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The new band Cartoon Emo might have room to improve, but they are a breathe of fresh air

I was still thrilled that Khmer musicians are at least searching for their own sound, even if they haven’t quite found it yet.”

Cartoon Emo, Cartoon Emo”, the repeating chant rang out among the enthusiastic audience that was packed into a small room that had recently become dark and stuffy when the power went off during a concert featuring Cambodia’s newest, and arbuably only, independent rock band.

Cartoon Emo, who are produced and promoted by Svang Dara productions, presented their first CD Shadow last weekend, but it has been with great difficulty that the band made it to this point, and their launch at Green night at Meta House was no different.

Despite the dubious start that saw torrential rains coming down as they prepared to open the show, and a blackout shortly after they began playing, the band still rocked the house and, for a Cambodian band, developed a rare connection with their audience. The 30-minute wait for electricity to come back seemed to raise the anticipation in the crowd of roughly 100 people and once the band started they went wild.

I can’t speak for the foreigners in the audience, but as a Cambodian youth, I thought the music was fantastic, and most of the crowd seemed to agree with me. The energy of the band radiated across the room as youngsters, foreign and Khmer, were laughing, singing and dancing while the band played a mix of hard rock and romantic ballads. The songs spoke to Cambodian teenagers’ lives nowadays; if you could hear what the band was saying. For my friend, this was his first time at a rock show, and he complained about the booming bass in the relatively small room, but I enjoyed myself throughout the show.

Most teenagers in the Kingdom have likely grown up listening to music from Korea, China or America, and while Cartoon Emo can’t be compared to world-famous bands like Green Day or Linkin Park, there is no doubt that the band can entertain Khmer youngsters and provides a voice for our generation that is uniquely Cambodian, if heavily influenced by their contemporaries in other countries.

To be honest, I’m not much of a fan of rock music, but there is nothing like seeing music live, and I couldn’t help but shake my body, jump in the air and sing out loud with the people around me who were having the time of their lives. I only wish I had memorised the lyrics before the band came on so I could have sung along with my compatriots in the crowd as well.

The band left the stage after only six songs. Perhaps they haven’t built up enough songs to play longer, but the crowd wasn’t ready to see them go. After some more raucous applause, the band gave them what they wanted and rocked out for two more songs.

By the end of the show I was just happy that I had come. As a bonus I got a free CD from the band; their first album “Shadow,” with ten songs about love, sadness and regret in modern Khmer times. I got home and let the band serenade me, and to my surprise it was totally better than the band’s performance in concert, but I guess that’s always the case when you are able to add production tricks to the mix.

Although I couldn’t help but notice that the songs had little variation and sounded a bit too much like some of the Thai pop that I have listened to, I was still thrilled that Khmer musicians are at least searching for their own sound, even if they haven’t quite found it yet.

I would encourage you to go to the nearest CD shop and pick up a copy to hear what Cartoon Emo sounds like for yourself. You will find it hard to believe that a new Khmer band can make such a beautiful album and you and your friends can talk about what songs move you the most.


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