The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

Got a tip? Have something you need to tell us? Contact us

Loading Recent Classifieds...

Healthy dose of fever

Surf rock, world music, psychedelic rock, acid jazz, 1970s funk, Cambodian pop, or plain ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.

All of these genres might be used to describe Los Angeles-based Dengue Fever’s music, but none of them do justice to a group that mixes Cambodian and American musical traditions into a strange and wonderful brew unlike anything you’ve heard before.

Performing to a packed house at Temple Bar in Santa Monica Feb. 2, Dengue Fever danced, sweated, wailed and played their hearts out for nearly two hours of extremely technical, but always organic and beautiful, noise.

“They were phenomenal. They are doing a thing like no other band out there, anywhere,” said Luiz Jimenez, who was on hand for the show.

Dengue Fever was envisioned by brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman, who play the guitar and Farfisa organ, respectively. They had fallen in love with traditional Cambodian music during their world travels and sought out Senon Williams, a friend and bass player who had also been to Cambodia and was interested in the music.

But the band did not gain its direction until their discovery of Chhom Nimol, whose vocal style, flying through her incredible range in her native tongue of Khmer, channels intense pain and joy, while at the same time leaving the audience absolutely captivated.

“After rehearsing with a few singers, we were kinda bummed. No one was really doing it for us. When Nimol showed up for our final audition and just nailed it, we knew we had our singer,” Williams said.

It took a little convincing. Nimol spoke almost no English at the time and was immersed in her own culture in the little Phnom Penh neighborhood of Long Beach, where many people of Cambodian descent have settled. Coming from a family of musical legends, Nimol once won an award similar to a Cambodian Grammy for “Best Female Vocalist” and has performed for the king and queen in that country.

When Nimol gave in and joined the band, the band really began to gel musically and band members learned from each other’s cultures to form a new breed of music.

The lyrics are sung in Khmer, and this allows listeners who do not speak the language to tune into both the carefully chaotic grooves the band creates and the raw emotion behind Nimol’s voice.

“It is spiritual to listen to her voice in a language much more poetic than English,” said musician Reman Ran’Pal, who was in the audience at Temple Bar on Friday. “It allows me to create my own image of what she is feeling at a deep level in a way I can understand.”

Rounding out the group are band members Paul Smith, providing solid beats and technical trickery on drums, and saxophonist David Ralicke, who has worked with Beck and Ozomatli.

Accompanying Nimol’s trance-inducing vocals, Ralicke’s brass playing was a huge highlight of the show. Running his sax and flute through a series of guitar pedals and homemade sound-manipulation devices, Ralicke tore through complex jazz riffs on one song and on the next wailed out something sounding more like Martian mating calls.

The band’s first self-titled album, contained mostly covers of traditional Cambodian pop rock songs first recorded during the late 1960s to early 1970s, when that country was influenced heavily by American music and culture, brought to the region through U.S involvement in Indochina.

“When we went back to Cambodia and played our music, it was very well received, especially by the older generation because it is music which has heavy roots in Cambodia, where a lot of modern music is more influenced by Thai and Chinese pop music,” Williams said.

“Escape From Dragon House,” their latest album, is well-crafted and lets the listener tune into the beauty of Nimol’s voice. But this does not come anywhere close to the power of their live show.

This undeniably unique, talented and powerful group is best experienced up close and personal, preferably from the dance floor.

More to Discover