Who would have thought that Cambodia would have produced groovy psych pop music before Pol Pot and his totalitarian Khmer Rouge regime came to power in the mid-1970s? Well, nearly a decade ago, brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman, who play guitar and Farfisa organ, respectively, became aware of such music.
They recruited the elegant and talented Khmer-singing Chhom Nimol from Long Beach and, joined by like-minded sonic travelers Senon Williams on bass guitar, David Ralicke on saxophone/trumpet/flute and Paul Smith on drums, started playing covers of such songs as the band Dengue Fever.
The original Cambodian bands whose music Dengue Fever covered drew inspiration from the psychedelic American and English music of the 1960s, giving a sound that swings a la The Searchers’ “Love Potion No. 9” or Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” But imagine, if you can, such songs with lyrics in Khmer and filtered through Cambodian musical sensibilities. What you get is a groovy cultural coalescence you can dance to.
Dengue Fever treated the audience at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club last Thursday night to a delicious sampling of Cambodian psych pop music, mixing covers such as Ros Sereysothea’s “Shave Your Beard,” which was dedicated to Zac Holtzman’s ZZ Top-worthy facial hair, and similarly groovy originals such as “Tiger Phone Card,” in which Nimol and Zac Holtzman traded lyrics about phone and e-mail conversations taking place a half-world apart.
Dengue Fever’s sound is tight, their image is cool and their enjoyment of the music is contagious.
Notably, as they announced from the stage, Dengue Fever has helped bring together a compilation album called Dengue Fever Presents: Electric Cambodia, which features some of the original Cambodian music that has inspired them. Proceeds from the sales of the album will benefit Cambodian Living Arts, which “works to support the revival of traditional Khmer performing arts and to inspire contemporary artistic expression.” It’s worth checking out for fans of obscure music.
Before Dengue Fever’s performance Thursday night, Santa Barbara-based gypsy-prog-folk band oso played an ultra-high-energy, mostly instrumental opening set that was truly amazing.
Band members Phil Taylor on guitar and vocals, Tim Beutler on drums, Andrew Fedders on bass guitar and Nick Coventry on violin are all monsters on their instruments, playing oso’s complicated music with incredible precision. As a former violin player, I was particularly struck by how well Coventry’s double-stop-heavy violin playing fits into the music; indeed, it was some of the most effective violin in a rock context that I’ve ever heard.
The band revealed that they will be focusing on recording a new CD, which they hope to have done by March.
When they return to the stage, be sure to catch them.
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB.