Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happiness in a record store

Tuesday, February 03, 2009
By Paul John Caña 
Happiness in a record store 

On a recent trip to Singapore, I found myself wandering inside two of the biggest record store chains in these parts: HMV and Gramophone. Kids these days probably don’t even know what the inside of an honest-to-goodness record store looks like; they get their music from downloading off the Internet, or worse, buying the discs from their friendly neighborhood pirata. Which is too bad, because there’s something truly special about going inside a record store, combing the shelves and breathing in the aroma of records in their gleaming jewel cases.

Here in Manila, the record-browsing-and-buying experience is all but lost. The once mighty and proud Tower Records chain declared bankruptcy three years ago, leaving its local branches (now operating under the name Music One) merely a shadow of their former selves. Music nerds rejoiced when the chain first opened its sprawling, three-storey store in Glorietta mall more than a decade ago. More than the relatively good selection of music, what I thought was really groundbreaking was the fact that the store employed knowledgeable music buffs as attendants. Finally, record hunters weren’t met with blank stares and clueless responses to legitimate music queries. Those really were the days.

But all good things must come to an end. By now, most people hardly ever venture out of their rooms to get their music fix. Music downloading sites and software make searching for and procuring music as easy as grabbing a sandwich over lunch. The huge record stores are now a fourth or fifth of their size, or worse, have shut down permanently. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, but browsing through those shelves at Gramophone in Singapore, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of nostalgia—and good luck—for finding a few choice gems that were relatively cheaper than if I had bought them here in Manila. There is something truly special about holding a piece of music you really like in your hand, tangible and real. Perhaps this isn’t the proper time to debate the merits or disadvantages of the evolution of how we consume music, but one thing’s for sure—I sure miss spending those long Saturday afternoons just checking out the merchandise inside a record store.

Rockeoke therapy

Rockeoke therapy
Be a rock star live and onstage for the length of a song
By Paul John Caña, Contributor 
The concept is simple enough and not exactly revolutionary: have people loaded with panache and self-confidence (and perhaps a bit of alcohol) and sing in front of a crowded bar.

Only instead of staring at a two-dimensional TV screen with images of bikini-clad girls frolicking on the beach and song lyrics at the bottom that either change color or have a bouncing ball on top following the rhythm of the song, you face the crowd and sing with a real live band behind you. That’s what happens at Mag:Net Bar in Bonifacio High Street Monday nights, a fresh, inventive take on the ubiquitous karaoke and “videoke” its progenitors have dubbed “rockeoke.”

Yes, I know it’s been going on for quite a while now; it’s been written and blogged about like crazy and countless performances have been uploaded on YouTube and Multiply. But it was only recently that I personally got to try out what the fuss was all about.

First off, if you are planning a Monday night sojourn to this corner of Taguig, it’d be wise to make a reservation. Apparently, Rockeoke has gotten so big that Mag:Net fills up quicker than a motel on Valentine’s Day. The evening my friends and I went, there were zero seats available. Even the bar stools were marked “Reserved.” Spending the entire night sipping our cerveza standing up wasn’t exactly an appealing thought, so we chose to suspend our rock star dreams for another night.

That evening came exactly one week later. Armed with a reservation a friend made at one o’clock one weekday morning, we planted our behinds at a strategic table in the middle of the bar: close enough to check out the action onstage, not so close that we’d suffer from nosebleeds and shattered eardrums. Hosts JC Medina and Gabe Mercado (Ok ka ba tiyan?) were entertaining enough with their slick, deadpan humor, particularly Mercado, but the evening was about the would-be rock stars, and soon, I found myself submitting my name to the hosts and waiting for my turn on the spotlight.

Depending on your level of confidence (and again, your alcohol content), you’re either pumped up and ready to go, or you’re wringing your hands white in nervousness and dread. To stand up and speak in front of a crowd is bad enough, but to be expected to sing takes the thrill to a whole other level. You wonder how genuine performers and rock stars do it, and then it hits you: yes, this is as close as you’ll ever get to living out your rock star dreams. In my case, I was somewhere in the middle. I was a bit nervous, but singing Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” onstage backed up by a band in front of a crowd is in my life’s to-do list, so I knew what I was getting into.

The lights helped a bit; they’re bright so I didn’t get to examine the crowd enough to make me self-conscious. Then the band started and I just let go. A hundred private sing-along sessions in my car or in front of the bathroom mirror and there I was doing it for real in front of a generally appreciative audience. I’m no Chris Cornell or Chris Carabba in the vocals department, but I thought I did pretty all right. Not as great as the guy who belted out “Born To Be Wild” with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of Red Horse in the other, but definitely better than the loser who prefaced his version of “To Be With You” by saying, “I’ve had a bad day so bear with me.”

Afterwards I got high-fives and smiles of encouragement from perfect strangers sitting in front. Rockeoke took the edge off a hectic workday and made me loosen up. I daresay it’s therapeutic, even for that dude who said he had a bad day. Maybe five minutes of letting out your inner Robert Smith, Brandon Flowers or Alanis Morrissette will save you thousands of pesos in therapy later on.

Year’s best

Tuesday, December 30, 2008
By Paul John Caña 
Year’s best

Anybody who comes out with a best-of-list in music for the year is just begging for major nitpicking and criticism from self-proclaimed music fanatics. But no one will dispute the fact that, despite the general slump in music sales worldwide, 2008 was a fantastic year for music, especially OPM. So in the interest of stoking the fires of debate (and at the risk of being on the receiving end of some mudslinging and eyebrow-raising), I present this space’s list of the top albums churned out by local music stalwarts in 2008 (in no particular order):
1. Bipolar by UpDharmaDown—As if people needed a reason to prove “Fragmented” wasn’t a fluke. But if there was any band who completely ignored, even demolished the so-called sophomore slump, Armi and co. are it. At times sensuous and energetic, hyperactive and laidback, “Bipolar” is the must-have OPM record of the year.
2. Self Titled by Itchyworms—While other bands’ humor and schtick become hackneyed after a couple of outings, the well of “intellectual idiocy” (if there is such a thing) and spontaneous, genre-defying, finger-snapping happy music of Itchyworms is far from dried up. If “Freak Out Baby” doesn’t make you bob your head and make you believe that Manila sound is alive and well decades after it supposedly died out, nothing will.
3. Your Universe by Rico Blanco—Much has been said about Blanco and his storied career with Rivermaya, but now that he’s ventured off into the unknown of a solo career, the genius is more pronounced, the accolades are more deserved. Led by explosive single “Yugto” and the heartbreakingly tender “Your Universe,” the album gives us an intriguing glimpse into the head of one of OPM’s most inspired artisans.
4. Marks The Spot by Sandwich—Hard to believe Sandwich is a decade old this year, but with the way they’re unleashing onto the world their brand of unapologetic Pinoy pop-rock, they might as well be fresh-faced newbies with untapped talent bubbling under their hairdos. “Betamax” is hands-down one of the best singles of the year.
5. Villains by Wolfgang—Just in time for the holidays, the original bad boys of Filipino rock/metal have regrouped and released a classic Wolfgang record. Straight-edged, uninhibited and all-business, could “Villains” signal the much-awaited comeback of the superstar grouping of Basti Artadi, Manuel Legarda and Mon Legaspi (with Francis Aquino filling in for Wolf Gemora)? We’ll have to wait and see.
6. Pocket Guide To The Otherworld by The Camerawalls—From the ashes of the dissolved Orange and Lemons rose the phoenix that is The Camerawalls. Delivering the year’s best indiepop record, Clementine and his cohorts are carrying the torch of pure, unadulterated indiepop music, and here’s hoping we hear more from them in the coming year.
7. Shinji Ilabas Mo Na Ang Helicopter by Pedicab—There’s no denying the strange, hypnotic appeal of the single “Ang Pusa Mo,” but there’re more gems to uncover in the boys’ irreverent, dance punk-posturings on their second album. Amid the humor and wit, Raimund Marasigan and his mates continue to make themselves relevant, appealing and fun.
8. Endings of A New Kind by Taken By Cars—You either hate them or you love them, but, “Uh Oh,” there’s no stopping Sarah Marco and her boys from staking their claim as arguably the hippest band in town. Part dance, part punk, part everything, “Endings . . . ” is without a doubt, all cool.
9. Reasons For Unrest by Intolerant—Missing a little muscle in your annual music haul? Intolerant supplies the kick in your otherwise smooth aural assembly. All those glowing reviews from international press can’t be wrong; Joey Dizon and co. finally release the definitive OPM metal record in years.
10. The Peel Sessions by Prank Sinatra— I considered a lot of other albums for this 10th and final spot of the year’s best (The Dawn, Rivermaya, Ciudad, Ang Bandang Shirley and Bayang Barrios all put out equally strong releases this year), but Iman Leonardo (a.k.a. Prank Sinatra)’s collection of lo-fi, acoustic musings on life and living is noteworthy for its simplicity, honesty and the fact that it’s yet another DIY effort. Kudos to Leonardo for sticking to his guns and producing music he truly believes in despite the incredible odds. It doesn’t take an insider or a critic to determine that that’s really what creating and sharing music is all about. Happy holidays everyone!

Where the Beatles ‘Grew Up’

Tuesday, August 04, 2009
By Paul John Caña 
Where the Beatles ‘Grew Up’

HAMBURG is the third busiest port in the world. But that’s not all this city in northern Germany is famous for. The culture and arts scene is thriving here, as is classical and contemporary music. In fact, not many people know that it is here in Hamburg that The Beatles first earned their stripes as a performing group, way before they hit the big time.

Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best first arrived in the red light district of Saint Pauli on Reeparbahn in 1960. Their booking agent Allan Williams sent them here after an earlier group he managed became successful. There were initial hesitations from the group about accepting the overseas gig, but the opportunity to hone their performance skills in front of a lively and international audience, plus the substantial income convinced them to pack their bags and move here.

The Beatles played in bars like the Indra Club and Kaiserkeller, steadily gaining an audience with their brand of music. They lived in squalid conditions in the beginning; sleeping in a room behind the screen of a cinema and right next to the ladies’ restroom. But the group persisted. There are many stories of barroom brawls and various hi-jinks that the band members got themselves into, but undoubtedly, it was their musical skills that earned them increasingly good reviews from Reeperbahn regulars. All in all they played about 800 hours of live music in Hamburg from 1960 to December 1962. Lennon famously said, “I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.”

Today there is a Beatles memorial that stands in the Reeperbahn district, almost unobtrusive amidst all the flashing neon lights and scores of people that frequent the place. There are five figures in the memorial that represents the members: Stuart Sutcliffe stands to one side, and the drummer figure is a hybrid of Pete Best (who played with the band during most of the Hamburg years) and Ringo Starr. A new Beatles Museum also opened earlier this year, collecting various memorabilia and informing visitors the story of arguably the greatest rock and roll bands in history. A giant inflatable yellow submarine sticks out in front of the museum.

I went down to see the memorial this weekend and am planning to check out the museum soon. For any Beatles fanatic, a stop here in Hamburg to pay tribute to the band is definitely a must.

Snow in Hamburg

Snow in Hamburg
Irish-Scottish band Snow Patrol plays at the heart of beer country
By Paul John Caña, Contributor 

When I found out that Snow Patrol was having a show here in Hamburg, I knew I had to be there. Financial resources were limited and time was short, but I knew I had to at least hear Gary Lightbody’s voice live, even if I couldn’t see him in the flesh.

I arrived with a friend at the venue, the open air Stadtark Freilichtbruhne, at a few minutes past 8 p.m. Already, I could hear Lightbody’s unmistakable wailings wafting through the crisp summer air. Upon the advise of several German friends, we tried showing our press IDs at the gate in the hopes of being granted entrance.

Unfortunately, we were shutout as we needed to be on a pre-approved media list. Outside, my friend and I contemplated our fate and tried to decide what to do next.

This German guy suddenly comes up to us and tries to sell us two tickets for the show at the regular ticket price: 36.60 euros (roughly P2,500). The show had already started and we figured the price was too high so we said no. We noticed the guy try to sell the tickets to somebody else, and saw they didn’t bite also. The guy then came back to us and tries to sell us the tickets for 20 euros (about P1540). My friend and I looked at each other and thought it was still too pricey. Then the guy suddenly told us, “Okay Merry Christmas” then shoves the tickets in our hands. We were too stunned to say anything but “Are you serious?” But then the guy was already making his way inside. I tried to drag my feet out from being plastered to the street and we finally went inside. Talk about being lucky.

The Stadtpark is a cozy little open-air amphitheater bounded by tall hedges on all sides and the stage in front. The venue was packed as we slowly made ourselves in. Men and women were lugging their beers around and chugging them while singing along to the band. Onstage, vocalist and guitarist Lightbody, guitarist Nathan Connolly, bass player Paul Wilson, drummer Jonny Quinn and keyboardist Tom Simpson were already pumped up, trying to work the crowd. Unfortunately, except for a few pockets of slightly inebriated Hamburgers (the people, not the sandwich), the crowd was mostly quiet, clapping politely and throwing the occasional whoops of approval. It is in this respect that I felt proud of us Pinoys as concertgoers: we always know how to “make some noise” and give it up to make bands and artists feel special and welcome.

Despite the slightly better than tepid response from the crowd, the band put on a decent performance. While I am not exactly an expert in the whole Snow Patrol discography, I felt appreciative of the fact that they performed many of the songs that I was familiar with: “Open Your Eyes,” “Run,” “Take Back the City,” “Hands Open,” “Make This Go On Forever,” “You’re All I Have,” and of course arguably their biggest hit (at least in syrupy-songs obsessed Manila) “Chasing Cars.” With couples embracing and kissing and everyone singing along to the song that proved to be a definite highlight of the show.

Throughout, Lightbody kept making cracks about the gigantic balloons shaped like beer bottles on either side of the stage. Beer was freely sold inside by guys wearing backpacks that dispensed the spirit onto plastic cups. One guy was also going around the crowd selling pastries in a huge breadbasket. The singer noted that it was hard not to notice the basket floating around the mostly blond heads of the audience.

The band performed five encores, much to the audience’s delight. Lightbody’s voice is exactly as it is on the record: commanding and gentle, provocative and sweet. Besides the anemic audience response, I thought it was still a fantastic show. I suppose you can put a price tag on the experience of seeing a concert by a band you like in a European city, but to see one unexpectedly without shelling out a single cent (euro or otherwise), that’s priceless.

The 10 best OPM albums of 2009

The 10 best OPM albums of 2009

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By Paul John Caña Contributor
Despite the almost obscene slump in sales worldwide of traditional recorded music, you have to hand it to our local artists: they’re still churning out pretty great music. 2009 was a great year for OPM. Not even counting the slew of sold-out concerts by Sunday musical variety show staples, the year was marked by releases from hardened veterans, scene regulars and explosive upstarts. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But for this observer constantly bombarded with music on all fronts, these are the albums that stood out this year (in random order):
1. Chicosci—Fly Black Hearts

Fans of pop-punk continue to get their thrills from Miggy and company, and this latest album clearly gives the “vampires” their fill. Forceful grooves, head-banging beats and show stopping vocals from frontman Chavez, it’s a sonic assault that’s easily one of the band’s best works. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from Chicosci and more.

2. Archipelago—Travel Advisory

Yan Yuzon breaks out of co-Pupil Ely Buendia’s shadow and fronts a fresh breath of OPM air. The guitar work on “Travel Advisory” is reminiscent of Brit pop-rock cool, but the writing and overall flair the band gives off is unmistakably Pinoy. Nothing too heavy and certainly nothing lightweight, the songs would work as the soundtrack to a long transnational flight or a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive.

3. Outerhope—A Day For The Absent

“Strangely Paired” introduced the brother-sister tandem of Mike and Mick Benedicto to the independent music scene in Manila about four years ago. On their second outing, the siblings don’t fix what ain’t broke; the songs remain in that realm of whimsy and fantasy, of ponies and cotton candy, a solitary pink balloon piercing a turquoise blue sky. Think Kings of Convenience, only cuter. 

4. Sugarfree—Mornings & Airports

Whether he’s warbling about his latest heartbreak, a sibling abroad, or the complexities of life in general, there’s something strangely comforting about Ebe Dancel’s singing. In this latest album from arguably one of the most important Filipino bands of the decade, Jal Taguibao and Kaka Quisumbing contribute a couple of songs each, but Dancel’s imprint is still all over the place. The familiar never sounded so good.

5. Side A—Only 1

The new album isn’t just a compendium of trademark middle-of the-road mush, it’s also a middle finger to all the haters who’ve cast aside Joey Generoso and co. as nothing more than an inconsequential “showband.” Well guess what, pretentious jackasses, two decades on and the Side A juggernaut is still at it. Fresh, romantic and unapologetically sappy, “Only 1” proves that the “Forevermore” hitmakers are doing something right.

6. Peryodiko—Peryodiko 

For sure, Kakoy Legaspi’s blazing ways with the guitar is a major reason to check out Peryodiko, but Vin Dancel’s latest project also bursts with inspired writing, catchy hooks and a whole lotta fun. If “Agawan Base” and “Bakasyon” don’t have you snapping your fingers or singing along, you must be deaf.

7. Silverfilter—Devotion

With his latest album, Cyril Sorongon aka Silverfilter is in a class all his own. An electronica album that’s also a “soundtrack to prayer” may seem like something that exists only in the imagination of a dejected church organist, but Silverfilter manages to meld his electronica background with a deeper, more spiritual purpose. With this all-instrumental paean to prayer and meditation, you’ll never hear church (or spa-waiting-room) music the same way again.

8. Bayang Barrios—Biyaya

The princess of Pinoy folk music released her latest independently, as so many of her contemporaries do these days. But it is by no means a reflection of the quality of the work. On the contrary, her sinuous, free-flowing vocals coupled with earnest songwriting (she dedicated this album to her child with husband Mike Villegas) is a rarity in these times of loud, overproduced records by so-called divas. “Biyaya” is a true gem worth repeated listens.

9. Sinosikat—2nd Album

More of the same thing ain’t always a bad thing. In Sinosikat’s case, their sophomore effort has produced even groovier tunes based on the same formula: sexy melodies, smart songwriting and those scorching vocals by front woman Kat Agarrado. With the addition of two new cast members, the progenitors of the so-called Pinoy soul movement solidify their status as the hippest and coolest neo-jazz players in the country today.

10. Urbandub—The Apparition

A preliminary listen to the new album (it was only launched less than two weeks ago) reveals an even more confident group growing into their own as one of the most important rock outfits to rise out of the South in years. Gabby Alipe’s predilection for contemporary blues-rock is not lost on this new collection of songs destined to become cult favorites. With any luck, “the apparition” is here to stay.

Come ‘Hele ‘or high water

Come ‘Hele ‘or high water

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Razorback as sharp as ever
By Paul John Cana Contributor Photos by D’ye Sison

Two weeks after it was originally scheduled, the special one-off unplugged set of Razorback finally happened Saturday night. With a backdrop of gracefully gliding stingrays and various other marine life, the five-piece of Kevin Roy, Brian Velasco, Tirso Ripoll, Louie Talan and Manuel Legarda (imported from brother band Wolfgang) ripped the Laot auditorium of the Manila Ocean Park apart with a blasting set of old favorites and brand new songs never before played in front of an audience. Ondoy and Pepeng may have postponed the show, but there was no way the typhoons could have stopped this Hele ng Dagat gig from pushing through.

“We’re not sure ourselves how this happened,” Talan said during a casual chat at White Moon Bar upstairs of the venue prior to the show. “Our manager Patrick got in touch with folks from Ocean Park and [radio station partner] Jam 88.3 and decided to do something here.” The marine park was an odd choice for a venue for one of the country’s hardest rocking bands, but fans came in droves nonetheless, filling the tiny venue to capacity. But it did make for quite a scene: a hard rock band playing an intimate set in the midst of soft lights and aquatic creatures swimming along, unmindful of all the ruckus.

And the band did create quite a ruckus. The show was advertised as an unplugged set, but two songs in—classics “Sumabog Na Naman ang Bulkan” and “Voodoo Who Do?”—and Ripoll and Legarda traded in their acoustic guitars for electric shredders. The only sign the set was a departure from the loud and wild show the band is known for was that the guys were all sitting comfortably down on plush velvet seats onstage. Otherwise, the sonic assault was trademark Razorback. You had to wonder if all those fishes were bothered at all with Talan’s pounding bass or Velasco’s powerful, insistent drumming, but it was all good. Even Roy didn’t let up with his vocal prowess—the guy proved he’s still got the most incendiary set of pipes anywhere around. In between the vocalist’s trademark witty banter with the audience and gulps of San Mig Light and Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks, the guys satisfied the audience’s thirst for the band’s signature rock stylings. Other songs echoing around the fish tanks that night were “My Banyo Song,” “Diwata,” “Rabid Tongue,” “Nakaturo Sa Yo” and “Tikman Ang Ulan.” They also performed a couple of covers, including Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” and a few originals off the upcoming album titled Three Minutes of Glory that the band says would hopefully be released next month.

“We’ve always been around, we’ve never really gone away,” Roy said. “We’re not one of those bands that have regular weekly gigs.” Unlike many other groups currently active in the gig circuit, the boys of Razorback have pretty stuck to their guns throughout their 19-year career and have remained respected pillars of the Pinoy rock scene. And to celebrate their almost two decades in the business, the band will play a special anniversary show at 19 East this Saturday, October 17. And this time, the band promises a full electric set, with all of them standing up. And something tells me everyone else will be standing up with them there, too.

Back to the Nineties

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
MAN ON THE SIDE By Paul John Caña Back to the Nineties

It was only a matter of time. Sartorial forecasters have been heralding the comeback of the decade fashion forgot (after the 1980s, that is) for quite some time, and while we’ve seen the comeback of plaid and flannel, we couldn’t really say for sure that the Nineties are upon us once again. It wasn’t like how people embraced the 1980s with the fashion and the music. Heck, there was a time not too long ago that every other Christmas party had the 80s as a theme. New Wave made a comeback (as it does every couple of years or so), but the current decade is almost out and we’ve yet to see a true resurgence of the 10 years immediately preceding the new millennium. Until now.
It seems radio stations are taking the lead in ushering in the return of the 1990s. Magic 89.9 plays nothing but music from the nineties every Saturday, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. That’s right, everything from MC Hammer to Nirvana and Britney Spears. I’m not sure how long it took for them to follow suit, but Mellow 94.7 seems to think there’s something to the formula. “Decade: Nothing but the 90s” stretches from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. also on Saturdays. So theoretically, you can enjoy 15 hours of unadulterated, er, “classics” from the Gin Blossoms, The Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, The Spice Girls, Guns N Roses and more. Of course, other stations like Rx 93.1 and Magic 89.9 have their weekly dose of all-retro music, but while they stretch quite a bit farther back into the late 1970s and the 1980s, they do play quite a bit of 90s pop and alt-rock. And for a certified 90s kid like me, that’s pretty awesome. Sure you can pop in your CDs or hook up your iPod to your car stereo and enjoy a preset playlist of your favorite 1990s fare, but nothing beats hearing a favorite song at an arbitrary moment and just soaking in all that nostalgia. Here’s hoping we get more programming directed at us 1990s folk this year.
John Mayer is up for several more Grammys this year to add to his already cramped trophy closet. And he hasn’t even come up with a new album. (Continuum is over two years old.) But evidently, Grammy voters can’t enough of the guy. And apparently, we can’t either. Mark your calendars as the local Mayer fan group hosts Mayer Night at Route 196 on February 17, 9 p.m. Hear your favorite Mayer songs interpreted by some of the best local rock and acoustic acts. Here’s hoping we get to hear the un-cheesy version of “Your Body is a Wonderland.”
Fall Out Boy, those poster boys for “who the hell cares” power pop-punk will be back in Manila next month, less than two years after sold-out two-night show at the Araneta Coliseum. On the heels of their latest album Folie A Deux, new dad Pete Wentz and his posse once again conquer the Big Dome in their one-night-only return engagement February 13. Here’s hoping all those screaming tweeners have grown up some and just clap along politely to the band’s screaming choruses (Yeah right. Dream on.)
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The brilliant and the dim, then and now

The brilliant and the dim, then and now

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The show was billed as “probably the biggest concert event of the year.” I don’t know about that, there’s been quite a succession of tremendous productions of foreign acts over the past few weeks, but the “Then and Now: Massive Music Fest” concert was certainly big on artists and ambition.
Gathering music stars from the 1990s and today for a special, one-of-a-kind music festival, the concert was held at the SM Mall of Asia grounds. On the bill were V Factory, TQ, PM Dawn, Diana King, Frankie J., Baby Bash, Jojo, All 4 One and SWV, who performed in that order. 

But before the marquee acts, there was a bizarre opening number by one Myrus Ramirez. I have nothing against the guy, but with such an assembly of big-time international names, I didn’t think there was a need for a warm-up act. Myrus was neither a household name nor an underground favorite, and his all-covers set list, including songs by Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, The Spice Girls and Jason Mraz, left many in the audience scratching their heads, or worse, hurling unpleasant remarks towards the stage.
Sadly, his set felt more like a Tuesday night at Bagaberde or some other watering hole, not Saturday night at a major concert stage.

V Factory started the show. I have never heard of the group before that night, but their song-and-dance act reminded me of the boyband explosion of the mid to late 1990s. The group is originally a fivesome, but one member was back in the US stuck with other commitments and couldn’t make it to the show.
They did a lively set, but save for a few fans screaming in the audience, they hardly made an impact on the crowd.

TQ is the stage name of Terrance Quaites, who is best known for his 1998 hit “Westside.” After the underwhelming opening acts, his rap stylings upped the energy level a little. The enthusiasm was certainly appreciated. When he started on “Westside” the adoration and excitement was almost palpable.
Audiences joined in on the chorus; it was clear TQ loved every minute he was onstage. An album called Kind Of Blue is in the works, his follow up to last year’s S.E.X.Y. EP.

Hip Hop and R&B group PM Dawn was next. Brothers Attrell and Jarrett Cordes scored a hit single in “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” in 1991, but it was only Jarrett who was in town for the show. Brother Attrell a.k.a. Prince Be suffered a stroke in 2005 and is presumably still recuperating. With a DJ in the background, the lone Cordes also performed their other hit, “Looking Through Patient Eyes,” but sadly passed on one of their most recognizable song “I’d Die Without You.”

By this time, the uneven sound system was becoming a major issue. There were no audio tracks onstage for the performers, the microphone was crackling and they had to adjust the audio levels and monitors more than a couple of times while the artists were performing. For a huge-scale concert event, which needless to say, relies heavily on what audiences hear, a patchy and troublesome sound system is unforgivable, and if it weren’t for the professionalism of the artists, the show would have been a complete disaster.

Thankfully, Diana King tried very hard to ignore the audio problems and focus on giving the audience a good time. With her reggae-tinged RnB and dance hits like “Shy Guy and a cover of the Dionne Warwick original “I Say A Little Prayer,” it was a good set marked by vigorous dancing and booty shaking in the audience. While PM Dawn looked and sounded a little strained, King was still in her element, hitting the high notes and moving and grooving to a recorded track all by her lonesome onstage. “Whoa. I’ve always wanted to come here to Manila, and I can’t believe I’m finally here,” she told the crowd.

After all the booty shaking, Latin artist Frankie J. shifted gears a bit and sampled his RnB infused ballads.
The Mexican-merican singer has yet to carve out a name for himself in these parts, but he channeled Ne-Yo in his spiffy suit and remarkably clear, heartfelt singing. Save for a small Frankie J.delegation, the songs largely fell on clueless ears, until he started on his cover of Extreme’s “More Than Words.” The next act, Baby Bash (a.k.a Ronald Rey Bryant) joined him in his final number. The American rapper performed his songs with a pair of Samoan back-up acts that he called Da Stooie Brothers. The crowds clapped politely and even jiggled a few behinds in time with the songs, but overall, they were just fillers in what was becoming a long and increasingly tedious concert.

The last three acts were, purportedly, the big guns. Pop singer Jojo proved there was much more to her than her two-song contribution to the Timbaland and Justin Timberlake show in March. The hips popped, the hair flew and her singing hovered somewhere between average and outstanding. The audience had noticeably thinned out by the time All 4 One came running onstage. They wasted no time though and quickly launched into one of their familiar hits, “I Can Love You Like That.” One of the four verbally blasted the audio guys for the disastrous sound system. Still, the foursome said they were glad to be back in Manila after performing here at the height of their popularity over a decade ago. Finally, almost five hours since the concert started, the final act of the night appeared.
Hands down, the trio of Leanne Lyons, Cheryl Clemons and Tamara Johnson George was the best act of the night. The voices were still as smooth on their hits, including “Right Here” and the one song perhaps many in the audience who had stayed on looked forward to hearing the most, “Weak.” For many who grew up and came of age in the 1990s, the song no doubt brought back a lot of memories. All in all, with that one song, SWV managed to salvage what could have otherwise turned out to be a droll and lackluster production. 

Love at first bite

Love at first bite

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Death Cab For Cutie scores lead single in new ‘Twilight’ movie
By Paul John Caña, Contributor

Considering that highly acclaimed indie rock band Death Cab For Cutie (DCFC) has been around for over a decade, it’s hard to believe they’ve never deliberately contributed a song for a motion picture soundtrack.
Until now. We’ve heard the band’s songs on TV shows like the teen drama The OC, but for the first time we’ll get to hear vocalist Ben Gibbard’s trademark warbling on the big screen.

Now wafting through our speakers via Top 40 radio stations is “Meet Me On The Equinox,” the lead single off the new film in the Twilight Saga: New Moon. The indie rock heroes have maintained a generally straight course throughout their career, appealing mainly to young adult listeners who like their music thoughtful, well written and with just the appropriate amount of sentiment and angst. Now they’re set to conquer a whole generation of fans, mainly under the screaming teen and tweener set obsessed with the characters from Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling book. Thanks to Warner Music Philippines, The Manila Times got an exclusive one-on-one with DCFC’s guitarist Chris Walla via telephone.

The Manila Times: Where are you now and what’s outside your window?

Chris Walla: Good question. Right now I am camped out here in Los Angeles and I am right across Mann’s Chinese Theater, where I can see there’s going to be a big movie premiere or something happening. It’s about 6:40 a.m. here now.

TMT: You guys started out like most bands do as a small, independent group with a loyal fan base. As you got more famous and successful, some of your older fans feel a bit resentful and alienated, and accuse you of selling out. How do you feel about that?

CW: You know to be honest, it doesn’t really bother me all that much. I don’t really view it as a betrayal. I think there are very few friends that anyone has when they’re kids all the way to adulthood. You just change and your interests differ. People’s relationships change and I think it’s a little like that. And I think the records or bands that you listen to means so much when you’re 16, 30 or 45 years old and it can mean something completely different to you a few years outside of the time you started listening to them, or even not at all. We just tried really hard to make the kinds of records that we really wanted to make and that we ourselves might want to listen to. But I completely understand that sentiment because I feel that way myself about bands that I like.

TMT: Really? Like what bands?

CW: Hmm . . . well, for a while I felt that way about U2. They made so many different sorts of records and while I don’t particularly like some of them, I know all of those records have integrity and those guys always made records that they wanted to make. I like their stuff up until Achtung Baby, and then they made All That You Can’t Believe Behind, and in between those years, they did records that I didn’t really like.

TMT: Was there a specific moment for you when you felt like you crossed that threshold between young upstart band into confident, successful rock stars?

CW: (Laughs) First of all, I have to qualify this by saying that I don’t think I’ve ever had that moment when I felt like that. I think I’m still a bit at that pinch-me-I must be dreaming stage where I feel like I’d wake up at any moment and I’d be back serving coffee somewhere. But, yeah, I think playing Saturday Night Live was a pretty big deal. We’ve been watching that since we were kids and it’s just one of those moments where you really aspire to have.

TMT: So you have a song on this “little” movie called New Moon. Tell me how that happened. Did you sit down to write the song specifically for the movie?

CW: You know Ben (Gibbard) is always writing songs. We had this song and then there was this potential to have it in the film and we tweaked it around some, rewrote it a little, molding and shaping. I’m a fan of the book. It’s such a huge cultural phenomenon and it really is an honor to be part of it.

TMT: Speaking of movies, are you a moviegoer yourself? What’s your favorite movie?

CW: Oh I’ve just recently been on a Wes Anderson binge. I just finished watching The Life Aquatic of Zissou. I tend to like stuff that’s sort of slow but visually arresting and I think Wes Anderson is a master at that. And of course, I like the big blockbusters like New Moon. (Laughs)

TMT: So are you going to be there lining up with everyone else when New Moon opens?

CW: Actually I will be here in LA when it opens and I am going to the premiere. It should be fun and I’m excited to go see it.

TMT: As a band, do you guys get to see each other and hang out during your down time?

CW: Not as often as I thought we would. You see, we’re spread out all around now, we live in different cities and we only get to see each other during recording and touring. Then again, we tour so much. We pretty much spent the last six months on the road.

TMT: What are you guys up to next? Any chance we might see you over here in Manila anytime soon.

CW: We actually haven’t started anything new, there are no new songs in the works, but we’re probably going to start next year. We’re probably just going to stay home and make records next year, so it would be a big surprise if we do any touring at all next year. But yeah, I would love to go and play for our fans there in Manila.

Madonna’s Hard Candy: Spit or Swallow?

When she’s not busy picking kids up in Malawi, dressing them up and making them call her “Mama,” Madonna still occasionally makes music. Her latest album “Hard Candy” has been eagerly awaited not just by her by her cross-dressing, cone bra-wearing and die hard following, but by newer audiences who probably weren’t around yet when she sighed her first chorus back in the early 80’s. The reason is simple: the motley team behind this latest exercise includes the biggest and hottest names in music today. We’re talking of course, of the current urban, hip-hop royalty of Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and Pharrell Williams.

Our first taste of this “Candy” was expectedly sweet; her collaboration with Timberlake on the frenetic “Four Minutes” has just the right amount of pulsing beats and dance pop energy, not to mention an irresistible, catchy chorus (Timberlake breathlessly proclaiming, “We only got four minutes to save the world!”), to put Madonna back on the pop music landscape since her bestselling “Confessions On A Dance Floor .” The original Material Girl however tends to be overshadowed by the flashy Timberlake and at times seems to fade in and out of the song. (So that’s why Timbaland keeps reminding us about “Ma-DON-Nuh” every other line in the song).

The rest of the album teeters on that line between Madonna’s specialty of fine, dance-driven exploits on sex and more sex, and the producers’ slick, familiar grooves. Williams tries his darndest to reach new heights with the Madge, but watered-down songs such as the unexciting “Candy Shop” and the tepid and at-times ridiculous “Incredible” don’t seem to stick with Madonna’s often over-the-top interpretation of her own material. The original Material Girl seems to have more luck with her collaborations with hotshot producer Timbaland. We’ve heard his sonic Midas touch on records by Nelly Furtado and frequent collaborator Timberlake, as well as with rock group One Republic with the massive hit “Apologize,” and he brings with him his knack for both subtle and grandiose productions in “Candy.’ Apart from first single “Four Minutes,” I expect “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” and the decidedly slower and more wistful “Miles Away” to be definite fan-pleasers.

Still, it must be said that, knowing Madonna’s almost iconic reputation for reinvention, it’s just the tiniest bit surprising for me that there is less of her forging into new territory on this album and more of making use of what’s already there and what’s already been done. Along with her producer-friends doing what is expected of them, the unmistakable sound of the 80’s permeate many of the tracks on the album. While there is nothing wrong with looking back to find inspiration to create something meaningful and fresh, I would’ve thought she had it in her to twist something from the past around and make it more current and relatable.

And therein, I think lies the problem. “Hard Candy” is easy enough to swallow and digest as a better-than average dance pop album from the reigning Queen of Pop, but you have to wonder how much Madonna is invested in keeping herself relevant in a music scene that’s churning out fresher and newer acts by the second. The feisty maven we grew up with who simulated sex onstage and burned crucifixes in her videos is turning 50 this year, but there’s no question she’s still got it (“Hard Candy” peaked at the top of Billboard charts, her seventh number one album). The question is, does she still have that fire and determination to buck trends and go her own way to give us something truly exciting and memorable, similar to her work on “Ray of Light” and “Music?”  For the moment, we’ll just have to chew on her “Hard Candy” while we wait for an answer.

Breaking Boundaries

For the umpteenth time, legendary Pinoy supergroup Juan Dela Cruz band staged a “reunion” show over the weekend, but it wasn’t some lame production at a seedy bar with a perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke hanging over the air. The venue was the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Mike Hanopol, Wally Gonzalez and Joey “Pepe” Smith headlined a fantastic, three-day concert billed as “Fiesta ng Musikang Filipino.”

Sugarfree and UpDharmaDown were the opening acts on the first night. Despite their relative youth, both bands are pretty much pros in the local music scene. Ebe Dancel in particular stole the show when he started crooning Sharon Cuneta’s immortal classic “Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas.” It was obvious he was struggling in some parts, but the sheer bravado he displayed in belting out the videoke staple was impressive. Ate Shawie would’ve been proud. Armi Millare, on the other hand, was in her usual element, with her distinct vocal stylings lending an air of originality to their songs, including their take on the Apo original, “Kaibigan.”

The curtain behind the bands came up afterwards, and the musicians of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra were revealed, all wearing white shirts and jeans. Performing Bamboo’s hit “Hallelujah,” the MPO received thunderous applause from the audience. A traditional orchestra performing contemporary pop hits isn’t exactly jump-off-your-seat exciting and new, but in today’s musical landscape of tired old acts, the attempt of jumping out of their tight dresses and suits and reaching out to more mainstream audiences is still very much appreciated.

International violinist Lucia Micarelli was up next. I wasn’t exactly blown away with her largely experimental repertoire the first time I saw her perform at Embassy last Valentine’s Day, but I much preferred her this time accompanied by the MPO in a stirring violin solo. I had the chance to interview Josh Groban’s punky violinist the first time she was here and she’s always expressed her desire to break boundaries and perform in front of newer audiences, not just in front of the classical crowd, and it looks like she’s getting her wish. (It didn’t hurt, too, that she was looking might fine when she played barefoot and in that plunging dress.)

But the night was about Juan Dela Cruz band. Launching into their first song, it seemed like the trio of Smith, Gonzalez and Hanopol still played like a tight, mean, Pinoy rock-playing machine. But midway during the song, there were unexpected technical difficulties that forced them to stop playing. And as usual, dear old Pepe entertained the audience with his antics. He walked around spewing verbal nonsense, pretended (?) to drink out of his trusty whiskey flask, laid down onstage and even gave somebody in the audience the finger. Yep, it wouldn’t be a Juan Dela Cruz show without lolo Pepe being his irreverent self. When the kinks were ironed out, the band played on, this time accompanied by the MPO, and it was as though the music never stopped. Up to the grand finale of “Ang Himig Natin,” with Lucia, Armi and Ebe joining in, the whole show was truly a feast for the senses. Organizers of the show should be proud of themselves for mounting such a unique, genre-defying production, and here’s hoping we get more of that soon.

Coldplay’s fourth studio album Viva La Vida or Death and All of His Friends drops next month, and whether you think of them as insanely talented or overrated crapbags, this is pretty big news. Multi-hyphenate musician and producer Brian Eno takes the helm for this outing, and Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow and his cohorts promise something “new” and “completely different.” That’s certainly the least that I could say about the first single, “Violet Hill.” If you didn’t get the chance to download the song for free off their website, you’re gonna have to wait till the album’s release in these parts June 19th. (That or you can ask nicely and I might just send the song to you for free).


The Break-Up

For a while there, Orange and Lemons were poised to become the next big thing in OPM. Their debut album, Love in the Land of Rubber Shoes and Dirty Ice Cream, was a fun, jangly collection of New Wave-influenced pop songs that invoked the spirit of The Housemartins, The Smiths and even The Beatles, yet still very much kept its Pinoy (by way of Bulacan) sensibilities through its winsome and breezy lyrics. They maintained a relatively small but devoted following; adherents and disciples of the New Wave invasion flocked to their gigs and got their fix of covers from Morrissey, The Wild Swans, The Cure and their ilk.

Strike Whilst The Iron Is Hot was an appropriate title for their sophomore release. Now signed under a major label, the album introduced them to a much wider, less particular audience. Less stuck-up and more accessible, the foursome began to break out from their usual nighttime haunts and into noontime variety show territory. It was the phenomenal single “Pinoy Ako” though that catapulted them from being arthouse darlings to mass hysteria-inducing hitmakers. The song became so big it even became the country’s unofficial theme song during the 2005 SEA Games held here in Manila. Orange and Lemons exploded in a big way into the consciousness of every radio-listening, TV-watching person in the country.

There was, of course, the controversy surrounding the song, which we don’t need to delve into here. Suffice it to say that the band managed to overcome this difficult period and trudge on ahead to work on their next project, the concept album Moonlane Gardens. Anyone who has followed the careers of the ONL would agree that this was their most ambitious and most accomplished album to date. Apart from the first single, the rondalla-infused throwback to traditional Filipiniana “Ang Katulad Mong Walang Katulad,” the band veered away from the commercial road they had been on and went back to appealing to a more specialized, high-end audience by creating a tapestry of songs that reflected their primary influences. It was a bold move, and one that loudly proclaimed to everyone that this was what ONL was all about. It won Album of The Year at the 2007 NU Rock Awards, a very generous ego-booster for the band who had a difficult time convincing the label that it was worth the risk. Sadly, the album would also turn out to be their swan song; the final product from the collective genius of four unassuming boys from Bulacan.

So what really happened with Orange and Lemons? Those in the know point to the growing creative chasm between the two main artisans of the band, Marco Fundales and Clem Castro. Friends since high school, the two built the band from almost nothing back in the day and nurtured it until it became one of the freshest most exciting OPM acts in recent memory. I have had the opportunity to talk with both Mcoy and Clementine about the real score and in both conversations, I took away the impression that, yes, it was grave creative differences that ultimately drove a wedge between them. Whatever else people assume about the cause of the break up – inflated egos, questionable career moves, petty squabbles and infighting, and even alleged dalliances with the opposite sex that affected their professional and personal relationships with each other – these were all rooted in the fact that one did not agree with the other on the direction the band was taking and that neither was willing to compromise. And whether there was a specific incident that finally broke the band apart, we can only surmise that it was serious enough for friendship to take a back seat.

However much we mourn the demise of Orange and Lemons, we can at least take comfort in knowing that two other bands rose from its ashes: The Camerawalls is the new band fronted by Clementine with new cohorts Law Santiago and Brian Sarabia, while Kenyo is the new project of Mcoy Fundales along with the Del Mundo brothers Ace and JM. Longtime fans of ONL may be missing their one-of-a-kind energy and vibe, but it’s good to know they’re still making music and that there’s more of it to go around, and that’s something we should all be grateful for.

Larger Than Life

I don’t know about other people, but I feel a genuine thrill each time I sit down in a darkened movie theater. (And no, it’s not because I get my kicks out of discreet yet public displays of vulgarity). No matter how fond you are of watching your precious dibidis in your flatscreen plasma TV with surround sound in your own home, it’s not quite the same as seeing it on a big screen with a couple of hundred other people. It’s kind of like watching an artist perform live as opposed to just listening to him or her on record. You can’t really claim to know and love a band if you haven’t heard them live – gasps, sighs and flying spit and all.

Of course, if transporting yourself to a concert venue to see a favorite artist takes a little more work than just moseying on over to, say Araneta Coliseum, then seeing a film about an artist performing live is the next best thing. This isn’t as simple as it sounds though. We’ve seen movies make it to the big screen with a lot less plot and storyline, but it’ll take someone with a big name and even bigger talent to sustain audience interest after a couple of songs.

Fortunately, the makers of U2 3D understood this when they set out to make the film. More than just simply recording a regular show from one of their tours as so many artists and bands have done, the Irish rockers and the filmmakers behind this ambitious project took things one significant step further by introducing the three dimensional concept to make the viewer experience what it’s like to actually be in a stadium concert. This is no small feat, even for U2, who have been at the forefront of using cutting edge technology to reach fans and keep things fresh after almost 25 years in the music business.

When you think about it, there is no other band in the world more larger-than-life than U2 that can handle being projected onto an 80-foot IMAX screen. (Maybe The Rolling Stones, but do you really want to see Mick Jagger’s tight pants and Keith Richards’ wrinkly skin magnified ten times? We can settle for Martin Scorsese’s upcoming documentary on them instead). We might still be waiting for official word on whether they’ll finally be able to make it and do a show here in Manila, but from the sweat running off Bono’s brow to the gigantic and complicated stage set-up, down to the crystal clear acoustics of the songs, U2 3D is a phenomenal experience that comes pretty damn close to the real thing. Heck, seeing Bono hold out his hand to you while singing that immortal paean to unity “One” was enough to coax out the tiniest hint of tears in my eyes. (Then again, my eyes might have still been adjusting to the 3D glasses).

I’ve read some critics pan the film for not employing a more narrative structure to tell a story and try and involve the audience more. This to me sounds absurd, because the film is first and foremost about the band being at their very best, which is performing in front of a massive crowd. It’s a concert film, and yeah, you generally have to show the concert. People who expect interviews and footage other than Bono and co. performing amid nonstop screams and howls from an audience of thousands will be greatly disappointed. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

U23D is showing now at the IMAX theater at the SM Mall of Asia and the Digital Cinema at the Block at SM North.


Duran Duran Can Still Shake Things Up

Even if you were more a disciple of their supposed “rival” Spandau Ballet, you had to be more than a little glad Duran Duran stopped by the country to reacquaint us with their music. It’s not everyday relics from the 80’s come to help dig up old memories and take many of us back to the days of acid wash jeans and embarrassing hair. (Then again, these days, it’s more like every other week).

For a while there, it didn’t seem like Simon Le Bon and his crew still had it in them to attract enough fans to troop to Araneta Coliseum. At around 8pm when VJ’s from MTV climbed up the stage for the usual opening spiels, the number of empty seats was uncomfortably high. The folks who did turn up were mostly guys in their mid-thirties and up, many of them with bald patches and noticeable guts.

Sandwich tried to work up the crowd with a trio of their hits, but the audience was less than enthusiastic. It was another 30 minutes after Raimund Marasigan et. al.  exited the stage that the lights dimmed once again and the crowd got to their feet to welcome Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Dominic Brown and John and Roger Taylor. They opened with a couple of songs from the new album, the dance rock-oriented Red Carpet Massacre. Apparently unfamiliar with the new material, the audience responded with nothing more than polite applause. Le Bon sensed this and shouted to the crowd,  “Are you hungry?”

This of course was the cue for one of their biggest hits, “Hungry Like the Wolf.” The sassy frontman was looking more than a bit pudgy, but you couldn’t say anything about his vocal prowess; he may have considerably lessened and toned down his trademark performance twirls, but the man sounded almost exactly like he did in their records two decades earlier. And for fans expecting to go on a genuine nostalgia trip, that’s more than what they hoped for.

The band did newer songs like “Come Undone” and the title track from the new album, but undoubtedly, it was their classic hits that garnered the loudest hoots of applause and approval: “View To A Kill,” “The Reflex,” “Girls On Film,” and “Wild Boys.” And while we must give credit to the entire band for its great rapport among themselves and with the audience, Le Bon showed that he still hasn’t lost his touch for showmanship. Echoing the stoic, demure attitude of the crowd at the beginning of the show, Le Bon started the concert in a suit and tie, but eventually took off his jacket, loosened his tie and untucked his shirt altogether. And as the concert progressed, you didn’t think about the wet armpits and the sweaty face; he was putting on a show, and what a show it was.

While there were reports of a shaky start to their current world tour in Australia, they certainly didn’t show any of that here. Age might be catching up to them, but Duran displayed, quite convincingly, that they are far from hanging up their instruments and calling it a day. And a Coliseum-full of middle-aged New Wavers is forever grateful.

A Consortium Of Dance

(This piece originally appeared in The Manila Times on April 8, 2008)

As a skinny college kid making my way in the muck that was the mid-nineties, the concept of raves was something I only heard about in after-class conversations over fishballs and buko juice. There were whispers about these mysterious events that were held at the unlikeliest of places, where people supposedly danced until their legs and lungs gave out and they had to drag their sweat-soaked bodies to the sides for some much needed aqua or cerveza break. These roving dance-parties that went by the name “Consortium” were always a source of wonder to me, mainly because I never got to go to any of them. By the time the early 2000’s rolled around, I hardly ever heard the term again.

Fast forward to today. The text message from Toti Dalmacion confirmed what was being buzzed about for weeks since his one-off return to the turntable at Warehouse 135 earlier this year: Consortium was back. That he chose to send out the announcement during Easter was appropriate. It’s a rebirth of sorts for the pioneer of the underground rave scene in the country.

For the uninitiated, Dalmacion is widely regarded as the godfather of house and techno music in these parts. Cynics and naysayers might raise their carefully tweezered eyebrows and insist otherwise, but nobody can deny what Toti, who now also runs the independent label Terno Recordings, has done for the local electronic music scene. Through Groove Nation, a record store-turned-alliance of DJ’s, musicians and music lovers, he introduced to the country a movement in electronic dance music that was sweeping the globe. Disappointed and uncomfortable with the local club scene, where venues required guests to dress up in long-sleeved, collared shirts and leather shoes, Toti was bent on overhauling the landscape with the kind of music and unbridled, unhinged clubbing experience he was exposed to in the US and the UK.

And so Consortium was born. The first major Consortium event was held at the National Library in October 1995. From the get-go, Toti and his cohorts’ ideals were simple: discriminate against no one and showcase the truest essence of techno and house music. Whether you were from Dasmariñas Village or Dasmariñas, Cavite, as long as you were looking to groove to some serious underground dance tunes, you were in.

And the music really was underground. You wouldn’t hear radio staples like Ace of Base, Venga Boys or Robert Miles in a Consortium set. Instead you got the real deal – they flew in artists and DJs like Derrick May, Laurent Garnier, Josh Wink, Fantastic Plastic Machine and many others for their one-of-a-kind meets. It could be at an abandoned warehouse in Tondo or the unfinished basement of a mall in Makati. Wherever it was, it was pure, unrelenting, head-shaking, feet-tapping, arm-twisting, soul-shaking dance music.

The Consortium turntable stopped spinning in 2002, partly because more and more entities were getting in on the action and setting up their own rave parties, and partly due to some internal issues within Groove Nation. But now, after a six-year hiatus and at the prodding of the guys from and Warehouse 135, Toti is bringing Consortium back, ready to dazzle partygoers and scenesters with some genuinely spasm-inducing beats. The man himself is spinning, along with special guest Nathan Coles of the UK and DJ Benjie Lopez. It promises to be one hell of a “welcome back” party and, as a Consortium virgin, I can’t wait.

Those looking for Hed Kandi and Bonnie Bailey to pop in the set might do well to steer clear of Warehouse 135 this coming Saturday. Doors open at 9pm.

Live In Manila

This is a blog compiling everything I've ever written for newspapers, magazines and other publications. The first entry is my very first column that appeared in Manila Times in April 2008. 

Paul John Caña

Live In Manila
These days, it’s a good time to be a concert geek living in Manila

In recent weeks, every time I find myself in the company of fellow music lovers, the talk always gravitates towards all the international artists that are stopping by to do shows in the country. Those that have already come and caused many of us to part with our hard-earned moolah include Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Josh Groban, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Ne-Yo, Maroon 5, Incubus and Harry Connick Jr. Heck, even Richard Carpenter flew in for a special performance with chanteuse-turned-bus operator Claire De La Fuente and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself in Malacañang. Scheduled to fly in over the next few weeks and months is a motley mix of old favorites and fresher faces: Swing Out Sister, Toto, James Blunt and Matchbox 20. But invariably the most interesting part of these chats involve the speculation on and anticipation for the supposed arrival of the really big guns; people get worked up hoping to finally witness shows by U2, the Dave Matthews Band and Madonna later in the year (if the buzz is to be believed) here in our little corner of the world.

For fans of live music, it’s obviously a pretty big deal to be suddenly inundated with all these artists making the trip to personally share their music with us. There hasn’t been such a significant number of popular foreign artists “invading” our shores since the wave of chinovela pop stars died down and left many of us gasping for breath (hyperventilation caused by either extreme adulation or plain disgust). I can’t help but wonder now about the sudden downpour of all of these artists. While we have the promoters to thank for bringing them in and putting on the shows, I have to wonder if anything has changed in the overall “concert climate” in these parts that has suddenly caused Manila to join the ranks of some of our more cosmopolitan neighbors in attracting top tier recording artists.

For sure, the general improvement in national security must have something to do with it. I can’t forget when shows here by Oasis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slipknot were suddenly cancelled purportedly because of security concerns. Despite the stifling political climate these days, there hasn’t been a major security issue (such as an explosion with a significant number of casualties) anywhere in the country in recent months that could shoo away potential visitors. And while we’re thankful enough for the relative peace and stability we’ve been enjoying, it doesn’t hurt that Aguilera, Adam Levine, Brandon Boyd and all the others and their managers and publicists believe, too, that it’s safe enough to come here and not worry about being blown up to bits in the middle of their set.

Promoters are, I think, becoming more aggressive in selling the idea of doing a show here in the country to international artists and their management. While big names like Bjork, The Police and The Cure (and many smaller acts with a devoted following like Damien Rice and Broken Social Scene) still only make it as far as Singapore and Hong Kong, local concert organizers are reaching farther and going deeper to try and convince big-ticket names to include Manila as a stop on their world tours. Bringing the biggest names in contemporary music here doesn’t come cheap, that much we know, but with the help of corporate sponsors, it’s becoming increasingly clear that astronomic ticket prices aren’t even an issue. Nosebleed seats for shows by Beyonce and Groban reached into the P20,000 area, and yet people still came in droves. When it comes to artists we like, we Pinoys have shown that we’re more than willing to shell out however much it takes so we can be right there in the audience, singing along to every word.

Finally, it’s our nature as a music-loving folk that must be reeling in all the prize catches. In particular, our penchant for Western pop music – the kind we see on music channels – doesn’t see any signs of abating anytime soon. The local offices of the major international record labels say their artists have a stronger-than-good chance of dropping by to do a show in Manila if their current releases achieve some kind of sales certification (like gold or platinum), so judging by the artists that have swung by our shores in recent months, and in spite of the worldwide trend of plummeting CD sales caused by digital downloads, we’ve pretty much proven that we’re still voracious music consumers.

Whatever it is, I gotta admit, it’s pretty cool that we’re finally getting some love from all of these artists. It’s one thing to hear Colbie Caillat, Maroon 5 or Vertical Horizon on CD or mp3, quite another to be right there watching them perform live. Whether I personally like them enough to spend my hard-earned cash for tickets is beside the point. What’s important is that we’re finally on their radar. For the consummate music lover, nothing beats the experience of a live concert put on by a favorite artist. Now if somebody can just bring in John Mayer, the Arctic Monkeys and Coldplay…