Record Store Aims to Revive Cambodia’s Pop Past

The first record store in the country since the Khmer Rouge-era to specialize in Southeast Asian vinyl has opened in Kampot City, stocking a selection of psychedelic records in an effort to spur a 1960s pop revival.

“There’s nothing like sitting back in Kampot and dropping that needle and hearing the songs of Cambodia’s past,” said Julien Poulson, the director of Sun Ra Space Bar, which is housed in the Kampot Arts & Music Association building.

With about 100 records in stock, the part-time vinyl shop is named in homage to Sun Ra, the prolific American jazz composer and space-pop pioneer.

Mr. Poulson—an Australian who has lived in Cambodia since 2009— is most known as a guitarist for the Cambodian Space Project. The throwback psychedelic pop group released their first album “I’m Unsatisfied” on vinyl in 2010.

“When we released our own 45 rpm, we realized it was the first Cambodian vinyl printed since Pol Pot, when the Cambodian culture itself was targeted,” he said.

Artists such as Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea led a thriving psychedelic music scene in Cambodia in the 1960s, influenced by the jangly rock and soul broadcast by U.S. forces’ radio in Vietnam.

And until now, Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center housed the only collection of Cambodian vinyl available to the public. Since 2006, about 1,100 songs in its collection have been digitized, according Chea Sopheap, the center’s deputy director.

Many of the records at Bophana Center are scratched or broken.

“Only some survived the Khmer Rouge. Some survived overseas,” Mr. Sopheap said.

But listening to music through antiquated technology has always been important to Mr. Poulson.

“A vinyl album is a piece of artwork. For me, growing up, an album needed to be the whole package: the artwork, the music, the liner notes,” he said.

He said he saw the importance of accessibility to the music of both the past and present on vinyl when Srey Channthy, lead singer of Cambodian Space Project, took a copy of the band’s record to her hometown.

“Channty took the LP back to her mother in the village and her mother pored over it for hours, holding the record and looking at the album art and liner notes,” he said.

“Channthy’s mother said she recognized it as something special from before the civil war.”

However, Mr. Poulson said almost no young Cambodians would recognize a record if they saw one.

“If I walked down the street with a vinyl [record] in my hands, someone would probably try to chop vegetables on it,” he quipped.

The inspiration to open a record store in Kampot came, Mr. Poulson said, on a band tour to Indonesia during which he found stacks of record bins filled with retro albums.

“Our friends from [Indonesian] 60s revival group White Shoes & the Couples Company directed us to Jalan Surabaya and other wonderful vinyl flea markets,” he said.

The Kampot record store, which opened last week, also houses a listening lounge accessible to the public.

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