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Discover Dengue Fever’s Contagious Strain Of ’60s Cambodian Rock

Tiffany Lee
The New Now

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Inarguably the leading band in their very specific genre, Los Angeles-based Dengue Fever pay homage to the practically lost pre-Khmer Rouge-era Cambodian garage rock scene while infusing the sound with their own brand of surf, psych, and indie.

Previously a well-known karaoke singer in Cambodia, stunning lead singer Chhom Nimol sings entirely in Cambodian, with the corresponding trills and graceful gestures. When she moved to Los Angeles, her current bandmates Zac Holtzman (guitar, vocals) and his brother Ethan (organ) discovered her with the intention of starting a band that played retro Cambodian covers. Although they're sitting in our "The New Now" blog since thery're still very much on the rise, Dengue Fever's debut album from 2003 made the regular rotation on my college radio show some years ago.

During freshman year, a friend introduced me to Cambodian Rocks, an amazing compilation of psychedelic and garage rock bands from Cambodia. The unnamed, uncredited tracks are bustling with Western pop and rock influences infused with traditional Cambodian vocal stylings--I highly recommend giving it a look and listen. The music still reminds me of partying in the dorms, and particularly of the day my roommate called my show to say she glued our phone to the ceiling (she actually did).

When Dengue Fever's self-titled album came to the station all those years ago, I immediately latched onto them for their cover of what I knew as "the second track" of Cambodian Rocks. In English, the titled is translated to "I'm Sixteen," originally by Ros Sereysothea, a then-popular Cambodian singer who was rumored to be killed by the Khmer Rouge.

Starting out doing all covers, the band evolved into writing to original songs with some English lyrics to create a modern sound that still pays homage to the era. Check out Dengue Fever performing their song "UKU" at one of L.A.'s top rock venues, the Troubadour, below. Their latest LP Cannibal Courtship dropped this past April.

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