The long-standing golden age rock group’s new side project has already impressed the opposition’s highest-ranking female lawmaker
When singer Lue Thy took to the stage at Kep’s Villa Romanea for the Bokor Mountain Magic Band’s debut gig on New Year’s Eve – a lively night during which top opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua got up and belted out a number – it was the fulfilment of a long-held dream.
The Cambodian Space Project was booked to play the New Year’s Eve show, but when singer Kak Chanthy couldn’t make it back from Australia in time, guitarist Julien Poulson asked Lue Thy to step up and, after only two days of rehearsals, a new side project named the Bokor Magic Mountain Band was born.
Back when the 24-year-old worked weekends at Equinox, Thy used to watch psychedelic golden age rock ’n’ roll revivalists Cambodian Space Project play and longed to get up and sing with them.
“Everyone loved them so much,” she said in an interview this week. “I looked up to them and hoped I could reach that level.”
Thy – who was born into a Khmer Krom community in Southern Vietnam before moving to Phnom Penh when she was eight – said she had always wanted a career in the spotlight.
Growing up, she enjoyed theatre, dance and singing – performing in several Lakorn (Cambodian opera) troupes – but her parents disapproved, thinking she was better off working and earning money.
Until she got the call from Poulson, she had all but given up on ever being a professional musician. She was studying business English at university and only singing at friends’ parties and celebrations.
She hopes that she can follow in the footsteps of Chanthy, who was a karaoke singer before the Cambodian Space Project.
“Playing with the Cambodian Magic Mountain Band is such a great opportunity,” Thy said.
Despite an attack of nerves ahead of the concert, all worries disappeared as soon as she started to sing.
“It was so exciting with everyone watching me, making me feel like I’m special,” she said.
The venue for the performance – a wedding celebration for one of Sochua’s daughters – could not have been more fitting for a band playing Cambodian golden age rock ’n’ roll. The modernist Villa Romanea, built in 1968 with views overlooking Bokor Mountain, was abandoned during the Khmer Rouge regime before being restored to its former glory by new owners during the late 2000s.
It was a lively night by all accounts. At one point, the mother of the bride got up – barefoot in a slinky black dress and swinging a glowstick – to belt out a rendition of Ros Sereysothea’s classic Chnam Oun Dop Prum Mouy (I’m 16).
“It was an incredible night of local spirit and creativity,” said Sochua. “It really had the perfect atmosphere and ambience.
“They’re a really dynamic band. The singer’s just starting and has a lot of potential and spirit.”
Poulson said Chanthy was unable to make it because she was recording a second album with Australian hip hop group Astronomy Class, but the New Year’s Eve show “came together really well” anyway.
“It turned out that Lou Thy had worked at Equinox and been to heaps of Space Project shows, so she knew a lot of the old covers that we do,” he said.
“But she has a very different personality, and I’m pretty confident we can develop something with her based on who she is and what does into the future.”
The Bokor Mountain Magic Band are booked to play another gig on Saturday night at Phnom Penh’s Latin Quarter, and Poulson said he would like to do more.
Like the Cambodian Space Project, he said the new band was starting out doing covers of Cambodian golden era rock ‘n’ roll songs and would see how it went from there.
“We’re going to use the band as a local carousel, where we can mix and match musicians and develop a sound and hopefully an original set of new music which is inspired by what we do with the Cambodian Space Project – same same but a little bit different.”
The formation of the new spinoff was not a sign that Cambodian Space Project might be in trouble, he said.
“As CSP is mostly booked and working abroad, it’s reached a point where it’s rare we can play in Cambodia, maybe just two months this year, the rest of the time Europe, UK, and possibly another USA trip,” Poulson said. “So it’s nice to have a few new things cooking in the local scene.”
Poulson is also in the process of renovating a building in Kampot to be home to the Kampot Arts and Music Association, which he expects to launch at the end of February.
And the Cambodian Space Project will be in town to play at Equinox for their fifth anniversary on February 6, at Otres Market on February 8 and on Valentines Day at the Exchange on February 14.
Meanwhile, Lue Thy said she was looking forward to Saturday’s Bokor Mountain Magic Band gig and hoped there would be more in the future.
Asked if her parents were now happy to see her pursue a music career, she laughed.
“They don’t care, as long as I’m getting paid,” she said.
The Bokor Mountain Magic Band will be on at the Latin Quarter, on the corner of Streets 178 and 19, tonight, January 24, at 9pm.