What did we learn on the blog over the last five years, Niko?

Happy birthday to us!

On Saturday morning I made some tweets, inspired by yet another tweet I saw. “Remember when all pop was throwaway and ‘indie’ was better than anything else?” I pondered. “Now, there’s such a thing as ‘indie pop’, and even the ‘bad’ pop is now getting cool kid cred. So, you know, it’s all fluid. But we want to be icy cool. Icy cool to the point of frozen.”

It’s a three-part tweet, but only the first part got responses, unsurprisingly. Whoever’s running the Twitter account for local band the Geeks (I don’t know who, sorry) was first. “Indie pop’s been around since the C86 days, though,” he said, “so it’s actually older than the current iteration of indie.” He’s right. The Smiths were considered indie pop back in the day, after all.

The second comment was from the Strange Creatures‘ Jon Tamayo, who also reminded me of the same thing, but through a link to a Pitchfork article about the evolution of “indie pop”. Reading it, I was, like, “dammit, Niko, you forgot about all this!” I did forget that “twee pop” was considered indie pop. Jon and I were even talking about it at one point. We share a love of Camera Obscura, and still regret the passing of their keyboardist Carey Lander.

A friend introduced me to Camera Obscura when I was still a freshman at La Salle. Around this time, I began doubling down on this new thing (to me) called British radio. I couldn’t listen reliably at home as we only had dial-up then, so I spent a lot of time at the Netopia branches around La Salle, or at my route back home, to do some blogging, and also, to listen to whatever the guys at 6 Music were playing. I decided I wanted something like that on my MP3 player (I didn’t have an iPod yet then), so I began noodling around for songs. There was Camera Obscura, and then there was Belle and Sebastian. I didn’t listen exclusively to that sort of music, but you get the idea.

Around that time I met Tonet through a radio show – local, I must note – which we listened to. This was the time when I still had faith in local radio, when my bus rides from class saw me flipping through the entire dial with my FM radio-equipped phone, from Crossover to Love Radio to Max FM to, belatedly, NU 107. (My musical awakening did begin in high school, after all, thanks to friends who knew more about local bands than I did, and more importantly, had the albums they were willing to lend me.)

This was also the time when Yahoo! Groups were still a thing. Upon learning that I was enjoying XTC’s “Senses Working Overtime”, she invited me to this group – where its members were happily swapping indie pop references – for a band that had yet to debut: the Camerawalls.

"Sometimes I end up feeling frustrated at how much of a closed community the local music scene can be."

It was five years ago today when I launched earthings! There’s nothing special about the launch date. I have been playing with the idea of starting a music blog, sort of, for three years or so. Actually, it was supposed to be a radio blog – 300-word reviews of whatever I heard on the radio, and my opinions on it. Somewhere the concept evolved. I felt I could write about music since I covered several seasons of American Idol in a past life. I was also writing album reviews on Multiply (remember that?) and got some encouragement to press on. I did harbor dreams of writing for a media outfit, after all. I spent my childhood doing newspapers, and sometimes magazines, by hand. Writing for something that isn’t a personal blog is a natural thing to do. I have done it many times, after all.

I wasn’t supposed to update this thing regularly. The plan was just to write about the songs I always loved, and the songs I am just learning to love, whenever I come across it, and maybe an occasional album review here and there. However, from the very first day, I found myself just stumbling upon all these things, and suddenly I was posting updates daily. And then I went to concerts, and decided I can write about them, too.

Suddenly, this blog was more than just an exercise in writing shorter. As with everything I set a routine to, I get more involved. We – there was a loose group, starting with my girlfriend Shalla – were attempting to be more topical, writing things that aligned with whoever was in town. I guess I was inspired by this phase back in my last years in high school, when I thumbed through budget bookstores for old issues of Q and Spin and was inspired by how music journalism could be – not that I ever aspired to be one of them. So, we did theme weeks. We did musical retrospectives. We even did essays that sometimes had a very tangential connection to music, like this one because, really, this is about the blog, for a change.

I had a hard time looking for photos of me doing earthings! stuff - I don't have a lot of photos of myself. But then there's this, taken by Shalla from a beanbag, while I took photos before the crowd at Reese Lansangan's album launch swelled.
I had a hard time looking for photos of me doing earthings! stuff – I don’t have a lot of photos of myself. But then there’s this, taken by Shalla from a beanbag, while I took photos before the crowd at Reese Lansangan’s album launch swelled.

With that came an opinion about the things around us. See, we did get way too involved. We wrote about suspicious music festivals, attracted a good amount of hate mail, and ultimately built a feature around our reaction to it. We wrote about musicians getting murdered. We wrote – or at least hinted; I never got around to writing a whole essay on it – about the god worship concert promoters cultivated around themselves, the god worship that we utterly disliked.

Perhaps this showed the most when we began to cover more of local musicians. This was a side adventure I personally tried to resist but ended up doing anyway, in the belief (since proven) that it would be good for the blog. I still had those media dreams, after all. But you tend to see things through your opinions, and sometimes I end up feeling frustrated at how much of a closed community the local music scene can be, how you see the same people going to the same venues seeing the same people, how it feels like you have to know some sort of passcode before you can get into it. (And with news that Russ Davis is stepping down from his duties at Jam 88.3 today, who knows what might happen?)

Maybe it’s my naiveté, but back in high school it seemed that you can just listen to something to understand. Maybe it’s a case of 28-year-old me knowing more than 15-year-old me. Maybe it’s the another sign of the world moving away towards genuine shared experiences with impressions of such, what with the Internet being empowering and all. I’m pretty sure it’s an unpopular opinion, considering how many times I’ve been discouraged from being more public with those thoughts. “Bakit ka ba maraming reklamo sa scene, eh kasama ka naman doon?” Shalla once asked me, arguing that, despite my efforts at keeping distance, I’m still part of it. Arguably. See the opening paragraphs.

"Like with all other forms of art, we claim intense ownership of the music we love, no matter how and where we find it."

The original motto of earthings! is “a blog about the things that enter my ears”. (That led to a quick gag about how this was a blog about insects.) Sure, by the time I started this thing I was partial towards British indie, but I acknowledge I also had a thing for 70s and 80s music (I grew up with it) and maybe the sort of pop I could tolerate amidst the banal chatter on top 40 radio these days. It really was a blog about what I like, no matter what the genre is. That explains the occasional foray into “masa” music, or our recent focus on K-pop.

In an ideal world, music is just that. Music. You may like certain types and dislike others, but it shouldn’t define whether you’re a better person or not. But in the five years this thing has been chugging along, I understand why there’s a need to put a label on something. For one, it makes describing things easier, which is basic enough. When you reach a point that you have so many song recommendations on your inbox, and you’re pressed for time, you do start reading the publicity material and decide if it’s worth the time.

However, words are powerful. Anybody who writes knows what a difference a synonym can make, or even punctuation. The words you put on one thing can make something seem exceedingly good or tediously terrible. Therefore, “pop” is throwaway, “metal” is the devil’s music, “R&B” is for sexy times, and “indie” is cool, never mind that those terms could mean many things at any given moment. Now, even the so-called cool kids can get behind Justin Bieber, and not all indie is indie enough; the moment you perform at an arena, you can no longer be indie. Unless you call yourself “indie pop” and insist that you haven’t strayed from your original artistic ethos.

Shalla and I listen to some local act on her phone through Spotify. We didn't like the act. We won't tell you who.
Shalla and I listen to some local act on her phone through Spotify. We didn’t like the act. We won’t tell you who.

Like with all other forms of art, music is fluid. What once were notes are now chords. (I can read neither, and yet I do this.) Punk was genuinely revolutionary at the time, but now it’s just another aesthetic. Indie pop was once the Smiths, and then it was Camera Obscura, and now, I don’t know – is Owl City indie pop, or a Postal Service rip-off? That’s the other thing. Like with all forms of art, music is intensely personal. It’s not just the process of making it – or pouring your soul out into GarageBand wavelengths and guitar pedal dials and lyrics on scraps of paper – but the process of listening to it, of finding something to like about it. In the past five years I found myself connecting many songs to points in my life. It can’t be avoided.

More importantly, like with all other forms of art, we claim intense ownership of the music we love, no matter how and where we find it – and we let the music define us, if just in part. “What kind of music do you listen to?” leads to judgments on whether you’re an optimist or cynic. Happy, jangly songs? Dark, brooding ones? Does your favorite artist always talk about art, politics, puppies? And then it goes on. Are you happy with the simple things or do you relish a challenge? Are you one to accept what you’re given or one to seek out what’s really good? Are you true to your beliefs or will you sell out when it’s convenient? Words matter, especially when it defines us. Words can be used to make us look better than we really are. That means words can mean one thing today and another thing tomorrow. That’s why we’re in the middle of this mess, for lack of a better term. It’s all fluid – it’s all supposed to be fluid – but we want to be icy cool, to the point of being frozen.

Now, I wish I could say I am above that, but, well, no. On my very first entry on this blog – about one of my absolute favorite songs, Keane‘s “Everybody’s Changing” – I referred to trying out this thing called “curation”, because “curating” music for the great masses’ consumption makes you a person of good taste. I shudder at the thought now. I really just wanted to write about the music I like, whether it be a classic rock icon, an up-and-coming producer, or something from Seoul’s studios. We’ll try to continue doing that for as long as we can keep this thing going, at least until we get too busy with our parallel lives that we have to pull the plug. We know that’s coming sooner or later. But, wow, five years. Not bad for a writing exercise. Happy birthday to us. [NB]

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