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Siem Reap’s safe harbour for pirate music

Peter Olszewski / Khmer Times Share:

Pirate-loving tattooist Lex Roulor, aka entrepreneur Olivier Roulin, is selling The Harbour, the funky Siem Reap venue he runs with business partner Soline Guillemard.

Once the deal is done, Olivier’s set to sail into the sunset seeking new ventures and new destinations.

A poster for The Harbour advertising an open mic night. Supplied

“I guess I’ve done my time in Cambodia, but what’s the next step?” he asks. “This I don’t know. We’ll see where the wind blows, no intended pirate analogy though. But in the end I didn’t open a pirate tavern in Siem Reap for no reason.”

“I wanted to make my life a playground. I guess it worked out not too bad. But now the real question is: where to go now that the world is becoming all westernised, organised, administrated and formatted,” he says.

Olivier, a French expat, landed in Siem Reap via China almost exactly a   decade ago – on March 15, 2011, to be precise – as a refugee fleeing the conventionality of living in Brussels where he had, he says: “Kind of official or serious jobs and I was doing really well, but life didn’t make any sense and it made me upset.”

On arrival in Siem Reap, he saw that there was an opportunity to become a resident tattooist – he’d already undergone a two-year apprenticeship in a Belgian tattoo shop – as there was no proper tattoo shop in town.

Shortly after, in May 2011, he opened Lex Roulor’s Angkor Tattoo Parlour, inside Siem Reap’s rowdy music venue, X Bar. The origins of the Lex Roulor name dates back to when he played role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons with his French friends. “They nicknamed me Lex Luthor, who is the bad guy in Superman. So my tattoo name became Lex Roulor.”

In April 2013, Olivier opened a more sophisticated tattoo parlour in The Lane, near Pub Street.

Then in October 2014, he opened The Harbour, an ambitious maritime-themed venue in a renovated house near Sok San Road that featured a tattoo studio, a shop and a bar, which four years later morphed into the Pirate Tavern, featuring funky live music, great food and fantastic posters.

Pirate-loving tattooist Lex Roulor, aka entrepreneur Olivier Roulin. Supplied

“It all came together with The Harbour,” Olivier says. “To be honest, I never intended to start The Harbour as it is now. I first opened a small bar that was more of experimentation, a place for me, to listen to metal music and head bang with my friends.”

“It was never a business, more of a hangout because I didn’t really like any of the many bars in town. The tattoo shop at the ground floor was doing great, but the bar upstairs actually cost me money. I had to make a decision: whether I stopped it, or whether I geared up into something proper,” he adds.

“This was when Soline came into the picture. She had a coffee shop in Battambang, but things were getting shaky for her there. As I knew her for over 15 years, I offered to team up with her as my business partner, and we created The Harbour as it is today,” Olivier says.

As the website says: “Since 2014, The Harbour has been running its own mutiny in Siem Reap. Refusing to do things like all the other formatted places in town, it’s grown its own strong spirit of piracy and creativity, a place that’s comparable to nowhere else in Cambodia.”

Soline Guillemard sets out why she thinks The Harbour stayed afloat.

“I think what makes this place such a successful place is that we’ve always done things believing in it,” she says.  “We have always focussed on our concept and we have kept the same for the last four years. As long as we’re at the helm of this ship, we will keep going with the same energy.”

Olivier adds that no matter where he roams, he will always remember his time running the adventure.

The cosy venue The Harbour is up for sale in Siem Reap city. Supplied

“I can recall an amazing rainbow snake night, where Leroy Sharrock told stories about Australian folklore and sung songs of the ancient Aborigines,” he says.

“I can recall a viking night as well, with violin and vocals and Norwegian food specials by a Norwegian chef.  I can recall a traditional Cambodian shadow puppet show with a Khmer traditional live band playing,” he adds.

“I can recall a punk night, I can recall a redneck night, a French camping show night. I can recall a movie set with Jack Whitehall, where they filmed a segment for the Netflix series ‘Travels With My Father’ and I can recall Atom Araullo, a famous Filipino TV host, coming to shoot a video,” Olivier reminisces. “I can recall World Music Day in 2019. We had so many people it was impossible to move, maybe close to 200 people packed in. It was a real celebration of music, with live acts from 5pm until 1am, with almost all the performers from Siem Reap.”

“I can recall hundreds of incredible evenings, surrounded by incredible people, leaving Soline and I incredible memories,” however, Olivier stresses that he would like to end his recollections on a serious note. “It’s no secret that 2020 was tough year, but, as I love to say, ‘The Harbour is still afloat.’ The Harbour has been, during this past year and ever since April last year, a beautiful example of a community that fights to survive a crisis. It’s been a very weird year, but our small Pirate Tavern is still sailing. And this is beautiful as we’re still here, keeping the spirit of rock and live music alive.”

 

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