While everyone waited four years for the latest Up Dharma Down (UDD) album to come out, fans from Iloilo City endured what seemed to be a lifetime for the multi-awarded OPM group to hit the local scene.
The band top billed Terno Inferno’s “Tucar Iloilo”(a Spanish colonial way of saying “play an instrument, Iloilo”) last April 11, an installment of the concert series co-produced by Bacolod-based Mosquito One productions and the independent label Terno Recordings.
After great sets from Sleepwalk Circus (amazing instrumentals, daring new vocals) and Pulso (no vocals, three-man band, pushing the limits of distortion), the crowd fixed their eyes on the scurry inside the artist tent raised about a foot too high.
A set of doll shoes paced inside the tent while members of the band walk out one-by-one to fine tune their instruments except for lead singer and keyboardist Armi Millare.
It took them about 30 minutes to an hour to try and fix everything and when all of the members hit the stage, Armi, amidst cheers and boisterous declarations of true love form the audience, apologizes for the delay. “The only bass guitar we have broke and we were pulling a MacGyver back stage. I hope it works. Anyone with a bass guitar?”
The crowd couldn’t care less if it took them another hour to get ready. UDD was on stage and the spacious outdoor venue suddenly turned into an intimate gig with a band they’ve heard and followed but have never seen live.
Why should Manila have all the fun?
My first encounter with the band was in a small bar along Katipunan Ext., a place frequented by yuppies and college students. When I saw them set-up their gear in a small place everyone agreed to be the “stage,” I realized Up Dharma Down wasn’t the name of a college fraternity. After their first song, I made a mental note to find them on the Internet and get copies of their albums so I can sing along as the crowd did that night. On the internet, I found out that they have nearby gigs every week and I began bookmarking them on my browser and on my schedule.
It is true that great Filipino artists often remain in Manila since their conception until…erm…death. This practice isn’t shocking because big producers often stick with international acts that are sure to have a following in the Philippines. From has-beens to contestants from American Idol, Manila is filled to the brim with performers that will fill the stage. Although I have nothing against that, when was the last time that a great local performer like UDD given a billboard along EDSA?
The band like others are far too daring to move out of Manila. Their prestigious accolades ironically don’t help in bringing them to crowds outside the capital. For example, the band was recognized by BCC radio as the Philippine band most likely to reach the North American market.
While this means the band is something else, when talking about giving funds to the gifted band to tour the country, it doesn’t mean much.
However, Mosquito 1 Productions’ Gregory Mapa is sure that the region far away from Manila is just as hungry for good music. “Let me tell you about people who go out of their way. We were shocked when during our Bacolod show, people from Iloilo reserved their tickets ahead of time. You know, why should Manila have all the fun?”
More gigs outside the “big city”
It took four years for Up Dharma Down to release their latest album “Capacities,” and while it is easy to assume the band went to a hiatus, they said in a previous interview that they actually have been performing live non-stop and recording began as early as 2010.
The group acknowledges that gigs are how a band stays afloat in the industry. However, it is amazing how UDD remains part of the consciousness of the Iloilo crowd most of which have never seen the band live. A thing about UDD’s music is that although it is new, it is a necessity. The music videos, press and CD albums are supposed to be enough to satisfy.
The manager of UDD was content with the outcome of the performance saying the crowd received the group well. However, he said that the gig was different from Manila. “The venue wasn’t as intimate as usual. As to the part why, I couldn’t answer that but I’m happy with the reception of the crowd.”
Armi Millare was herself happy with the crowd. She joked around with the audience, sang “Rain, rain, go away,” and danced.
“I’m happy to be here,” she told me afterward, tired but looking neat in her buttoned-up shirt. When I asked her if there will be more gigs outside Manila, she quickly responded, “Yeah, of course! We’ve been doing this for the last 10 years and I’m sure there’s more to come.”
Distance solved by intimacy
Distance between cities in the Philippines cause a lot of additional problems. For this particular case, the term Original Pilipino Music (OPM) for the past years remains a lie.
There is no equal distribution of OPM around the country because most of it concentrates in Manila. Thanks to the television and the Internet, the rest of the Filipino crowd is pacified.
However, it is not enough. There is a special thing about seeing a band live. Up Dharma Down, which frequents smaller venues and dive bars in Manila, know all about this special connection between a live crowd and a live band.
With the recent but seemingly perpetual debate over the life (or death) of OPM, a counter-culture emerges that banks on intimacy to get rid of distance. With Terno Recordings’ small step toward reaching out, hopefully more bands will follow and revive OPM by remembering the rest of the country. The coining of the monicker “OPM” exceeds a need for a collective term but it is recognition that OPM is a force to recon with in the forging of contemporary Filipino identity.