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The Underground Club Scene in Phnom Penh

by DJ Sequence



Come with me on a journey – a journey beyond the commercial sounds of super-clubs, a journey deep into the underground of Phnom Penh.

Firstly though – what is underground dance music? The easiest way to describe it would be to show what it isn’t.

Turn on your TV, tune to MTV and start watching a “club” video. What do you see and hear? Obvious, commercial beats? Check. People rapping about Cognac and expensive cars? Check. People bragging about their sexual conquests, while wearing vests? Check.

Underground dance music seeks to go a little deeper than that – to take the clubber on a more spiritual and musical journey. To celebrate a unity that goes beyond just celebrating the trappings of capitalism and sex. To seek a musical path that is not the most obvious one, not the most commercial one and certainly not the most popular one.

Inspired by the vibrant sounds and culture coming out of Berlin, London, New York, Chicago and beyond - as well as the rich cultural heritage of Phnom Penh and the Khmer people- a group of young DJs and musicians are trying to provide an alternative to the hegemony of commercial clubs that have Phnom Penh in a vice like grip.

So, let me be your guide as I speak to some of the people sending out some of the freshest sounds coming from the streets of the Charming City…. 

bass:session

“…trying to push forward an alternative for dance music in Phnom Penh.”

bass:session was started in 2012 by DJ Sequence, originally hailing from London and Kaotek – also from London (via a lengthy diversion in Thailand). Also featured is Tonle Dub – Phnom Penh’s master of the dark, bass heavy sound and rising young DJ Mercy. Resident designer Jess Barr is responsible for their distinctive flyers.

They started bass:session for one simple reason -  because there was nowhere else to hear drum & bass/jungle music in Phnom Penh.

The night has gone from strength to strength – attracting an eclectic blend of tourists, expats and locals, all eager to hear the unique drum & bass sound – deep sub bass melded with 170 plus bpm breakbeats.

What do you think of the Phnom Penh club scene?
It’s getting better! Unfortunately though, the vast majority of “club” music played here is still really terrible electro house and RnB. That’s why venues like Meta House and Show Box are so important in giving people like us the chance to represent a different sound.

We need to show people that there is an alternative to throwaway commercial club music and that proper underground music can be just as uplifting and meaningful as any kind of music around.

There seems to be a big and vibrant rock scene here but its still difficult trying to push forward an alternative for dance music in Phnom Penh.

How would you describe a typical bass:session night?
People losing themselves in the music, good vibes & an uplifting atmosphere!

What is your vision for the future club scene in Phnom Penh
To keep on pushing underground sounds and hopefully collaborate with some of the other good nights around – we already plan a joint night with Dub Club…

The other vitally important thing is to try and pass on our enthusiasm to some of the young Khmer people – it’s really important to get them involved as the DJs and music makers of the future. Its no good just gearing music towards expats and tourists.

In our experience of the Rave scene in the late 80s, early 90s, we’ve seen what a powerful tool music can be in breaking down racial, social and cultural barriers.

For people who don’t know drum & bass music, could you provide 3 bass:session classics?

Police In Helicopter (Serial Killaz VIP Mix) – Rebel MC
Awesome tune from a while back brought right up to date by Serial Killaz, featuring vocals from the 1983 reggae classic by John Holt. Big example of the way the classic jungle sound is coming back…




Tell Me Tonight – Fred V
Soulful and uplifting music that puts you in a trance…people think that you dance to the drums but drum & bass is really half time – just let your body move to the melody and the bass…



Prototype – Serum 
Deep, dark and deadly bass-line pressure from one of the rising stars of drum & bass/jungle


For more details on forthcoming events, check out https://www.facebook.com/sequencednb

For a taste of the bass:session sound, have a listen at http://www.mixcloud.com/djsequence/


Dub Club

“Always fat sub bass and never commercial!!”

Prof Kinski’s Dub Club is hosted by Jan Mueller a.k.a Professor Kinski, a music producer with 18 years experience. Living in Cambodia for more than a decade, Jan has been trying to develop a new style of fusion music combining Khmer and Western elements.

After his initial Khmer Hip Hop offerings with Khmer MC Curly - as well as working with the Cambodian Space Project – Jan founded (alongside Sebastien Adnot and Toma Willen) the excellent Dub Addiction – “an organic live Dub band with a classic Band set-up plus Electronic support and Khmer MCs.”


Dub Addiction are now hitting new heights – not only in the Phnom Penh scene but also in the international arena with their release Dub Addiction meets Kampuchea Rockers Uptown coming out next month on Hong Kong’s Metal Postcard label.

In addition Jan has created Amplifire - a “live post dubstep - electronic live act - Chris Fink on electronic drums, Tonle Dub on Ableton, Ben Schkoot on guitar and Prof. Kinski on Kaossilator, wobble basslines, lead and effects!”


Tell us about Dub Club?
A typical Dub Club night starts with cool authentic reggae dub tunes, moving to more electronic deep dub, live MCing and drumming, highlighted by a 1 hour live act performance by Amplifire before getting punched by the massive drops of the best dubstep in town. Always fat sub bass and never commercial!!

What do you think of the Phnom Penh club scene – past and present and future?

Living in Cambodia for the last 10 years I have witnessed the development of the PP Club scene from the beginning. Except for those loud, distorted and dark Khmer music clubs or posh, high-end Khmer clubs like Spark or Golden Town etc... there was not so much going on.

In the beginning there was just the Heart of Darkness, then the Temple and Butterfly Club were born and died very quickly. Also, Pontoon offered a new and fresher club style with more electronic music and international DJ acts.

But for me (as a hater of RnB, Hip Hop and commercial cheese techno) there has never been the right club to go except if I were drunk enough to dance to bitchy RnB or asian techno. The Cotton Club tried to change that with offering ragga jungle and glitch nights wit DJ D'Tonn and DJ Bassbender.

But, the latest Clubs like Meta House and Show Box go more into that direction I prefer. Meta House offers all kinds of underground DJ night such as drum and bass, kraut rock, dub, tech house and live acts....... and the Show Box is focused on punk, rockabilly, deathcore or even electronic DJs and provides a real urban underground feel!!

There is still a lot of room for improvement of the PP Club scene, but Meta House, Show Box and even the Pontoon Bistro with it's excellent sound system and Berlin flavoured Minimal and House is a step in the right direction.

3 tracks that sum up the Dub Club sound?


Alpha & Omega – Dub Unto Me

High Tone – X-Ray (Remixed by Brain Damage)

Alpha & Omega – Promised Land (Dub Plate Mix)

What can we expect in the future from Dub Club?
In the near future you also can expect guest DJs like Julien from King Taos Reggae Bar  with his huge Jamaican old school Dub collection and Papa Dub (Sebastien Adnot, bass player of Dub Addiction).

For more Dub Addiction, Amplifire and Dub Club news and performances, check out
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dub-Addiction/132503300159074

Achtung Phnom Penh!

“Some of it’s weird, some of it’s nice but it’s all danceable!”

Consisting of DJs Flo and Wez_T (alongside live support from Durian Funk Band’s drummer, Greg Lavender), Achtung Phnom Penh was created “with the spirit of the early days of techno in Germany & Europe in mind - we wanted to play the underground stuff including fresh releases never heard, bootlegs and so on “.

After discovering music through the chance discovery of an old radio in the street (and a teenage desire to be one of the “guitar heroes that I saw on MTV”!), Flo has had a lengthy involvement with underground music – from setting up underground techno parties attended by 10000 people, battling with bureaucracy and the police to making early techno with a primitive Atari computer.

After a 4 year stint in Thailand where he was “so bored with the fake party scene that I started making all kinds of electronic music just to satisfy my own ears”, Flo arrived in Phnom Penh in 2008.

I spoke to him about his views on the Phnom Penh club scene, past, present and future…

What is your history in the Phnom Penh club scene?
When I arrived in Phnom Penh I found out that there was a huge deficit in good dance music. I started accidentally DJing at a underground rave in Kampot, then I played at the Steetz bar and in The Drunken Sponge on St. 51, where Achaya heard me and asked me to play at his events at Pontoon. I was surprised and proud to do so. But I found out that it’s very hard to make the locals dance to minimal, techno, tech-house and house music.

I also started also to play at the Riverhouse - if I had played techno there I would have had no customers, so it was a balancing act between commercial music & some good tracks smuggled in between…

At the same time I started to play at the Electro Lab -  first at Shisha Bar then at Cotton Club where I became a resident DJ till they closed. On the way I met Wez_T and we became friends - he asked me if he could play with me and we became a team playing the crazy German shit!

What do you feel about the current Phnom Penh club scene?

To my ears it’s a disaster! Despite the fact that there are clubs opening almost every month now, there is no variations - you have only the choice between top 40 dance music and hip hop. I understand that it’s not easy to do something different than the mainstream but if nobody starts nothing will change. and there is so much nice stuff to be discovered by the Khmer people and the expats.

Unfortunately nobody takes any risks these days. Only Meta House does so far! But as a resident at Pontoon Bistro on Saturdays I have to say the interest from the visiting tourists is definitely there - they keep asking me why the music I play at the bistro is not played at the main club – it’s a good question!

There was a time in Phnom Penh when I thought that something would happen but the people who had it in their hands were more interested in making money than in creating a versatile clubbing scene.

Tell me about a typical Achtung Phnom Penh night?

Our night is characterized by a slow start -  then a crazy DJ battle between Wesley and me follows, in which we build up and follow the crowd whilst never getting commercial on that way. There is a lot of German/Berlin stuff, but also underground sounds from around the rest of the world to discover. Some of it’s weird, some of it’s nice but it’s all danceable! To complete the show we have Greg Lavender coming on and off playing drums and Wes and I create all kinds of electronic noises to add to the mix.

Give me 3 tracks that sum Achtung Phnom Penh

It’s impossible to do so as there are so many changes is our program and we barely play the same songs but here are some favourite tracks!

Kotelett & Zadak – Hut Ab (Original Mix)

Kaiserdisco – Simplistix (Sebastian Leger remix)

Chase Buch, Nick Olivetti – Locongas (Jay Lumen Remix)

In general we play not very fast, mostly around 120-126 bpm. My style is definitely somewhere between techno, tech house and house music. Wes likes funky house and any other house music style and the dirtier it is the better it is to him!

You can catch all the latest news about Flo and Achtung Phnom Penh at
https://www.facebook.com/pages/DJ-FLO-aka-Flo-Trallala/135770046458164

Catch the Achtung Phnom Penh boys at:
  • Every Saturday - Pontoon bistro from 23.00-5.00

Kimchi Collective

“…that one vital element that we like to call “the funk”.”

Kimchi Collective is a group comprising of some of Phnom Penh's most discerning DJs, designers and party promoters. They officially came together in May 2011 “to create boutique events, that resembled something we wanted to go to”.

Their parties feature the best in electronic sounds and cutting edge party music of the highest distinction. “Many eras, many genres, but all containing that one vital element that we like to call “the funk”.

What do you think of the current Phnom Penh club scene?
The scene has certainly developed over the last few years. Kimchi’s resident Dan Beck, was involved in Pontoon with Eddie, back in the early days when it was still on a boat in the Tonle Sap. At the time this was basically the only alternative to the benign US hip hop and low budget Khmer pop music that was played at every club in Phnom Penh, it’s safe to say there are a few more options these days.

Considering where we are, the club scene is Phnom Penh is not too bad and is developing nicely, things will only get better and better in the coming years.  There are a few new projects and venue launches coming up in the next few months, from some of Kimchi Collective’s good friends, which we are very much looking forward to!

Keep your eyes open for those and perhaps even a little bit of involvement from us.

How would you describe a typical Kimchi Collective night?

For us, the focus is very much on the music, we all have quite individual styles in terms of the music we play, but we like to think we complement each other nicely. We like to build, in terms of the vibe, the music and atmosphere, so you can expect a Kimchi night to be somewhat of a musical journey.

We play at different venues but our home and the place where it all started for us is Meta House - it is a house, it’s our home, so if you come to one of our parties there, you can kind of expect it to be like a house party but with better music, an impeccably designed flyer and waitresses.

A taste of Kimchi in 3 tracks?
This is an almost impossible question, there are too many to list, but we’ll give it a bash. This isn’t really a sum up of Kimchi, more a sum up of what we’ve been bouncing through our hangovers to this Sunday morning, which I suppose, kind of sums us up.

Prince – I wanna be your lover


We like to play a lot of vintage gold at Kimchi. We like to play a lot of funk and disco influenced music at Kimchi. We also like to play music by the god of music at Kimchi. This one ticks all the boxes.

Lianne la Havas – Elusive (Shadow Child Remix)


This is a remix of a cover of a beautiful song; the original was covered by a beautiful woman and then beautifully remixed, resulting in what we like to call “an absolute beauty of a tune”. Do yourself a favour, beautify up your day and listen to this on repeat.

Joy Orbison


This one is just pure, pure, pure dance floor heat, from one of the best producers there is, anywhere in the whole wide world, ever x10. It’s got this locomotive beat, the ubiquitous, meaningless vocal that all classic dance tracks have and it gives us the massive fix of bass which the entire Kimchi collective craves so badly.

This one is basically destroying clubs everywhere at the moment and if you can’t get down to it, our advice is, stick to reading about clubbing, rather than participating.

Any way I guess writing about music, is kind of like looking at food, better to just dive in and give it a taste, so go on, we think you’ll find these ones rather delicious.

Any other thoughts about the Phnom Penh club scene, past and present?
We’re really looking forward to the scene becoming more integrated in terms of more of a mix of locals and expats getting down to really good music at parties like ours. That’s the aim and it’s happening as we speak.

You can keep up with all the latest Kimchi news at:
www.facebook.com/kimchi.collective

and listen to exclusive mixes at
http://www.mixcloud.com/kimchicollective/

Catch them at the following venues in the next few weeks…
  • 6th April - The Meta Sessions 10 @ Meta House

Get Down Friday!

“A night where the accent is on quality dance music and enjoying yourself…rather than looking cool”

Run by MoodyDann and Dr Wah Wah - two long-term expats who love music and got into dance music in the early days of rave back in the late 80s - Get Down Friday! has been running for about four months. Previously the duo ran the famed Primitive Souls nights.

They “aim to please people with one foot in the past and one in the future and who want an alternative to Phnom Penh's bigger, flashier clubs”.

I asked the boys about their thoughts on club life in Phnom Penh….

What do you think of the current Phnom Penh club scene?
It's certainly a lot busier than it used to be, but for us, the music is too commercial. If people like that, that's fine, it's just not our cup of prahok.

How would you describe a typical Get Down Friday night?
A night where the accent is on quality dance music and enjoying yourself with your friends rather than looking cool, looking for a pick up or a rumble.
.
Any other thoughts about the Phnom Penh club scene, past and present?
Don't forget the House music!

And finally - 3 tracks that capture the essence of Get Down Fridays!?

Late Nite Tuff Guy – I'm going outta my head
Great re-edit of a classic track


Ben Sun – You should know better
Funky, jazzy, classy


Psychemagick – What a funky night
Cheeky, irresistible


Catch the next Get Down Friday! Night at Meta House on April 5th from 9pm

Invisible Agent / Swagger

“… we certainly don't conform to the standard rules of a club night”

Coming very much from the left-field art and music scene, Invisible Agent’s Swagger night has been creating quite the stir amongst Phnom Penh’s avant garde with its combination of cutting edge sounds, live visuals and even live painting.

I spoke to main man Warren about his history and views on the current scene

Tell me about Invisible Agent (the record label behind the Swagger night)
Invisible Agent was started in 2000 and we released our first 12″ Vinyl in January 2004.

We release high quality electronic music from established artists around the world. We also work with a range of artists, poets, classically trained composers, painters, DJs and Visual artists and always try to create something innovate and unique.

We don't put out as much physical format releases these days as we have a massive digital footprint using a digital distribution system. We strongly support the Netlabel and Creative Commons scenes, most of our back catalogue is available for free.

What do you think of the current Phnom Penh club scene?
It certainly needs some more nurturing, but there are encouraging signs and hopefully we'll see more Cambodian  producers and artists getting involved.

How would you describe a typical Invisible Agent night?
Sometimes it's completely different to what the record label is all about. You will hear a multitude of genres, we certainly don't conform to the standard rules of a club night.

We have live visuals, live painting, we fairly adventurous with our music selections. We've probably never played the same genre of music for more than an hour. Because the folks involved are from varied backgrounds the music is really diverse, but almost always dance floor friendly.

3 tracks that sum up Invisible Agent and Swagger?

t-woc – bacaloa
Dub inspired bass music


Ketsa – Projection
A fun fusion of bass, strings and piano


Decal – Look So Fine
Beautiful off-kilter electronica. We released this on vinyl before dubstep or the bass music scene exploded.


Any other thoughts about the Phnom Penh club scene, past and present?


I've lived in Phnom Penh for 4 years. Before Meta House, the club scene was almost non-existent. The future is looking bright and there's a some really positive stuff happening across the board.

Future dates you will be playing?

We play the last Saturday of every month in Meta House. We have some album launches in the US and Ireland over the next few months.

Warren Daly, Alex Leonard, Hal Fx and Scott Bywater will be playing live and fusing electronics, visuals, poetry and more in Java cafe in Phnom Penh during April.

For the latest news and tunes from the Invisible Agent camp, please check out the following links

Meta House

“A place without a commercial focus, but one to encourage experimentation and art.”

Based in a distinctive modernist building on Sothearos Boulevard, Meta House believes that “the growth of expressive art forms is crucial to the development of any society, none more so than Cambodia where individuals are desperate for a voice.”

Recently, Meta House has become a focus for the underground club scene in Phnom Penh, with a host of nights spanning drum & bass, electronica, techno, dub and beyond firmly putting Phnom Penh on the clubbing map.

Meta House interior - picture credit  picture credit - Jeremie Montessuis/Film Noir Studio  (Picture name Meta)

I spoke to project co-ordinator Johannes Kast about this Phnom Penh cultural icon.

Can you give me a brief history of Meta House?
Meta House was founded in 2007 south of the Pagoda Wat Botum by German filmmaker Nicolaus Mesterharm. It started off as a place to meet with friends and watch quality films. Quickly exhibitions were added to the mix and Meta House began to grow, starting with only few events a week to something happening almost every day.

In 2009 Meta House partnered up with the Goethe Institute…. due to the small location and the increase in visitors, the space was not sufficient anymore, so Meta House moved in June 2010 to its location on Sothearos Blvd, where it continued to grow. We have been adding club nights on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

What are you trying to achieve by putting on nights at the Meta House? How do you feel that they are different from the other nights in Phnom Penh?
After living in Cambodia for a few years, we have felt a lack of underground focused electronic music and venues in Phnom Penh. A place without a commercial focus, but one to encourage experimentation and art. As some efforts to organize an event in one of the existing venues with have failed, we decided to just use our existing space to start and transform it to a place for music lovers and just play the music we like ourselves.

What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to involve the local Khmer population more in the Meta House club nights?
Our plans for the future are to continue to work hard at Meta House as a meeting point for creative people and, little by little, extend our current set up. There are many more ideas and we are excited envisioning the next steps.

We would of course love to involve the local Khmer population more at Meta House, as we always try with most of our events. However it is sometimes difficult to appeal to the local population, if the music is too specialized. But I believe the interest is growing.

Can you list the most memorable nights you have had at Meta House?
The most memorable night was probably the party with Layo and Bushwacka.

We were still in the very beginning of organizing club nights and were taken by surprise. The party was a lot of fun and really put us on the map of being a new venue for underground parties.                     

Any other thoughts?
While there is still quite a way to go, Phnom Penh has done some major steps in regards to art and music in the past few years only, so I believe we can look forward what's about to happen in the near future already.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, it looks like the underground club scene in Phnom Penh is well and truly on the rise – with innovative nights spanning all genres of electronic music.

The next challenge is to involve the Khmer people and turn them into the next generation of DJs and musicians and to show them that there is definitely life beyond Gangnam Style!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to the Phnom Penh scene – by it’s nature, the underground scene is sometimes hard to find and elusive to document, so, if you feel that you’re doing a night that deserves to be mentioned, let me know and I can cover you in the next episode…

Till then, I’ll see you by the bass speaker….

DJ Sequence
Phnom Penh
March 2013
https://www.facebook.com/sequencednb

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to:
Jade Gecko Design (www.jadegecko.net)
Nick@www.KampucheaPartyRepublic.com
Jeremie Montessuis@Film Noir Studio (jmontessuis@gmail.com)

for use of photos

Also, thanks to all artists interviewed for giving up their time at such short notice!

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