Even if you—like many of us—have never heard of Cambodian psych-pop, you may have heard some recently. A song by the California-based band Dengue Fever, 1000 Tears of a Tarantula, is featured in the soundtrack of the new movie The Hangover: Part Two.
Where did this trippy music come from? East meeting west. As the Vietnam War introduced Western music to Southeast Asia, Cambodian singers began fusing the sounds of bands like The Beatles and The Doors with some of their own traditional folk songs. This unusual style was pushed aside by Khmer Rouge regime’s “cultural cleansing” campaign in the 1970s, and remains largely obscure.
California brothers Ethan and Zac Holtzman became interested in the genre after Ethan heard some old cassette tapes while backpacking in Cambodia in the late ‘90s. They formed a band called Dengue Fever—a name that aptly conveys the, um, infectious quality of their sound—with lead singer Chhom Nimol, a native Cambodian singer based in Long Beach. Their aim is to “shine the light back on that body of music,” says Zac, by recording covers of works by Cambodian singers of the era as well as their own unique songs.
And if you like what you’ve heard, Dengue Fever’s fifth album, Cannibal Courtship, was released in April.