There is music as most people know it: catchy, powerful, or moving, but also canned, repetitive, and disposable. A kind of Pareto principle is at work here: majority of the people appreciate only a fraction of all the aural creations available out there. But an important difference emerges from the fact that unlike the Pareto principle in economics, where the important few deserves a proportionally greater regard, in music anyone has a lot to gain by daring to go beyond the popular few, and attempt to explore the alternative lands. Because there is also music as only a few people would care to experience it.
When music lovers talk of a music “scene”, I’ve realized that they are invoking a sense of community, a tangible one, in fact. I experienced it first-hand when last weekend I finally found a perfect time to enter the hallowed, and admittedly cramped, hall(s) of Saguijo Bar. It’s the place mentioned in passing in the obscure Sandwich track, Her Favorite Band:
Video games killed the video star
YouTube the gig in Saguijo Bar
I was really there
With my girlfriend, yeah
And, as if I were following the lines of this allusion-indulgent song, I actually brought my girlfriend with me there. But unlike the song, Saguijo should not be obscure at all to anyone who has listened with a non-negligible amount of interest to artists such as Sandwich. Saguijo in Makati is, after all, perhaps the most exalted of all the alternative music meccas in the metropolis still opening their bars after dark these days. Its sister acts include Route 196 in Quezon City and 19 East in Parañaque, just to name a few.
I went to Saguijo for the first time with my girlfriend expecting to see two things: stickers on the walls and lots of serious fans in a small space. The stickers didn’t disappoint; I’ve seen them in countless photos of artists posted online and in a few shots in some indie films too. They adorn, cover, and thoroughly ravage the most visible corners and doors of the bar, inflicting the place with the names of bands and artists of other crafts. And I guess I was prepared for how crowded the place gets: there were probably a hundred people in the first floor of what looks like a converted old suburban home. I can’t complain, really, because it’s culture we’re talking about here, it’s all about representation—and what is the Philippines if not crowded?
Saguijo Bar is not difficult at all to find in Guijo Street. It is the source of perhaps all noise on that road after 9 PM; walking up to the place on the street, one could easily track down the muffled beats and distortion of a live set commencing in full blast. There is something symbolic, and maybe even logical, in the way Saguijo Bar, the famed home of alternative music, is in a relatively quiet neighborhood just a few minutes away from the beating heart of Makati’s central business district. There it is in the shadows of skyscrapers from where the biggest buttoned-up businesses in the Philippines operate.
There is also something symbolic in the very first act I witnessed unfolding in Saguijo. My girlfriend and I decided to go there that weekend because it was a Terno Inferno night, one of those productions featuring the roster under alternative label and quality music purveyor Terno Recordings. The band that was playing when we arrived there called themselves The Sleepyheads, a funky trio led by a dude who, it quickly became apparent, has a taste for theatricality. The dude wore a pajama top and insisted on keeping a black plastic bucket perched on his head while singing their band’s punk melodies and simultaneously performing his duties as the band’s drummer—a Sleepyhead through and through, it would seem. And it happens that, before entering Saguijo Bar and getting into the main floor where the bands play, one can get a glimpse of the artist through an ornamented, fixed picture window. While we were listening to the band inside, two foreigners, presumably tourists, popped up outside the window. I watched them watch in amazement as the dude from The Sleepyheads took off his top, untied his sneakers, and used the shoes to bang the drums and carry on his other antics, all as the music marched on without missing a note. I watched the foreigners view this strange act of a local band through a picture window, and all I could think of was a single plural word: “Cultures.”
We stayed for the last band of the night, Up dharma Down, Terno Recording’s top act, and an artist I personally love for brandishing an eclectic sound palette. Of all those who played that night, they were the ones that everyone in the bar knew; they were the ones whom everyone brought out their camera phones for. The band played and sang a mix of both their hits and their unpopular tunes, and the crowd swayed and bobbed their heads and was, in general, elated to experience their favorite music live, close to the amplifiers, close to the elaborate, quality setup that the band insists on in each of their gigs, close to the masterful fingers playing the instruments, close to the voice of the band’s soulful vocalist, and lost in one of the many unknown lands of music.
And then the scene dissipates. The music lovers pour out of the bar as the last song fades out, and I cannot help but feel that this shapeshifting community is merely taking a break. They would go on through their days unaware of each other yet connected by a common passion, and they will come back together in some other gig in some place, next time.