Pop Culture

Building Capacities with Armi Millare of Up Dharma Down

Reposted with permission from our friends at The Scenester an online fanzine that has been covering the local music scene since the mid-90s.

Image courtesy of Chico Limjap at Chicolimjap.com

ca·pac·i·ty /kəˈpasitē/ n. pl. ca·pac·i·ties

1. The ability to receive, hold, or absorb. 2. The maximum amount that can be contained. 3. a. Ability to perform or produce; capability. b. The maximum or optimum amount that can be produced. 4. The power to learn or retain knowledge; mental ability. 5. Innate potential for growth, development, or accomplishment; faculty. 6. The quality of being suitable for or receptive to specified treatment. 7. The position in which one functions; role.

To these definitions, we can now add: title of the soon to be released and much anticipated third album of Up Dharma Down under Terno Recordings.

The Scenester’s chief contributor, Kristo Babbler recently “sat down” with Armi Millare, keyboards and lead vocals for Up Dharma Down to take stock of the band’s evolution to date, their creative process in the lead up to their third outing, and Armi’s personal journey all throughout. A rather revealing exchange ensued.

Kristo Babbler (KB): Judging from Turn it Well (see video below), Capacities sounds like a very different album from Bipolar or Fragmented. I sense a more upbeat feeling from it, more life affirming, is that true of the rest of the album? And if so, was that by design, or did it just evolve that way over a period of time?

Armi Millare (AM): It’s part of our evolution as music-makers. I think we’ve consciously tried to re-interpret some things in a different way. Not because the theme is wrist-cuttingly sad, doesn’t mean it can’t be upbeat. There are ways around expression that we can toy with. I used to have the impression that anger was expressed with a lot of high register singing, but there is pent up anger, there are passive aggressive episodes and there are hopeful moments that don’t necessarily have to reflect into a fast beat.

KB: It’s been four years since you released Bipolar. Many of your followers are actually second and even third generation ones. Are you concerned that with this third album, your followers might not “get it”? Or are you fairly confident having road-tested the first track?

AM: We also wanted to explore new heights, always trying to do something new. We perform these songs at least three times a week and on a technical aspect, and so we want to keep ourselves inspired by creating new things (that) we haven’t done before. I don’t think that’s a crime. This is all we’ve got, so (we) might as well give it our best shot; might as well enjoy it. You can’t please everyone. And that’s been our mantra all these years. I think the reason why we stuck together was mainly because of that.

I realize that most people forget that even if we have not released a record in 4 years, we were relentlessly gigging since 2004 and a little before that. We were living the life of a performing band that hardly took any breaks because that’s how we want to spell out our commitment. In those 4 years before the actual CD was pressed, we have released tracks that kept us going. Most of them are only being heard now by a wider audience. Capacities has become a compilation of those 4 years and I would like to make sure that those singles do not go to waste when the album had always been on our minds soon after Bipolar was released.

We truly appreciate our listeners and we show that by interacting with them a lot. We feel grateful for their support, but I think the reason why they like the music is exactly because we don’t try too hard to please them. We’re pleased with our work, we’re mighty proud of it, because we wrote them from experience and there’s not one bit of a half-truth in this record. I bet all my chips on this one. Because in the next life, I’m going to be an anthropologist!

KB: There was a rumoured collaboration with Paul Buchanan of the Blue Nile, the Scottish band from Glasgow that UDD has been compared to. Did that actually materialise?

Read the rest of the interview here.

A captive of Captive

Gritty, in-your-face, a mirror of Philippine society. These are some of the words I associate with Brilliante Mendoza’s films. This director doesn’t mollycoddle the viewers that’s for sure. He paints reality as how he sees it – no more, no less – and hopes that by showing the ugly reality, his films would somehow serve as a vehicle for change.

Captive is no different from his other films. The 2 and a half hour film is based on the Dos Palmas kidnapping of missionaries and Filipinos by the Abu Sayyaf group more than a decade ago. Most of the events in the film really happened, about 25% were added for dramatic purposes and to help the story move but they’re mostly fictional characters and scenes. One of the fictional characters is Therese Bourgoine, played by French actress Isabelle Huppert, whose perspective it is we watch. Bourgoine is a missionary who was abducted together with her motherly companion Anita Linda, two other foreign missionaries, and tourists of Dos Palmas Resort. The story progresses with ransoms paid, captives freed, captives killed, and even a Stockholm syndrome which was surprising but actually happened between a tourist and one of the Abu Sayyaf bandits back in 2001. Brilliante Mendoza used many of his staple actors like Ronnie Lazaro, Coco Martin, Sid Lucero, etc. The acting wasn’t stellar for some however because they were overshadowed by Huppert and the more commanding Raymond Bagatsing and Ronnie Lazaro.

The film made me squirm the whole time as Brilliante captured the harsh realities of kidnap-for-ransom, religious fanaticism, terrorism, and the government’s indifference neigh shady cooperation with the kidnappers for a share of the ransom money because these facts are hard to swallow, but in the back of the Filipinos’ collective mind, they all ring true.

What amazed me about Captive is Brilliante’s research on what really transpired that ghastly 18 months and how he was able to show as much details in the 25 days he shot the film. That’s saying a lot about how talented and organized he is. My film experiences scream that such a film is impossible to shoot in 25 days but Briliante was able to do so. Not only that, he made everything seem believable. I thought the film was shot in Basilan but he admitted to us that the locations were in Batangas and Quezon.

Captive will premiere at SM Pampanga, Brilliante Mendoza’s hometown, on September 2, 2012. There will also be a Manila gala premiere in Greenbelt 3 the next day. Regular screening at SM Cinemas and Greenbelt will begin on September 5, 2012.

‘Sup? Major! Major!

Yet another failed quest for a Ms Universe title elicits a few reflections on the supposed shallowness of Filipino mores and culture.

Twice the favorite and twice spurned: in the dating world, such a disappointing result as that suffered by the Philippines’ past two contestants in successive rounds of the Ms Universe pageant would elicit some deep questioning of the self. “What’s wrong with me?” would be the burning question. And it is.

For the second year in a row, many commentators believe that the Philippine contestant missed out on being crowned Ms Universe due to less than satisfactory answers in the Q&A round. The first attempt went under when Venus Raj answered the question, “what is one big mistake you have made in your life?” with something like there had been no “major, major” stuff ups in her life so far (questioning the premise that she would even commit one) thanks to her parents’ influence and social upbringing.

That answer led many to surmise that the Q&A segment was not the Philippines’ strong suit. This year that point was made all the more clear by the simple fact that our contestant, Shamcey Supsup, having graduated at the top of her class at a leading university, should have had all the mental faculties to grapple with the question posed to her, and yet she still failed to impress.

For the benefit of those who haven’t followed events so far, the question was, “would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person you loved?” And the answer given by Ms Supsup was, “If I had to change my religious beliefs, I would not marry the person that I love. Because the first person that I love is God, who created me, and I have my faith and principles, and this is what makes me who I am. If that person loves me, he should love my God, too.

Now as one column opined, Supsup was “robbed” of the crown for providing a “Christian” answer. Certainly, if that were the case, then most Filipinos would agree with the premise that the question was loaded and that the judges were biased. But was that really the case?

The question posed to Ms Supsup did not make religious conversion a requirement for matrimony. It wasn’t prefaced with, “If you had to change your religious views…” as Shamcey’s answer was. It left room for her to still maintain her religious beliefs while entering an interfaith marriage. The question was about whether she would (voluntarily, if at all) change her religious affiliation to please her spouse and presumably fit in within his religious community.

The answer given by Shamcey was not necessarily of the wrong kind (“No, I will not change my views”), but rather it was simply couched in the wrong terms. It probably should have been along the lines of her maintaining independence (which was what the judges were most likely looking for) while being married (“I cherish my views and expect my future spouse to respect them, just as I would his.”).

American Bias

We have to acknowledge here that a certain amount of cultural bias was embedded in the question. For one, in America (where the Ms Universe franchise is based), the predominance of Protestantism has been eroded to a bare majority (of 51% of Americans as revealed by a Pew Survey back in 2008). Protestants are splintered into many denominations broadly characterised as Evangelical (26.3%), Mainline Protestant (18.1%) and historically black churches (6.9%). The more unified Catholics comprise the next biggest group (23.9%).

Given the fragmentation of denominations in the US (somewhat like a marketplace of religious ideas), it is no wonder that many do change their religious affiliation whether for marital or other reasons as 44% of adults surveyed have done at one point in their lives. The largest rising group is of those unaffiliated with any formal religion (16.1%), a large chunk of which (nearly half) still maintains a certain kind of spiritual belief or practice (freedom of religion is alive and well in America).

Rather than resisting the need to change her religious views out of a sense of independence, Ms Supsup’s reply seemed to imply a certain intolerance towards those who didn’t share in, and an expectation that they conform to, her beliefs. A majority of Americans by contrast (the same Pew Survey showed) agreed with the following statements that “many religions can lead to eternal life” (70%) and that “there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion” (68%).

Even among ‘born again’ Evangelicals, those who have held a very literal fundamentalist view of the Bible, the affirmative responses were 66% and 64% respectively. Among Catholics it was 79% and 77%. On the one hand, the monotheistic religions to which most Americans subscribe teach that there is but one absolute deity and consequently one absolute truth. On the other hand, a sizable majority of their adherents are willing to entertain a more pluralist and tolerant world view. What could have caused them to hold somewhat inconsistent views (a kind of Relative Absolutism as framed by one author)?

One visiting scholar from the US who came to Australia (and whose radio interview I cannot quite find the link to right now) claims that it has been the growing prevalence of interfaith marriage that has acted as a conduit for greater religious acceptance and tolerance in American society at large.

Among Catholics, 22% are in an interfaith marriage. Among Evangelical Protestants, that ratio is 32%. Among Jews, it is 31%. And among mainline Protestants, it is 46%. These figures lend some credence to the scholar’s view. To quote a line from Star Wars, “only a Sith (of the dark side) deals in Absolutes.

So going back to the matter at hand, within the American cultural context, Shamcey’s views would generally be regarded as tending towards religious intolerance by a majority of its people. In closed societies in fact, that sort of reasoning would support a caste system where intermarriage would lead to social stigma which makes it strange, given the humble socio-economic status of the contestants’ families.

The answers supplied by both Venus and Shamcey would be seen either as a product of ignorance or a sign of personal or cultural arrogance. An unwillingness to admit that one has ever made any sort of mistake in one’s life is similar in nature to maintaining a view that only one set of faith-based beliefs are true. It is no wonder, given the sort of monolithic Catholicism practised in the Philippines, why it remains one of the few places in the world where public debate over reproductive health and responsible parenthood or divorce for that matter still rages on.

The Shallows

This cultural and religious monotheism pops up in many areas in Philippine society. I have previously highlighted our response to the World Values Survey in which churches emerged as the one single institution that garnered almost universal trust and confidence (placing us in the same league as Iran, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Morocco). Our country may not be called Philippinestan; and, our people may not be required to wear veils over their heads, but in a cultural sense, they in fact do.

It was not for lack of beauty or brains that our contestants failed to secure the Ms Universe crown. It was perhaps due to a lack of independent thinking or a broadened worldview. In other words, Filipinos tend to take a very dogmatic approach in developing their thoughts and ideas, adopting the official world view handed to them in a sort of unthinking or mindless way.

As F. Sionil Jose asserted recently, there just seems to be an intellectual and cultural malaise of shallowness afflicting the Filipino. Now before I get bunched together with the anti-Pinoy (and for that matter anti-Christian) crowd, let me qualify Jose’s assertion by saying that to some extent this is partly to do with modern technology and isn’t confined to Filipinos alone.

As in the book, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, one could mount an argument that in a world where the word google is a verb, where e-books show us the feedback from other people before forming our own thoughts regarding the author’s thesis or narrative, and where cloud computing enables us to select friends, music and reading material based on what we are currently viewing, our ability to pay focused attention in reflectively forming a considered view has been seriously undermined if not impaired.

But even before the digital revolution converted us all into a bunch of twitterers (enunciating our views before ruminating), reading culture among Filipinos has been sorely missed (“why read and form our own views when we have other people to do that for us?”). Jose’s prognostications are echoed in the pop scene by music guru Toti Dalmacion who has lamented over the years about the narrow scope of the average Pinoy’s listening palette (although he recently acknowledges that this is slowly changing).

Both Jose and Dalmacion represent opposite ends of the cultural spectrum between high and low art (although Toti might contest the characterization of what he does as art). Both are considered mavericks in their field, yet recognized for their accomplishments. It is not that they want to see everyone subscribing to their particular sensibilities (Sionil’s independent bookstore Solidaridad and Dalmacion’s now defunct Groove Nation record bar attest to their high standards). Those with an astute sense of literary or musical awareness after all revel in the exclusive nature of their proclivities (for them the kind of material one reads, watches or listens to matters because they define the “you”-ness of you). It is more a question of why aren’t there MORE Filipinos who engage in similar pursuits.

In other words, why do the vast majority of our countrymen simply shut themselves out from cultural exposure? Why do they subscribe to the orthodoxies that they have been fed with by the “shallow” media sources or their church? Why do they fail to dig deeper, explore or venture out on their own (as if doing so would spell mental or social suicide)?

This is more than just an intellectual wank by a bunch of grumpy elitists. The same thing can be applied to governance–to the way our leaders manage economic policy in particular. Successive governments (the current one included) have been quite happy to apply the orthodoxy of Washington’s economic high priests in determining the course of development for the country, as I have previously pointed out. The result is an economy that has been described as being too “narrow, shallow and hollow” by the same experts who ironically espouse the same official world view.

The failure of our nation to rapidly catch-up with the early- and late-industrializing nations of Continental Europe and East Asia despite our rich natural endowments of beauty and resources including a skilled and well-educated workforce has long been the topic of conversation within the development community. Yet anyone who dares question the establishment’s formula gets labelled a radical or heretic and then treated as a pariah.

It seems it doesn’t matter whether we are competing in a pageant of beauty and brains or a marketplace for ideas, goods and services. When it comes to answering some of the most basic of questions, Filipinos tend to rely on a purely formulaic and dogmatic approach. Unfortunately, in the diverse and pluralist world that we live in, that sort of mindset will simply land us among the runner-ups instead of the world’s best.

Terno at Ten

I pose ten questions to Toti Dalmacion, head of Terno Recordings, which marks its “tenth” anniversary this year with a concert featuring the French indie pop sensation, Tahiti 80.

Q1: What made you think of starting your own record label back in 2001?

Technically it was around 2003, but the thought of starting my own label has been around since high school, and that’s in the 80’s for those who don’t know. Anyway, I jumped the gun by a year, calling it the “10th” anniversary, because we never had an anniversary, ever; and well, the world is supposed to end next year!

Q2: Did you draw inspiration from the main character of Nick Hornby’s book High Fidelity (Rob Gordon) who went from owning a record store to starting a label? Like him you owned a record bar.

Actually, it’s the other way around. I might have been his inspiration because the story is just so autobiographically spot-on; it’s uncanny! Seriously, it was inevitable, really, and the most natural progression for me.

Q3: Is there a particular Terno Recordings sound or ethos? How would you go about recruiting bands; or perhaps more to the point, what do you look for in a band before signing them?

At the start, it was supposed to be strictly “indie pop” in the jangly and twee sense, but being that I really like all sorts of music under the “indie” umbrella, it became more of a varied bunch.

I never really made it a point to seek bands. They’re mostly recommended, or I chance upon them, or they approach me. I look for good material first and foremost, and if that’s not apparent, then at least good musicianship which can be developed with some guidance from me. Or if the band has neither of those two, then it has to have some interesting quality which hopefully translates onstage.

Q4: The diversity and breadth of talent under Terno is truly amazing. They seem to appeal to different niches that no one in the local scene seems to be serving at the moment. Is that your basic strategy? To tap into those unserved sections of the market?

It is the basic strategy particularly because I wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s just me and my penchant for being different. I don’t think I’d get a band that’s a dime a dozen in the scene or just typical. I have made some decisions and choices before wherein I chose to deviate from this to adjust to the bigger market or play the local music industry game a bit, and I’ve suffered for it. But yes, I’m interested in those bands or segments that no other record company, major or independent would want to touch with a ten foot pole… as long as they tickle my fancy.

I don’t really tailor fit or plan according to the “market” here. Crazy as it may sound, I’m my own market in the sense that other similar individuals who are more adventurous and open to new ideas and sounds will tune in to the same thing. They’re out there. Not in the millions, yes, but there’s THAT market for sure.

Q5: What were the obstacles and challenges you faced in building the Terno label at the onset?

The major difficulty has always been money. It was then, as it is now. Terno’s not making money because it’s purely about the music first and business second, being pro-artist in the creative sense as well. It’s that passion for music that’s fuelling it. If Terno was probably a label abroad then we would see financial rewards due to the size of what being ‘niche” there is.

Here, with piracy, illegal downloads and my 50-50 policy with bands–and as an aside, I don’t even own the material forever–makes it difficult for me to recoup my investments, but somehow we find ways to get around that and continue. Terno could use some funding, definitely, and it should be bigger; but for the past years, it’s more about the passion, blood, sweat and tears.

Q6: What would you say were the major milestones or memorable moments in building the label?

I really think the initial label gigs, TERNO AU-GO-GO, held quarterly from 2005 to 2006, were a huge factor in creating the buzz for the label and the hype for the bands. Up Dharma Down for example gained their initial audience from Terno Au Go Go then, creating the buzz that propelled them. So, yeah, the early days were very memorable when we would pack Saguijo with 500-700 people with the crowd spilling out on to the street.

Early days: an old poster promoting Terno Au Go Go, the quarterly event that was instrumental in generating a buzz for Terno artists like Up Dharma Down.

It’s still fun these days, doing the various Terno nights in other venues and at Saguijo wherein I’m told Terno’s is still the biggest draw. It’s a continuous process building the label and the bands on the roster, and this is done through the gigs. I don’t really feature anyone outside of the roster, except for opening slots for aspirants and new bands who want some help. Terno is not a “prod” wherein I get big name bands to pull in the crowd. As you can see, it’s triple the effort for Terno ever since, just relying on its own roster.

Terno just promotes those who are on Terno, and we build our audience as we go along. Amazingly, it does grow with new faces every year joining the die hards. Other than that, it’s the recognition the label gets for pushing the envelope. As far as milestones are concerned, Terno has loads of medals and accolades. Hopefully, money follows at some point.

Q7: Can you compare the domestic scene from when Terno began a decade ago and the present? Have there been major gains as far as the music and the audience are concerned?

There was definitely more of the usual then and not many of the new and global sounding acts. Typical Pinoy rock and “opm” but that has changed and presently, there’s a plethora of new bands that are fearless with their music, knowing they will not reach a wider audience but still having a go at their dreams.

Music appreciation has definitely improved from what I’ve seen when we’re booked for other events, at schools, etc. As far as the Terno audience goes though, it has always been about the music, and you really feel and see it via the gigs where people really “listen” to the bands playing.

Q8: What changes would you still like to see in the future as far as the music scene is concerned?

(I would like to see) Help from the government via grants, especially for acts that have the potential to reach a wider international audience as is the case with most Terno artists, to be able to tour abroad. It’s connected to tourism as well as these bands represent the country wherever they go. Other changes might just include raising standards, really: raising the benchmark for good quality in order to really compete with what’s out there.

Q9: For your tenth anniversary, you have chosen to bring in a French indie pop band, Tahiti 80. Why Tahiti 80?

Well, there are loads of other favorite foreign acts of mine that I could have brought in. The Blue Nile for instance would’ve been a nice coup or The Wedding Present. Paul Weller–I wouldn’t be able to afford. XTC’s out of the question but I wanted a band that was neither too “in” nor too new and current. An act, that had longevity and made very good, accessible pop songs that were of good quality. Not pop in the Black Eyed Peas sense but good, timeless pop that grabs the ear easily at first listen.

There’s but a limited number of bands, who are consistent like that, and with Tahiti 80, I was supposed to bring them in as far back 2007 and the years that succeeded, but I didn’t have the funding or the sponsors. (It was) Not much different this time around, but I figured why not grab the bull by the horns and celebrate Terno’s existence with a really good, credible fun band. Not commercial enough but not too underground, ear friendly for first-time and/or female listeners. Just as an aside, 95% of the ticket reservations so far have been made by women who make up quite a chunk of Terno’s audience.

Q10: After these ten years, what’s next for Terno Recordings?

Hopefully, we continue to trudge on, make some money, and put out more good stuff, not just for the local market but for an international one and really put the Philippines on the map, cliché as that may sound…. Well there’s that and the further fuelling of my ‘messianic complex’, ha-ha!

After all these years, Toti Dalmacion’s passion and determination seem just as fervent as ever. There aren’t that many individuals in the Philippine music scene who have contributed to the flourishing of new talent while sticking to their principles the way he has. If the last ten years is anything to go by, we can expect much more creative talent to blossom from his label in the future.

In celebration of Terno Recordings’ “tenth” anniversary, Tahiti 80 will be playing for one night in October, Friday the 21st at The Tents, Alphaland / Southgate. They will be supported by Terno’s very own Up Dharma Down and Radio Active Sago Project. 

Questioning Heroes


Rizal Park. Image care of Wikipedia.

In our milieu it seems that heroes exist on another plane. So hallowed have they become that they are practically unreachable; their actions impossible to duplicate, their mental faculties so far beyond the norm that they exist in the realm of myth and legend. Take the case of Jose Rizal, our National Hero (even as some dispute that position). He has become so mythologized, his mental capabilities so lauded and his achievements so exaggerated, that we have lost track even of who he was, what he was trying to achieve, and why he was so important at the time. Practically every child has to study Rizal A to Z, and yet few Filipinos understand Rizal’s hopes, dreams, politics, and beliefs. That American-era phrasing of Rizal as a reformist, first and foremost, is still extant and dominant. In other words the realities of Rizal are subsumed by a remnant of colonial thought. His enduring legacy, his subversive, satirical, and revolutionarily nationalist qualities novels, are little understood; despite them being mandatory reading. Father John Schumacher once called them paths to nationalism. I wonder how many Filipinos could articulate how and why they are avenues towards independence.

Original cover of Noli Me Tangere. Image from Wikipedia.

While it may seem that I am taking aim at our understanding of Rizal, I am only using him as the first example. The same holds true for the general understanding of Andres Bonifacio. He, in his own way, has become so overly manufactured and packaged that he bears little resemblance to what is historically known about him. His heroic existence has become such that it overshadows the Katipunan, and that groups’ true composition and accomplishments. Much like how our heroic reconstruction of Rizal has practically obliterated the accomplishments and beliefs of members of the Propaganda Movement; a movement that began well before he was born. On the flip side, the method with which we have constructed our ‘heroic’ understanding of Emilio Aguinaldo undermines the importance of the Philippine Republic; though that is also intertwined with how we have created Bonifacio.

Sometimes heroes are built just on the strength of one deed or one statement. This holds true for Senator Ninoy Aquino; everything that came before in his life, his politics, his beliefs, were obscured when he was assassinated. After, he became an unassailable icon of democracy and freedom. What is known of his politics has been forgotten in the shadow of a one moment. In favor of constructing the icon of Aquino even some history has been rewritten and purposefully forgotten. How much is known about LABAN? What do we actually know about Philippine resistance during his years in jail? Or while he was in exile? Or between his assassination and the eventual overthrow of Marcos? Ah yes, but Aquino died for our sins, so that must constitute the entirety of the resistance during Martial Law. He died for the Filipino, and that is enough. But, in truth, maybe it is not. Death, like life, to have meaning has to be consecrated to a greater ideal and hope. Rizal did not just die for the Filipino of his time, he died for the Philippines that he envisioned; that he hoped and fought for. What was that Philippines?

To an extant, all heroes require a certain level of sanitization and myth-building. All history to an extent becomes propaganda, and heroes even more so. What differentiates is the historical evidence that is used as basis for that myth-building and to what it is consecrated. Heroes act as beacons for right action and stalwart defenders of the public national good. They are models to emulate, through their lives and deeds a people understand how a nation is built and what it means to be, in our case, a Filipino. However, at no point should the hero overshadow their time and circumstances. Heroes must be in service of something: An ideal, a vision, a nation. Else heroes exist for just for themselves. And that is the situation that exists in the Philippines today. Our heroes exist on their own; sectioned away from the period in which they lived, the men with whom they fought and died, the politics they espoused, and the vision for which they fought. We have reduced our heroes to the most superficial of meanings, and in the process, excised their national importance.

I am not a fan of consistently benchmarking and evaluating ourselves against other nations and cultures. I am, though, in favor of cross-cultural comparative analysis to help understand and clarify our local situation. In the case of heroes, the United States provides excellent examples of heroic myth-building in favor of creating a national sensibility. The United States is exceptionally adept at sanitizing their heroes, while never ignoring that they lived, and survive, in service of a greater secular faith. One example is how the Battle of the Alamo (which was for Texian Independence from Mexico) was adopted into the US national patriotic narrative, on the strength of one letter that was written during the thirteen day long battle.  Or how George Washington, which based on his contemporaries was an insufferable asshole, has become the Father of the Republic. The American Founding Fathers exist as an untouchable pantheon in their public consciousness. But their knowledge of them is built on the strength of deeds, an understanding of their writings and political beliefs, and the context of the period in which they lived. At the risk of being far too simplistic, contextualizing elements that are completely absent in our understanding of our Pantheon of Heroes. Heroes require meaning to remain relevant; meaning requires understanding.

Rizal was the intellectual force behind the Revolution, on that we all seem to basically agree (setting aside the reformist trope for a moment). But, what exactly did that mean? What was it about his ideas that were so compelling? What were his philosophical and humanist beliefs that underpinned his advocacies? Who influenced him and why? The same holds true for Andres Bonifacio. We adulate him, but what do we know about his politics and philosophies? What was he trying to build through the Philippine Revolution? How about Emilio Jacinto? Apolinario Mabini? The Philippine Republic? There are reams of surviving public essays, letters, and articles from the Reformists, Propagandists, and Revolutionaries expounding, arguing, and defining exactly what they were trying to achieve. Instead of offering a deeper understanding of our heroes and their dreams, we are fixated, for example, on the fact that Rizal was (supposedly) fluent in twenty-three languages. That does nothing to further our national understanding, or connect us to Rizal as the hero. What it does is continue to support Rizal the Mythic Hero. Lost is the post-Enlightenment Rizal; the thinker who remains quite revolutionary today. Lost is Jacinto, who argued against any form of racial or ideological bias; who wrote that ‘goodness’ and ‘nobility’ are not found in an aquiline nose, but in the rightness of action and deed.

We are desperate for heroes. At the drop of a hat we are ready to dub any and all, even for the most superficial and simplistic of accomplishments, a national hero worthy of praise and honor. We rush to their defense, we hold them close to our collective heart and proclaim this is who we are and we are proud! Damn any who disagree! And yet I cannot help but feel that rush to adulate any and all flows from our tragically weak understanding of heroism. We barely acknowledge, much less understand, the historical accomplishments and importance of our Great and Glorious Pantheon of Heroes; beyond some grotesquely reductive examples of ‘heroism.’ At the heart of our misunderstanding of our heroes is an almost perverse simplicity in action. Ignored are the intricacies and complexities of what they believed and were trying to achieve. The result, I firmly believe, negatively affects modern day interpretations of ‘Filipino’ and patriotism. Superficiality reigns and we erroneously equate mindless and romantic momentary passionate action with deep-rooted nationalism; for example, as in the case of the August 23rd Cry of Pugad Lawin (an event with little resemblance to history). Our current social and cultural construction of heroes is antithetical to fostering a sense of deep, abiding, and binding nationalism. By reducing heroism to singular moments with little context we irrevocably limit our sense of modern nationalism. Deeper and more significant engagement will be found in reconsidering their philosophies, understanding their historical circumstances, and being aware of their cultural importance. In other words we have to put our heroes to the question. That process, those answers, will uncover the realities of our heroes and inevitably lead to a greater and far more invigorating sense of Filipino nationalism. Our heroes can become what they were meant to be: Guides for the future Philippines.

A-Stig-matics, pare!

“Here’s a song, baby, and I sing it to you” goes the opening line of the opening track from Straight Down the Bitter End the freshman album of the concept band Stigmatics under Terno Recordings the indie outfit of Toti Dalmacion which is based in the Philippines (hence the flag in the photo).

The duo is comprised of Grandi0s0, musical alchemist who manages the instruments and vocalist funb0y. With a name like theirs, you truly wonder what sort of scars both psychological and spiritual they intend to expose. No wonder these evil geniuses prefer to use stagenames in lieu of their true identities.

With its ominous sounding synths providing an eerie prelude for what is to come, you are swept in to the narrative as you get a sense of the pain, regret, and yes, the angst the tragic artist feels. This is vaudevillian rock at its finest: a confession set to music by “a broken man, without anymore plans” who is “only good for singing my blues.”

The wide expanse opened up by the “sinister-soul-blues” genre pioneered byGrandi0s0 the other half of the more popish sounding Dr StrangeLuv undulates naturally. Most of the songs in between the opener entitled Song and Dance Man and the closer to this opus Save Me switches frequently from the sonic pace of punk infused barbarity to the quaint, laid back style of country-Western laconicity.

These alternating currents charge the entire album and provide it with the tempo to carry you through all of fifteen tracks. The psychological journey involves ecstatic highs and the dolldroms of despondent lows.

It kicks into full gear with the tandem Killing Spree and Guilty Conscience. In their Facebook bio, the band writes that their music would not “sound out of place in Sergio Leone and Tarantino flicks”. This is the impression one gets from this initial pair of songs.

This Twisted Toxic Thing Love goes from a Pulp-styled techno-sounding indie rock song and morphs into a Euro-inspired dance inferno which you would expect to hear on the dancefloor of a Russian disco: futuristic and nostalgic at the same time.

The same kind of twist is spun on Something Got Lost Somewhere and Walking Down My Baby’s Street. The psychedellic space age vibe one gets particularly with the latter is utterly catchy and danceable, dare I say, like a B-52’s song on steroids.

Blinding Light is monotonic, repetitive, and sinister as it calls on you to “pick up the pieces, clean up the mess…give it a rest.” Vocalist funb0y on much of the album does not so much as sing his lines as much as recite them in a droll reminiscent at times of Johnny Cash, Lou Reed or Nick Cave depending on the mood he is in, I suppose.

Nightsong with its reggae beat is an interlude for the entire album. It is a perfect accompaniment for any nocturnal journey inviting the ghosts of the artist or whoever is listening to come out and haunt him as he makes his way through a thick forest of painful memories. No wonder he attempts to “drink the wine of forgetfulness.”

The second act revs up with Metamphetamine Blues. Indeed much of this album sounds a lot like a drug induced hallucination complete with frantic highs mixed with crashing waves spiralling out of control. The industrial guitar riffs and whiney solos mixed with sampled spoken word would make William S Burroughs or Tom Waits proud.  The disintegrating cacauphony that unravels gives you a mental image of a wax museum at 100 degrees or a conflagrating super-8 film.

At the troughs, confrontations with reality occur as in My Heart is Famished which evokes a gospelly church setting with its moog organic feel replete with gonging bells. An intervention seems to be occuring here with the artist conversing repentantly with his mother and then his sister.

The final act brings things to a head with the Blues Brotherly baseline of God’s Eye ushering you into the final scene. The translike mumbling of funb0y here weaves in and out of the sonic effects of guitars, synth recordings and samples in a confused frenetic manner.

With Save Me, we return to the ballady feel of the opening track. I can’t help but make comparisons once again to Nick Cave as the artist repetitively implores in mantra-like fashion the object of his desire to save him from “the darkness inside of me”. The sense of impending doom is apparent. He is right on the cusp of ending it all: totally cathartic. My only suggestion is that perhaps in their next album, the band might give this muse a voice to provide a complementary perspective.

And then finally in This is My Home, very much an epilogue, you are left with the remnants of the conflict. Perhaps in the end, a sense of acceptance and contentment emerges, with the artist acknowledging “I should have been dead” as he waltzes you off into a happy oblivion.

All in all, Straight Down the Bitter End chronicles the journey of a man who has been to the other end and back: a Nietzchean tale of someone who has stared into the abyss and self-destructingly recreated himself.

A grandiose design accomplished that should be given a listening ear by anyone open enough to explore such mental states and frames. It makes me nod with approval, as I admiringly pronounce Stigmatics a band that is well and truly astig (Philippine colloquial for super-cool)!

Filipinas, Rizal’s one and only

Do you know whom he loved best of all? I am often asked that question by those who delight in trivia under the guise of humanizing my illustrious and heroic great grand-uncle.

The owner of a private museum in Makati actually commissioned portraits of the fabled women in Rizal’s life;  there is a large, crackled oil painting of the Japanese one in, of all places,  Fort Santiago. One cringes at the thought of the noble and gallant Rizal presented as an irresponsible womanizer by some  untrained tourist guide. Let us hope that foreigners who visit Intramuros do not get the impression that Rizal  was executed for polygamy.

So much time is consumed speculating on  the degree of intimacy of each friendship, how many hearts he may have broken. Is fodder for endless debate. When Filipinos start bragging about Rizal’s  conquests, it sounds so ungallant, so vulgar and  lacking in delicadeza.
Rizal himself was admirably circumspect, in his letters to his sisters he extolled the virtues of the European women he befriended;  neither is there evidence of   kiss-and-tell stories to his drinking buddies. Whom did Rizal really love is everything  the youth  want to know these day. Whenever there is a deadline to beat for the Rizal course, groups of students from nearby schools flock to Manila City Hall to interview me.

Read more at Manila Bulletin

Time for some strange luvin’

It is not that hard to picture the lads of Dr StrangeLuv a band out of Laguna in the “greater” part of the Greater Manila Area, trudging along the terrain of their suburban environs like the mythological Sysyphus moving back and forth from home to school to mall to church and so on for all eternity. Sissypuss their debut album is no doubt inspired by such travails.

The duo comprised of the “obnoxious brothers” Grandioso and El Scum aka “the Ingenious Bastards” are the strangest thing to come out of Manila’s outer rim of late. It is out in suburbia where bands like this (Pavement that quintessential alternative rock band out of Stockton, California being a prime example), comprised of perfectly normal kids isolated from the city-center, with loads of time on their hands, are able to lazily stumble into a sound that teases out the mundaneness, absurdity and sinister aspects of middle class existence.

Sissypuss their freshman effort can only be described as a dis-assemblage and repackaging of various cultural forms both musical and lyrical into a strange but familiar mix. In it, a lo-fi quality is layered with complex samples and sonic punk melodies. It’s sort of Fantastic Plastic Machine meets Beck.

The closest comparison the band claims their listeners make of them is with American indie band, Guided by Voices, but for me that is too superficial a comparison. As I mentioned, their style is really a pastiche of different musical artifacts from different periods.

In Be the Boss a kind of country twang is combined with an almost spoken word-ish delivery and some funky guitar riffs reminiscent of the Velvet Underground. In Aight’ Ma, their lead vocalist mimics Bob Dylan. In one track I listened to at the maiden voyage of The Show with No Name (SND.FM) their sound approximated an apocalyptic Johnny Cash.

They describe their style as “space age blues funk and anti-folk”. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gimme Some Mo’. It is a track that could provide the auditory background to a scene in a Quentin Tarantino movie (you know d

uring that part where the villain is about to cut off an appendage from a hapless bystander). A clever fusion of disparate elements that creates a cinematic feel to it.

This visual appeal is maintained in I’m Still Breathing where they serve up a dreamy sound track that conjures up a starry scene from a Western flick where the cowboy rides off into the sunset, in this instance brandishing an electronic raygun flashing in the darkening skies.

Some might say it is inappropriate to compare music to film, but with Dr StrangeLuv I think it is inescapable and what makes their debut so triumphant. In dreaming up Sissypuss, visual imagery and atmospherics serve as just as important an aesthetic reference point as chords and beats.

In this sense, listening to Sissypuss is like watching an indie flick comprised of disparate narratives woven into one. Each track represents a different scene with a unique sense of time and place. Some might regard this an ambitious effort for the newcomers, but in the end, the collection amazingly hangs well together.

(Dr StrangeLuv is the latest signing of Terno Recordings)


Google reveals what Filipinos have been searching since 2004

Top Philippine Google searches since 2004

Could you wager a guess as to what Filipinos have been searching google for?

What? You in the back?

“Manny Pacquiao.”

Nope. try again.

Lady in blue, third row,



Yes, dude in black?

“Anne Curtis.”

Guys, you’re all wrong! Seriously. The top “breakout” search by Filipinos according to Google insight since 2004? Breakout according to Google insight is more than 5000 percent search.

“Facebook.” Second, “Facebook login.” Fifth, “torrent.”

Full list:
1. facebook Breakout
2. facebook login Breakout
3. youtube Breakout
4. google +550%
5. torrent +550%
6. yahoo mail +400%
7. friendster +250%
8. naruto +250%
9. mail +190%
10. quotes +190%


According to Google Zeitgeist what was 2010’s most searched for terms?

(click to enlarge image)

If seemingly inconsequential things are being searched, what does this tell us? That people are using Google as a user interface for the Web.

An invation to a design discussion at Heima

Mr. Bong Rojales, the part owner of Heima, is inviting those who are interested in joining the activities at their Makati store this May 14. There event will start in the afternoon with a series of interactive discussions on design. The schedule is as follows:

1 to 2 PM – Life is a Party! Designs by Heima
2 to 3 PM – Interior and Furniture Photography by Paolo Feliciano
3 to 4 PM – Design Blogging by My Design Folder
4 to 5 PM – What We Have Learned by Everywhere We Shoot
5 to 6 PM – Dress My Nest by SoFa School of Interior Design

This is to be followed by “Life is a Party” which is the main event.

Heima will launch their third major collection which has the “Life is a Party!” theme. It features products and furniture which are foreign inspired but all Philippine-made. I saw some of them yesterday and the furniture are well-crafted and perfect for the laid-back lifestyle. The products and furniture are simple, linear, and colorful.

Also to be launched on that night is Paper Club which is their new line of products which will cater to the D-I-Y, craft-oriented, and indie-spirited market. Products will include wall decals, notebooks, note pads, books and other quirky finds. These all goes well with their other lifestyle products such as vinyl records, lomo cameras, design books, soy candles, etc.

There will be live performances that night so it should be a fun party. If you want to attend, contact [email protected] or +63 9178110418.