I am a relatively old man prone to not so relative old man rants. I can wax geriatric about bands like Grizzly Bear, Beirut, and These New Puritans and how their music actively upsets me and how this is all Radiohead’s fault because they somehow decided to masturbate their way through their career after 1997, convincing young people that constipated rock is way cooler than actual rock, which makes me want to play The Wedding Present’s “Take Me!” at an obnoxious volume, because this is indie music and not your skinny-jeans version of indie, and that your social media is ridiculous and your entire generation is going to digital hell.
No. I don’t actually say all those things. My heart, which is always drunk and doesn’t know what it’s actually saying, tends to still believe that Beirut, et al are a joke, but my brain knows better. Intellectually, I’m aware that pop music history is an ongoing journey where the images in the rearview mirror inevitably recede to the horizon and the place that came before keeps changing until it doesn’t really matter anymore. The Wedding Present may sound lame to 70s punks, who may seem lame to fans of The New York Dolls and The Stooges, which may sound lame to fans of The Velvet Underground. We can’t even go back to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as our ground zero because they bastardized Chuck Berry, who learned from Johnnie Johnson, who was influenced by Muddy Waters, who co-opted the authentic chanting of plantation workers in the South for the mainstream. So I guess slavery is the true original rock n’ roll.
Where was I?
Oh yeah: I’m old. Not really Lacoste-shirt-tucked-in-khaki-pants old, but more like I-can’t-believe-4AD-is-carrying-Bon-fucking-Iver kind of old. While my heart may hate a lot of these new artists, my brain doesn’t deny their right to exist because somewhere in its innermost folds where tolerance resides, it assumes that the kids must be right. The kids are always right.
My heart is also confused as hell. Right now, it’s infatuated by the new EDM-infused Pinoy indie scene, with its dream-pop soul dressed up in synth-pop and dance-pop garb. I like Outerhope, Eyedress, Love in Athens, Skymarines, and even Moonwlk (whose new album I recently reviewed for this website), which has no traces of shoegaze whatsoever.
Yet, this infatuation feels strangely empty.
I officially became a teenager in 1991, “the year punk broke,” according to that Nirvana-led concert documentary, and grew consciousness during the grunge and metal era as an adolescent who hated grunge and metal. I was a new wave kid, so I gravitated more towards indie and shoegaze, while all of my friends liked noise and sludge. Two decades later, with hipsters rendering noise and sludge obsolete, I should feel more at home. But I don’t.
Electronica has become so widespread that I can’t keep up anymore; it’s like I woke up and found myself in an alternate 1980s, where Biff Tannen has become a millionaire and synth-pop knows all the secrets of the future. Everything looks familiar but feels strange.
Not only is time travel easier these days; it’s become the norm. Old and new music are consumed the same way, through the same technologies, and now co-exist in the same era – Depeche Mode and Chvrches; Mark Kozelek and Kurt Vile live together forever in the internet. In the Pinoy indie universe, however, time is less fluid and more linear, constantly moving forward, with the past left behind and reduced to a mirage in the scene’s rearview mirror. We don’t have torrents of the entire discography of Bad Days For Mary, or Feet Like Fins, or Tribal Fish or even a music journalism tradition that canonizes these bands, the way the U.S. music press immortalized otherwise forgotten pioneers like the Minutemen and Mission of Burma. Our local scene still exists in a music limbo, the fraying influences of the Eraserheads and Rivermaya notwithstanding, and everyone works from a clean slate.
This is fine, of course, because we import all our drawing materials from the west anyway; materials that have increasingly become sleeker, more hi-tech, and more user-friendly. I’m sure there are still kids out there churning out noise in garages, with their crude guitar effects and drums that sound like tin cans, but there are probably even more of them cooped up in their bedrooms with their laptops and drum machines, making bleeps and bloops and new vocal filters, each hazier than the next. I guess the spirit is still very much punk, only with the steely edges softened by blankets and pillows (I think I just coined a new stupid label: “bedroom punk”).
And they sound fantastic. Remember how shitty those 80s Pinoy punk recordings were? Today’s indie “bands” are as polished as fucking Air and Radio Dept. It’s absolutely mind-blowing that start-up bands can sound amazing right away and it’s also kind of disappointing. The whole indie amateurish charm is now gone, and they try to make up for its loss by consciously trying to affect a lo-fi sound to music that, by definition, should sound perfect, which is like Starbucks maintaining a chalkboard menu to maintain a tiny-coffee-shop vibe that no one’s buying anyway.
The indie sound is now a simulation, which I’m not sure is necessarily a bad thing, especially since it was bound to happen all along. But it leaves me cold. It’s easier to appreciate the facsimile if you weren’t around to see the original copy, time, and context. But if you’ve been around long enough to witness the process of dilution, the norm will inevitably seem strange. This may sound like the height of snobbery and angry-old-man crankiness, but it’s just an outcome as natural as today’s music trends. It’s also a sensation as fake as the notion of music purity itself.
Skymarines – one of the few new tolerable local indie artists doing electronica, synth-wave, chillwave, electrogaze, or whatever the hell they call it these days – recently did a cover of Club 8’s “Baby I’m Not Sure If This Is Love”, which I, predictably, found a bit disappointing. I thought they sapped the song of all its sugary warmth, and propped up an icy spectre in its stead. Of course I was clinging to this thought, sitting on my high horse, conveniently forgetting that I was once heartbroken by Club 8’s full embrace of electronica in Spring Came, Rain Fell, which I thought was a betrayal of their brilliant twee pop in Nouvelle. And of course I always thought that it was still a cheap version of The Field Mice circa “Emma’s House”, which I long considered as the paragon of indie prettiness, but that was before I heard “London Weekend” by Another Sunny Day. But I’ll stop right now because it’s really getting old.