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A year of after hours

By M.C. REODICA, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 31, 2021 4:00 pm

The last live gig I went to was in March 2020, and everything seemed to be in its right place.

The floor was sticky with beer, rowdy twenty-somethings stood elbow to elbow in a sweaty mess, and all was as it should be. Though there were a few face masks in sight, I had no idea that this would be the last time I could play in a crowded room.

Even if it’s given that the landscape of nightlife and culture can transform drastically even over the course of a year, thinking of how things will never be the same provokes a deeper sense of mourning as 2021 dawns. All I have for now is faint yet persistent tinnitus after years of playing and watching shows.

Strangely enough, during the lockdown, I found myself revisiting the music that played at happenings I frequented over the years: Meiday’s heyday in Cubao Expo, losing my phone to a pickpocket in the mosh pit at B-Side, and crossing the wide berth of Katipunan like a madwoman to reach Route 196.

Every generation has its own Mayric’s or Tomatokick Maginhawa. I just wasn’t ready to lose so many of these in such a short span of time.

All of these places are gone (aside from Cubao Expo, though it seemed beyond recognition during my last visit). They bowed out one by one as new dives popped up for younger generations with an enviably higher threshold for hangovers.

Over the past months, everyone involved in the constellation of live music has come to terms that the next shows will be sometime in the distant, uncertain future. Artists, venue owners, and numerous people have somberly accepted the designation of being “non-essential” — but that doesn’t take away from the significance of these rich pockets of culture that they keep alive.

Then again, many of the reasons why these places have made an impact will remain largely anecdotal. Then again, that may be for the best considering all the glorious chaos and wild abandon that these venues have witnessed.

 A former staple of Cubao's nightlife: Today x Future

Artists from all kinds of practices from filmmakers to komikeros gathered at these places for reasons that differ from person to person, outside of the formalities demanded of workplaces. The space to relax made room to form connections among circles that otherwise wouldn’t have met in the broad daylight of a weekday.

I can’t separate these spaces from my own personal experiences as a musician, show organizer and audience member, too caught up in the chaos to take a step back and document what was going on. That’s understandable. The spirit shared among people in these places lingers on. (Although I do hope that Typecast and the cultural emo zeitgeist that they incited will get the full recognition that they deserve — but that is for another story.)

 Gone for now: Thank you, Route 196

Every generation has their own Mayric’s or Tomatokick Maginhawa. I just wasn’t ready to lose so many of these in such a short span of time.

Here’s a brief moment of silence for Route 196, which has been a springboard for many emerging and established bands — many of which started with a dream to be on its iconic marquee. For Today x Future, which has been a vital staple of Cubao’s nightlife. For Limbo, which always guaranteed that something interesting would happen on any given night of the week. For XX XX, which was a safe space for the celebratory extravaganzas of the LGBTQ community. For neighborhood dive Catch 272, which hasn’t closed, but has still suffered after catching fire along with Green Papaya Art Projects’ archives last June.

I could go on and on, but I don’t have all night.

 Still lives on: Catch 272 and Green Papaya

Back when I started to play more shows, Raimund Marasigan told me to always play a show like it’s my last one. That sentiment has kept me going through long and tiring days, looking forward to the next show.

Whether you’re playing five times a week or five times a year, each show is a momentous occasion and a non-event at the same time, considering how fleeting a night is.

While not every chance to play onstage is a matter of life-or-death — though it often feels like it, at its most sublime — there’s a certain lust for life that it unleashes in a person. Some primal survival instinct to dance, sweat, and howl.

On some days, that desire is just enough to keep on keeping on, knowing that the music scene is perhaps slumbering, but not dead. Though this acute neglect of public health will render us all comatose sooner than later, if those in authority don’t get their act together. While music communities are strong, culture and the people who comprise it aren’t invincible.

Music makes for a precarious form of livelihood, more so now when crowds risk the lives of those in them. In the meantime, people still have to stay home and safe. But I’m certain that even if it takes years, when the time’s right for people to gather again, musicians will hit the ground running.