I have to confess to having remained immune to Dengue Fever’s take on pre-Pol Pot Cambodian rock up to now. But this superb documentary film of the LA band’s 2005 tour of Cambodia – and accompanying soundtrack that weaves in many of the ensemble’s influences – puts it into a whole new and striking context
Three albums into their career, the LA six-piece visited Cambodia, appearing on radio and cheesy daytime TV shows as well as performing in various parts of the country, tracing the history of the stars of 60s and 70s Cambodian Khmer rock and meeting purveyors of traditional Cambodian music. It’s a charming one-hour documentary, with the American members of the band – who come across on record as so confident and almost superciliously knowing about the music and culture of their adopted-by-proxy country – growing from endearingly gauche tourists into confident cross-cultural ambassadors aided by exiled singer Chhom Nimol’s wide-eyed embrace of her former home and compatriots.
The soundtrack is split fifty-fifty between Dengue Fever’s music and a combination of some of their biggest influences – such as 60s rocker Meas Samoun, the garage band sound of the King of Khmer Rock Sinn Sa Mouth and Ros Serey Sothea – and current master musicians, such as Tep Mary and Kong Nay. Dense and groovy, the LA band’s sound holds up remarkably well against the grainy combination of psychedelia, warped Bollywoodisms and fuzztone guitar. The band is held in a different light here, and suddenly makes complete sense.