Celebrating three decades of Filipino shoegaze with latest compilation series
Words by Aldus Santos
Illustration by MC Galang
In this age of multi-hyphenates, genre music is a delicate tightrope. And I mean this in two ways: that in some ways it’s a needless circus stunt, but also, that it’s counter-evolutionary. Let’s face it: loyalty is the path to extinction, and the more you treat a sound as church, the closer you are to death. That’s what they say at least, whoever “they” are. On most days, these wagers ring mostly true. But not if a movement’s champions can help it. One such champion is Dale Marquez, guitar player and keyboardist for revered shoegaze outfit Sonnet LVIII, a man for whom devotion to the genre has been a lifelong pledge. And this week that pledge gets consummated through Alunig, the first in a planned string of anthologies from Shoegaze Pilipinas.
Marquez, who initially took on the monumental task of curating his community through a series of compilations under the Popscene MNL banner, is no tourist to the endeavor. He’s been rounding up material from friends and scene cohorts since 2008, and more recent dalliances online—mostly with the page admins of Shoegaze Pilipinas, which counts figures from The Rave Tapes, The Sound Architects, GYHT, and Furiosa among its ranks—would egg him on once more. “They were thinking about doing it, too. I sort of just provided the push,” the musician says. Much of local shoegaze, after all, is about homing in on that frequency: a frequency that’s not heard by a lot but remains an inexplicable draw.
At least that’s how it was when bands like Sonnet LVIII and Aspirin—the latter helmed by Allan Montero, a scene mainstay largely associated with Soft Pillow Kisses and production outfit Buzz Night—started coming up. “Sonnet formed around ‘92 and we were influenced by the same bands in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Then, during the Dredd-Cubao days, we met like-minded people,” Dale shares, recounting stories of the proverbial city built on noise and reverb, which found a home in fringe shows like No Zone and Awakening. This was, by all intents and purposes, a community heavily invested in the idiom of their forebears: bands as disparate as My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Cocteau Twins, and countless others. It’s almost uncanny how, in their shared code, individuality is momentarily set aside in deference to a towering monolith of sound, fashion, and affectation. It’s an affinity that’s as closed-fist and as secret-handshake as the next, but as they say, it takes a village.
“The original scene was also known as The Scene That Celebrates Itself,” Dale says, and you could somehow hear the capitals. He adds further, “It was like a brotherhood or sisterhood; we were all very supportive of each other.” The process of curating Alunig reflects that much: highly insular and mighty proud, and for good reason. The resulting landscape is a glorious mess of riches: scene starters Sonnet LVIII and Aspirin are there, but so are atmospheric-noise act Avalyn, dream-pop heavyweights Sugar Hiccup, Czandro Pollack’s Eulavye, the seminal but ultimately short-lived Fingernail Cocktail. “That sound transported the listener to a different world. It was something otherworldly,” Dale offers about the music, and though no vaguer words have been spoken, you just know he’s spot on.
As an inaugural outing, Shoegaze Pilipinas’s Alunig does set the stage if not in terms chronology, then certainly in relative purity. Rattling off the names alone conjures the cages these musicians rattled and continue to rattle: Skies of Ember, Candyaudioline, populardays, Aurora Borealis, Daydream Cycle, WeeDisneys. And yet more names—Envelopes and Seabirds, Isolation Ward, Some Gorgeous Accident, Phantom Sizemore, GYHT, The Rave Tapes, Ozzga, Polar Lows—the very utterance of whom facilitates fleeting entry into some tucked-away elsewhere.
Read: Polar Lows’ “Hereafter” in Best Albums and EPs of 2019
Across different numbers, a common grammar of dense textures, slabs of echo, walls of fuzz, and free-association lyricism; spanning different timelines, a collapsing of time itself. These songs aren’t so much temporal as they are spatial, and the spaces they paint edge closer to foggy watercolors than resolute oils. “I don’t want to sound like a purist, but I would love to stay true to the sound,” Dale says of this first volume, a “101” of sorts for the uninitiated, but also an updated almanac for erstwhile diehards who wish to get back on the horse. Listening to these songs, you get a sense of beautiful displacement. Marquez says, “You’re not sure where you are, but you love it. It’s like a hazy dream, and you wake up wondering what it was all about.”
These songs aren’t so much temporal as they are spatial, and the spaces they paint edge closer to foggy watercolors than resolute oils.
Get a feel of that dream with Alunig: A Shoegaze Pilipinas Compilation Vol. 1, mastered by Jerome Velasco and featuring art direction and design from Guadakomeda. A follow-up volume is set for a September release, and there’s enough material for a third one, but that’s still up in the air.
Check out more photos below.