Closing Time

It’s that time of the year again. I’ve reached the bandwidth limit of image uploads for this blog and I can’t be arsed to subscribe for a paid blog, so I’m moving on. Come find me at astrojeepney2.wordpress.com. I might need some time to set up shop over there, but that’s where the party will be at. Believe.

Some parting shots to end the year then!

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Nights in B&W

DSCF5305Conspiracy Garden Cafe

DSCF5262Musician Joey Ayala at Conspiracy

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Carlo Pacolor Garcia introducing the pilot episode of Q.C., Ta-as Cafe

DSCF7192Activist Vencer Crisostomo explaining the need to struggle, over music at BLKD’s album launch, Mow’s bar

DSCF7279Rapper Loonie mid-cypher, Mow’s bar

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Nights Like These

Preview of Carlo Pacolor Garcia’s QC: Episode 1

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Sito is having a bad day. An argument with his girlfriend which led to an argument with a girl friend became to a half-hearted midnight tryst in the back of his car and is rudely interrupted by a couple of cops hoping to squeeze money out of stone. That more or less catapults Sito towards a crazy chain of events: a semi-professional book heist, a very angry, very large George Stregan at their heels, misadventures in alcohol and drugs inside dingy bar restrooms, and a bunch of strange kids –the kind your momma warned you about– piling in the backseat, generating steam heat, and pulsating to the back beat.

Carlo Pacolor Garcia’s QC: Episode 1 is just that: a pilot episode to a larger work. It introduces characters, establishes locations and background situations, and hints at a broader narrative. For a pilot, Episode 1 is brimming with potential. Already, the strange yet-unnamed individuals of Sito’s new gang seem to fit familiar subconscious molds. I’ve had friends like that, with tattoos like that, slinging critical theory and swear words like that.

Maybe that aspect of QC can be a bit self-serving. Right off the bat, Episode 1 caters to people like me: fairly young, middle class kids who spent their wild and reckless youth roaming the messed up streets of Quezon City in the 90s. For anyone who has gotten lost in these streets, one could play bingo with the locations featured in QC: a grimy narrow alleyway in Old Balara, that street by the side of UP Diliman’s shopping center, or the internal shots of Boho Sarapsody, a dearly-beloved bar near Cubao that has since closed down when ill-behaved foreigners got too loud and rowdy in the surrounding residential area.

Garcia’s characters are pretty strange too, in an outlier sort of way. Decked out in thrift store swag, with no regard to what the billboard and TV say style should look like. These are kids who don’t give a fuck, the kind of kids Quezon City molds so well. Why would anyone shoplift books from Popular Bookstore in T. Morato, and then head straight to a bar to get shitfaced on beer and acid? This is QC underground, and the 90s was a period when alternative culture thrived.

Throughout the screening, I couldn’t help but snicker at certain scenes. I’m fairly certain I was grinning the entire time. As peculiar as Sito’s misadventures were, I couldn’t deny the fact that there really were nights like these in QC. Nights so wild and unpredictable, bleeding into an equally perplexing dawn. Nights that are dizzying and disgusting and satisfying all at the same time. You stumble into your bed (or someone’s bed. Or a comfortable patch of ground) to sleep the buzz off, then wake up at the crack of noon and do it all over again. To some, QC might come off as a cautionary tale. To me, it was like a love letter to one of those nights.

The thing about pilot episodes is that it works like the first part of a roller coaster. The story keeps going up, giving you an idea of how fast and steep the inevitable fall could be. But just when it starts getting good, BAM. Credits roll. And the thing about an independently produced web series like this is that it exists in uncertainty. Will there be money enough for the next installments? Will the cast be able to retain their looks for continuity’s sake? Will everyone involved in the production be interested in shooting again, when the money does come? Is there an audience for this punk rock DIY aesthetic that speaks so loudly to the outliers of our generation, all fifteen of us?

What does George Stregan have to do with all this and why is he so angry? Will Sito ever make amends with his girlfriend or his girl friend? Who’s that mysterious girl Talullah who kisses complete strangers in bookstores and what’s the deal with her friends? And what about the cops? Fuck the cops.

None of these questions will be answered in QC: Episode 1. But there really are nights when the asking is more important anyway. #

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Radioactive

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Around July, Rogue Magazine asked if I wanted to do a piece on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Who doesn’t want to go snooping around the country’s only nuclear plant? And it’s been sleeping for half a century too. You know that’s right up my alley.

A copy of the article is floating around somewhere on the internet, but the Rogue website is down and due to be relaunched in October. It might resurface again. Pretty proud of that story. Central feature and all.

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That Rebel MC

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BLKD’s debut album Gatilyo hits all the right notes

Exciting times out here for local hip hop.

Time was, Filipino rap musicians were at the mercy of mainstream radio stations and record labels. Quietly branded as jologs, or at least not as cool as Pinoy rock, Pinoy rap lived in the sidelines as the occasional novelty song or short-lived hit. Today’s underground hip hop has gone their own route, thriving in the digital age. Bangers are churned out through accessible music and recording software and promoted through the internet’s viral, peer-sharing culture. Mainstream’s shunning of early hip hop has shaped it into the monster it currently is: unafraid to say what it wants, with a diverse spread of MCs across the country, and a dedicated following.

Among the new pantheon of Pinoy hip hop’s wave-makers is BLKD (“Balakid”) who made his bones rap battling in FlipTop. To the uninitiated, a quick Google search should yield some of his finer rounds (and a few brutal moments of epic choking). He’s built his name as a smart, socially-aware rapper with thick-framed glasses, unabashedly dropping bombs about his UP and activist background.

These days, BLKD has ditched his specs –they never had lenses, he admits– and put on some pounds, but his zingers still sting. With the launch of Gatilyo, he’s stepping up his game.

9 tracks in, Gatilyo  (or trigger) clocks at a modest 30 or so minutes, but every song packs quite a punch. Generously supported by DJ UMPH, the beats touch on all the hallmarks of a modern hip hop classic while BLKD’s razor-sharp lyrics sound the alarm on our 21st century, 3rd world living.

Style, Structure, and Powerful Pronouns

Listening to Gatilyo makes two things abundantly clear: the songs are ordered in a particular way, and BLKD is very conscientious about how he positions himself with his audience.

The tracks flow into each other in a patient, almost exploratory method. It feels like listening to a hip hop academic paper– complete with an abstract, about the author, statement of purpose, arguments, and a call to action conclusion.

It helps as well that BLKD doesn’t jump on the trend of machine-gun fast rap. There is a time and place for bullet-speed rap, particularly when MCs want to show off their skills. But when an MC wants to deliver a message, a clear and compelling flow is best.

BLKD puts his rhymes to work, switching his flow two or three times over for each track, and peppering songs with wordplay. But his strongest suit may be when he’s throttling a point with stark clarity, and counting himself as one amongst many, an element of a larger group, part of the audience and the wider Filipino experience.

“Pagmulat ay pagkasa, tayo ang gatilyo,” he says in the title track. It’s rare to pinpoint any instance in the album when BLKD refers to himself as ako*. The handful of times he says “sila” is when he’s accusing an oppressive upper-class of profiting from the wider populace’s suffering, in a track that loops “Mga kapatid, sugod” as hook. In a Game chockfull of rappers who keep feeling themselves, BLKD firmly declares that he is one of us.


Track by Track

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The Far East

This post is late by around five months. Life, uhhh, finds a way. To get ahead of me, I mean. Anyway, where is it written that posts should be instantaneous? I’d like to think of these photos as pickled snaps.

Late last year, my best girl friend rings me up in the dead of night asking if she was going to book a trip to Japan because there was a promo on flights and time was of the essence. I vaguely remember answering in the affirmative. Woke up the next morning, thought I dreamt the whole thing up until she demanded I pay my half of the airfare and hotel reservation. Come March, we were in Japan.

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It was quite the adventure.

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