A bastion of art, culture and entertainment in the capital has quietly established itself over the past six years in an unassuming former villa located on St 9 and tucked just behind the bright lights and busy night life of Bassac Lane.
The place in question is called Cloud and it fills many roles for the city’s artistically inclined residents – it is a bar, art gallery, community centre and music venue where bands can both rehearse and hold the occasional show, among other things.
Unlike many of the neighbouring bars over on Bassac Lane, Cloud’s goal isn’t to charge you as much as possible for a cocktail and the bar doesn’t wrap itself in a false veneer of luxury or bother trying to attract patrons with displays of urban faux-sophistication.
From the casual comfort of the main barroom to its breezy graffiti-covered backyard and its event space upstairs, there’s plenty of room for everyone, which is fortunate because, Cloud has managed to build a loyal following of expats over the years while also catering to a more youthful Khmer crowd, giving the place an interesting and amiable mix of patrons.
The man responsible for it all is Pierre, a French expat who first arrived in Cambodia in 2008 while travelling with a friend in Southeast Asia. Coming from a very cold province in northern France, Pierre says he appreciated the warm tropical climate and the personal warmth of Cambodians.
“I literally fell in love with Cambodia on that first trip and I promised myself that I would come back. Then about two years later, in October 2010, I returned once again to Phnom Penh to work as the communications officer for France Volontaires (the French volunteers agency NGO).
“Before, in France, I worked as a journalist at a local newspaper then as the communications manager for several entertainment companies – a manga publisher, an event agency, a videogame studio and even a pro-wrestling promoter,” Pierre tells The Post.
After working for France Volontaires for four years, Pierre decided it was time to try something new and in January, 2016, Cloud opened its doors to the public.
“I was really just thinking about the kind of place where I would like to hang out myself as far as the concept goes. To be honest, in the beginning it was very hard and more than once I considered giving up entirely, but finally, step-by-step, slowly but surely, Cloud managed to make its own place in the Phnom Penh scene,” he says.
Cloud’s steady stream of customers has allowed Pierre to step back and take a regular job once again, this time working in the marketing and admissions department of a French international school. One big reason he was able to do that was hiring a capable manager named Alan Ou.
“Aside being a gifted artist and musician, Alan is very hard-working, reliable and a serious person. I depend on him to run the day-to-day operations,” Pierre says.
Alan is perhaps best known around town for his musicianship – he’s an outstanding drummer and guitarist – and the several Khmer metal bands he’s been in over the past decade including Sliten6ix, Reign in Slumber and his current band As the Heart Betrays.
His affinity for the stage makes sense when you take into account the fact that his father is the well-known Cambodian comedian Neay Krem, a regular presence on Khmer television for years.
A vibrant crowd of young Khmer with an artistic or creative bent have coalesced around Cloud since Alan began managing the bar three years ago.
“Because of Alan and his friends, Cloud is now a hotspot for young Khmer people. We notably have quite a lot of artists like musicians or street artists hanging out there. One day we even had the rapper VannDa himself stop by.
“I’ve also noticed that habits have changed a lot among the new generation of Khmer people. Now it’s common for them to come for a few drinks or stay until late. It’s common to see Cambodian women coming in by themselves or with friends. It seems like there is more freedom in society now and young people aren’t handcuffed by tradition,” Pierre says.
Cloud has played host to quite a few metal shows with both Khmer and expat bands playing together over the years – something that will occur once again on April 23 with a show featuring long-time expat metal band Nightmare A.D. and Khmercore prodigies Doch Chkae on the bill – but the venue has always been open to a wide variety of musical genres.
“We used to do hip-hop nights called the Cloud Block Party & Hip-Hop Takeover that we organised monthly for 3 years from 2016 to 2019 with French rapper 12ME. I don’t think there’s been many regular events like that in Phnom Penh that lasted for that long. It wasn’t always well-attended, but there were magic moments – like when Peace Chhong brought his friends Khmeng Khmer up on stage to perform,” Pierre recalls.
This year Cloud hosted traditional Khmer New Year games and a water fight over the holiday, which both proved popular and the bar is always open to trying new and different sorts of events.
“I would like to do more cultural and artistic events and activities. So, if among the Phnom Penh Post’s readers there are artists willing to exhibit their work or offer workshops, we would be really happy to discuss that with them,” says Pierre, adding that they are also looking to hire more staff right now and anyone interested should apply in person.
Cloud was recently the site of the first-ever Astrophotography Cambodia exhibition and workshop, but their next big event is the aforementioned metal show taking place on Saturday, April 23.
“I’m really happy that Cloud can give more opportunities for the underground scene to exist in Phnom Penh. And we’ve had some of our biggest crowds at metal shows,” Pierre says. “For example, on Christmas Eve last year we had over 100 people headbanging upstairs. That was really crazy!”
Cloud is located on Ke Nou St 9 in the Chamkarmon district of the capital. Check them out on Facebook: @cloudcambodia