Despite the late hour after a night out, before going to bed on April 7 Jason Shaw, a music producer and musician, popped on his headphones and gave the tracks he had recorded that week a listen. Every afternoon, Shaw had been going to Oscar Bar – the seedy but much loved rock venue near Wat Phnom – to record some of the country’s best-known rock, pop and hip-hop acts laying down covers of the now-70-year-old music icon Iggy Pop. He expected to do the final session, with metal band Nightmare A.D., the next day. Thrilled by the tracks he heard, Shaw finally went to bed around 2am. But in the early morning, he awoke with a start to the sound of the street.
From a balcony door into his hotel room, somebody had entered the room and stolen everything: the instruments, laptop and mixing equipment. Most importantly, the hard drive – on which every recording was backed up – was gone.
The Angkor Pop project – the brainchild of Julien Poulson from Cambodian Space Project – was unpredictable from the start. There is no obvious reason for a group of Cambodian bands to record a set of Iggy Pop covers for a compilation album. But Poulson noticed that Iggy Pop had been playing their music on his BBC radio program, so he got in touch with his management about potentially coming to Cambodia for a pop art festival later in the year. From there, the idea surfaced to get a bunch of bands together for a tribute album, and to have the Space Project work with Iggy Pop directly on an original song.
Before long, 12 acts had signed up for the project, including Phnom Skor, Kampot Playboys, Doch Chkae, Bokor Mountain Magic Band, Professor Kinski, MC Lisha and Miss Sarawan. Iggy Pop has little reach in the Kingdom, and the musicians had never heard of him.
“Most of them went off to listen to his whole back catalogue and they came back with the songs they wanted to do,” Shaw says. For some bands, the choice was easy – metal band Doch Chkae, whose name means “Like a dog”, chose I Wanna be Your Dog, sung all in Khmer.
But, with the recordings stolen, the project was in jeopardy. After getting the police involved, reviewing the camera footage and putting together a reward, Shaw and a friend did their own investigating.
“We went out and started to go through the clubs, all the [hostess] bars, [to] all the tuk-tuk drivers,” he says. “Deep into the underground to see if anybody had heard of this stuff.” Eventually, they got a call from one of the tuk-tuk drivers. The hard drive had been found and could be theirs for $350. “We went and met him, one of us went into the toilet and checked on the computer, saw that it had all the files and was the actual drive,” he says. “We lost everything else but we got the music.”
Despite the financial hit, there is a silver-lining to the experience: punk rock credibility.
“Not only will it be a good record, it’s going to have a bit of hardship in it,” he says.
The Angkor Pop compilation is being mixed, with a tentative fall release date. It will be released on the ABC Music label. For more details, visit Cambodianspaceproject.org.