One of the great hidden histories of international pop music is Cambodia’s psychedelic rock scene of the late 1960s. Before Pol Pot’s four-year reign of terror completely paralyzed its culture, the country was home to an enclave of groups who faithfully emulated the style of American one-nugget wonders while regionalizing the sound with distinctly Asian vocal melodies. A handful of scarcely annotated compilations have managed to document the past, but Los Angeles’ Dengue Fever aim to embody it in the present tense. This isn’t just a bunch of Western hipsters indulging in some obscure foreign fetish; organist Ethan Holtzman and his guitarist brother Zac loved the stuff they heard while visiting Cambodia so much they wanted to replicate it as authentically as possible — they even sought out a genuine Cambodian pop star to sing the tunes in her native Khmer. Originally, the group was content to mostly perform covers. On their sophomore record Escape From Dragon House, the band got more ambitious, writing all their own material. The elements that made their self-titled debut one of L.A.’s local gems are still present — swirling Farfisa organ, fuzz-covered guitars, squealing sax and singer Chhom Nimol’s haunting, high-pitched voice — only now played with heightened confidence, more muscle and slightly darker tones. Dengue Fever plays Tangier in Los Angeles on Feb. 23.
Tangier, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 666-8666