My weekend of crime and Dengue Fever

101015 SinC gigI’d planned to devote a post to the fabulous panel From the Sydney of the past to the Thailand of today I shared with Sulari Gentill and PM (aka Pamela Mary) Newton for the Sisters in Crime last Friday night. But I don’t think I can improve on Sulari’s hilarious take on the night, nor better Pam’s account of the injuries she sustained in the course of duty.

Except to say it was great fun. I learned that Pam was called Pammo, Newt or Neutron when she was a cop. I learned that Gentill is Sulari’s nom de plume, though I will never ever give up her real name, not even if I am dangled over the edge of a tenth-floor balcony by a standover man for the Griffith mafia, who may in fact be a distant relative. But I digress…

101015 SinC gig 2For the actual panel, we perched on high stools wielding hand-held microphones and faced a mirror across the room. It made me feel like we were in a karaoke bar and perhaps in a subconscious effort to plug my latest novel The Half-Child, which ends with a big karaoke scene, I kept wanting to burst into song. Sulari explained she chose the setting for her novel A Few Right Thinking Men because it was the historical period that most interested her husband. Cue ‘The Things We Do For Love’ by 10CC. Pam talked about leaving the NSW police force after 13 years, and ‘I fought the law and the law won’ by The Clash sprang to mind. I thought it was just me but then Pam started doing it to. Just as well there wasn’t a karaoke machine or we could have been there all night.

It was a real pleasure to address an audience of avid readers who ask intelligent questions. In response to one about the tipping point that led us to write fiction, Pam described how it wore down her spirit to be ‘constantly meeting people for the first time on the worst day of their lives’ when she worked for the police. Sulari said it was much the same for her before she left her job as a corporate lawyer to write full-time. By contrast, as a sexual health educator I was often meeting people when they were having the time of their lives, or at least planning to. I simply always wanted to write. I just had to have an interesting enough life first.

Kudos to Robin Bowles on her terrific chairing and the way she found commonalities — strong sense of place, unconventional heroes — in what appeared to me to be three quite distinct books. And thanks to the Sisters in Crime for their ongoing support for women crime writers in Australia. You girls rock!

Dengue Fever gig 1Speaking of rock, Saturday night found me, my partner Andrew Nette, old friend Tim Shaw and new friend Rosalie Ham at a Melbourne Festival event that brought together Dengue Fever and The Break.

Andrew discovered Dengue Fever when we were living in Cambodia in 2008 as a result of his research into the country’s vibrant pop music scene of the sixties and early seventies — see his articles here and here. Dengue Fever was formed in 2001 by Holtzman brothers Ethan and Zac after their visit to Cambodia. They recruited Cambodian karaoke chanteuse Chhom Nimol as lead singer, and released their first self-titled album in 2003.

Many of the tunes on this and their second album, Escape from Dragon House, were covers of 1960s Cambodian classics, such as ‘Have you seen my boyfriend?’ and ‘Wait Ten Months’ by Ros Sreysothea, both of which they performed on Saturday night at The Forum.

In 2005, Dengue Fever’s tour of Cambodia during Bon Om Thouk/Water Festival was made into the documentary Sleepwalking through the Mekong.

Dengue Fever’s third album, Venus on Earth was released in 2008 and features one of my favourite English language tracks, ‘Tiger Phone Card’, which they also performed on Saturday night in Melbourne (click Tiger Phone Card to listen to the song).

Dengue Fever’s fantastic mix of Californian psychedelia and Khmer pop sensibilities bridges a cultural divide in much the same way as the Cambodian music of the sixties did. In this sense, Dengue Fever has enabled this unique and dynamic musical tradition to continue to evolve, despite the brutal attempt by the Khmer Rouge to wipe it out: virtually none of the country’s popular stars survived the Khmer Rouge rule of 1975-79.

Dengue Fever’s music has appeared on TV and movie soundtracks, including Matt Dillon’s 2002 film City of Ghosts set in Cambodia. Incidentally, we crossed paths with Matt in 2008 when we all visited Chau Doc on the Mekong Delta. But I digress…

There was a feel-good vibe at Saturday night’s gig that made me want to grab a tambourine and join the band members on stage for a jam. Dengue Fever knows how to rock and looked relaxed about it. Chhmol Nimol’s big voice is belied by her small frame — there’s about a metre’s difference in height between her and base player Senon Williams — and she knows how to work a crowd. We met up friends who lived in Phnom Penh at the same time as us, and I reckon every groovy Cambodian-Australian in Melbourne was there, too.

It’s surely the sign of a quality gig when the support act is as good as the headliner. So it was with The Break. They played a rockin’, rollin’ surf of a set, showcasing material from their debut album Church of the Open Sky, together with classics such as ‘Miserlou’ — which Tim tells me was originally an Arabic wedding song — and Midnight Oil’s ‘Wedding Cake Island’ — which Tim says is the name of a rock off Coogee. He’s a fount of information is Tim.

Adding to the impact was a brilliant light show, filled with psychedelic lights and towering surf.

The Break is Rob Hirst, Jim McGinie and Martin Rotsey — all ex-Midnight Oil — and Brian Ritchie, ex-Violent Femmes, formerly of Milwaukee and now resident in Tasmania. See here for track samples. You can almost feel the salt spray on your face.

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
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5 Responses to My weekend of crime and Dengue Fever

  1. pmnewton says:

    Time we crime types had out own festival circuit I think, Angela. ONe that involves a band at the end of the night.

    Thanks for your great company last week. I had a blast. Hope to see you on a panel sometime somewhere in the not too distant.


  2. Pingback: Matt Dillon’s City of Ghosts: film as a time machine | Pulp Curry

  3. Pingback: Chasing Odysseus « Angela Savage

  4. Pingback: Literati Festival program « Angela Savage

  5. Pingback: Matt Dillon’s City of Ghosts: film as a time machine | Pulp Curry

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