To write about a favourite bar – even a popular one – is quite a personal act. It’s hard to be objective, because most of the hard facts simply aren’t about what it is that is created, and what it is that either exists or ceases to exist. The fixtures and fittings are stripped away, the rosters and the procedures and the finances evaporate, and what is left is memory, emotions, anecdotes, bonds. Experiences, as I wrote somewhere else, are the only things we truly own.
I met Equinox over five years ago. I can’t be sure, but I think the very first time was the bar’s fourth birthday party, on the 15th January 2010, when one of the crazy chaotic-first-month versions of the Cambodian Space Project played. The late lamented Los Poporks played first. In those days the stage spilled out onto the street, and the audience blocked the traffic. It was thought of as a “French place”. There was a tiny bar upstairs where somehow social swing dancing was held every Thursday on a dance floor with all the space of a tuk-tuk.
Something of a boom in the expat music scene started that year, with many bands and venues rising and falling, and Equinox caught the wave and occasionally surfed in advance of it. Sound-proofing was developed to overcome neighbour problems. Walls were removed, and the stage pushed back – twice – to make a dance floor on which the swing dancers could properly twist and strut, that could be packed solid by the likes of Durian and Grass Snake Union, culminating in the world domination policy of Dub Addiction. Many a Space Project tour was bookended by farewell and welcome back shows.
All things must pass, and in some ways it is more surprising that such a place as Equinox was able to survive so long in the face of such changes in the Phnom Penh social, cultural, economic environment. Audiences change, scenes morph, even as we rage against the dying of the light.
We – the audiences, the musicians – will remember the accumulated beats and squeals and howls that the walls and floors absorbed, the sweat and the spillages and the shouts, hoots, and hollering, Marco’s enduring passion for the music, Anthony’s dedication to constant improvement and improvised maintenance, the staff who smiled and laughed and remembered what we ordered.
I remember the night the Cambodian Space Project broke the electricity system, Los Poporks doing a mindblowing medley of Take Five and Whole Lotta Love, the night of Los Cambodian Space Pirates. I remember Chhan Dina’s first exhibition. I remember WASH and Scoddy & the Quality Drops (both versions) and the mighty Moi Tiet and the intimate Expresso Thmei. I remember TJ’s farewell gig with Grass Snake Union, after which I wrote these words:
when the sweat has chilled,
and the applause evaporated,
the salty tang of the memories remain,
stained into the lives of those for whom
it meant something.
moment upon moment,
what more can we ask?
rock me, mamma, moi tiet, moi tiet,
Everything historically seems to change quickly in Phnom Penh.