Ready for something different? How about a band from Los Angeles that blends Cambodian music and California rock and roll? They’re called Dengue Fever and have a fervent following among hipsters and Cambodian immigrants. At SOUND TRACKS, we can’t get enough of them either. Whether it’s lead singer Chhom Nimol’s haunting voice, their “Twin Peaks” atmospherics, or the band’s dreamy mix of surf guitar, smoking saxophone and psychedelia, Dengue Fever is unique and unforgettable.
They are ironic enough to have named themselves after a mosquito-born disease and funny enough to recall groups like the B-52s. But they also have a mission: to resurrect Cambodian music crushed by the Khmer Rouge and re-invent it for the 21st century. They’re cultural ambassadors with a trippy, edgy sound and a new album, “Cannibal Courtship.”
Lead vocalist Chhom Nimol sings in both Khmer and English, her voice and lyrics ranging from the ethereal and nostalgic to the edgy and comic.
You can’t miss bass player Senon Gaius Williams. He’s as tall as a basketball player and bounces around the stage like a kid on a pogo sick.
David Ralicke plays sax, trumpet and flute for Dengue Fever, switching the sound from the exotic to hard driving rock.
Ethan Holtzman, keyboardist, co-founded Dengue Fever with his brother Zac after backpacking through Cambodia.
Zac Holtzman tunes “Mastadong,” his handcrafted, hybrid Cambodian-American guitar, under the watchful gaze of Jimi Hendrix.
Nimol comes from a family of singers in Cambodia and she has grown increasingly comfortable taking center stage with her adopted American rock band.
“Family Business” is a caustic critique of people profiting from the weapons trade: “Infrared thermal tracking sidewinder/It’s just a family business.”
Dengue Fever has developed a loyal following, especially at The Fillmore.
Our slide show features Dengue Fever on stage at The Fillmore in San Francisco, a setting where the L.A.-based band clearly feels right at home. The photos were taken by Mirissa Neff, who was very busy that night in three roles: interviewer, photographer and warm-up act as DJ Felina. Mirissa’s hazy, brightly colored cell phone images capture the mood of a Dengue Fever concert, which can feel like a strange dream, swirling with burning incense. They can be soothing and hypnotic on one song, hectic and ominous on another with a kind of “Pulp Fiction” undertone.
The band performed songs from their new album, “Cannibal Courtship,” their debut on the Fantasy/Concord Music label.
Segment presented by Sound Tracks.
All photos by Mirissa Neff, a reporter for Sound Tracks and Quick Hits, as well as an art director, photographer, and professional dj. To see more of her work go to mirissaneff.com.