A New Kind of Rock Attracts Hordes to the Angkor Temples

angkor, Siem Reap province – One thousand had tickets but many more showed up Sunday night in Siem Reap, hoping to get a glimpse and an earful of the first ever rock concert to be held at the ancient temples of Angkor.

The event, organized by MTV and USAID to raise awareness about human trafficking, features Cam­bodian and international art­ists, ending on a 40-minute set by British alternative trio Placebo, arguably the biggest rock band to ever play in Cambodia.

Before the concert, packed tuk-tuks filed into Angkor National Park while ticket-less music fans begged bouncers to let them in.

“I have lived here three years. I have never seen this…. It’s a major event; you can’t miss it,” said Sabien Lesecq, an expatriate concertgoer who was, like many others, excited to see Placebo perform.

However, Cambodian youths at the concert seemed more enthusiastic about seeing the American band Click Five.

“I’m so excited; it’s a big concert in Cambodia,” said Borin You, 20, who added that he was attending his first rock concert.

Messages from the artists, speeches and videos were to be pre­sented between performances and volunteers canvassing the crowd educated the audience on human trafficking issues.

“The fact that you have so many people in one spot at one time is fairly unique in Cambodia. I think that shows the message is getting across,” said Steve Morrish, executive director of SISHA, an anti-trafficking NGO associated with the event.

The goal of the concert was to educate people on how not to get into situations where they could be trafficked, for instance by thoroughly researching offers to work abroad, and to remove the stigma put on vic­tims of trafficking, Morr­ish said.

The government has grown more aware and more pro­active in fighting human trafficking, but the country’s growing openness to the world also brings more traffickers and sex tourists, he said.

The Angkor Wat concert, the third of four in the MTV Exit tour, stands out as the most intimate because the setting of the fragile temples forced organizers to limit the size of the audience.

About 1,000 free tickets were distributed for the Angkor Wat show to populations vulnerable to human trafficking selected by NGOs and universities, and also via lottery, MTV Exit campaign director Si­mon Goff said. By contrast, there were in previous concerts 30,000 listeners in Kompong Cham and 10,000 in Sihanoukville, he said. For those who couldn’t make it to the concerts, excerpts will be shown in a 90-minute program to be shown on Bayon TV later this month, Goff added.

The smaller scale of the show and sacred surroundings inspired the artists to rethink their music.

“I’ve chosen songs that are more appropriate for a temple, so there’s no swearing or anything like that,” said Australian singer Kate Miller-Heidke. She rearranged her usual pop to an acoustic sound, including a surprising cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

Cambodian artist Pou Khlaing chose not to adapt the volume, but the message to the audience, em­phasizing Khmer culture and the empowerment of the Cambo­dian people. In “Save The Khmer Music,” he pleaded for Cambodian musicians to write original music rather than translate foreign hits.

“We have everything. We have our own language, we have our own culture, beautiful Angkor and everything. We don’t use it,” Pou Khlaing said.

But Placebo appeared to be more aggressive in picking their setlist, working in the studio to strip their classic songs to the bare bones of melody and reinventing the instrumentation.

“We’ve kind of created a new sound for us specifically for this performance. It may not be repeated. We love noise; we love massive, massive walls of sound, three guitars going crazy. We didn’t think this was going to be appropriate for this,” said Placebo lead singer Brian Molko.

Though Placebo will not be playing, massive walls of sounds will most likely be heard Friday when the tour culminates in front of an expected 50,000-strong crowd at Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh.

“The Phnom Penh show is a completely different set, completely different show,” said Click Five drummer Joey Zehr. “I think it’s nice to give two different experiences in Cambodia.”

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