Underground, watch this space

UPDATED (25 September 2016): Overhauled this post.

It was in 2011 when a gig organizer told me in an interview about an organization called the UP Underground Music Community, whose gig series was initially meant to showcase bands from that group. It turns out that I had an encounter with some of their folk even before that, thanks largely to singer/songwriter nights when one or two of their members would play. But I did know a bit about Ang Bandang Shirley, one of their bigger acts.

During what I call the 2012 Research Intensive in Independent Music with music researcher Monika Schoop, I became aware of that generation of UP Underground members who would play a role in my life beyond music. There, I met some people whom I would consider inspirations and friends.

I cannot really claim to be an expert on who the UP Underground Music Community is, or what they are really about. I can only see the effects of the work they’ve fostered on me and on many others. However, I will speak about the three things they value as an organization, and how I have seen them lived out for myself.

The first is respect. It shows in how they acknowledge the diversity of each other’s music, interests, and personalities. It is clear in how they value time and make sure other people’s time is respected, especially in the way they organize their gigs.

As an excursus, I can surmise that the community, or at least some of them, are aware of the roles different people play in the music scene. As the literature notes, these roles are not only those of musicians and audiences. Their Shoot Lo-Fi competition incorporates the work of young filmmakers whose work has become vital in putting local music in newer contexts. And their extensive work as event and gig organizers puts them in another key place in any music scene.

Brotherhood, or to use a French word, fraternite, has to do with how they relate to each other within that community. The ties that form between different generations of members is noticeable. But I have also seen this as being a leaven for fostering camaraderie not only within their circles but also beyond, a force for making connections between people possible.

I placed music last because it is what stands out. Their relative diversity, given the resources to which they have access as musicians, is what has impressed me. From the indie pop sensibilities of Shirley, to the urban electronic work of Arigato, Hato, to the folk and new country-inspired sounds of Ourselves the Elves and The Sun Manager, and to many others I’ve seen or heard, they have been able to express some of their passions and stories, some of which resonate with my own.

As their anniversary approaches, I am grateful to them for being that place where I could see the nexus between art and friendship, as a force drawing people together. I was glad to visit UP Underground Music Community’s anniversary event last Saturday, 24 September 2016, and was once again reminded of how these values were lived out. It is my hope that they will continue to grow and thrive as their fifteenth full year begins.

Brief note: solitude 

Yesterday and today, I have been making plans to go on retreat. I have been meaning to for some time now, as I had not gone on one for five years. It will be longer as a result, and this will mean a huge radio silence from here.

The choice of date I had made reflected the desire to learn something I will need in the time to come. But most of all, I wanted to learn how to experience solitude, to be at peace with myself and with everything else. I also feel that the monastic in me would be better off being separated from all in order to be united to all, as the Desert Fathers and Mothers taught and lived. There is no fear of missing out when one believes that.

I have yet to get a final schedule for the retreat, so for now, we wait.

Coda to a long story

A year ago today, three videos were launched at Route 196, and here’s one of them:

Unstable – Autotelic from Alter The Native on Vimeo.

I will have more to say about the experience of making these videos and how it did force me to confront some things, but here’s a coda to this whole story.

Autotelic just released a music video for its single “Gising,” and it was launched nearly a year after the video posted above. It was a happy coincidence that the female lead in “Gising” happened to be a former member of Ballet Philippines and was in the same batch as the female lead in “Unstable,” Denise Parungao. When I told her about our role in the project, she told me that she had seen the video a large number of times. And when Autotelic, which happened to be playing at the time, broke into “Unstable,” we were trying to do our favorite steps from the first part of the video.

I’m actually glad someone watched this for the dancing.

*****

One thing we must put out there was that part of this reason the project came about was to let people know that, at the least, they need to understand the needs and concerns of loved ones confronting mental illness. Not long after we wrapped production, I saw that it hit close to home.

It is hard to talk about it publicly now, but I think it is safe to say that I discovered something about myself, found out how I could be helped, and more importantly, in fits and starts, discovered that there were a whole number of people who are ready to care, and yes, love, and that I can love and care for them too as I am able.

That’s all for now.

Brief note: a music video non-review 

I am glad that a band we know has run the gamut in terms of music video genres. They had the plain performance video, the concert footage video, the high concept video (which was a modern ballet) and now a narrative video centered on a romance.

The video is an interesting one to watch if one is familiar with the contours of one part of the music landscape. It is a good game to figure out the cameos in it, and the way the cameos go, they are much more fun than I anticipated. But I’ll say that the reason I am calling this note is a non-review is because the familiar, these days, is not worth commenting upon, if only for now.

The last thing I have to say is, thank you Karnabal Festival for introducing me to the comforting charms of Flying House.

Sliding doors and tribes

There is one film I barely remember for three things. It had a good concept that resonated with me at the time, it had the only Aqua song that was not utterly frivolous, and it had a homage to Monty Python that I first found cute and now find tiresome. I am talking about Sliding Doors. 

Late last night, that film came to mind as I was figuring out something, about what would happen if I chose one thing over the other. In an alternate universe, would I have been willing to give into my worst impulse and not be here typing this? Or would I have walked away, sad, probably learning a certain lesson in a painful way and becoming more bitter? Right now, I am here typing this, and making up my mind about where to go next. Earlier that day I realized that one step I would make, one choice, would literally take me in two different directions.

Just like the film.

I was brought to mind too of another more recent British import, Constellations, which Red Turnip Theater staged earlier this year. I wrote a review of it for a local website, but a few months on, the more interesting parts of it resonate with me. What interested me was not how the play tried to enact the premise that in the multiverse each line had an alternate version, but that in the end a few key points of decision mattered.

On a less weighty note, and because, pace a couple of old friends, I really do not have clones, I am about to make up my mind about a minor scheduling concern. It oddly enough concerns two different spheres, and, well, I do need to think about it again. Perhaps though a play about a deaf kid in a hearing family might shed as much, if not more insight into the nexus between art and friendships than the other option would. This, too, makes it more weighty than it seemed. This is, of course, overthinking.

Brief note: meaning making and the Cubism Family 

Tonight is Cubism’s tenth anniversary at Sessions, and my thoughts, oddly enough, turned to meaning making. It’s something I’ve seriously considered since the day my high school history teacher taught me about how history and interpretation were so clearly intertwined in the Tagalog word for it. This is not far from Hans Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur and what they had to say about our need, or capacity, to make sense. Of course, the thrill of how this all works out may have been why my favorite course in graduate school was an elective I took in introductory biblical hermeneutics. (One professor at the theology school warned me that my original choice, an Old Testament intro course, would have actually bored me to death. How perceptive he was!)

I do hope Stomachine’s first lead singer would guess why that fascinates me. We are all capable of telling stories and understanding them. But what matters more is what we make of those stories, and how we live that sense of them in our lives. There is a connection between the continuity and discontinuity of the narrated self and the responsibility that the ethical self bears.

So how does this tie in with the anniversary of a production? I will leave it for me to think about, but I suppose you’ve seen a key word in this post that gives away the game.

The last five years: Top 5 local songs

This is the first in a series of posts this week about something, more of which I will disclose over the coming days. Oddly enough, this is a coda to the Fete de la Musique experience I had on the 18th, as four of the acts whose songs I have on this list played there, three of them in the same stage.

My criteria are that, apart from the tunes being mostly well-crafted and obviously of local origin, these have personal resonance for me. Almost all of those in the top 5 (yes, I owe this concept to both High Fidelity and Filmspotting) and others in the “honorable mentions” list have been in and out of my personal music playlists over the years. The songs represent, in one way or another, landmarks in my own journey as an arts and culture writer.

5. “Para Sa Tao,” Humanfolk

My piece on the album on which this track appeared was the first music-related article I ever wrote. I discovered the band by sheer serendipity, as I happened to be in the area where MCA was having an afternoon press event launching the record. (It was too early for the Vinyl on Vinyl exhibit opening later that night.) It turned out to be a veritable super-band, and in a way tied together several strands of music that would emerge as those I would be following in later years. For example, the fusion jazz strand which Johnny Alegre represented would find contemporary resonances in the likes of Extrapolation or Farewell Fair Weather. Cynthia Alexander epitomized the singer-songwriter strand which I was already following in some way through the Folk U series. Malek Lopez, who worked on the album’s electronic beats, stood for the electronic and experimental music that would converge and diverge in such things as Fete de la WSK and the Buwan-Buwan Collective. Abby Clutario, the band’s keyboard player and vocalist on this track, was part of the burgeoning progressive music community that paved the way for instrumental rock–and through her partner Eric Tubon in Fuseboxx, a key musical act in the current landscape.

The whole album itself is interesting but the full lineup has never been together since that May 2011 launch, for which, I distinctly recall, I had to contact my editor in utter excitement. These days, Clutario and Alegre are still together in Humanfolk, along with a newer lineup of musicians.

4. “There’s a Lonely Road to Sunday Night,” Ciudad

I was making up my mind between whether to include this track or Mikey Amistoso’s solo project Hannah+Gabi’s “Waiting for the Rainfall,” which is also a personal favorite (and an honorable mention), but if 2012 marked anything, it was the year when music helped me, in a big way, to get into independent film. This is the second single from the soundtrack to Marie Jamora’s film Ang Nawawala. I recently had a brief discussion about its impact with another writer and producer on the sidelines of a Red Turnip event, and we agreed that in a way this did lead others to local independent cinema in a big way. It was a film that had little to do with the kind that was often being touted as the standard aesthetic of what had gone before. But what counted was how it used music in a compelling way, something which other films here had done. What Ang Nawawala used in that memorable way was a musical palette that straddled generations, with Tagalog folk tunes sitting alongside Tarsius’s “Deathless Gods.”

On a bit of trivia, the song “Jonestown” by the Strangeness, which appeared on the said film’s soundtrack, became the closing credits tune for Dodo Dayao’s Violator, a rare instance of a song appearing in two non-studio films. I mention Violator because, well, I think viewers of the film already know.

3. “Misteryoso,” Autotelic

It was in November 2012 that a few Twitter users I followed were raving about this new band that featured, among others, Maya’s Anklet lead guitarist and composer Josh Villena and Fuseboxx’s keyboard/keytar player and composer Eric Tubon. “Misteryoso” was the first song Villena wrote for the band, whose name means “self-fulfilling” in Greek.

This is not the place to describe how big the band has become since then. This is about the time I skipped a gig of theirs to visit a Buwan-Buwan Collective night at a club called Purgatory, back in May 2013. Before dropping by, I had dinner at McDonald’s near Greenbelt, and my table happened to be across that of a woman who was not only physically attractive but was, memorably, using a computer a wee bit smaller than a netbook. I took note of her for a few minutes before she left. It then hit home that what Villena wrote about in “Misteryoso” was precisely the experience I had, and I told the band’s drummer Gep Macadaeg about it.

The version I prefer is the EP version from April 2013, a seven-minute tour de force that includes Eric Tubon’s synth intro. It reminds me that before “Dahilan” and “Laro,” the early contours of the band’s sound were partly shaped by someone who had a flair for the memorably grand keyboard hook, and since then Autotelic has found other interesting ways to reel listeners in.

Another honorable mention is another Autotelic song, “Unstable,” which is the second song Villena composed. It was used in the 2015 film project Where the Light Settles. The band played this, “Misteryoso,” “Laro,” and “Dahilan” last Fete de la Musique at the indie stage, where they have been playing since 2014.

2. “Nakauwi Na,” Ang Bandang Shirley

This song has been in my consciousness before I started writing about music, when I would drop by a Meiday gig or two to catch Outerhope and then hear Shirley end their sets there with this tune, composed by Ean Aguila. This was before I later learned that the best way to enjoy the tune live was to dance to it with a group of people while trying to shout along.

In an interview I did for the now defunct site pindiemusic, I asked Aguila about the story of this song. He explained that he wrote it for a woman he was dating up there, and it consisted, lyrically, of lines from their conversations he remembered. He and Shirley lead vocalist Owel Alvero went up to Cagayan to serenade her with the song. Sometime after, I asked him in person how that went, and he merely gave me a big smile. Read into that what you will.

Ian Urrutia of Vandals on the Wall noted their performance of it at Fete de la Musique’s indie stage as one of the night’s most memorable in a piece he wrote for The Philippine Star. The crowd’s reaction, as he described it, is the reaction I will always associate with the song. As I would put it, it is energetic singing and dancing from a crowd that shares the song’s sentiments about love and finding home in a loved one.

1. “In Darkness,” The Sun Manager

The first time I heard the song was in March 2014, when I was invited to catch the third Songs from a Room gig here in Manila, but April Hernandez and her musical work was not quite unknown. The last two acts I list here are both from the UP Underground Music Community, a group whose musical and personal imprint I felt the most in the last five years. April played for at least two of their bands. But it was her solo project, a Folk U performer twice over (talk about it being life-changing!) was what turned out to be the most memorable, and personally resonant.

It may help to note that in May 2012, I asked Bob Lyren and Jesse Grinter to play the song “We Walk the Same Line” by Everything But The Girl from their 1994 record Amplified Heart on their Lost in Translation radio show on Jam 88.3. It was my birthday, and I remember hearing it as I was about to board the train to Makati. The song’s refrain had a lyric, “If it’s dark, baby/there’s a light I’ll shine.” It was yet another lyric that echoed, in a way, a line from one of my favorite passages from the Bible:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – Jn. 1:5 (NRSV)

Two years later, April performed that song, and again I heard those resonances. But it spoke more to me at that time when I was on the verge of gaining yet another second chance on life, a few months later. And in November 2014, I was speaking with someone with whom I would be working on a project, and when I listened to her story, the opening chords of “In Darkness” echoed in my head. That was when I believe Where the Light Settles was born.

“In Darkness” was one of those songs that made it past Jam 88.3’s Fresh Filter poll in its first week and, at one point, made it to the top three in the Ten Top Tracks on that station. But if you ask me, it is right up there with the small list of songs that changed my life. Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is one of them. Arnel Aquino’s setting of Psalm 116, “I Love the Lord,” is still another. What they all have in common is that, in ways explicit or otherwise, they remind me of that profundity which I hope I will be able to spend the rest of my life reflecting upon, and handing on to others.

Here are some other honorable mentions, with a brief summary of reasons:

  1. Kate Torralba’s “Northfleet” (and why Folk U changed my life)
  2. Fando and Lis’s “Sapat Na” (ditto)
  3. Stomachine’s “Your Turn” (and its connection to Paul Ricoeur)
  4. Ang Bandang Shirley’s “Di Na Babalik” (also an Ang Nawawala song)
  5. Up Dharma Down’s “Turn It Well” and the next three tracks of Capacities (that song reminded me most of the visual arts scene)
  6. Maya’s Anklet’s “Kung Alam Ko Lang” (a beautiful song about relationships in crisis)
  7. Farewell Fair Weather’s “Rough Skies” and “Sakali” (the latter being their most potent song)
  8. Outerhope’s “Lost Year” (a reflection on nostalgia which impressed me at that time)
  9. The Purplechickens’ “Dayami” (a song whose opening chords continue to give me the goosebumps)
  10. Cheats’ “Accidents” (a power pop tune that got me hooked since I first heard it)
  11. Kai Honasan’s “Ngayong Gabi” (one of the best things about her 2014 EP)

Honestly, I would have to come up with a top 50 of my own at this rate!