RECORDING CAMBODIA: LAUNCHING YELLOW SUBMARINE STUDIOS AT FICAC
Back to the future – part one
It’s a strange but sensational feeling sitting here, masked up and fully vaxxed, killing time in a coffee shop in Changi while waiting to board a flight back into Phnom Penh, and in many ways, back to the future. There’s at least a couple of things I know for sure, first up, it feels great to be going home to Cambodia and returning to friends and family and secondly, after almost two years of absence – I’ll be hitting the ground running! and can’t wait to get back to work post-COVID shutdown.
Most significantly, it’s time to hit the reset button and to bring back the music. Put the CSP band back into action and get down to work on being a part of what I hope will be an arts-led recovery in Cambodia. Live music can and will bring back the vibe that’s missing but most importantly, get many of our musicians and venues back to work and employed again. There’s only one thing for it – light the fuse and bring on the Cambodian rock’n’roll dynamite!
Launching The Yellow Submarine at FICAC
The Yellow Sub has been steadily coming to life through this time of lockdown and it is a facility that will not only function as a media arts school but will enable us to build a great future for new music and digital arts makers in Cambodia while also creating a home for invaluable legacy activity – not least the preservation and archiving of much important material. So much of this work is inspired by the life and legacy of Kak Channthy who in turn, was an extraordinary link to the Golden Era artists of pre-Khmer Rouge times.
Anyone who ever caught a CSP show with Kak Channthy at her best at home in Cambodia will know just how great and significant her stunning live performances were. Phnom Penh was certainly a better place with Channthy’s voice ringing out across the night skies. It’s a bitter-sweet notion, and heartbreaking for all of us who knew and loved Channthy, but, with a whole new decade ahead I suspect there’s a new and very different Cambodia ahead. I’m looking forward to being a small part of Cambodia’s post-COVID recovery through contributing to the things I love about Cambodia, and that’s the Cambodian music, art and culture that I’ve had the immense privilege of coming to know through Kak Channthy and The Cambodian Space Project. Okay…it’s boarding time here in Changi… part two coming up.
Back to the future – part two
So here I am. Back in Cambodia and for the first time in almost two years, getting back to work at Fish Island Community Arts Centre and was thrilled to see the progress that has been made while I’ve been away. The Yellow Sub is going to be super special! it’s a dream we’ve had here for a long time coming and I’m now ready to get down to work and make this little studio an amazing, happening place! of course, there’s much to do and at this stage, it’s just the beginning – dusting off old bits of equipment, checking on what we’ve got and what’s missing or kaput! and most importantly, turning on the sound system and cranking up the volume with the first set of recordings for Fish Island Records. This is the work I’ve been co-producing with music maestro Julitha “Tappy” Ryan back in Melbourne and with a little bit of help from our friends – not least, Jack Howard (Hunters & Collectors, Epic Brass, Midnight Oil etc) on horns, Andrew Congues (from my new favourite Melbourne band Suprise Chef) on drums, David Eugene Webb (Cambodian Space Project) and Alex McGowan (Space Eko Studios) also adding drums and dub from London. Together, we’ve recorded the framework, bed tracks for the first album project here and its working title Funkee Junktion is derived from the idea that this started at Junction Street, Preston, but it is also a bringing together of great musicians from around the world to work with us here on this little island in coastal Cambodia. The next steps here are bringing in the talent, local and international artists working together to create new ideas that are inspired by and draw much from this place. And what a wonderful place it is! I’m just a week in and it’s so great to be back here in Cambodia.
The media arts school in the Cambodian fishing village
Around November 2019, my partner Kek Soon and I launched Fish Island Community Arts Centre as a permanent home for many of the arts, cuisine, and culture activities we’ve been involved in creating and developing. FICAC allows us to umbrella many cool ideas and continued work on arts events here in Kampot and out around Cambodia. We’re launched Kampot Readers & Writers Festival back in 2015 and will now return the festival – with many stories to tell and things to show! in 2022. But more significantly, we’ve created a place here that is already home to many local youth and families who access training and experience here through the arts, including, skills in cooking, hospitality, visual art, music, and language. With the Yellow Sub now up and running, we’re adding digital literacy and jumping in with training in photography, video production and music writing and recording. This is super exciting and already great things coming out of the proverbial kitchen. Check out these cool clips, a new collaboration with DJ Klam, followed by work-in-progress at Space Eko, and a really gorgeous Neil Young meets Khmer song by Sochi “Lament for the drummer”.
The media arts school in the Cambodian fishing village
The media arts productions are getting rolling in earnest here at FICAC. I’m totally blown away but the quality of the recent recycled arts and trash fashion project and can’t wait to see how this develops on the next steps which include more music video making and short films. at FICAC there are around 60 kids coming in from the surrounding salt fields, rice farms, and fishing villages. Over this past week, we’ve had the studio up and running with the music up LOUD and enjoyed seeing the kids’ response to this. Here at FICAC we’re all onboard the Yellow Sub and excited about what this will bring to the community. For me personally, it’s inspiring to literally see the ‘next generation’ hanging off the bars of the new studio windows, peeking in and showing all the curiosity kids naturally have when discovering new worlds through sounds and images.
Hey kids! let’s get serious here!
This is also a place for the big kids too. I’m looking to bring in great projects that already have amazing, established artists and skilled producers. Why come all the way out to Fish Island, Cambodia? Well, young grasshopper, resting here under the magnificence of Bokor Mountain, facing out to the gulf of Thailand and situated in the middle of Praek Tuek Chhu River mouth, we’re in a very stunning location. It’s really a little production house right in the middle of Cambodian farmland but onsite we’ve also got our fabulous cooking school, live-in accommodation, and some of the best cuisine you’re likely to find in the Kingdom of Cambodia. FICAC was first launched with our cooking school and Kek Soon who is an internationally award-winning chef. It’s rare to find a recording studio – a place with an enormous vibe – with its own restaurant attached. This is a place for making great projects and we know a studio is only as good as what the people who use it, create! I’m on the lookout for seriously dedicated artists and musicians who can recognize and benefit from this very unique experience and in turn can bring something special to Fish Island. If you’re one of these people then feel free to get in touch and discuss your ideas at thecambodianspaceproject(at)gmail.com. The same applies to filmmakers and photographers who are interested in producing local work or engaging our staff of tour guides and fixers.