Dengue Fever With Special Guest Atash

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Dengue Fever With Special Guest Atash
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The Kessler says
Even when you consider the cultural cross-pollination that goes on in large metropolitan areas, L.A.'s Dengue Fever had perhaps the strangest genesis of any band in recent memory. It's odd enough for a group of white musicians to cover psychedelic rock oldies from Cambodia, but finding a bona fide Cambodian pop star to front the band -- and sing in Khmer, no less -- is the kind of providence that could only touch a select few places on Earth.

Formed in L.A.'s hipster-friendly Silver Lake area in 2001, Dengue Fever traced their roots to organist Ethan Holtzman's 1997 trip to Cambodia with a friend. That friend contracted the tropical disease (transmitted via mosquito) that later gave the band its name, and it also introduced Holtzman to the sound of '60s-era Cambodian rock, which still dominated radios and jukeboxes around the country.

The standard sound bore a strong resemblance to Nuggets-style garage rock and psychedelia, heavy on the organ and fuzztone guitar, and with the danceable beat of classic rock & roll. It also bore the unmistakable stamp of Bollywood film musicals, and often employed the heavily reverbed guitar lines of surf and spy-soundtrack music. Yet the eerie Khmer-language vocals and Eastern melodies easily distinguished it from its overseas counterpart.

After striking out a few times, the Holtzmans discovered Chhom Nimol, a one-time pop star in Cambodia who came from a highly successful musical family (analogous to the Jacksons). According to the band, Nimol had performed several times for the Cambodian royal family before emigrating to Los Angeles. Initially not understanding the band's motives, she was suspicious at first, but after several rehearsals, everything clicked.

Dengue Fever made their live debut in 2002, with the charismatic Nimol in full traditional Cambodian garb, and soon won a following among Hollywood hipsters, not to mention L.A. Weekly's Best New Band award that year. Purely a cover band at first, they started working on original material after putting out a four-song EP locally. The Holtzmans wrote English lyrics and music, then sent the lyrics to a Khmer translator in the state of Washington, after which Nimol would adjust the melody and words to her liking.

Most of the repertoire consisted of Cambodian covers, many originally done by pre-Pol Pot star Ros Sereysothea, but there were several originals and an Ethiopian jazz tune as well. With Nimol's limited English improving, the bandmembers considered putting some English-language material on their follow-up, but intended to stick with Khmer for the most part, in keeping with the music that inspired them. In 2007, Dengue Fever not only released Escape from Dragon House, but also starred in the documentary Sleeping Through the Mekong, which saw them performing their music in Cambodia for the first time.
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By: The Kessler

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