What’s happening to Phnom Penh’s clubs?

Phnom Penh Underground

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What’s happening to Phnom Penh’s clubs?

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This weekend bought sad news of yet another late night club closing in Phnom Penh. The latest victim is Nomad on St172 which is having to change to a “lounge” format due to “building noise regulations” imposed by their new landlords, which mean they are not allowed to play loud music after 11pm.

According to Nomad promoter Eoin O’Donnghaile, “Nomad will be changing to a ‘lounge’. There will still be quality music but at a reduced level and, sadly, not likely to be of the banging techno or acid variety. However, we have plans to run a monthly all night boat party and will also be looking into having one off Nomad nights in unusual locations” Their last proper club event event will be on the 31st of July.

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Nomad is located on what is probably Phnom Penh’s busiest and nosiest street and the centre of the city’s nightlife. Ironically, Nomad is bang opposite mega-club Pontoon – consisting of 3 separate venues in one building – which has so far escaped the wrath of the noise police.

Its reminiscent of the situation that London’s Ministry of Sound faced a few years ago when a new residential development was built next to the club. The new residents started complaining about the noise – having apparently missed out on the idea that buying a property next to one of the most famous clubs in the world might mean a bit of noise at the weekend.

Nomad’s problems follow in the path of numerous Phnom Penh venues that have been forced to close or severly limit their noise output for various reasons in the course of this year. We’ve seen the closure of one of the city’s institutions – Equinox on Street 278 – a victim of a 300% rent hike.

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Next door to Equinox, D-Club (home to the monthly Phnom Penh Underground night) closed its doors a few weeks ago. The reasons for its downfall are unclear but the venue always struggled to get a decent audience and once again suffered from noise complaints. However, its excellent sister restaurant, Duplex is still operating.

St 172’s Slur Bar also closed it doors – again the victim of a rumoured rent increase – although it appears that it has been relaunched in the same premises, under new management.

The biggest venue to bite the dust was Code Red. After being forced to relocate from its intended location on the riverside for various murky reasons, the club was forced to relocate to the quiet end of town – tucked away by the bridge to Koh Pich.

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Although manager Eddie Newman bravely attempted the keep the club running with some fantastic and memorable nights, Code Red closed it’s doors in December 2014, never to open again. The venue has since resurfaced as Loby, run by a new management team and owners, which seems to have started on the right path with guests like Mr C booked for the next few months.

Meanwhile, over the last couple of years, 2 of the shining stars of the independent community, MetaHouse on Sothearos Boulevard and ShowBox on Street 330 have both struggled with noise complaints.

The Good News

We’ve seen a couple of new openings to brighten the gloom – The Room on Street 246 is an intimate venue with an excellent roster of nights, while Oskar’s Bistro on the Riverside has also been putting on some decent nights.

Another light in the darkness has been Simone’s by the old Boueng Kak lakeside which has run some superb festivals that have ranked among some of the best nights in Phnom Penh. Pontoon’s side room Pulse also deserves a honourable mention for waving the flag for some quality house and techno.

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Lakeside Festival, May 2015

And (literally) above them all, the 7th floor Rooftop at Dusk till Dawn has turned itself into the most unique venue in Phnom Penh “high above the city, under the stars“. However, we are awaiting confirmation that the same noise curbs that affected Nomad will not affect Duck till Dawn as they share the same building.

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Dusk Till Dawn Rooftop 2nd Birthday

Overall though, its a depressing situation with the choice of venues – especially smaller venues not afraid to put on non mainstream dance music – becoming severely limited.

Why is this happening?

The obvious answer is an economic one. Property speculation has hit Phnom Penh in a big way with landowners trying to force out tenants so that they can build profitable apartment blocks in their place. Walk down the streets of BKK1 and compare the number of buildings in progress to just 2 years ago and the difference is frightening.

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Recent development in BKK1

The gentrification and homogenisation of Phnom Penh is truly under way and the roughness around the edges that appeals to many of us who make this city our home is quickly being smoothed away. Out with the venues, in with Burger King

Another key issue for the city’s club scene is the rise of noise complaints. It may seem ironic that a city full of blasting Karaoke, 4am wedding chanting and Chinese techno blaring out from overdriven PAs should have a problem with this, but obviously somebody has a problem.

Oddly though, this cleaning up of the city doesn’t seem to have penetrated to the girlie bar district of St 130 and 136, where the music goes on all night – much to the genuine disgust of residents of the street. Sex sells as the saying goes.

What can be done?

Venues Venues Venues. Without decent venues to play non commercial dance music, the simple fact is that there won’t be a scene. If you like the music, support the venue.

The dance music scene in Phnom Penh can’t survive on 2 or 3 clubs (however good they are), we desperately need small niche venues that can cater to folks whose taste goes beyond EDM and chart music.

There’s no shortage of DJ talent or potential audience in this city but, without a place for them to go, the scene will never grow beyond its current size.

Things move quickly in this city and it may be that the situation gets dramatically better once the High Season starts later in the year. Lets hope it does – otherwise all the promise and the bold statements that Phnom Penh would be a major clubbing capital in 5 years will come to nothing.

What’s happening to Phnom Penh’s clubs?