Guest Blog Post

A Geography Lesson: Manila Musical Life with Ourselves the Elves

By Alyana Cabral of Ourselves the Elves

“They look like pubes!”

I laughed as I watched Paula use eyeliner to draw a fake curly beard on Ponch’s face. It was a Halloween gig, and everyone in the band decided to dress up as Shia Labeouf. Paula is our bassist and also an architecture student, so she had the license to draw on people’s faces. Ponch is our drummer, and he especially requested to have black circles drawn on his face. Aki, our guitarist, was reluctant to have an eyeliner beard, insisting that his stubble was enough. When it was our turn to play, we put up a few green pieces of cartolina on the wall behind us and tried to put on our best motivational Shia impression for the audience, since we were the last band in the lineup. It just wasn’t complete without the beards and the green screen.

That night ended our third week of selling our newly released EP, Geography Lessons. We had already run out of copies before then. We only printed 200 copies, but selling out on our third week after release is still a pretty big thing for a small band like us. We didn’t really expect that many people would be interested to get their hands on our music. But I guess hard work pays off. It was our first time to use a pre-order system and it helped a whole lot. For early buyers, we gave a sticker, a postcard, and free admission to the release party. It worked really well because the people who had little to no idea about pre-ordering were the ones buying into it. I like to think that we educated them on how pre-orders work.

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Ourselves the Elves playing at their EP Release Party, with Howard (Oh Flamingo) and Paolo (The Strangeness) as backup dancers (Photo by MaskedRider Kenneth)

As a self-managed unsigned band, we had to do literally everything to release the EP—from recording and promoting, to transacting orders and handling the release party. It was very taxing but we knew that that’s how all bands start out. All the preparations took a toll on me and I got really sick that week before the party, but that was nothing compared to the rewards that come with what we’re doing. I know a lot of other bands who are just as passionate and hardworking. I guess we’re passionate enough for the music that it compels us to brush off our struggles and push ourselves beyond the limit.  It’s essentially a DIY culture where everyone has each other’s backs, and I’m proud to be part of it. Our EP release party would have been a flop had it not been for our friends who showed up early and helped us pack our CDs and lyric sheets into their cases.

In the spirit of DIY, new bands and production groups in the scene pop up out of nowhere all the time. People say things like, “now is truly an exciting time for local music” and such. Unknowingly, we took advantage of it. Along with our friends, we started a little production group called Salad Days earlier this year. The Halloween show was among many that we’ve handled. Every month, we invite the bands we like to play with us and encourage everyone to get wild and rowdy. There’s almost always a mosh pit, no matter what kind of music the band is playing and it’s my favorite part about Salad Days gigs. Whenever we play bigger shows in the city, people are usually just standing still, and I never understand that. But at the gigs we organize, people aren’t afraid to sing along and get crazy.

by Andrew Panopio

by Andrew Panopio

We usually hold our gigs at Mow’s, a humble bar in the northern part of Manila. We’ve become really good friends with the owner and the sound guy (Tim and Roy) so sometimes they invite us to play there whenever they want to put up a show too. One time, they invited all of us to play Mac DeMarco covers the whole night. You guys would be surprised by how many fans he has here. It wasn’t too crazy of a gig, but I remember how we had this spontaneous impromptu jam after the show where everyone took turns picking up instruments on stage, covering more songs than intended. There was a point when we started to cover emo songs, so we knew that was the cue to stop and go home. It was past 3am.

Another time, we were driving home from another gig and Ponch was lying on top of the car because we all couldn’t fit inside. It was past 2am and we would often crash at our friend Kean’s place to either play video games, watch YouTube videos, or play more music in his little room. And when we woke up at 12nn, we’d cook and eat brunch before heading to the next gig that night. I’ll never forget the first show we played out of the city, in Zambales, where we basked and frolicked on the beach under the moonlight, and I was eagerly listening to French boys Michael and Miles (from We Were Evergreen) talk about the dance scene in London. It was past 4am. And I thought, we were spending our youth in the best way.

The Gory Orgies playing at Mow’s for the 2nd Salad Days show (Photo by Pauline Rana)

The Gory Orgies playing at Mow’s for the 2nd Salad Days show (Photo by Pauline Rana)

We’ve been playing for about four years now and there were a lot of times when we wanted to quit. Times when we have to shell out more money than our pockets could afford, just to get to the show venue, times when we fight over musical differences, times when we find it hard to balance the stint with school, and times when we feel like it was getting us nowhere. Not to mention we’ve had to deal with years of borrowing equipment. But those times never stopped us. It’s just the kind of life we chose.

The consequences of being a musician really are heavier in this third-world country where we live in. The racket isn’t sustainable at all and sometimes even means having a negative income because of how badly local artists want to fuel their passion, versus the lack of cultural and financial support from the government. This is why so many of us rely on day jobs to support our art. This is why so many of us dream of making it big abroad. Every musician here knows how this feels. But besides the rewards, I guess there’s hope beneath all of this. We keep doing what we do in the hopes that we could change things somehow by encouraging a deeper love for local music as a first step. Whenever people would tell us how much our music means to them, I think, maybe we’re doing something right. So I don’t think we can ever stop playing. No musician here should have to. Remember what Shia said in that motivational green screen video.

Alyana Cabral is the vocalist and guitarist of Ourselves the Elves. (She also plays guitar for The Buildings.) Their EP, Geography Lessons, is available on iTunes, Spotify, and Bandcamp. You can buy physical copies by emailing them at ourselvestheelves@gmail.com. Get to know the Salad Days bands and their friends by listening to this playlist

 

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