successful Pay the Piper series of shows at Boran House in 2020, my favourite Hypnotic Fist Technique gig of the year was at the Sunday Sessions at the Greenhouse in Kampot in May.  It was an open-air show on an artificial beach right at the river’s edge overlooked by the reception/restaurant building at Greenhouse which used to be the old Maxine’s (Snowy’s), an iconic Phnom Penh bar and music venue from the noughties.  With new members Jesse Ricketson on drums and Arone Silverman on keys, I was interested to see how the band would manage with the re-shuffling of their line-up, but being the consummate professionals that they are the band never missed a beat, and played an amazing sunset show for the beautiful people of Kampot with their characteristic flair, bravado and stage charisma.

Jonathan Dunn – supporter of community music-making and aspiring trombone player

There were so so many 2020 Phnom Penh musical highlights!  Hard to pick just a few!  What an amazingly resourceful, creative, talented and giving music community we have.

  • Maki Orkestr premiere (and hopefully not one-and-only!) gig at Alchemy – a blast of soulful Old World music, well-received by audience of teeming masses! So much fun!
  • Skankin’ to Checkered Past, so many times!
  • First Rocket Science gig at Cloud, beautifully crafted originals and hearing Onnelli’s violin
  • Three Country Drunks – anywhere, anytime! Bassac Lane the first time, later at Alchemy.  The golden voice of Clay George, as Joe Wrigley said: “one in a million”.  Such great respect and rapport between the three players, such genuine love for the music they play and beautiful vocal harmonies.
  • Highlife band playing at celebration of African culture at Alchemy. Missing the horns, but still able to deliver the soulful and joyous spirit of genuine Highlife from Nigeria.
  • Hot Club de Phnom Penh with Seb (guitar), Nono (violin), Intan (vocals) and Lyly (accordion) at Alchemy – always swingin’ goodness to lift the spirits!
  • Stan & Andrey offering open air afternoon jazz at Odom Gardens. Nice!
  • “Singin’ in the rain” singalong with Marianna & Joe at Botanico – how to make somethin’ special out of a crazy situation after one of Phnom Penh’s most intense deluges!
  • Gabi & Ai recital at Meta House. WOW! Gonna miss the talented Maestro Faja.
  • Music Arts School chamber music quartet recital at MAS with flute, bassoon, violin and piano. Beautiful!
  • Phnom Penh Sunday Sings at Villa Langka. Beauty and joy of people sharing a song, simply for joy of singing, and lotsa of laughs!
  • Thursday jams at Ege Bar in Tuol Tom Pong. So so grateful to Ege, Arone and all the Phnom Penh musos for opportunity to get back into playing horn on regular basis and with such a chill welcoming group of regulars, and even a few irregulars!  So cool and deeply satisfying to play with other horns (Arone, Veronica, Ross!) and especially just groovin’ together in harmony on a simple riff.  Some amazing jams and so many revelations of so much talent we have here in the Phnom Penh music scene, including many who do not perform regularly in bands. Especially loved the soulful sirens who would turn up and summon gifts from deep within. What a blessing to be able to accompany them.
  • Sundays Sundowner Sessions at Tacos Kokopelli – again, such a treat to be able to join in with amazing local talent. Scoddy always providing the calm supportive vibe.  Marianne Hensley and Ariane Parkes and many others sharing their talents.

Brian Wood – The Conspiracy Theory, The Handsome Devils

I came to Cambodia in January 2013 for freedom and adventure!  Lucky me, I still have both. My heartfelt thanks to the Kingdom for allowing me this life.  Safety was not high on my list of priorities when I arrived, but funny how it’s now one of the safest places in the world to be.

I had the privilege to be the lead singer for The Conspiracy Theory.  A prophetically named band that we started in 2019.  Who knew?  It was a privilege indeed to play with such skilled musicians.  Stan Paleco, Ricky Haldeman and Pavel zargz Ramirez.  Being in a band with them made me grow, and grow fast.  They challenged the shit out of me; and I loved every minute of it.  Ironically, The Conspiracy Theory was first to play live again after the first big lockdown.  But that’s another story…(you had to be there).

I would be remiss not to include the great Oscar! So much respect for him and Scoddy Bywater.  Oscar’s on the Corner also made me grow! Such great audiences, and they come for the music!

Then BOOM!  I moved back to Siem Reap, to improve our quality of life. Phnom Penh was great but I had turned into a vampire, only going out at night.  Lucky me again! Before I even got back to SR, my old friends, (again great musicians) Virgil Ray, Cesar Toni and Stephen Herbert wanted to start a new band with me: The Handsome Devils.  Last Saturday, 26th December we played a gig at our beloved joint The Harbour.  It was one of those nights that we live for as performers. Time on stage flew!  We were so together riding a beautiful wave, and the audience was on the wave with us.  We hardly ever looked at each other, except to smile.  It was one of those “Hole in One” nights. Probably our best performance ever.

Looking forward to 2021. Several very cool gigs coming up.  Shameless Plug Time: watch for the release of my upcoming single, Popcorn Cowboy, The Handsome Devils on 9th January at The Harbour.  I’ve been honored to be asked to host the anniversary of The Harbour’s epic open mic on 13 January.  To all my Phnom Penh friends who have never been to The Harbour for open mic Wednesday, just do it!  Pavel will be coming to SR (hopefully soon) for some cool gigs.  Think about grabbing the bus up here then too.

Jon Banules – Checkered Past, Simoun

I have to admit, that apart from a very minimal amount of performances with the ska outfit I’m a part of, Checkered Past, and the shoe gaze band that I melted into, Simoun, I did not get a chance to see or play in many live shows in 20-Fookin’ Covid 19-20.

However, there is one performance that really will stick in my memory, and that was the dual performance of Mimi & the Merrymakers and the International School of Phnom Penh’s show choir InChoir for International Women’s Day 2020 (March 8th) at Farm to Table.  In particular, the band/choir’s performance of Brave by Sara Bareilles.  I got shivers, and my daughter who was not even a year old yet at the time was totally engrossed when the choir kicked in.  Mimi and the band in their 70s/80s softball type shirts so visually complimented those talented and ENTHUSIASTIC student performers in their black and rainbow shirts! (Full disclaimer…I was also a part of the ISPP InChoir team, along with Steve Ganges, Karyn Templeton and led by the unstoppable Ms. Danielle Baird. I did not play any of the tunes with the show choir at Farm to Table that day because they had QUALITY musicians already!)

There were a couple of cool live online performances that I will always remember too.  One was the first show Miss Sarawan broadcast at the dark and – at the time – recently deserted Farm to Table right after the first COVID lockdown went into effect in earnest.  I made an absolute mess of trying to do a Skype call with a buddy in Thailand, another buddy in Japan, and with the live show broadcast in the background or switching between sharing my screen and a conference call view.  What a disaster that was!  But the Golden Era tunes and originals drifted eerily in and out of the whole evening as I tucked into my Cerevisia craft brew from the roving beer tuk tuk headed by Mr. Kosal and Samang!

Also, there was the video that got me into The Goldilocks Zone, Somewhere in My Mind, broadcast from some wooden house, presumably owned by either Jessie, or Arone, or both, and caught much later than live by me!  I heard Hansley playing that rich rich bass and I thought, “There is someone besides me who loves post rock bass grooves!”

Finally, a series of performances from that theater of the absurd, Sssessionsss will, for better or worse, stick with me forever. Seeing Bob Schkoot and hearing him talk of his early circus career!  The man sneezes out fun punk pop tunes daily I think!!!  Amazing and just utterly enjoyable performance and chat!  Like many in Phnom Penh who don’t share my name, Bob just seems to have led a life filled with interesting happenings, most of them of his own brilliant creating.  Tin, local and most famous rock star singing Lead Belly. Reinforced my ideas of his own coolness. Clay George’s appearance on the show…wtf???  Bad attitude from the moment he walks in and then that rendition of Javier from Les Miserables! Totally uncalled for! (And I was unable to not watch it because the transformation was riveting.) And finally, Scott’s little dancy entrances to the canned laugh tracks, Greg’s perpetually amusing comedic clown face, and Troy’s lovable straight man and ever dependable drummer personae made each epissssssssode ssssssssspecial in its own right.

Oscar’s on the Corner

Back in pre-COVID 2020 we were glad to host – as well as the usual revolving round of guest bands – Ryan Cook (Canada) & the Inbred Outlaws, Anesthetic Youth (Vietnam) and The Bloody Marys (Darwin) – obviously that’ll be it for international acts for the time being.  Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have some exceptional players and combos in town, and our house bands have, while possible, been keeping things running up at the north end of town.  When music returned, we were glad to welcome back a reformed Cambodia Country Band, the short-lived The Conspiracy Theory, and we experimented with a Sunday jam that, while enthusiastic, suffered from a lack of the transient travellers to widen the mix.  We also began the Friday night Oscar Acoustic series, where acoustic performers have at last found a regular space in our schedule.

A special thanks to The Schkoots, who played in the early months of return just for the chance to play, and to all the bands that were keen to play when times were tight while we recovered, like all the other venues, from the enforced closures.  The best damn bar will continue to keep the rock’n’roll flame alive in Phnom Penh in 2021.

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