For many in Europe and America, EDM has become a dirty word synonymous with the worst in cakethrowing, throwaway commercial dance music. In Cambodia though, a young collective of Khmer DJs and Promoters are using EDM as a gateway to introduce their audience to something entirely different…
Even though the club scene has grown massively in Cambodia over the last few years, it seems that almost all of the activity has been focused on the Western club scene and expat DJs and promoters.
But, for the scene to properly succeed in Cambodia, it needs the involvement of the Khmer youth, who have been sorely lacking in any serious numbers from the many otherwise excellent nights that run all over the country.
There have been many complex cultural, social and economic reasons for this and it seems as though things are slowly changing – certainly at our own Phnom Penh Underground events, we’ve seen larger and larger amounts of Khmer people.
But they are still in the minority and, for our scene to reach the next level that, say, Thailand has reached, we need an influx of young Khmer people being actively involved in promoting and DJing and making their own scene.
That’s where EDM Cambodia come in. A group of young dance music enthusiasts from Phnom Penh who have planted the first seeds of an electronic music revolution in the youth of Cambodia – for them, by them.
We were very privileged to spend some time with some of the EDM Cambodia crew and find out where they came from and where they are going….and we found out that their musical tastes go a lot deeper than just EDM!
Please introduce yourselves
Sana. I work for a consulting company and I am a freelance photographer and a graphic designer and I’m 28 years old
Brave: My name is Rithyrak but most people call me Brave. I’m 21 and I work for a messenger company
Both: I’m 21 as well and I’m a student studying international relations. I am a DJ as well – I would not call myself a professional DJ but its my passion to play music for people
So tell us a little bit about the history of EDM Cambodia – when did it start?
Both: Well the first thing, we knew some people online and we could see that we were interested in EDM and festivals like TomorrowLand, Then I came up with an idea – why don’t we get together and have a party for those people who share a passion for this kind of music? This was just going to be a normal party.
And we talked together and thought – why don’t we have a proper party at a club – they have a soundsystem and its easier to do the party. This was in June 2015
And this was the event that said “featuring the music of David Guetta, Avicci etc”?
Both: The reason that we did this was, the weird thing about Cambodia is that people don’t know the style of music – they only know the name of the producers – so if we don’t put something like that, they wont know what music we are playing. But we didn’t expect that the event would go viral like it did!
So where was this event held?
Sana: It was at Vito. We did not think it would be a big party – we just though it would be for friends of friends!
Looking at the event via FaceBook at the time, it seemed that it generated an immense amount of interest on social media?
Sana: We see the potential of social media and how easily information can be spread via social networking
Like everywhere, social media is really big with Khmer people but you have to do it right.
The night was a success?
Sana: We were expecting 150 people but at the end of the night we have to turn people away. In total we had 300 people
So is EDM Cambodia just you 3 guys or is there a bigger team?
The whole team is 14 people – designers, people doing marketing, stage design, shooting the videos – its a big team of people.
How did you get into Dance music?
Sana: Back in 2012, I just heard some of it via youtube
EDM is very different to what Khmer people like your parents listen to?
Sana: They wouldn’t really enjoy what we listen to! (laughing)
Its too fast and too noisy for them!
So they would be listening to more traditional music?
Brave: Yes, the music from the 60s and 70s is the music they like
What do other young Khmer people listen to?
Sana: Most people still listen to the Khmer songs – ballads or pop mainstream. But that kind of thing will never be big in the club – its only when an artist – like Jessy J – comes to Cambodia that it get popular.
The market for EDM is very small. I would say 20%
But there are a lot of young people in Cambodia! What about in Khmer clubs?
Both : One thing that we don’t like in Cambodian clubs is that people don’t respect the DJs – they will ask you to play other music and try and give you $5 to change the music – its disrespectful!
Brave : In Khmer clubs, they don’t really have a good music policy – the DJs just play random stuff – really fast music….
We call it “Chinese techno”
Brave : Yes! And then its some random dubstep. then some pop – there’s no theme.
In Europe and America, when people talk about EDM, it generally means the very mainstream stuff – Swedish House Mafia, Calvin Harris etc
Sana : EDM is a lot easier to market – the producers don’t need to come here, we just need the music!
For a general audience, the mainstream EDM is very popular so, in the beginning, that is what we try to market. But we know about the different styles of dance music – deep house, progressive house, minimal house.
Because of globalisation we have a much broader exposure to music than our parents ever had, so we can find out about the different genres
Brave: We find out about the different styles from the internet, from youtube. I love liquid Drum and Bass!
I’m interested to find out a little bit about the social aspects of going to clubs in Cambodia – I’ve often been told that its frowned upon for people – and especially girls – to go out late at night?
Both: We have to have a timeline for our events from say 6-10 because girls will not go out later
Brave : Even for me, I don’t like to go out later than 9
So moving on, after the event at Vito, what was your next event?
Both : We did a charity event at the Royal University in the auditorium. The guy contacted us and asked us to play and we thought – why not? We just want to spread our love for the music to everyone
And after that, the Afterlife Halloween event? How many people went to that?
Brave: over 1200
Brave : At first it was empty and then more and more people start coming, coming, coming!
And what time did it run from?
Brave: The agenda was from 6.30 to 10
So will you always run parties at these kind of “Khmer” hours?
Sana: Our main objective is spread the music – to have people listen to it. I hope that in time, more Cambodians will like dance music and it will be played more often in the clubs and hopefully it will enrich nightlife culture in Cambodia.
There’s a rapidly growing “Western” club scene in Phnom Penh with places like Dusk till Dawn, Pontoon Pulse, Club Love, MetaHouse etc. What do you, as Khmers, know about this scene?
Both: I know of some of them, but I’ve never been because they are so late for me!
What DJs do you have playing at your events
Both – There are 4 of us. Me of course – I am called DJ Yoku
Brave: Vutha is a young DJ from Siem Reap who is studying in Phnom Penh
Sana: Another is VVR, he’s also a university student
Brave: And the last one is RXTHY – he’s a high school student
What equipment do you use?
Both: Before our first night we had never touched anything apart from a DDJ–WeGO (low cost midi controller). When we got to the club, they had the latest CDJ2000s and we were afraid that we would break them as they are really expensive! So we asked them if we could just use our equipment instead.
But after that we went on youtube and watched tutorials on how to use CDJs. So we really wanted to use CDJs and later we got time to practise on them.
So what do you use at home?
Both: Now we have a Pioneer DDJ-SR and we use RekordBox software to prepare for a club or Virtual DJ software – I know its not very professional but it works for us!
So what are EDM Cambodia’s future plans – when is your next event?
Sana: We want to do an event for Khmer New Year (April) in Phnom Penh, but again it’s still in discussion and we’re not sure about it yet! Hopefully people will start to hype about it and it will be big!
You already have a massive following on social media.
Sana: Yes, but its very tricky to market this kind of event. That’s why we used all these big name producers when we were marketing our first event. But it works, we think. Now people are starting to request specific genres of music – they are starting to be more educated and exposed to varieties of musical genres.
For this next party our objective is not to call it EDM anymore. We want people to know about Drum and Bass, about Progressive House – about the different types of Dance Music. Maybe this will be a way of bringing western people to the events as well and mixing the cultures
So really you just push the EDM side of it as a marketing ploy?
Sana: Yes – we want to have many types of music but we have to market something that people know. One thing we tried was to have a Khmer traditional song mashed up with a modern track – that worked really well.
On a personal level, what kind of music are you guys listening too at the moment?
Sana: All sorts! I like everything. Jazz, Opera – whatever. I still love Swedish House Mafia as that’s the first dance music I ever heard.
Brave: I’m a gamer and Drum and Bass is really popular with gamers! I first heard it on game compilations and then I got into liquid Drum and bass and that became my journey into music
Both : For me as a DJ, I need to divide it – there is music I play and music I listen to. So, to listen I like Progressive House, Deep House, Armin Van Buren etc. When I play, its stuff like Martin Garrix – Big Room music with lots of energy.
What do you see as the future of dance music in Cambodia – I see you guys as real pioneers in spreading the word about the music we love, alongside some of the other Khmer DJs like Maily, DJ Chee and Rakky
Sana : We try to expand dance music in Cambodia – not just EDM because there is a lot more than that.
All of us went to Thailand to experience a Dance Festival called the 808 Festival and that was mind-blowing! People really know how to party there. We don’t have that yet in Cambodia…
Brave: We think that some people go to our events not because of our music but because they come with their friends and they are not used to a proper dance party. They are more used to TV concerts with people just sitting there.
Sana : We want to change this – listen to the music and join in have some fun!
Is it your dream to get a big name DJ to come to Cambodia?
Both: Oh yes! One day, we emailed an International DJ agency and they replied to us! They had 3 pages of requirements and all this stuff – oh my god!
Sana : But we will keep on trying to hype the audience so that one day, dance music is at the level of pop music and there will be the market for it – just like in Thailand. That’s how we can step up the culture.
For me, Cambodia is like a shade of grey – when we went to Thailand and experienced the festival it was so colourful – so many colours, colours in fashion, music, any sort of entertainment – a melting pot world.
I hope that movements like ours will empower teenage people because they are the future of our country. They can become more creative and change things. That is my hope for the future.
It was a real pleasure speaking to these young Khmer who are passionate about introducing Dance music to Cambodia. They are making their own scene through a combination of enthusiasm, hard work and no small amount of social media savvy.
Thank you very much to Sana, Brave and Both for sparing the time to speak to us. We hope to bring you more from these guys and Khmer DJs in general – we really believe that they can achieve great things for themselves, young people and their country via their form of creative expression – more power to them!
To follow EDM Cambodia, check them out at https://www.facebook.com/CambodiaEDM