When my friend Katie posted to her Facebook about Dengue Fever in Battambang, her loved ones were concerned. Drink more water. Be safe. Do you need to go to the hospital?
Perhaps she should have clarified. We’re talking about Dengue Fever, the band.
I was pretty damn excited when I heard an internationally known band would be giving a free concert in Battambang, Cambodia. Battambang is perennially described as “chill” and “laid back” and “sleepy”. What, I wondered, would it look like when a big act moved in?
The day of the concert, a stage was set up opposite the riverside noodle and fruitshake stalls. As it got closer to the concert time, the road was roped off from passing vehicles. This was a nice and unexpectedly thoughtful touch in a country that seems widely unconcerned with road traffic safety.
No parking was provided, so most people pulled up on their motorbikes, formed a large semicircle around the stage, and sat on their motorbikes for the duration of the concert. The rest of us stood near the stage, surrounded by the protective contingent of bikes. Despite a decent showing of a couple hundred people, there was ample room to stand and dance without feeling claustrophobic.
The lead singer from Dengue Fever lives in Los Angeles, but was born in Battambang. When she came out on the stage, she pointed out her old primary school and told us in Khmer and English just how happy she was to be there.
She, and the rest of the band, knew how to work the mainly Khmer crowd. They played almost exclusively Khmer songs, many of which had a psychedelic Dengue Fever-edge to them. The crowd danced and sang along to many of the songs.
The only thing that marred the night was the advertising coup of the Cambodian mobile company, Smartphone. They had handed out inflatable green batons which many in the audience were using to slap together offbeat and playfully hit each other with.
So what does Battambang look like when it’s woken up?
Not a lot different, really. The concert ended by 9:30 p.m. and most people went straight home afterwards. Even twenty minutes later, the roads were empty again, save for the litter of flyers and fluorescent leaflets carpeting the ground.
But for a few hours, a crowd gathered in Battambang and danced and sang together, Barang and Khmer side by side.