A (sort of) history of earthings! in five artists

We must go back in time, not to 2012, when we launched this blog – but to 2004.

It was a good year, 2004, at least musically, at least to me. I was in third year high school, entering my fourth, and my ears were starting to become more aware. The music landscape still wasn’t that fragmented; you’d still hear pop stations play alternative acts that aren’t, well, annoying – I always attributed that to older people here still listening to stations supposed to cater for younger audiences. And then there were the beginnings of another renaissance in Philippine alternative, one which would go full swing when I entered college.

I was on my way home from school – my mother picked me up and drove me home – when I first heard Keane’s “Everybody’s Changing”. It was one of those moments I’ve often talked about on here: the song hits you in the right spots at the right time. I remember that moment vividly: the sun was setting, I was slumped in the car seat, and I began to wonder what Tom Chaplin was on about.

Keane were one of my first favorite bands, so when I finally opened this blog in 2012, it was a no-brainer that I’d write about them – and specifically that song – first. Back in those days we grasped for content when we foolishly decided to publish a new entry daily, so we ended up writing about Keane a total of 13 times, including five entries counting down to their concert in Manila – the first ever we covered. It was weird, in hindsight, carrying a DSLR and a shopping bag – it was my first time buying something from Uniqlo – on that day.

A few days later, I crossed paths with this lady on Twitter who was still buzzing from the concert. Her name is Chesca. I quickly made friends. We talked a fair bit in those days – she was the first to figure out what was going on between Shalla and I before I could. She was in the front row (I was in seventh) and she had tickets to the meet-and-greet (I didn’t bother) alongside her sister, Nia.

Me first meeting Nia, however, that was fuzzier. I don’t recall how we first talked online, but I remember how we first met in person – it was all documented here, in an essay I wrote back in 2013, when she waited at the lobby of the EDSA Shangri-la to meet Brandon Flowers. It turns out she was at the wrong Shangri-la, but she’d have that photograph with him after the concert.

And we’d become really good friends, even if we never always met – she lives in Cebu, and I live in Manila. I found myself in her city often enough when I changed jobs four years ago, and so we’d have several Friday nights (and some Saturday mornings) where we’d talk about dreams and aspirations and all that stuff. And to think I was initially intimidated by her because she seemed to have it all sorted out. Like, who was I to disturb her? Nia – well, I call her Nat instead – is one of my better friends, and it wouldn’t have happened if not for this blog. If not, perhaps, for that afternoon back in 2004.

 

Keane performing at the Mall of Asia Arena, 21 October 2012
This was a magical moment during the gig: Tim Rice-Oxley and Tom Chaplin sort of duelling with their keyboards. I never got up close with them, but this is one of my favorite photos ever.

 

The desperation for stuff to write about led me to this blog’s second obsession. I learned about Kimbra through Alyssa, although I think she already appeared on that Gotye song at the time. Still, just in time for the release of her debut record, which I ended up having a physical copy of (thanks to my parents who hunted it down in Tokyo for me). I was so enamored with her music that I’ve written about her a total of 19 times – the most of any artist on this blog. (This essay makes it 20.) It came to a point that, when we learned that she was heading to Manila, a fan told me that I made it possible, because of all the stuff I’ve written about.

It was a long shot, but I brought my two (at the time) Kimbra CDs, alongside what I’ve called in these parts as the Ceremonial Dia Frampton Sharpie – the marker my friend Mika bought since I was terribly ill-prepared when I found myself waiting for Dia before her first concert here. Again, long shot. It was a music festival. Not that I knew enough about them, but do you ever cross paths with acts on the actual grounds in events like these? Or maybe not this one, since we tend to have music festivals only by name. The Jack TV MAD Fest had a lot of opening acts who only performed, like, five songs each, although it was a nice reminder that Marc Abaya loves to spit water into the crowd.

I was okay with those CDs not being signed if I knew the possibility was small. Turns out, it wasn’t.

Shalla and I were second and third in line at the VIP gates. First in line was Dale, who took the bus from Baguio just to watch one of her favorite acts. She’s been waiting there around half an hour before us, I think, during which time she managed to spend, in her words, three seconds with Kimbra herself. Dale said hello to Kimbra. And we were having lunch at the time.

I’m not a guy who goes to concerts a lot, so I get annoyed often when some media outfits romanticize the concert experience, like it’s the only way to ever experience music, and to call yourself a music fan. (Here’s a case in point.) But Dale is a sort-of concert buddy, because it was us three who took the very best spot in the front row, and it was us three who kept each other company when concert security decided to be assholes about us taking photos of Kimbra, performing in a higher stage than everybody else. And when it was all over, we decided to make use of our only VIP privileges – access to a lounge – where she bought Shalla and I some Cokes.

In revenge, I turned her on to First Aid Kit, an act who would never likely come to Manila, and much later, I turned her on to Mamamoo, which turned her overnight into a K-pop stan. Or at least a K-pop stan enabler, considering how her brother turned out to be a bigger MooMoo than anyone else I know. I mean, he has a freaking radish light stick.

 

Kimbra at the Mall of Asia Concert Grounds, 5 December 2014
This is the closest I’ll get to Kimbra. Dale, on the other hand, got to say hello to her. Well, who’d expect her to enter the festival grounds through the VIP ticket entrance?

 

Speaking of Mamamoo, they aren’t technically my entry point to K-pop. When Shalla and I were just meeting instead of dating, she would make me listen to the Korean acts she likes, and I was surprisingly receptive – although, again, perhaps it’s that desperation for content. Arguably, my first favorite was Lee Hi, because I’ve always gravitated towards voices like hers. (My review of “1, 2, 3, 4” is the first ever K-pop post on the blog.)

How I discovered Mamamoo is a matter of argument; Shalla thinks she introduced them to me, while I think I first heard of them on Monocle 24. In any case, by the time I latched on to “Piano Man” I was more than receptive to a genre that I was a bit dismissive of just years prior. Along the years my knowledge of K-pop has grown – so much so that our first ever How to Collect, written before a trip to Seoul in 2015, covered too little ground in hindsight – and I’ve begun to wonder how these people decide on who to stan, especially when they choose an act before they even debut. I guess it makes sense in a world where visual impact counts as much as musical ability – not that Mamamoo doesn’t; they’re one of the rare groups where their vocal chops equal their personality’s appeal. But then, I digress.

It feels like I’ve fallen out of the Mamamoo bandwagon lately. I guess it’s the inherent disappointment of their last four records, or it’s the knowledge of all these other groups – technically we’ve written more about GFriend – or it’s the fatigue from work. Being a K-pop fan is hard work; being a K-pop fan requires you prove your love in ever expensive and grand ways, and I didn’t really want to be part of that. (I’m a completist, but I am six physical albums behind.) I feel a bit weird when I realize my competitive streak comes up when I see Dale and Allene (I met her through the Dia Frampton concert; I also converted her to a MooMoo) are able to buy merchandise.

But then, I get this weird smug feeling too. I managed to make two MooMoos! Well, more of, me writing about these groups is connecting with people who wouldn’t be receptive otherwise. It tells me I’m doing well as a writer.

This blog has always been a writing experiment. On my other blog I write really long pieces – well, I used to – and I wanted to see if I can write short. For the most part, that’s been the template, save for that time when I decided to augment everything with long reads about peripherally musical stuff. (One of those is a 2,800-word opus on being a MooMoo that took a month to build.) And sometimes I’d get these really nice words from people, fans and musicians alike, about how they’re enjoying reading the blog. I’ve gotten a fair bit of that after I announced the closure. Would my decision have changed if I heard from them more often? Maybe. But then I’m not here for the accolades. I didn’t want this to be big. On average I only get fifty hits daily – that’s nothing. This has always been a hobby that got bigger than it should be. Which makes sense, come to think of it.

 

Niko watching Mamamoo on Korean TV
This will be the only image of me fanboying to Mamamoo, now that this blog is closing down and there’s a slim chance they’ll ever perform in Manila. Luckily, it’s of my bias, Wheein, although I didn’t know that then.

 

It was Shalla who first wrote about Reese Lansangan on the blog. I was at a boring industry event and she was at one of those music festivals, which led to her writing about “Creeper” (and her riffing on who the real creeper is). I don’t recall what happened right after, but one thing led to another, and then I was suddenly at her solo exhibit launch, a decision I made spontaneously – something I don’t usually do. It was the first local music event we ever covered on the blog, although you don’t normally talk to the artist’s mother for insights into the art – that, we did.

I’ve always attributed that event as my “awakening” to local indie music. By this time the renaissance of the mid-2000s has dissipated, with “credible” bands crawling back into their shells, their outlets giving way to more mainstream formats, and everything else being fragmented. Me, after watching these bands in afternoon gigs in La Salle, I began to lose touch, because working means I had to travel two hours to work and back, and I prized my sleep over being in the loop. After the Gathering Season’s launch I had a bit more confidence to follow up on some of the acts I’ve seen, although it would really take years for coverage of local music to amp up.

Again, this is supposed to be a writing experiment, not a serious journalistic exercise. But there was a bit of a high in being noticed by the artists you write about, even if I’ll tell you getting the reactions are scary. There was also a high in being able to ask people questions about the stuff they do. A year after the exhibit launch Shalla attended one of Reese’s collage workshops, which I saw as an opportunity to ask her a question: will you ever release an album? Yes, she said, and it should be in a few months’ time. That turned out to be Arigato, Internet!, which we got to listen to ahead of everybody else.

So that empowered us further. I still wasn’t going to be a constant presence; I couldn’t afford that. But in the years to come we put in a little more effort to amp up our local music bona fides. There was this UDD interview that came from out of nowhere – I’ve always considered that the blog’s coming of age moment. We amped up our local album reviews, seeing that as a niche nobody else was doing, surprisingly. We did the Local Outsider, which was fun, until I realized I was cramming it every month because my day job is slowly demanding more of me. We even went to a few more gigs, most of them at the invitation of our friends at Bandwagon. (I didn’t write about all of them. I have technically seen Fools and Foes once.) It was that high that kept me going, until I realized I no longer had time for this, and more importantly, I was no longer enjoying it as much as I did before.

Still, getting those words of encouragement from artists and industry people was a much needed boost, even if I didn’t want to admit it. And while it’s been a long time since we last saw Reese live, I still look back to her encouragement in our early years. Honestly, I don’t think she’ll read this now, but this blog owes a lot to her.

 

Arigato, Internet! listening party, 29 November 2015
Shalla, Reese and I right after the listening party to her debut album, Arigato, Internet! We made weird poses. I don’t recall why.

 

Getting the attention of foreign artists was a much bigger kick, because, hello, that never happens! I still remember how giddy I got when I got an email from Courtney Barnett with some song recommendations – and this was before she became a big deal in the United States. At the back of my head I always hoped to be able to get her for Five Songs, but I didn’t quite know who to ask, and I never had the time to do so.

But then, I should have expected that. Twitter makes it easier for people to know what others are saying about them, for the most part. (Or shut them down. Both this blog’s Twitter account and my personal one are, for some reason, blocked by Ryan Adams.) That means artists and PR people determining that my blog is worth submitting songs to, because I have the reach (I don’t) to tell more people about their stuff (well, perhaps that is true). I guess it’s because I’ve made it a policy to go beyond the usual hype cycles, which in my case meant listening to radio stations in a foreign language, hoping a song catches your attention, and writing about them.

Two years into the blog my radio geekery led me to the Danish, and to me writing about Shy Shy Shy for the first time. All these years later I still thoroughly enjoy their music, of how it sounds all innocent and yet so packed. They noticed me, and we began talking, and the next thing we know, I’ve reviewing their album ahead of most, and I even got them to do a Five Songs feature. It’s an unexpected perk – not the advance copies, but knowing that you’re making an impact. This is cheesy. We all know we get something from each other. One gets promo; the other gets a high. But these things still tell me that, well, this writing experiment is echoing beyond the borders you set for it. And, for me, I can say the music I listen to is cooler than yours. It’s juvenile, but who else would listen to foreign radio stations to hunt those gems down?

Later down the blog’s run I realize I’m getting a bit of a profile, at least when it comes to the music I write about. There’s indie pop with a tinge of sunshine to it. There’s really weird stuff from Switzerland, which has always been a kick to write about, because you just don’t know how to describe them. There’s old stuff you wouldn’t be able to contextualize easily. There’s the local stuff, apparently written with honesty not everybody else has – but why isn’t that the case elsewhere? What are we afraid of? Losing access?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to have a duo from Denmark call your blog as one of their favorites.

Yes, perhaps this blog could have been bigger, but the one thing holding me back is my unwillingness to make this thing the one thing that defines me. I have a day job. I don’t have the time to make this hobby bigger than it is, although it sort of did, still. I like lazing around in bed, or spending time with Shalla, or just geeking around with more random foreign radio stations. I don’t see that as a limitation, but rather as a selling point. For most of its life I’ve described earthings! as “a music blog for everybody else” – those with a more than passing interest in music, but who have other things to deal with. With those parameters, it’s inevitable that I will eventually have no time for this, and I’ll have to close it down.

Well, we’re at that point.

All that said, it’s been a fucking grand adventure. Might not mean much to you, but it means that much to me, whether I’d like to admit it or not. It’s a hole that’ll take a while to fill, if it ever will be. [NB]

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