Troubled in mind in the dying days of 2013, Steve Bloxham quit his gig as a successful West Australian working musician, upped stakes, and headed out into the wide world, not knowing where he was going or what he was going to do until he arrived in Siem Reap where he says he originally planned to do “nothing”.
But then, he adds, “On the first night I met a dude with a didge, Leroy, and chatted with him until 10am the next morning and he told me he knew a bloke who is building a recording studio. So I met Ian and that’s the story. I love Siem Reap and I love working in the studio.”
The dude with a didge he met is Leroy Sharrock, one of those wonderful characters who occasionally blows through Siem Reap town, an itinerant Aussie bushman, shaman, story teller and guitar and didgeridoo player who was an aspiring pro footballer and pro golfer in his prime until being held up at gunpoint on a golf course by an armed robbery gang in 1991.
That sent him off kilter and he went walkabout, not knowing what he was looking for until an Australian Aboriginal elder said, “What are you looking for mate, because you’ve already found it.”
The ‘Ian’ Steve refers to is Ian Croft, a former international banker and now one of Siem Reap’s leading entrepreneurs who co-founded 60 Road Studios in January 2014, the ‘studio’ Steve mentions where he now works as sound recording engineer and producer.
Steve’s been a musician, mostly trumpet and piano, since he left school. He ignored the standard parental advice of “Get a real job, son”, and instead let Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi be his guiding lights.
“I saw the Blues Brothers and that changed my life,” he says.
Steve was able to survive as a working muso from day one, doing gigs here and there, and at one stage being part of a touring band, Slim Jim and the Phatts, which he describes as a “kicking arse band” that did covers from the 1961-69 period, from acts like The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.
Working on tour morphed into running a recording studio in Perth, as well as a pilot for a kids TV show, ‘Magic Rainbow’.
And along the way Steve discovered computers and first stated using them to create and compose around 1988.
“I started using computers over 25 years ago, both onstage and in the studio for a few reasons,” he says.
“Computers seemed to me at the time – and still do – to be a tool to do repetitive tasks quickly and efficiently, combining this with playing music, which is generally a repetitive task with creativity attached.
“It seemed to make total sense. Also computers allow a number of creative ways to play music, as you can move notes, change rhythms, program things that a human couldn’t possibly play, therefore in essence creating a brand new instrument.
“I therefore look at the computer as a musical instrument in its own right, and these days also as a production and recording tool.”
In 1990 he formed the Groove Connection ensemble to push the idea of computers in live performance.
“Groove Connection was initially a proof of concept idea, that a gig could be run from computers without the inherent dangers that were perceived at the time – computers crashing, hardware failures and system complexity,” he says.
“There was a large amount of hardware involved, partly due to the fact that I decided to run without a drummer, and to play at traditional ‘band venues” rather than doing some of the duo stuff that was around at that time.
“So it was a loud, completely automated – all the mixers were computer controlled via MIDI* – four piece band that intentionally sounded like machines rather than trying to emulate a real drummer, or bass player etc.
“It was very well received in Australia, and we ended up touring Southeast Asia to good audiences. Many people had not seen anything like it before – generally that level of tech was only ever seen at large concerts by big international artists, and was always hidden under the stage or beside it.
“We decided to put it onstage front and centre for everybody to see, so they knew exactly what was going on, so in essence ‘The Rig’ became the fifth member of the band.
“I did catch up with someone years later who recognised me from the band, and said he used to come and see the band, just so he could watch the technology in action, which I think is very interesting.”
Now he’s brought that expertise to the region via his work at 60 Road Studios – he suits the studio and more importantly – to Steve – the studio suits him. He lists the studio’s plusses as he sees them.
“The studio’s size for starters,” he says, “It’s a 100 square meters two-storey live room with world class equipment, and with staff with long term knowledge.
“The vibe of the studio is good, it’s really relaxed and fun, I’m developing a real passion for Khmer music and Ian’s good to work for.”
Plus there are the talented bands he works with to record talented albums and among the highlights to date he lists recording Hong Kong band The Sleeves’ album Deliverance and the Kampot Playboys’ album Garuda .
Not bad at all for a young bloke from the backblocks of Western Australia.
*MIDI is a computer language – Musical Instrument Digital Interface