Michael Bridgett is Mike Dynamo – MC/singer in the happening Phnom Penh band Hypnotic Fist Technique. When the mixed-genre 6-piece played the recent Golden Street Festival, many members of the huge street party audience simply assumed that they were watching an international touring band putting on a slick, polished and strong performance. In fact, HFT was conceived just a few months ago right here in Phnom Penh – when Mike met fellow MC Initial G and guitarist/singer I, The Mic Factor at the Showbox open mic. Drummer Jay-Zilla and bass guitar/keyboards tag team Supreme Premium D and The A-Train joined the crew and first gigs were played at Alchemy and The L-Bar in October 2016.
Over Middle-Eastern food in a Tuol Tumpung restaurant, Mike met Leng Pleng to tell us more about his background in Austin, Texas, why he loves being a part of the scene here in Phnom Penh and what makes Hypnotic Fist Technique one of the most exciting musical projects going on in the Kingdom today.
Mike, did you come to PP with the goal of doing music?
I was on the opposite side, I was like – I’ve had a good run with music, maybe it’s time to try something new. I won’t say I didn’t want to do things but I certainly didn’t have that in my head where I was going to come to Phnom Penh to make music.
I’ve been in Cambodia now for ten months. I did not expect to stay this long. We were on our way to Thailand, me and my friend/business partner. He decided that Cambodia was a good place to get a TEFL certificate.
Where is home?
My hometown is in Texas… a small town outside Houston. Very suburban, not an abundance of cool things to do. I moved to Austin at 17, and then I moved to Phnom Penh at 34! I never really travelled, until 2015. I was trapped in Austin for 15 years! I went to college at the University of Texas and stayed. It’s a college town, or was a college town, people study there then peel off and leave… Houston, Dallas. But anyone who generally stuck around… you find yourself taking less money to live in a cooler city. It’s easy to get distracted. It’s the kind of place you can stay young for a long time: ‘I’m still playing in a ska band’!
I was in a third wave ska band back in Austin, doing high shows, horns, skanking, punk rock… that kind of stuff. Ska is fun.
That must be the sixth genre I’ve heard you performing in. Ska, Punk, Hip-Hop, Reggae…
I kinda do some RnB! I’ve been calling myself genre-agnostic, considering that my particular skill set is very lyrical, very wordy. For me it’s all kind-of the same. If the beat is good, if the tones are right and you can figure out the puzzle of songwriting… you can make it work, generally, whatever it is. The cool thing about music, particularly about songwriting and lyrics is that all of the masters specifically put all this work out there for you to evaluate, listen to, learn from and enjoy. You can get a manual for it, but you don’t necessarily need one!
Hypnotic Fist Technique – Fantastic band name. Did you come up with that?
I had HFT in my head as sort of a band name. We had booked a show before we had a band name! Me and Ian and G had got together to do some stuff. We met at the open mic at Showbox. We were like ‘let’s put a band together’. We met once, the month before, came up with some different songs… three or four weeks had gone by before we got a gig: ‘Hey man.. we should definitely get started on this band thing… we’ve got a gig now’! I wanted to use the name because it sounded cool.
Martial arts is a theme?
We’re not overdoing the martial arts bit but… martial arts and hip-hop are intrinsically linked. Like, all those kids in the golden age in New York were watching Bruce Lee movies and dressing like Bruce Lee. Watch ‘The Get Down’ [Netflix series] … it’s got that 70’s martial arts movie kind-of feel to it. The birth of hip hop, these classic DJs and bands are far more interesting to me now than they used to be. It’s fun to incorporate that a bit more.
The music of HFT, and the music you do in general, incorporates many genres. How would you describe it?
I just use the term ‘live-action hip-hop’. We do use a lot of different elements… but hip-hop in and of itself is not really a genre, it’s almost a brand – you know hip-hop when you hear it… but hip-hop is this hodge-podge of things. We have this edge, alternative hip-hop, RnB style. We incorporate these different genres and we try to create almost a block party aspect. Thats kind-of what we’re going for. A place where you if hear the sound, you want to come and be a part of the party. We are very much working in that vein.
We’re very lucky having all this talent in the band. Multi-instrumentalists, guys like Danzo and Aymen kind of swap between keys and bass, Ian on guitar. Being able to have two MCs is a special thing for me. Being in ska bands, doing punk and reggae, I’ve usually been the only singer. It’s been great to have two voices to be able to play off of each other, to create a different atmosphere, to add to that element of… creating a party where [the audience] is here to participate… you’re not here to watch!
Are you guys playing all your own material?
That’s been a progression. It depends on the length of the set. When we started out… our first show was actually Halloween at Alchemy. Before we played L-Bar, we got to play that gig. A lot of the stuff we had, although we did have originals we were playing a lot of covers [of punk stuff]. Over the last six months we’ve been able to write our own stuff. Rap songs, RnB songs… bring a little sexiness, bring a little dance. Even some Latin sounds coming up in the new stuff.
The best thing about this band, even when it was conceived… we all came from Showbox, we all came from jamming at open mic. I went there every week… I had a job I didn’t want to go to so I went to open mic to make me feel better. So we really want to hold on to that element – we can just jam, take a concept and we can fill it in. Freestyles, whatever. At the last block party we did… the Tiny Toones kids showed up. They were breakdancing and doing their thing and then one of the kids was like ‘I wanna beatbox’. So we gave him the mic and he was doing his beatbox thing… I start rapping, a little bit of bass, some keyboards in there… we were able to create something new, on the fly.
If we’re going to play for one hour, we will go down through the awesome stuff we’ve been trying to write. But if we play for three hours we’re going to do some covers, some old songs and then… just jam and play really interesting new things, kind-of make it up on the fly. We can create a show that you can’t get again. This is a unique experience that is worth coming to see.
The next gig is this Saturday the 25th? At Oscars?
We’re gonna play Oscar’s ninth birthday party. Really the plan is to… i think this is going to be jam-heavy show. We’re gonna play some originals and try and have as much fun as possible.
If somebody came up during the middle of song and requested the band to play ‘Happy Birthday, would you acquiesce?
I would acquiesce. We’re there for the crowd. We interact with the crowd. I think about live shows as… it’s not just a musical experience, it’s an opportunity to talk, tell some jokes, celebrate birthdays, do whatever. Every show is not that and not everybody wants that experience. It’s very much a transaction, trying to connect in a way that works for both parties. The crowd can operate as a kind-of collective. Happy Birthday? That’s a great thing. We’ll do announcements, of course. It’s that old-school hip-hop block party style. As much as we love MC-ing and MCs are able to spin these amazing stories – tales of triumph and victory, talk about crime and death and pain and partying and butts and whatever MCs talk about… it’s always worth remembering, on that historical tip, that the MC was invented because the DJ could not spin the records and talk at the same time! The announcements were : ‘somebody’s light is on in the parking lot… somebody’s got a birthday in here’. Get the party started, give people information, be a part of the party, not above it. At least that’s how I see it.
Many people were blown away by the HFT appearance at the Golden Street Festival. What was your experience of the gig?
I would describe that gig as phenomenal, honestly, on all counts. I’m not a ‘music’ guy where when I’m putting on a show I’m thinking about how is the sound coming out… I’m focussing on how we are connecting in terms of the crowd… the crowd is my first priority. If my monitor doesn’t work, I’m hoping that the words are coming out right but I can read, based on the crowd, what’s going on. That show was incredible, probably one of the biggest shows I’ve ever played. As an experience the crowd was really great, the stage was really cool. I wish every weekend I was playing Golden Street! The fact that people connected with and talked about it, shared videos… I’m flattered – thank you all on behalf of the entire Hypnotic Fist Technique.
We’ve had a lot of feedback from that gig, a lot of wonderful words and handshakes. It’s been fun. I’m what you call, in this town, highly recognisable. I’m this large African-American guy, you only have to see me once to know me. It’s been interesting to have, after playing that show, people I don’t know say ‘that was a great show last week’. I love when people appreciate what we’re doing… in HFT we are in the business of making great live experiences – that’s what we are working to get better at.
What’s next for the band?
There are some talks in the works about some gigs in Vietnam maybe next month. That would be amazing for me to be able to do that.
When we move into the recording sphere, to create something that people can take with them, I expect that we will be able to add even more originality. I recognise that when I’m on stage, I’m rapping my thing, G’s rapping his thing… people don’t really know exactly what we’re saying, unless we say it over and over again. They don’t necessarily understand the lyrics or the concepts. We spend time on that stuff. It will be great to offer that additional dimension, storytelling aspect. Using other skills… Danzo is a studio guy, he does that stuff all the time. To use those extra talents that don’t get used on stage will be really cool, I very much look forward to doing that.
You’ve been busy with a lot of different projects since you got to Phnom Penh, you’re a pretty busy guy.
I’ve been working on a trap record with Professor Kinski and Papa Dub. He’s got a producer in France… we’re trying to make a positive, lyrically competent trap record. That project is called Black-Ass Guardians and the record is called ‘Less Asking, More Basking’. We’ve put together most of the music, that’ll be out soon.
I’m always trying to work and write as many lyrics as possible. I’ve done reggae shows with Selecta Gorimaa. Phnom Penh is wonderful, there’s a music scene here… I came here, I met people, they’ve allowed me to be a part of what they’re doing. I jumped up on stage [at Golden Street] with Dub Addiction. So great.
It’s an inclusive scene here…
Austin is not! There are too many musicians in Austin, it’s very competitive. People are not necessarily… musicians are not always making that much money. Every bar is a venue when they want to be. You can’t know everybody. Here’s it’s been really fantastic and I encourage more musicians to come out here and be a part of the music scene. It’s a city that doesn’t get enough press, especially for the positive things about it.
What is your experience of Cambodian music?
It’s been interesting… at Golden Street it was really cool to see metal bands, there’s a whole contingent of Cambodian metal and I think that’s amazing. The longer I’m here the more I learn about [music beyond the] sad pop songs that permeate the airwaves. I’ve got kids beatboxing… Dub Addiction are collaborating with Khmer artists – Lisha – reggae and Khmer music really mesh well together. Even going to places like Spark and Tawandang… the biggest stage I’ve ever seen, and show after show after show, Chinese songs, Khmer songs, costumes, dance steps. So much performance, dance and music here that I didn’t know anything about.
Any collaborations with Khmer artists in the works?
Absolutely. We are still in the early stages of recording. Being affiliated with a group of people that have been here for a long time, speak the language, that make music here… there are ample opportunities to do that. I’m just learning and trying not to trip over whatever else is going on. Me and Initial G are on a Riellionaire track. Have you heard of him? Me neither! He is just hanging out in the shadows… there is this whole thing happening that will come out. It’s great being able to do that, collaborating. I got the chance to do a Cloud block party with 12ME. I did a show with Papa Dub one time. A lot of international artists and we get the chance to connect. There is so much here. …let’s make more music.
I know I’m [a better artist] now compared to when I arrived here. I’ve dabbled in hip-hop before [in the States], I’ve been in hip-hop bands that never launched, never happened. For whatever reason… I’ve got songs from those projects that never happened. Coming here and being able to do hip-hop music, RnB music, music that I understand, have listened to and have grown up with, in this new and interesting way… I’m a better artist, singer, and certainly a better freestyle rapper than I was when I got here. Being able to share ideas, experiences…
You even wrote a lyric for Road To Mandalay, ‘The Deplorables’?
I met Tracey [Farrell, singer/bassist Road to Mandalay] at a party. She told me about an idea she had for a song. I thought ‘that sounds amazing’, especially as it was a political song. Historically I have not done [many political songs] as an artist. It was the kind of challenge that I wanted, especially considering the political climate back in my home country of the United States. I really jumped at the chance, to write something more in a rap, punk style. I can’t call it my roots, but I spent so much time writing punk songs. I know I don’t look very punk, but I was in a Ska band and we got respect from hardcore punks – so we must have been doing something right! It’s cool to be able to do that and that was superfun. They liked it and they played it and that’s fantastic.
I’m a lyricist, the thing that I spend time on is putting words together and creating melodies. To be able to offer that to other people is, to me, a beautiful and validating thing.
Rock on, Mike, thanks a lot for talking to Leng Pleng.
360 Videos of Hypnotic Fist Technique at Golden Street Music Festival 2017