Wednesday, 5 October 2016

World Tour

l-r: Chestnut Bakery, Cambodian Space Project, Zee Avi

Week 5: The Far East

As we head east, I should point out I'm not going to Japan on this journey as I've already covered that terrific country in some detail and I may yet return. So instead we're flying from Kandahar to Guangzhou in China (via a stopover in New Delhi). China is huge and is becoming more and more open to Western culture. As a result, there's a lot of good music coming out of the country that may warrant further investigation at a later point, but today we're in the town of ZhuHai in the south east to catch a band who released their debut album 'Diaries' last year to much acclaim.

Chestnut Bakery cite Mazzy Star and Slowdive among their influences so you can probably guess the sort of music they make. Their record company calls them "the most 90s shoegaze band in China." 25 years ago, they'd have been a perfect fit for 4AD.

From southern China, we fly to southern Cambodia. This is a country that had a thriving rock & roll scene before the Khmer Rouge purged the country of all its musicians and artists. In the less than five years of its rule from 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge was directly responsible for millions of deaths through execution, starvation and illness. It abolished all education, religion, conventional medicine, privacy and arts. It was one of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind.

Thankfully, Cambodia is recovering, although it suffers from corruption and poor workers' rights. Tourism is a thriving industry however, and there's plenty for us to do here, including getting immersed in its music scene. One of the country's most famous musical exports is The Cambodian Space Project. Formed in 2009 in Phnom Penh by Tasmanian tourist Julien Poulsen and local singer Srey Thy, CSP cover songs from the 60s (Cambodian music's so-called 'golden age'), and compose their own brand of Khmer psychedelic rock.

To date, they have released two albums: '2011: A Space Odyssey' and 'Whiskey Cambodia' in 2014. Here's a track from each.

And here's a wonderful documentary about the Cambodian music scene pre-Khmer Rouge and what happened to its stars when Pol Pot came to power. It's called 'Don't Think I've Forgotten (Cambodia's Lost Rock And Roll)' and I recommend it highly. It also illustrates to us the very real danger of extreme political ideologies becoming reality. Hard to believe any of it actually happened.

Another flight, this time from Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia. Here we'll find singer-songwriter Zee Avi. Well, actually she lives in the States now but you get my drift. Aged 21, she made her live debut in her home city. One of her best friends missed the show so Zee posted a recording of one of her songs on You Tube for her. Plenty of others saw the clip and, encouraged by their response, Zee posted more and more. This led to her being spotted by a member of the Raconteurs who tipped of the manager of the White Stripes, who passed the tip onto Brushfire Records, a label partly owned by Jack Johnson.

In 2009, she released her eponymous debut album and toured the States with Jack Johnson and Pete Yorn, as well as a slew of festival dates including SXSW and Bonnaroo. Since then, two more albums have followed, including 2014's 'Nightlight', an album of lullabies which, somewhat curiously, includes versions of Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry Be Happy and the Velvet Underground's Who Loves The Sun. I previously featured Zee Avi on one of my old podcasts with her take on a Morrissey song, so she's no stranger to unexpected cover versions.

Heading south next week to another continent.


  1. Excellent as always Robster
    Zee Avi was an Internet discovery for me a few years ago

  2. I'm familiar with Zee Avi's Moz cover, but I'm not sure that anything else I've heard by her quite lives up to it. I'm very impressed with The Cambodian Space Project though!