Foreign indie acts in Manila? They don’t make much sense. Yet.

The only way to buy a Feist album here is on vinyl, and frankly, that is not right.

In the past few years we’ve seen more relatively out-of-mainstream acts perform in Manila. Gone, it seems, are the times when the only foreign artists who would stop here are 60s and 70s bands targeting baby boomers, or the obviously big pop acts. Now we’ve had visits from Grimes, the xx and Tegan and Sara. We’ve had the Wanderland Festival last April, an attempt at bringing summer festival culture to the Philippines (albeit with half of the line-up being Aussie acts with, likely, a very small following). And, of course, there were the bigger acts, like Joss Stone at Malasimbo (which has been going on for a while and has been, so far, mostly under the radar) and, last month, the Killers.

And now we got wind of news that the National, Warpaint and Mogwai are coming to Manila this February. That is not something I expected, although something I shouldn’t be that surprised in. Think about it. Phoenix is visiting us next year. We have the 7107 Festival, slated in the summer at Clark, with rumors that Kanye West will be one of the performers, and the tickets will cost up to P30,000. We have the local concert-oriented Twitter pages teasing a Haim concert. And then, this.

I’ll admit, I should be giddy. When I heard that Laneway Festival – a bunch of indie acts doing a road show across Australia – would make a stop in Singapore, I almost dropped everything and went there. (I didn’t, because there just wasn’t enough time to save up, which means I missed out on Kimbra just when I was starting to really appreciate her stuff.) But – and again, this is weird for a guy who started a music sort-of blog – I am not a rabid concert goer; I’ve only been to four, and only paid for two. I’m not sitting here going, “oh my goodness, Warpaint is coming here!” although I do like their stuff.

Sure, a part of me goes, “why didn’t this happen sooner?” but I have no complaints. Finally, everyone (who can afford it) can go to concerts of people they genuinely like. The old people get their new wave acts; the high schoolers get their Selena Gomezes and Paramores. And the hipsters, mostly adrift all this time, can now get their Phoenix, thanks perhaps to rich kids who were raised watching Coachella and decided that it should happen here, and conveniently have had the right connections.

But I find it weird. The ecosystem here doesn’t quite support that sort of thing. Now, maybe I am wrong. Maybe I’m looking at the wrong things. But radio stations here have limited support for such acts. NU 107 is gone, and so is UR 105.9. (Remember them?) Jam 88.3 arguably does well to raise the flag for indie acts, but their support is limited to token slots. Maybe that is enough, but only the converted get preached on.

Our record stores still have the same old albums from the same old artists. Sure, Fully Booked stocks the more popular indie (whatever that means nowadays) acts, but the fact remains that some of the artists that have performed here, and will perform here, are not readily available on our record stores. I mean, the National is coming here, and I know people who like them a lot, but I have never seen their albums sold here. It’s likely they were found on YouTube and then downloaded illegally, that sort of thing.

Actually, some of these albums are available here, but infuriatingly, it’s only available on vinyl. I have nothing against vinyl; I get that it’s coming back, or has come back, and that for the more dedicated musos out there, nothing beats the sound of a 12-inch record. But if the only way I can legitimately obtain a physical Feist record here is through vinyl – which means I should buy a vinyl player – then no thanks. I like my music but I’m more casual about it. Or at least relatively casual about it.

But again, I am not complaining. Maybe this is the push we need. The Philippines is suddenly looking like a good place for foreign bands to go to. (Maybe it’s economics. Maybe it’s politics. Maybe it’s, well, connections.) Just a little more and maybe we’ll have their records more readily available here. Maybe soon I don’t have to binge on records whenever I’m in Singapore. Maybe soon these songs will be more available on the radio. (Maybe NU 107 will come back? Wishful thinking. I know Jam has that position now but I still think they’re patronizingly bad.) Maybe soon ticket prices will go down and these concerts will not only appeal to the fans, but also to those who want to discover these acts. You know, doing away with the hipster-acts-are-for-hipsters-only belief.

And maybe all this will mean a resurgence for local indie acts. I’ll admit, sometimes I yearn back to the mid-00s, when all these local bands dominated – the pogi rock of Sponge Cola, the off-kilter love songs of Kamikazee, the soundscapes of Up Dharma Down, the smart writing of the Itchyworms. Sure, back then, these guys had much more support, from NU to WLS-FM, from more open-minded record stores to more patient record executives. Now, yes, we have a burgeoning indie scene, with artists like Flying Ipis and Kate Torralba and Dragonfly Collector (that’s Clementine, of Orange and Lemons and Camerawalls fame) making the rounds, but again, they’re mostly tucked away in small venues performing to converted crowds.

Maybe when the foreigners pave the way, the locals will follow, and then our music scene will be much more interesting. Not that it isn’t interesting now, but for most of us, it certainly does not seem that way. [NB]

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