june 2012

Dengue Fever: (back row) Ethan Holtzman, Senon Williams, David Ralicke, Zac Holtzman, Paul Smith. Front: Chhom Nimol. (Photo: Lauren Dukoff)

The Wan Fambul/One Family artist roster:

Dengue Fever

Inspired by the political climate that spawned 1960s Cambodian pop-music and the price those musicians paid in blood for playing it

Even when you consider the cultural cross-pollination that goes on in large metropolitan areas, Los Angeles’ Dengue Fever had perhaps the strangest genesis of any band in recent memory. It’s odd enough for a group of white musicians to cover psychedelic rock oldies from Cambodia, but finding a bona fide Cambodian pop star to front the band--and sing in Khmer, no less--is the kind of act of providence that could only touch a select few places on Earth. Formed in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood in 2001, Dengue Fever traced their roots to organist Ethan Holtzman‘s 1997 trip to Cambodia with a friend. That friend contracted the tropical disease (transmitted via mosquito) that later gave the band its name, and also introduced Holtzman to the sound of ’60s-era Cambodian rock, which still dominated radios and jukeboxes around the country.

Since its inception, the band’s unique take on 1960s Cambodian pop and American surf rock has garnered praise and attention from fans and critics alike. True Blood named an entire episode after one of Dengue's songs and featured the band’s music throughout the show, Spin highlighted the band in its "Breaking Out" section, and profiles on the group have appeared in the New York Times, Magnet, Wired, and on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and Radio Australia. Ray Davies from the Kinks called them “a cross between Led Zeppelin and Blondie.”

Dengue Fever, ‘Uku,’ live at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. From the band’s 2011 album Cannibal Courtship.

The band is very much inspired by the political climate that spawned 1960’s Cambodian pop-music: “These original musicians were killed for playing music. By shining more light on this incredible body of work, it allows more people to learn what happened when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. It must never happen again.”

Dengue Fever is comprised of Cambodian songstress Chhom Nimol, Zac Holtzman (guitar/vocals), Ethan Holtzman (keyboards), Senon Williams (bass), Paul Smith (drums) and David Ralicke (horns). The group has released four albums (Dengue Fever [2003}, Escape From Dragon House [2005], Venus On Earth [2008] and Cannibal Courtship [2011]), plus a DVD/CD soundtrack to the band’s documentary Sleepwalking Through The Mekong, in addition to a 2010 collection of lost Cambodian classics, Dengue Fever Presents: Electric Cambodia.

To learn more about Dengue Fever, visit their webpage.

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Bio compiled by Marshall Henry of Modiba Productions

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
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