It’s not yet a destination for Hong Kong indie fans, but Peter Sabine finds a thriving underground scene in Manila.
Manila is an obvious choice that many Hong Kong indie fans overlook because of the usual clichés – it’s dirty! It’s dangerous! My advice: disregard the naysayers and hop on the next flight.
Cabbies are your friend in this boom town sprawled out through traffic jams, and between new developments and slums. Music is everywhere here, and the guitars for sale on the street next to my hotel set the tone for the weekend. There’s a chance you’ll stay in Makati, and so it’s best to check that you haven’t managed to book a room next-door to a bar called ‘Tickles’ or other dubious establishments.
Skipping my neighbourhood watering holes, I took a cab over to B-Side at the Collective (7274 Malugay St, San Antonio Village, Makati City), an atmospheric venue with a large outdoors space. Among the acts I caught was Paranoid City, whose high tempo dance rock, charisma and funky outfits went down a treat. Complementing the chilled vibe were skewers on the grill and beers for 70 pesos (HKD$12).
Next stop was Saguijo Café + Bar (7612 Guijo St, San Antonio Village, Makati City), an intimate venue conducive to raucous live shows. Entering to the melodic post punk set of Lions and Acrobats, a manic evening ensued. Flying Ipis (meaning: flying cockroach), openers for Metric in Manila, played a storming set. Led by the magnetic Deng Garcia and backed by fiercely talented band, their garage rock sing-a-longs (“Past is Past, Bitch!”) had me quickly encamped with their dedicated fans.
The party then intensified with seven-piece band Cheats, who like Flying Ipis, bring remarkable energy to the stage. With singers including local celeb Saab Magalona, daughter of Filipino hip-hop legend Francis M, they might be seen by some as a hipster band – a persuasive live show and down-to-earth enthusiasm will soon dispel these notions.
At this point the night turned decidedly rowdy. It all started with a 2 ft 9 inch tall action star called Weng Weng. Befitting of the punch swinging, machine gun firing and samurai sword-wielding star of Filipino Bond spoofs such as For Y’ur Height Only, is a drink named after him, which a friend suggested having. A concoction of vodka, tequila, brandy, bourbon, scotch, and rum, topped with fruit punch, the Weng Weng was a game changer.
Unfortunately I could barely remember seeing all-girl garage band Duster, funk/soul glitch act Sinyma and electronic rock legends Squid 9. But I do remember stumbling around near my hotel to get some food. You can get chow at any time in Manila, a benefit of call centre culture that even sees some bars hosting happy hours from 5-8am. Of course, I had to run the gauntlet of streetwalkers in the pursuit of a full stomach (I was manhandled of course), and having returned to digs, was aghast to find my mobile had vanished.
While you’re in Manila you should visit the old quarter of Intramuros – I didn’t. Instead I spent the next afternoon in bed wondering why someone was devious enough to invent the Weng Weng, while ruing my stolen phone. Finally I pulled myself together for the night’s entertainment: the birthday party of Flying Ipis Singer Deng Garcia at Tomato Kick 3 (Tomas Morato Av, Quezon City).
With everything running on “Filipino time” (starting late), I chatted to a nice guy outside who told me not to worry about the phone – he’d lost his in a carjacking. It was little consolation for me.
Post-rock band Peryodiko followed with tight rhythms and brooding dark rock, with Cheats and Flying Ipis again delivering persuasive sets. I left with a great sense of a scene driven forward by ambitious young artists, whose camaraderie, and infectious enthusiasm will stand them in good stead.
After the show, I hitched a ride back to Makati with fashion designer and singer Kate Torralba. Feeling peckish, Kate recommended the Filling Station, a diner with every square inch covered in Americana, serving fat portions of US classics. Milkshake and fried chicken had me sleeping like a baby in no time, and it was little surprise that I woke up at 830am screaming expletives and scrambling for my 1010am flight. Fortunately Sunday morning is sleepy in the Philippine capital, and my cab driver, fancying his chances as a future F1 racer, got me to the airport without a moment to spare.
A thriller in Manila indeed – even with a lost phone, I’m lining up my next visit. A weekend here barely scratches the surface – just beware of the Weng Wengs.