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One Night at Otres Market

Special Thanks to Jeremie Montessuis of Film Noir Studios for his photos used in this piece.

http://filmnoirstudio-phnompenh.com/

'Don't take this road, its pretty rough, there's a sealed road back there that will take you to the Market.'

Andy Mann sped off on his bright-blue Honda Baja – the perfect motorbike for Cambodian roads. We followed the sealed road leading inland from the beach towards Otres Lake - a small body of water connected by an estuary to the Gulf of Thailand, on Cambodia's south coast close to the port city of Sihanoukville. The area was pleasingly underdeveloped with just a small bunch of guest houses and hotels.

The mini-bus pulled up at The Barn - the venue for tonight's gig. Weary musicians and fellow travelers poured out into the bright mid-afternoon sunshine. I looked at the row of muddy scramblers lined up outside the building and thought about how inadequate my 50cc Phnom Penh moto would be on these rocky, pot-holed paths. Today was January 7th, a public holiday sometimes called 'Victory Day' or 'Liberation Day'. We were greeted by Andy and Matt. Andy and Max Mallender, together with Dave Allen, Soktia Jne and Charlotte Crossing (plus a few other great people) built Otres Market on the shore of Otres Lake in 2012.

Photo - Dave Allen
Andy delivered some good news: 150 tickets for tonight's show had already been sold, and Dave Allen was at this moment buzzing around the beach selling even more. We knew that The Cambodian Space Project would be a popular draw but this information meant that we could be sure of a packed house. It was expected that gig-goers without tickets would easily outnumber those choosing to pay a few dollars in advance. It was less a question of 'how many people are coming' than 'how many people can we fit into Otres Market?' or, more importantly, 'have we got enough beer?'

A few cold cans of Cambodia beer were cracked open as the equipment was loaded on to the stage - a battered drum kit and three guitars. Only one of the guitars we had brought down from Phnom Penh actually worked – that being the bass. At least all of the amplifiers we had were functioning (that is at least until later that night when one of them blew up). The stacks of public address speakers either side of the stage looked pretty good but the mixing desk looked like something borrowed from a small beach bar. There were a few microphones and cables of indeterminate provenance and quality. All in all, a reassuringly ramshackle set-up... just perfect for a Cambodian Space Project gig.

The extremely helpful Andy offered to try and source a second guitar from a friend of a friend. 'I did meet somebody yesterday who said he had a guitar...'

But of course, it all turned out alright in the end. Julien used a plastic straw to patch up his beautiful Ibanez 'Artcore' silver-glitter-finish semi-acoustic. His guitar amp wasn't loud enough on it's own so he used two amps. I didn't need an amp because I borrowed Michelle Flemming's Walden acoustic and plugged it directly into that little mixing desk. Phea's bass amp was big enough to throw out across the venue. Thy's vocals were a little clipped but it didn't matter. The only member of the band who suffered a bit was Bong Sak because it was difficult to get his snare drum cutting through the mix. Bereft of any foldback, he also lost his way a couple of times, misplacing his usually chronometric timing. This only meant that the hundreds of folks dancing on the sandy ground were (whether they were aware of it or not) dancing more to the beat of the bass player than the beat of the drums. Even if The Cambodian Space Project had only half a rhythm section it would still be one hell of a rhythm section. Phea's bass guitar-playing is inspired and astoundingly good.

http://filmnoirstudio-phnompenh.com/

Michelle Flemming wowed a lot of people with her solo support performance. She is not new on the Sihanoukville music scene but when I spoke to her before the gig (to ask very nicely if I could borrow her guitar) she told me she had never played a show in Phnom Penh. A few days later she was opening for Cambodian Space Project - once more before a crowd of hundreds - at the city's newest music venue, Oscars 51. Michelle is a regular at The Barn/Otres Market scene. When she started to play I noticed a group of committed fans take cross-legged positions in front of the stage, cheering every song, getting up to dance, generally gooning around. I guess that's why they call it a 'warm-up act'!

http://filmnoirstudio-phnompenh.com/

One drawback of having a 10cm-high stage is that it's very easy to invade. The goons that began their monkey-business during Michelle's set went into overdrive during the Cambodian Space Project's performance. The whole venue was rocking, from the long wooden bar to the decked platforms overlooking the lake. The people queuing for the toilet were bopping on the spot and even the space-cake munchers crashed out in hammocks suspended high above The Market were nodding along. When the band started there were still people waiting outside to pay to get in. Nobody was being too-cool-for-school and pretending that they had seen it all before. Everyone was smiling and dancing. This was a thrilling, fantastic, I-knew-it-would-be-good-but-this-is-amazing! event. Some excited members of the audience spilled on to the stage.

Srey Channty had to politely brush off a succession of microphone-grabbing contenders for new lead singer of the Cambodian Space Project - or perhaps they were just looking for attention. Dave Allen had to 'have a word' with one geezer who kept stealing the microphone between songs to give explanations of the Khmer lyrics being sung. One energetic youngster flitted like a firefly between operating a dollar beer stall at one end of the venue, mixing cocktails behind the bar at the other end of the venue and dancing like a lunatic in front of the stage. All night.

http://filmnoirstudio-phnompenh.com/
The crowd was very mixed. Young and old, Western and Khmer. It felt like the entire population of Sihanoukville had shown up. As the Space Project performed their second encore, Dave was poised like a sprinter at the side of the stage – ready with a trestle table, a lap top, and a nineteen-year-old DJ wearing a neon tribal-patterned t-shirt and baseball cap. Within seconds, the space-garage-rock of the Project had been replaced with weird dubstep versions of old rhythm-and-blues tunes. I didn't get the music, but that crowd of young backpackers dancing in the middle of the venue certainly did. Not a Newton of momentum was lost as the party smoothly changed gears. What a night.

As the band stood around at the side of the stage, buzzing, wide-eyed and soaked in sweat, Dave filled in a little background about Otres Market:

" The stage was actually an afterthought. We were sitting around with all this leftover wood and thought... maybe we should build a stage! We didn't have that much wood, thats why it's so tiny. 

We bought the house ['The Barn'] for $1000 from downtown Sihanoukville and we pulled it apart piece by piece. Then we moved it 10km by more than 10 truck loads to a piece of land on a small lake. We built the house and market in about a month and we were still painting paint tins to make stage lighting as we were opening, had no toilets and were borrowing a mates bar (needed 10 people to carry it into the barn).

We worked very hard to get it ready for the Grand Opening. We opened on the 1st of December 2012 and it was a great turn out. We had a lot of live music and Jitterbug Jackson the circus performer.

We have about 35 stalls. We focus on trying to make the stalls full of unique clothing, hand made jewelry and food from all parts of the world. At Otres Market our aim is to stay away from the typical 'same same' t-shirts and Angkor beer shirts. The jewelry and clothing is in general hand-made by people living in Otres and people passing through.

During the whole of our first season a lot of great acts from all over the world entertained the audiences. The general vibe of the place is that it is a chilled festival every Saturday focusing on live music with the option of taking home some unique things from the stalls. We also have a cocktail bartender named Ryan who makes cocktails with over 20 years experience.

This season we are running the market in the same way every Saturday with new acts taking the stage but we are also focusing on doing mid-week events at The Barn (same venue but the market is closed so we can focus on the live music). Dub Addiction are playing on the 4th February, and we have some other acts soon to be announced..."

Visiting Otres Market and The Barn, the first thing I noticed was the wonderful, laid-back atmosphere and 'vibe' of the place. It is striking. I haven't felt that since I stepped off a long-boat on to the Mekong-river island of Don Det in Laos. Others tell me it has a 'Goa vibe'. Everyone you meet has a smile for you. Looking closely, you can see that a lot of thought and design has gone into this place. It is basically a wooden barn on a lakeside with a stage, some stalls, a courtyard and a deck overlooking the lake – but there are things going on in every direction you turn. There is a large wooden model of London's Big Ben which is used as a noticeboard. Some swings, a food bar and.... a tattoo parlour. The intricately-designed logo was created in a London art studio.

http://filmnoirstudio-phnompenh.com/

The young team who put this project together are not transitory hippies or flaked-out expats. They are bright and resourceful and keen, creating something really cool and special in Cambodia. As Andy Mann told me, 'there isn't the same restrictions here as in other countries, if you have some money and get a piece of land, you can do something'.

I retire along with the Space Project to our rickety bungalows on Otres Beach. The following morning I am eating an omelet and drinking my second cup of strong black coffee while the band are knee deep in the Gulf of Thailand. They are getting their beautiful black tuxedos salt-watered in aid of a photo-shoot with Jeremie Montessuis. The 'manager' of the guest house chats to me in toothless broken English. He is from Europe. I can only catch about 30% of what he is saying. He excuses the state of disrepair of his accommodation (malfunctioning light bulbs, dodgy shelves) by explaining 'I don't want to fix anything because next year the Cambodian government will take everything! What's the point of spending money! Next year the government will take all these bungalows anyway!' I don't really follow his point so well but I think he's commenting on the tenuity of asserting property rights in Cambodia. Over at Otres Market they are already getting ready for their next party.
 
Photo - Dave Allen

3 comments:

  1. THE ROCK TREE BAR NEXT TO OTRES MARKET HAS DAILY ENTERTAINMENT FROM POET LAUREATE
    OF NEW ZEALAND

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wish I’d been there, sounds like an awesome night.

    ReplyDelete

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