Equipped with cheap and easy-to-use recording tools and platforms such as Bandcamp, SoundCloud and Spotify to promote their sound, ambitious independent musicians are finding an opportunity to break through the noise and carve out their own niche in Manila’s music scene.
Filipino indie artists are the most active in the country’s recording industry, according to local non-profit publication The Manila Review. And independent licensing agency Merlin says a growing number of indie musicians are emerging via self-release services. A few have even managed to use the reach of the internet to cross the line between indie and mainstream, expanding genre boundaries and redefining contemporary music in the country.
One example is Autotelic. Members of the Metro Manila-based group originally got together in 2012 to make heavy rock. The band formed as a side project for musicians who had all previously played in rock outfits. The driving force was Neil Tin, former lead guitarist of a punk band called The Naked Lights, and Josh Villena, former lead guitarist of Maya’s Anklet and Peryodiko.
Tin and Villena wanted to create something that would have a lasting impact on Filipino music, which would require venturing beyond the sounds they grew up with.
Historically, the Philippines has been heavily influenced by the American entertainment industry. Rock’n’roll was introduced in the 1970s, with stars including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Vale enjoying massive popularity. Filipinos developed their own style, with lyrics in the local languages and dialects. This became known as Filipino rock, or “Pinoy rock”.
Alternative rock music in the Philippines boomed in the 1990s, led by bands like Eraserheads and Rivermaya,” says Gep Macadaeg, Autotelic’s drummer.
However, interest in the genre slowly waned when Electronic Dance Music (EDM) swept into the country in the early 2010s.
Autotelic recognised that EDM would have a lasting impact on music worldwide. Without losing their rock sound and artistic identity, the band decided to try out a fresh approach, infusing their new songs with electronica.
Wanting to expand traditional genre boundaries, in 2015 Autotelic crafted a new sound that band members believed would find wide enough appeal to be picked up by local radio stations.
So he ended his partnership with Universal and approached the backup session musicians who had been playing live with him, explaining that he wanted to form a solid band whose music would stand out from the mainstream.
Jensen and The Flips was born. Gomez wanted the band to be in total control of their style and future. Image wise, they decided they wanted the group to be easily recognisable by always performing in button-down shirts and ties. Musically, they wanted to deliver a unique blend of indie pop and Motown soul.
For some musicians, diving into the indie scene is a path to artistic renewal. Jensen Gomez had years of experience performing as a solo artist in the early 2000s, while under contract with Universal Records. But around 2010, Gomez wanted a more adventurous creative experience. He realised that being signed to major label wouldn’t allow him to fully express his creativity, because of the control a label exerts in the search for commercial success.