The time is 1 am. Manila has long made the transition from bustling metropolis by day, to sleazy haven for creatures of the night. While most of us might be sound asleep, some are just about to come alive. But go beyond the bourgeois youth who frequent posh clubs after school, or party animals looking for a shot of adrenaline in the form of a Friday night rave, and you’ll discover an incredibly underrated scene unlike any other.
High times underground
Welcome to the generation of Indie music. Where beers are served like hotcakes, eardrums burst within minutes of confinement, and the future of OPM do their final tuning as they wait for their turn on the stage—or most of the time, wherever the bar placed the instruments.
Places like Saguijo, Route 196, and The Collective serve as breeding grounds for these aspiring artists, as they open for more well-established Pinoy bands such as Spongecola, Franco, and Up Dharma Down, who, even being known commodities of the OPM scene by now, still get their kicks playing with and for the growing youth movement in our music industry.
It’s 2 am now and the crowd is far from ready to die down. You see them dressed in flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and beaten-up Converse shoes. These people live for the feeling of being in the middle of a mosh pit while they belt their monotone hearts out, dripping in each other’s sweat. They are all bobbing their heads to the beat with a San Mig bottle in hand and the smell of nicotine faint in the air, as the night unfolds, bassline by bassline. Frustrated artists, photographers, groupies, and other people from all walks of life are united by one common denominator– music.
It was around two years ago when they told us that it only had a few months to live. We didn’t believe a single word because there was nothing to be worried about. Rico Blanco was still doing something and Gloc-9 was ushering a new brand of street sound. We’re fine.
Then the Korean invasion began, and we tried to convince ourselves it was just a phase. Sandara Park was ours first, right? Next came the lively vibrations of Bossa Nova. It was a refreshing sound up until they made every song sound exactly the same. We were barely holding on, until they introduced us to this young lad named Daniel Padilla. It was safe to assume that our era was going into creative limbo.
But then UDD released a new album, Ely Buendia reintroduced us to grandpa rakenrol with the Oktaves, and most importantly, the kids who grew up during the golden age of Filipino music have now began bringing it back, one local bar gig at a time.
A farewell to charms
If you take a look at the early 2000s chart toppers, it seemed like we were creating our artists inside a conveyer belt filled with sugar, spice and everything pop. Balladeers such as Christian Bautista, Erik Santos, and Sarah Geronimo ruled the airwaves, all of whom got their start by delivering amazing performances of well-loved classics. But our fondness with reminiscing became a very unhealthy obsession to the past, and we all know that clinging to yesterday does no one any good.
It began with singing contests that sprouted numerous singers who more often than not looked, acted, and sounded the same, and ultimately sang the same songs as well. But we can’t blame the bigwigs for what they were selling; it was us who kept buying. It was a marketing formula of re-packaging the best parts of each product. Compilation albums dominated music stores, with Balladeers collecting their best songs to cash-in one last time on our love for romance. Cover albums peaked as new acts started joining the trend by releasing their own twist to beloved Eheads and Rivermaya hits, and finally we reached the year that guitar slingers made every song an acoustic version.
Inspiration became repetition, which led to up-and-coming bands opting to play crowd favorites rather than gambling on their own sound. But as the generation grew up, we grew fond of rebellion, to be set apart from the herd. We craved not to be different, but to belong in a whole different category.
In a country where most of us look for instant success through mainstream channels, booming in the local music scene can be a tedious task, which is why student-bands who are able to juggle academics and music while on a college budget deserve all the recognition that they can get. Fortunately, with the ease of technology, things that are usually done in studios can now be done within the confines of your own home.
Take your cue from Attic Wench, a budding rock band composed of four students from the College of Saint Benilde. Fueled by hard work, passion, friendship, and a whole lot of pizza, they have surely come a long way from just practicing in a, well, attic. But to “make it” isn’t an easy ascent, and one cannot just wait for opportunities to present themselves. “You will have to bring yourself to the scene to make a name for yourself,” the band claims. “You have to book gigs yourself and talk to a lot of different production managers.” Additionally, they share that a good understanding of the community and a few connections wouldn’t hurt.
They have since been able to land gigs at Saguijo, Route 196, and B-Side—even playing alongside OPM staple Up Dharma Down. Together with other young bloods such as The Ransom Collective, She’s Only Sixteen, The Cheats, Never The Strangers, Maude, (and so much more) they are slowly redefining the sound of Filipino music as we know it.
Oh, the places you’ll go
With bars scattered around the city, there’s no excuse not to dive into the underground movement. Reggae fan? Head on over to Irie Sundays at B-Side. Want to mingle with fellow millennials amidst a variety of genres? Route 196 and 12 Monkeys could be your go-to destination. Or maybe you want something with more artsy feels? Saguijo also houses a thrift store and a gallery along the thousands of foodtrip-worthy restaurants. Looking to treat your ears to some beats and jazz? Today X Future it is, babydoll. Even those who want something a little more on the wild side can have the numerous DJ acts spinning every night at Black Market, which claims to generate the “best noise in the city.” Whatever your taste, you are bound to find a place that fits your palate.
Gone are the days when people refused to patronize OPM in fears of being called “baduy”. Contrary to what most people think, local music was never lost or dead. It was simply unexposed. Major labels usually produce novelty bands that appeal only to the masses, or they force raw talents into “selling out” for the trends, which explains why independent music is steadily rising. But watching these artists deconstruct their thoughts and sentiments through their performances on makeshift stages, one thing is for sure: they love what they do, and it’s hard not to love that.
The beauty of it is that a band can sing a song to a crowd of 50 people and they’ll sing it back for 5,000 different reasons. Live music is a celebration of life, passion, and cheap beer, and there is no doubt that the party is far from over here in MNL.