Tag Archives: The Cambodian Space Project

The Kaleidoscopic Sound of Southeast Asian Psych-Funk

cambodiaspaceproject-600

Cambodia Space Project

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Southeast Asia was home to a wealth of progressive, offbeat funk that was as festive as it was meaningful. Artists like Indonesia’s The Rollies, the Philippines’ Blackbuster, Vietnamese “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Mai Le Huyen, and Thailand’s molam (country-psych) empress Chaweewan Dumnern paired psychedelia’s traditional hallmarks of surreal lyrics, modal melodies, and extended wah-wah guitar solos with groovy pop, jazz, and disco. Some were more influenced by the Santanas and Funkadelics of the Western world, while others bore the influence of the region’s folk music, such as Thailand’s luk thung, incorporating indigenous instruments native to rural heartlands into their songs.

These gems, many of which exist on comprehensive compilations like Soundway’s Sound of Siam and the Cambodian Soul Sounds series, continue to inspire a wave of contemporary musicians from around the region and beyond. “We’ve surfed an astonishing cultural revival coming out of Cambodia, particularly Cambodian Rock, a sound of King Norodom’s 1960’s Phnom Penh,” says Julien Poulson, founder and lead guitarist of The Cambodian Space Project.

The Cambodian Space Project adds a hefty dose of tropical sci-fi and shimmy-shaking to their interpretation of old Khmer pop and soul tracks, inspired by the wealth of go-go, mambo, and big-band artists that flourished before the brutal Khmer Rouge dictatorship. “Cambodia’s pre-war rock ‘n’ roll reverberates and echoes through time and space and are as cosmic as ever,” Poulson, who also plays guitar for Bokor Mountain Magic Band, says. Taking a cue from ‘60s vocalists such as Pan Ron and Ros Sereysothea, The Cambodian Space Project’s lead singer Kak Channthy says she likes to channel Tina Turner on stage—but wants to make the sound wholly her own.

Today’s artists are doing more than just revisiting Southeast Asia’s golden era of kaleidoscopic groove; they’re reinventing it. Midnight Runners, a Bandung-based duo that crafts head-spinning boogie sampled from ‘70s/’80s Indonesian disco, are all too aware of being categorized as revivalists. “We’re trying to re-modernize the style with today’s digital tools, which includes bass, drums, controllers, and software…That keeps the sound more or less old and modern,” explains Midnight Runners frontman Munir Harry Septiandry. “I hate to compare which is better; both will move your feet to the beat.”

Both the past and present are audible on Midnight Runners’ latest album Rare Essence, released on Spanish label Neon Finger in February, where the group merges a ‘70s library-record sound with slap bass lines and sultry synths. “Seventies and ‘80s stuff was a lot groovier, dirty, and mature… I started listening to those records as a kid, and that childhood made me funky today,” Septiandry says.

The artists listed below may span the entire funky universe, including garage, electro, and jazz, but they all head toward an unbound state in which time flows freely and the body feels light. Listen on for a multi-dimensional perspective of Southeast Asia’s deep relationship with psych-funk.

Continue reading