Friday, 24 April 2015

I was a hipster before hipsters were born

As I make my way through the barren land of hipsteria in today's urban jungle, I cannot help but notice the recurring patterns that once adorned my world resurfacing and amalgamating themselves in seemingly new cultural landscapes. Have I returned to the place I once began my journey only to recognise the place for the first time? It was nearly two decades ago when people laughed at me riding my Japanese surplus bike, with a beat up basket in front, to my favourite bar/cafe in Malate to hold poetry readings or to my favourite bakeshop/patisserie in Ermita to get loaves of French bread. How they mocked me then for riding instead of driving my way through traffic congested Malate, putting my life at risk, dodging speeding jeepneys and crazed cab drivers back to my one bedroom apartment on A. Mabini. Today, those same people who mocked and laughed at me are themselves riding their own bikes through the city of Makati. Heck, one of them even owns a bike store! Then there are the people who used to make fun of the fact that I didn't even have the budget to refurbish my apartment. They were weirded out by the fact that I had no lamp shades, that I had exposed light bulbs hanging from my high ceilinged American colonial period apartment, and hooked on to the pipes in my bathroom. Nowadays, the mark of any truly hip bar, you know the kind that serves grass-fed beef burgers, artisanal pizza and craft beer, is the presence of the now ubiquitous exposed light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Heck, this makes me feel not only that I was decades ahead of my time, it makes me want to accost the hipsters I encounter on the street to pull their ears close to my lips to say "I was a hipster before you were born, mate!" And that is why I can look any bearded, skinny jeans wearing, fixie bike riding hipster with a feeling of pride knowing that this person is only but a faint echo of my former self.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014


From Sinatra to Staples, here are 21 of the world’s most broodingest baritones who have burrowed their way into our hearts.
Here at the Scenester we like to spare a thought for the lovelorn, especially in the lead up to Valentine’s Day. After all, without the despair and despondency of heartbreak, where would half of our musical catalogue come from? It is in this spirit of solidarity, that we turn with fondness to the men who through the years have loved misery and given us company in moments of solitary sadness. May their brooding, baritone voices offer warmth to those who find themselves in a similar state in this supposedly festive season.

Monday, 30 December 2013

What makes for a good (indie) pop song?

Pop hooks are the musical equivalent of tweeting.

Image credit: Jarvis Cocker of Pulp courtesy of
They're short and catchy and as the name suggests, they can reel you in to listen to a more substantial piece. Particularly in the dense forest of indie music, it could spell the difference for an obscure talent to gain hits.

As the year comes to a close, many review sites and critics have compiled their top tracks and albums for 2013. It has become a tired old ritual, but is universally practised by curator sites because lists are a good way to generate internet traffic.

People read lists. They've stopped reading in-depth articles. And listing tracks involves the least amount of effort. Films take longer. A pop song requires a tiny snippet of one's time, and it only requires 10 seconds for a listener to become engaged.

So what makes for a good pop song?

Saturday, 7 September 2013

From Gen-X to Gen-Y: a journey in film

In search of  a credible female protagonist from Reality Bites to Frances Ha

Clockwise from top-left: Stills from Reality Bites (1994),
 Kicking and Screaming (1995),
Frances Ha (2012) and Damsels in Distress (2011).

Monday, 24 June 2013

From Gates of Hell to City of God

It may have been a case of poverty porn, but it wasn't. This music video by the four-piece British drum and bass group Rudimental set in Manila, uses a similar narrative to the film, City of God (Cidade de Deus) of two boys growing up amidst the squalor of a large metropolis. It was meant to be inspired by the life of bboy champion Mouse and his older brother.

Though perhaps a far cry from the early days of d&b and more in keeping with the formula for pop songs these days, the UK chart toppers have produced something that is truly soulful and way better than any of the stuff French DJ David Guetta puts out, with more street cred than anything or the Black Eyed Peas offer.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Note to self

Dear Joe (or Jose)

This is your past self. You know remember me, Joe from the twenty years ago? Yes that’s right, the guy with hair down to his shoulders, earnestly scribbling on his notebook, casually taking a drag from a cigarette, quietly sipping a cup of coffee at the corner café in that bohemian borough you once called home, late in the afternoon, as the dusk clouds slowly drifted overhead.

Remember that guy? Well, I just thought I’d drop you a line to see how you are doing. You might be tucked away in some quiet neighbourhood in suburbia right now with the station wagon in the garage, working your ass off nine-to-five, five days a week at some job that doesn’t pay you enough or recognise you for your talents.

I told you this would happen. Didn’t I warn you not to go down that road? Well, well, well, did you heed the advice? Remember the deal we made back then? You told me to tell you that if this ever happened to you to remind you to go shoot yourself, right? Well, here I am reminding you of that conversation…

So what are you waiting for then? During your suicidal days, didn’t you say you would just stick around for a bit longer to find out if anything “interesting” would happen…and…well…need I say more?

But now you say that you’ve got “responsibilities”: people to look after, who are depending on you. For what? To make a living so that they can go on and have a go, a go at pursuing their dreams, something you never got around to doing. Oh, god! Excuses, excuses. Truth be told, they’d be much more content without having to put up with your miserable self!

So, anyway, I gotta go. In about ten to fifteen years, I’ll check in on you to find out how things turn out. Things better be looking on the up-and-up, otherwise, we’re gonna have to have this conversation again, alright? See ya.

Your former self,

Joe from the past

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Piling up the (Philippine) Indie Landfill?

If Ian Urrutia of the blog site Vandals on the Wall is to be believed, 2012 marked the year in which aspiring tech savvy Filipino musicians discovered and uploaded their music on to Bandcamp. He provides compelling evidence for this by selecting from among them the top ten EPs and top sixty tracks for the year.

Considering the impressive collection assembled, a curious onlooker might conclude that the local independent music scene is vibrant and bursting at the seams. It is not just the volume but the breadth that strikes one when confronted with this cacophony of musical talent. And Ian does a fine job of establishing his hold on the jargon needed to review such work.

There is literally something for everyone’s musical palette and tastes. As the website boasts, whether it’s mainstream or independent, we surely got your music covered. Choice now seems to be endless, when it was not too long ago, that you could count with your fingers the number of acts that were genuinely into this type of music. The scene has indeed come a long way. The problem though is with this much on offer; a listener could get lazy, which perhaps creates a role for curators like Ian. The quality of their work could either help or hinder the cause.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Building Capacities with Armi Millare of Up Dharma Down

Image courtesy of Chico Limjap
ca·pac·i·ty /kəˈpasitē/ n. pl. ca·pac·i·ties
1. The ability to receive, hold, or absorb.
2. The maximum amount that can be contained.
3. a. Ability to perform or produce; capability.
    b. The maximum or optimum amount that can be produced.
4. The power to learn or retain knowledge; mental ability.
5. Innate potential for growth, development, or accomplishment; faculty.
6. The quality of being suitable for or receptive to specified treatment.
7. The position in which one functions; role.

To these definitions, we can now add: title of the soon to be released and much anticipated third album of Up Dharma Down under Terno Recordings.
The Scenester’s chief contributor, Kristo Babbler recently “sat down” with Armi Millare, keyboards and lead vocals for Up Dharma Down to take stock of the band’s evolution to date, their creative process in the lead up to their third outing, and Armi’s personal journey all throughout. A rather revealing exchange ensued.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Cheery Angst

This wasn’t her grandparents’ angst, but Emma Koenig, author of the book F*ck! I’m in My Twenties has accomplished what novelists and poets have done for generations: use existential angst to make a living and improve their love lives.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

And Man Swooned

I've been reading a lot of Jane Austen lately, and the notion of young heroines using their beguiling manners to make a "conquest" which in those days simply meant a young, eligible bachelor falling madly and deeply, head over heels in love has been around since the Victorian era. Proust makes use of the term as well.

The "marriage plot" made popular by Ms Austin's novels was something that the women's movement was supposed to have retired long ago (hat tip to Jeffrey Eugenides). That the whole purpose of a woman's existence was to marry well was supplanted by feminism. Unfortunately, it's not the women who seem hooked on that notion in today's world, but the men.