Baby ko si kulot…Inaaalis niya aking lungkot…”

“Marahil pinahihiwatig na magkatugma ang himala at ang hinala…Malamang ipinahihiwatig na magkaiba ang katotohanan at akala…”

Can you guess which line comes from a pop musician and which one is written by an Indie artist? Do you ever take time off and on your free time ever listen to mainstream pop music and realize how bad the quality mainstream media has become now? If so, then don’t worry. You’re surely not the only one.

All throughout the years, the quality for music played in the mainstream has undeniably gone down. Every time new music got released, the more they all started to sound the same. It’s always the same chords, same lines, and same story. There’s nothing new to hear.

Is this because people are running out of ideas? Are they satisfied with just recycling content from other people? Do they lack the creative freedom brought about being signed with a mainstream recording label? Whatever the case may be, one thing’s for sure: we need something new. And it lies in the hands of our indie musicians.

Filipino and Their Fondness of Music

The Filipino people and music has a deep-rooted relationship that goes way beyond. Karaoke sessions during every celebration, various television shows fixated on music, and the Philippines being a country known for having very talented singers and musicians. Truly, Filipinos and music just goes well together.

What is Indie Music Anyway?

Indie music quite literally means what it is. Independent. It is independent in the sense that it operates and makes music outside the hold of commercial, mainstream record companies. It is a process of a do-it-yourself approach to recording and producing. Basically, you get a hold of everything from start to finish.

Indie music compromises all independently made music. In a nutshell, anything that is independently made, or artists that are unsigned to a major recording label, is basically called indie.

The Role Played by Bars to the Rising of Indie Acts in the Country

During the times before the pandemic got out and made us all go in, a typical weeknight in places where bars were present would be flocked with different peoples from all over and university students just wanting to distress after a week of school-related activities or just to catch up with their friends and ecstatically wait and watch live band performances. These bars are usually where indie musicians show up and display to everyone their music and their passion for it.

Some bars rose to fame when some of the musicians that performed eventually became well-known artists in the industry. There was Up Dharma Down, Ben and Ben, IV of Spades, This Band, and the list goes on and on. All of them started as indie artists who performed their songs on bars and finally, when given the chance, brought their music into the mainstream media. Of these bars in which these artists performed, there was the SaGuijo and B-Side in Makati, and Mow’s Bar and Route 196 in Quezon.

But let’s go to where everybody called ‘home.’ The one that gave indie artists a platform, a step closer to their dreams, and the one sole responsible for helping indie musicians get a spot in the mainstream media. Route 196.

The One Where All the Roads Lead To

Way back over in 2007, Monica Barretto, Eric Enriquez, Allan Madrilejos, JP Balboa, and Geth Savellano, decided to acquire a restaurant formerly called the Border Grill, located at the Katipunan Extension in Quezon City. The group eventually changed the Border Grill into what we’ve known as Route 196.

Seeing that it was a place full of potential and much more it was located at Quezon, a residential area, the group made their plan to make Route a gig place, hence they sought out their musician friends to play at the bar. Lo and behold, it became successful. This little space in Katipunan became one of the stepping stones for many aspiring musicians to pursue their dreams. And sure enough, Route made a lot of dreams come true.

Unfortunately, everything has to end.

Last August 2020, after 15 long years, the famous Katipunan bar had to close because of the pandemic. What was once a stepping stone for artists for many years is now just a bittersweet memory to everyone who ever got to experience the home that Route 196 is.

All things aside, here are some of the indie artists from Route 196 that have made their name in the mainstream media:

  1. Ben and Ben – Although now signed under a major label, this nine piece band fronted by twins Miguel and Paolo Guico, started out as indie musicians, with ‘Tinatangi’ as their first single. In fact, the nine of them met in Route, when the twins were just a two-piece act called ‘The Benjamins.’ Now, this band’s already known across many countries, has made collaborations with numerous names in the industry, has won an ‘Album of The Year’ award, and has multiple chart-topping hits.
  2. IV of Spades – An indie rock band consisting of Zild Benitez, Blaster Silonga, and Badjao de Castro, IV of Spades started out performing on gigs at various bars and events. What separated them from other artists was their distinct aesthetic and alt-funk-pop brand for an indie rock band, but their claim to fame was their absolute six minute hit, ‘Mundo.’ The band has also already produced multiple singles and an album.
  3. UDD (Up Dharma Down) – An indie band that has been in the industry since 2004, UDD was marked as the Asian band that would cross over multiple countries which is exactly what happened to this band, having been recognized from USA, Canada, and even as far back as the UK. UDD is also a multi awarded band, having won ‘Best New Artist,’ ‘Best Female Vocalist,’ and ‘Favorite Indie Artist,’ to name a few. UDD has also been featured as the cover in an 2007 issue of TIME magazine. This amazing indie band has also served as opening acts for artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bloc Party, Incubus, and Cut Copy to name a few.

There are more bands that were part of building the way for indie music in the mainstream but it was mainly because of these three, the scene for the indie music industry has become wider as compared to how it was treated before.

The Underlying Problem with Mainstream Pop Music Now and how Indie Music can Fix it

Indubitably, a majority of the population in the country is disappointed as to how mainstream pop music is taking its path. Now these artists are just in it to sell, and not to stimulate, tell a story and everything else that the indie music industry is doing.

One of the reasons why the majority hates mainstream pop music is its always the same four chord progression. Unoriginal? yes. Repetitive and boring? Absolutely. Another reason is the lyrics make no sense. If it isn’t about sexualizing men/women, it’s about taking drugs, immature and ‘too edgy’ anecdotes that are just offensive and uncultured. Unimaginative? Out of the question. Lyrics have become abhorrently mundane and simple.

Another reason for the hate for mainstream pop today is that everything lacks color and imagination. Songs barely make sense anymore and the purpose of making songs to tell a story is already gone. Mainstream pop musicians just pick out random lines which they think make sense but don’t and then try to make something less than mediocre out of it. It’s just trying to be something that it’s not. When compared to ice cream, mainstream pop songs today are ‘vanilla flavored.’ Plain and simple.

All these problems can be fixed by giving way to our indie artists. Not only do they have absolute freedom of their art, they also make high-quality music that’s so rare to find these days. Just take a look at Ben and Ben. Each song they make is nothing less than elegant, fabulous, and awe-inspiring. Everything they do becomes magic. That’s the power of indie musicians.

Listening to indie music will never exhaust you, as it contains a wide range of genres, you’ll never run out of things to listen to. And indie artists are really good storytellers, which could may be well attributed to the fact that they have absolute freedom on all of their works.  

Anyway, these are some more rising indie acts that you should definitely watch out for that will surely take over the mainstream media sooner than later:

  1. Bullet Dumas – Best known for his raw, earthy, and contemporary folk take in music, Bullet Dumas surely will be one of the indie acts to watch out for. Every song that he makes is a great story just waiting to be opened and be shared to the world. He truly is a one of a kind musician that every other singer-songwriter should take notes from. (Listen to: Pre-Post-, Tugtog, WLKN, Put to Waste, Ninuno, Ba’to)
  2. Clara Benin – This 27 year old singer-songwriter was already exposed to the music industry at such a young age, being the daughter of former Side-A bassist, Joey Benin. Now, Benin’s rising up slowly towards the echelons of music and making a name for herself with her alternative-indie style that will surely captivate anyone who’ll listen to her. Further, she has already amassed millions of streams on Spotify. She’s surely one to watch out for. (Listen to: Wine, I Rose Up Slowly, Sweet Nothings, It’s Okay, Araw’t Gabi)
  3. Munimuni – An indie band that fully encapsulates the concept of ‘Makata pop,’ Munimuni has been making great waves in the indie industry and has been slowly inching their way into mainstream popularity. The lyrics they make up also tell a really good story and it always never fails to tug into the heartstrings of its listeners. (Listen to: Marilag, Sa Hindi Pag-alala, Tahanan, Sa’yo)
  4. Reese Lansangan – This multi-talented artist (not only is she a singer-songwriter, she is also a visual artist, graphic designer, fashion designer, and a published author) has just recently released her second album titled, ‘Time Well Spent,’ an album well-worthy of praise and recognition. She also once received the attention of NASA when NASA organized a campaign about space and got featured with her song, ‘An Opportunity to go to the Moon.’ (Listen to: Grammar Nazi, What Is This Feeling, For The Fickle, Home, Orbiting, VHS Aesthetic)

Now you’ll have no reason to not check out indie artists. Give them a chance. They deserve it. Besides, indie music has always been there. It’s just there for you find it. Enjoy. See you in the mainstream.