Top turntablist looks to his Khmer roots with the opening of his own bar, which he hopes will go some way to developing beats unique to the Cambodian scene
Photo by: VANDY RATTANA
The illest DJ in town? You can atch Phnom Penh's own DJ Illest at the Riverside Lounge on Friday nights.
FOR Cambodia's premier DJ, being good isn't simply about throwing a track on and yelling "whoop, whoop". Rather, track selection, technical magic and stage presence blend together to create the proper party atmosphere. "Whoops", by the way, are ill-advised.
"I don't believe in DJs just pressing the ‘play' button. Computers can't create mood. That is what DJs are for," says DJ Illest, a Thailand-born Khmer who grew up in Paris and Montreal, but who prefers to portray himself as a homegrown Cambodian DJ.
"I have lived in Phnom Penh for the past 13 years. Family circumstances brought me here and, while initially I didn't know whether I wanted to stay, I ended up working for the family business and deejaying on the side," he says.
"I started working as a DJ in Phnom Penh about a decade ago at a place called Nexus, which no longer exists. More recently, I have been a DJ at Memphis Bar and the Riverhouse Lounge."
He adds that clubgoers can be assured his turntables, scratches and channel fades are the real deal.
"The biggest and most memorable gig I have played at in Cambodia was Cube at the Olympic stadium in March this year," says Illest, who requested the Post not disclose his real name. "The stadium was filled to capacity."
I could drop the bee gees in
the middle of a house set and it would just blend in and people wouldn't expect it.
While DJ Illest started off as "strictly hip-hop", he has now diversified the type of music he plays.
"Hip-hop music takes inspiration from everywhere, so that taught me to be open to all types of music, including rock ‘n' roll, house and electronic," he says. "I could drop the Bee Gees in the middle of a house set and it would just blend in and people wouldn't expect it."
For DJ Illest, hip-hop is not just about the music but also about other elements, including graffiti and breakdancing. "I want people to bring these elements here and for Cambodians to realise there is more to hip-hop than they see on television."
A taste of Tipsy
While Illest still plays at the Riverhouse Lounge every Friday night, he is putting most of his energy these days into a new club he plans to open in Phnom Penh in November.
"My pet project at the moment is the Tipsy bar. It will be both a nightclub and a karaoke venue. It will also have a gaming area and a small restaurant," he said, adding that he expects Tipsy will cater mainly to a Khmer crowd because of its size and location.
The Tipsy bar will follow local Khmer trends but with a Western touch. "While I will hire DJs who cater mostly to a Khmer crowd, I will bring in other types of music as well," Illest says. "Cambodian people are foreign to a lot of types of music, and I am trying to bring that in at the moment."
But whereas Illest says there is no shortage of local talent, Cambodian DJs have yet to truly distinguish themselves on the international scene.
"While we have decent Khmer DJs, often there is nothing that sets them apart from the rest," he says. "I believe each DJ needs to have his or her own style, but I also believe that it is only a question of time before Cambodian DJs develop their own individual styles and add ‘funkiness' to their mix."
Illest says the Tipsy will have turntables as well as a new system called Sysme - a set-up that links turntables to MP3 and MP4 recordings - and he plans to encourage his house DJs to learn to use it. The new club will also be the only venue in Cambodia doing video mixing, he says.
"Until five years ago I was using vinyl, but it is heavy and you can't really get it in Cambodia. DJ systems have been revolutionised since digital has come in. The Sysme allows me to spin and scratch as if I was playing vinyl.
"As far as I know, all the local Khmer DJs are keen to learn but I think they need a bit of inspiration," Illest says, adding that the local scene needs more Khmer icons that young people can relate to.
For more details about DJ Illest or deejaying lessons in Phnom Penh,