27 July 2015


Cool Saturday afternoon with no threats of rain. You’d think everyone has already flocked to the malls, but Alabang Town Center (ATC) was met with light foot traffic. But then again, this was Muntinlupa, south of the metro, where the residents are known to take it easy.

At the shopping complex’ activity center, things were a little more interesting. A stage was set up and people gathered by the barricades. A shopper, obviously unaware of what was happening that day, asked the security guard, “Who’s performing?”

To those who had no clue, the baby grand piano might’ve deceived them and made them think that a crooner was dropping by. When the show started at 5 p.m., two masked men took to the stage and amplified the noise that the screaming crowd was making.

It was Twenty One Pilots’ debut performance in the Philippines and they treated the July 18th ATC concert no different than their other shows. Singer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun have a reputation for outrageous behavior — all in the name of good fun — and they served it up along with their genre-defying songs, which lyrics and inflections the audience knew by heart.

The duo began with Heavydirtysoul, the opening track of their newly released album, “Blurryface.” Tyler sang on a microphone suspended in air, speculated by some fans as representative of a noose; but if you asked us, it was simply a visually appealing arrangement.

As expected, Tyler was all over the place, meaning he sprinted, got atop the piano, jumped down from it and back on it again. By the third number, Tyler dove into the pit and rapped the first few verses of Holding On To You while being carried by the lucky few who were staying where he landed. Josh also got into the action and somersaulted from the piano to the ground (was that piano ever for playing?).

Tyler Joseph scales one of the nearby pillars.
To be honest, a concert at a mall is quite an odd affair. People go there for different reasons and while a public space, aren’t guests entitled to a piece of privacy? Imagine how a customer at the adjacent café, who wanted nothing but to sit in silence, felt when the audience shrieked, “Somebody stole / my car radio / and now I just sit in silence.” For the ticket-holder’s part, it may be unfair that interested passers-by can watch for free. In addition, it must be difficult to head-bang when others are staring.

But Twenty One Pilots and their “Skeleton Clique” were caught in a world of their own, with an understanding that “sometimes quiet is violent” and if music were curative, they’d take it wherever they could find it, onlookers be damned.

In a GIST exclusive interview, Tyler explained that Blurryface is a made-up character symbolizing a person’s insecurities. “People are drawn to music. We say the things they’re afraid to say, we are their outlet,” he shared. A segment of the entertainment scene may communicate empowerment and it’s admirable but, when overdone, is also alienating. We have our inner rockstar, yes, but we also have our inner Blurryface, who, whether we admit it or not, care about what other people think.

And this honesty, which is far from self-deprecation, expressed in rhyme, catchy melody and energetic beats, is why we trust Twenty One Pilots to take us on a musical ride.

It doesn’t hurt that they’re a riot on — and off — stage. Tyler has a habit of climbing whatever he could climb and when we thought this antic wouldn’t be possible in such a family-oriented establishment, the singer scaled one of the nearby pillars.

For the finale, Josh and Tyler each banged on an acoustic drum poured with water — at the mosh pit, above the crowd.

The show only lasted for an hour but everyone had a satisfied look on their face after. Twenty One Pilots brought sixty minutes of madness to an otherwise peaceful south, and we were all the better for it.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

24 July 2015

In pursuit of the noble beverage

The men and women behind EDSA Beverage Design Group (EDSA BDG) are an idealistic bunch. They trust that Filipinos are ready for specialty coffee, bottled cocktails, and a startup with a unique business model.

You may have learned about EDSA BDG while going through your Instagram feed and stopping to check out a photo of its now-famous glass door where the words “In pursuit of the noble beverage” are printed.

This shop, which is a few meters from the historic EDSA Shrine, has created a buzz among coffee and cocktails aficionados, as well as lovers of all things artistic; but little do the patrons know that EDSA BDG, for all the coziness it serves, is a business-to-business company.

“We’re really consultants. We help you out with all your beverage needs — from recipes and supplies to trainings,” says EDSA BDG general manager Trissy Perfecto.

“It all started with coffee,” narrates Perfecto. Founders Jericson Co and David Ong used to frequent Craft Coffee Workshop in Quezon City, which is said to be the first specialty coffee retailer in the country. “Coffee brings people together, and true enough, they became friends,” she continues. From there, they put up The Curator in Makati City, a speakeasy that, along with specialty coffee, offers craft cocktails.

Soon after, the friends launched EDSA BDG, bringing a whole new concept in beverage design and service-oriented business. “Our main thrust is to educate Filipinos. We should all start drinking better,” says Perfecto. “The place is really supposed to be education in itself. It introduces new ideas.”

Bags of beans and intimidating contraptions greet visitors upon entrance to the two-storey studio. The ground floor is where the team roasts beans for delivery to clients, while upstairs is what appears to be a retail space, but is in fact a showroom of products and services.

A photo posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on

One remarkable spot is the Honeycomb Co-working Space, where customers can rent seats and work with high-speed Internet while drinking an EDSA BDG beverage to fuel the mind and body. The space is also designed to encourage collaborations.

Perfecto notes that the interiors are mostly made of glass to embody transparency: “We want people to really understand what they’re taking in. We want to be socially responsible.”

For now, coffee is EDSA BDG’s most holistic brand. Aside from supplying coffee beans, they also offer barista training, workshops for enthusiasts, machines, preventive maintenance, and even coffee subscription.

Down the road, they aim to go directly to farmers. “We’re helping a local farm in Davao. They bring harvested beans to us and we roast it ourselves,” shares Perfecto. “We realize there’s high potential there. It’s not specialty grade yet, but it can be. And that’s the goal — not just to bring the [premium coffee] experience to the Filipinos, but also for Filipinos to be known worldwide.”

Within a year since its opening, the company launched “#YKW Roasters Manila” specialty coffee; “Coo” bottled fizzy sodas; TGBG, or Tito Boy’s Ginger Beer; and the “Better Common” bottled cocktails, which takes its name from the promise of producing and consuming better products.

As with any noble pursuit, though, the road can be bumpy. Innovations will always have doubters. Better Common, for example, have been received with a few raised eyebrows, what with cocktails being equated to theatrics and fancy presentation.

There’s also the tough balancing act of pleasing clients and adhering to personal principles. “There’s a fine line between putting up a business to earn profit and putting up a business to educate,” admits Perfecto. “It’s hard to make money because you sacrifice a lot. That for me is a major obstacle in this business model.”

To clients who can’t be convinced and customers who can’t wrap their heads around liquid cuisine, Perfecto invites them to their workshops. Visiting the studio and talking to the staff is a good idea, too, as they’re more than willing to share their knowledge. Education, after all, doesn’t happen overnight. And even the founders continuously travel worldwide to attend food and beverage conventions.

A little over a year old, EDSA BDG has just taken the first step towards becoming the go-to expert in beverage design. Its clientele is turning out to be an impressive list with the likes of Wildflour Café and Bakery, Satchmi, Todd English Food Hall, and SpiceBird Boracay, among others, carrying their creations.

But the ultimate dream is to be known internationally as the product of the Philippines. “It’s a passion project,” says Perfecto. And maybe it’s only fitting that they’ve named the enterprise after a landmark of history-changing revolution and an emblem of Filipino passion. “EDSA is the highway that connects everything,” she adds. “That’s how we see the business growing.”

—Originally published on GIST

Nothing but a feel-good throwback to the ‘80s

A musical adaptation of Bituing Walang Ningning (originally a Nerissa Cabral serialized comics strip made into a movie in 1985 and a TV series in 2006) is somehow inevitable. It tells the story of singers Dorina Pineda and Lavinia Arguelles — the former intent on building a career and the latter, on staying on top. The drama of show business, its spectacle, not to mention the celebrities’ occasional histrionics, can be fully realized in theater.

As such, the creative team behind Bituing Walang Ningning the Musical exploited the medium, creating set pieces where Lavinia (Cris Villonco) and Dorina (Monica Cuenca) can perform like true divas. Particularly memorable was the Pangarap Na Bituin number where Dorina sang solo on center stage, her gown blending with the starry sky backdrop, making it appear as if she herself were among the stars.

It’s amusing that there is some degree of parallelism between lead actors Villonco and Cuenca and their characters (we’re not sure if this was the intention during casting). Villonco has been around in the business as a theater mainstay and has become a darling among theater-goers. But the similarities with Lavinia end there. In an interview, Villonco shared that being the bad guy onstage was unfamiliar territory to her and her angelic face was a liability at first.

And like Dorina, Cuenca is a newcomer who bested hundreds of auditioners vying for the role that Sharon Cuneta popularized in the movie adaption. The musical was her debut on the big stage, but those who didn’t know it might not be able to tell with the way she managed her nerves.
The ladies were joined by Mark Bautista and Ronnie Liang, who played Lavinia’s boyfriend-slash-manager Nico Escobar and composer Garry Diaz, respectively.

But the brightest stars of the show had to be veterans Jon Santos, who was Auntie, Dorina’s aunt and guardian; and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, who was Edith, a no-nonsense entertainment journalist. The two took on their roles with ease, allowing the audience the pleasure of seeing characters and not actors.

With a well-known narrative at its disposal, the show banked on the audience’ readiness to go down memory lane. It featured OPM hits of the past (Points of View especially pleasing the crowd); referenced ‘80s fashion, which was marked by big hair and flamboyance; highlighted the emergence of compact disc, which overthrew the cassette; and even brought in a Kuya Germs variety show.

While all these were entertaining, the dimmer spots in its storytelling couldn’t be ignored. The tension between the divas was barely felt. Lavinia was catty but far from conniving, or at least not convincingly; and Dorina’s switch from avid Lavinia fan to worst enemy and back to supporter all happened without an equivalent motivation.

Even the conflict between Nico and Gary, who were both after Dorina’s heart, didn’t have the chance to properly brew.

At best, Bituing Walang Ningning the Musical is a massive feel-good throwback to the ‘80s. Expect to have lots of fun but little empathy towards the characters.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

16 July 2015


Up Dharma Down is accessible in many ways. The band plays at least once a week in bars up north all the way down south, and you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get in. On social media, they allow the public a peep at their private lives, cat snapshots included. And their music, though distinctive in sound, touches upon the familiar: love, longing, confusion.

On the flip side, theirs is a career anyone with musical aspirations can only dream of — anyone who knows how challenging and, to some extent, discouraging a creative endeavor is. As for artistry, their work gained the admiration of many, including Scottish band The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, who even agreed to lend his voice in a track in their latest album, “Capacities.”

They make heartbreak, because beautifully written, noble and reason for people to commune in a bar, cognac in hand, shouting to someone in particular, “Ba’t di pa sabihin ang hindi mo maamin?” They also make the dancing-averse feel like it’s safe to jig. (What’s the Tagalog word for it? Ah, indak.)

It’s no surprise that in this year’s edition of club series Hennessy Artistry — Philippines, Up Dharma Down has been the brand’s hand-picked artist. Through its run we’ve seen Armi Millare (vocals, keyboards), Paul Yap (bass, synth), Ean Mayor (drums, synth) and Carlos Tanada (guitars, synth) stun strollers at Bonifacio High Street with a surprise show; collaborate with another band, with Armi singing a duet with Yolanda Moon’s Cholo Hermosa; and, in Armi’s words, “make the biggest club in Asia sing to [their] songs.”

Light shower out of beat. #HennessyArtistryPH #GISTPH @hennessyph @uddofficial

A video posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on

Their spirit (and yes, Hennessy) brought us on a high, but how was the experience on their end? Why aren’t they playing in an arena yet? And how’s that new album going?

GIST: What made you say yes to Hennessy Artistry? What is it about the brand and concert series that resonate with your principles as musicians?

UP DHARMA DOWN: Because it’s a good project wherein a corporate brand recognizes the importance of evolution and provides support to artists who are pushing the envelope.

How was the Hennessy gig different from your other gigs — from the crowd to the venues?

Well, it was different in a sense that some of the venues are places we don’t normally play at. It made it possible for us to reach another set of audience.

Which acts impressed you the most during the entire artistry series and what have you learned from them?

We’re definitel y impressed by the growth of Cholo Hermosa of Yolanda Moon. Not because he’s our label mate but, objectively, because of how he’s matured in just a few years as a songwriter and a musician. We can’t wait for Yolanda Moon’s album to come out. It was also a blast to have him sing with us a song of ours and for us to do our version of Yolanda Moon’s track Leaving Soon live!

Armi posted on Instagram after the Valkyrie show, “I never thought we could make the biggest club in Asia sing to our songs because the idea just sounds downright impossible.” After this, will you consider playing in bigger venues?

We have and continue to play in bigger venues side by side the smaller ones. What Armi meant was for a club audience in a dance club, she didn’t expect them to be signing along or reacting the way they did.

Has anyone — a fan or otherwise — asked you to stage a stadium concert? Will we ever see you do one?

That has been suggested many times by fans, promoters and producers; but we don’t think our fan base is that huge yet that we will be able to fill a whole stadium! We’re not opposed to doing such a scale but we’d rather build our audience steadily as we go through the years and we’re more comfortable when the gig is more intimate.

Was there ever a gig where you didn’t perform Oo? How does it feel, seeing fans don’t seem to tire of it and scream like it’s the latest hit on the radio the moment they hear the first few notes of the song?

Yes, there are gigs wherein we don’t perform Oo and there are times when they don’t seem to mind. But for places wherein it’s our first time to perform, we try to play the hits as well as the album favorites. It feels good of course to see and hear people singing your songs, even more when it’s the album cuts and not necessarily the hits.

Describe to us the pressures of creating Album no. 4. If it’s okay to share, your fears when writing an album, especially this one.

There’s always pressure after every album, as we want to better ourselves as musicians and songwriters; and obviously there is no other way but up and we strive to top the previous albums. So yes there is pressure on ourselves, but no pressure from Terno Recordings, who will always just say, “Do what you want to do as long as it’s of quality.”

Give us four words that you associate with the upcoming album.

Celebratory, up, vibrant and colorful.

What’s the best way a fan can show appreciation for your music?

By purchasing the CDs and vinyl and going to the gigs!

If Up Dharma Down were a cocktail, it would be…?

Mint julep — because we would like to give our audience that chill, cool vibe.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

13 July 2015


Neither feel safe nor free in my own house.

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