In early 1974, a newly opened dive bar in downtown Manhattan became the epicentre of a movement that would ultimately sweep the globe. The address 315 Bowery, then the site of CBGBs, would soon become known as The Birthplace of Punk – the ground zero of a worldwide counter-cultural phenomenon. This was where the Ramones famously played their first gig; where Patti Smith made her name; and where Television, Blondie, and Talking Heads took off. No place else in New York has been missed or mythologised as much since the club was forced to close its doors for the last time more than 30 years later (although not before a monster 48-hour commemorative bash). But for a movement that loudly proclaimed there was “no future”, punk rock has refused to die.
Nowhere more so than right here in Phnom Penh, where Sharky Bar is launching a sentimental homage to music’s most anarchic genre. Inspired in no small part by CBGBs, Sharky – complete with newly enlarged mosh pit – is today positioning itself as the Cambo- dian equivalent. One of the owners, who goes by the name of Big Mike, used to work at 315 Bowery during its punk heyday and has long wanted Sharky to graduate as the CBGBs of Indochina. Although the venue has a healthy respect for all forms of music, it “prefers to do things a little differently”, says music manager Dave.
Enter Punk and Disorderly, a one-night festival celebrating all things frenzied. Management hopes it will join Sharky’s volley of rabble-rousing regular events – which include Penh Stock, Oktoberfest and the Headbangers’ Ball – and become the source of a new generation of anarchic anecdotes.
“Sharky’s is a rock and roll/blues bar, but we also lean towards the grungier side of rock, which includes indie, punk, and heavy metal. There aren’t enough indie bands to do a show yet, but we’ve found enough punk bands to go for it. They may not be the most talented musicians, but the concept of punk is to get people there, play, have a bit of fun, and let your hair down. And because most of the songs are now 30 years old, they’ve all become anthems. It’s no longer really rebellious, it’s more like sing-along-a-punk!”
Punk and Disorderly is the first of its kind in Cambodia – no one else does a punk night, says Dave. And the audience, apparently, is out there. “We went to a punk rock festival last year at the Hard Rock Cafe in Saigon. There were punk banks from all over Japan and Vietnam. That gave us the idea that we could do one in Phnom Penh, where we’re infinitely more grungy, authentic and silly. It’s a different genre than classic rock, but many people like punk just as much as jazz and bluegrass. And there are plenty of 30 to 50-year-olds here who still like the Dead Kennedys, The Clash, and the Sex Pistols.”
Indeed there are – not least Ian Anderson, the bleached-blond frontman from Stiff Little Punks. During the 1980s, before he quit the UK, Anderson’s Leicester-based band Crazyhead had opened for none other than Iggy Pop, The Cult, the Ramones, and the Sex Pistols. Such punk credentials are hard to beat. “When I was growing up in the UK, punk was just exploding,” says Dave. “Thirty years later, I meet Ian right here in Phnom Penh.” Not launching a punk night after such a coincidence could be considered rude. Now, to borrow from Johnny Rotten, who’s up for a cake fight with The Queen?
On the night:
Clash City Rockers:
Ian Anderson fronts the Clash City Rockers, a tribute to the Clash. He’s the perfect man for it as Phnom Penh’s answer to Joe Strummer. Expect at least 10 classic hits.”
“Outlandish electric punk from a band of students at one of the capital’s international schools. Expect a cross between punk, Iron Maiden, and Devo.”
Sharky Ramone Blitzkrieg:
“Drummer Marky Ramone is touring Asia right now, but we can’t afford the hall-of-famers, so we’ve got our own Ramones cover band fronted by our ents manager Ross with me, Dave, on guitar.”
“The new all-female punk band everyone’s been raving about. Expect the Sex Pistols and Iggy Pop – and I’m sure we’re going to get it!” [Confession: I’m in the band – Ed]
Stiff Little Punks: “Sharky’s resident band, also fronted by Ian Anderson. They’ll be playing a mixture of whatever everyone.
WHO: Phnom Penh’s finest punk bands
WHAT: Punk and Disorderly
WHERE: Sharky Bar, St. 130
WHEN: 9pm March 3
WHY: We’ll nut you in the face if you don’t turn up
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