While not known for being one of the largest music scenes in Phnom Penh, the city’s metal scene could be described as the most dedicated.
During a performance by Sliten6ix at Show Box earlier this year, lead singer Vanntin Hoeurn screamed out lyrics, punched holes in the ceiling and crowd-surfed over fans rabidly moshing.
It’s this enthusiasm that Michael Leong, event organiser and frontman for thrash metal band Nightmare A.D., wants to harness in a new series of metal nights by bringing in bands from around the region.
“We want to bolster the scene here. We want to encourage young Khmers to come see the shows as well, build a proper scene here for hardcore and metal – something more alternative than the usual mainstream music that you hear on the radio,” he said.
Off the back of the success of the first event, Get in the Penh II returns tonight at Oscar’s, with bands coming from Japan and Vietnam to witness the mayhem of a Phnom Penh mosh pit.
Leong said while the scene here is growing and enthusiastic, bringing in bands from around the region would connect musicians with promoters and help develop the international scene.
“You get to meet bands from other countries and get to know the promoters, getting in touch with organisers, so it’s a great opportunity,” he said.
“I would say also to expose them to how other bands from other countries play… we don’t want it to be a self-contained scene.”
According to Leong, while the metal scene in Southeast Asia has grown in prominence, and with sell-out shows in Indonesia, Cambodia is lagging behind.
He hopes his events can help the country catch up.
“I think in Southeast Asia it’s definitely more known than it was 20 years ago. If you walked around back then with a metal shirt with spikes, people look at you like a freak, like you don’t belong here. But now no one bats an eye,” he said.
“Phnom Penh is about two decades behind the rest of Southeast Asia.”
Originally organising international shows with his company, Screams from the Morgue, and playing in bands in his home country Singapore, Leong said he wanted to take his 17 years of experience in the scene and apply it to Cambodia.
“I want to use what I’ve learned, playing in bands and organising shows in Singapore. I want to show people how to organise shows and get more people involved in helping out organising and running things, and get a sense of how to do things,” he said.
Hanoi-based band Proportionists said they were looking forward to playing in Phnom Penh tonight, adding that while the Vietnamese scene was of a similar scale to Cambodia’s, event organisers such as Leong help it gain more traction around the region.
“Promoters and metal/hardcore fans around Asia are doing a lot of work to help develop the scene. So definitely metal will be more and more appreciated in Asia,” the band said via email.
“The metal scene in Asia should be more united. Countries like Vietnam or Cambodia will slowly catch up to the Asian standard.”
They said metal was becoming more accepted in their home country, but believed the scene’s underground roots would remain at its core.
“In Vietnam, the metal and hardcore scene is growing step-by-step. People, especially young people, are starting to have a better look towards metal and hardcore,” he said.
“I think the metal scene will always be underground.”
It was an aspect that Vietnamese band Windrunner said could be seen as a positive.
“It’s harder for us underground bands, but without much of the complicated business aspects of a ‘mainstream’ band, we are free to do whatever we want however we like, and that we believe is what’s most important for heavy music,” they said.
Koremoto Todaka from Tokyo-based Earthists said social media had helped the scene gain a greater foothold in the minds of music lovers.
“The internet brought so much music to Southeast Asian countries and there are a lot of quality bands that are putting in effort to make the local scene better,” he said.
Leong said it was promising that Cambodian bands such as Slitensix and Doch Chkae were attracting large crowds of young people, demonstrating that metal has a place in Cambodia’s pop-dominated mainstream.
“I think there are a bunch of young Khmer people who do love metal. Doch Chkae, Slitensix, they’re at the forefront of the scene,” he said.
“We have bands who want to play more metal music. Right now they’re soft rock, but kind of aiming to play more heavier music, so I think that’s a good sign.”
Get in the Penh II is on tonight at 9pm at Oscar’s, Cnr St 13 and 104. Admission $2.