Young Star

Old world underground, where are you now?

Andi Osmeña - The Philippine Star
Old world underground, where are you now?
Before it closed down, Today X Future served as a safe space for many creative and LGBTQ+ youth.
Neal P. Corpus

MANILA, Philippines — In 2018, The Collective on Malugay Street, Makati City was demolished in favor of building a condominium. The art hub housed several small businesses such as Ritual, Wingman, Blackbook, Skitzo and, most notably, B-Side. After years of being the center for the local Indie, Alternative, Reggae, Funk, Ska and Hip-Hop community, B-Side had to close its doors permanently. The club threw its last party on Sept. 28 that year, aptly named “The End of an Era.”

I had only been a participant in the gig scene for the past three years of my life, a small speck in comparison to the bigger picture of the history of local underground music. I had only known of the legendary gigs and festivals that took place in the mid-2000s and early 2010s in places like B-Side through the experiences of my older siblings and people I’ve met over the years, or traces of documentation in old blog posts and articles. I was envious of what they were able to witness. In my head, I mythologized this “old world” of underground music. Around the time I came into it, parts of that were starting to disappear.

The permanent closure of B-Side was indicative of a greater shift. Several other bars and venues folded around the same time, including Sazi’s Bar in España, BKB on West Ave, Freedom Bar in Anonas, TIME on Makati Avenue, and even 7th High in BGC. It was a mix of gentrification, the drug war, and just the volatile nature of being in the nightlife industry that led to such drastic changes. College bars in particular struggled, especially after the implementation of a new law in Manila City that prohibited the serving of alcohol near schools. After a while, you’d see a constant rotation of bars, clubs and restaurants coming and going in Metro Manila.

The lucky few that managed to stick around to serve a loyal patronage — Today X Future and Route 196 — were exactly that kind of place. Both venues had been around for more than a decade, and have been a stomping ground of memories for both musicians and gig-goers alike. A strong sense of community is what contributed to both clubs’ longevity. People always came back. This year, we were forced to ponder the question: “What happens when you take that away?”

After months of uncertainty, Today X Future closed down, much to the despair of the LGBT+ community and electronic music scene. In their early days, they were a big part of the Cubao X cultural ecosystem, eventually becoming a safe space for queer people all over the Metro. Most recently, Route 196 also announced on their social media pages that their chapter of gig history would be coming to an end. Route was widely considered to be a “rite of passage” for young musicians. For a while, they were considered a homebase for the likes of Autotelic and Up Dharma Down, and it was a staple venue for college org bands. I consider myself blessed to have been a part of both the Future and Route scenes, even at the tail end of their operations. Now, they join the ranks of B-Side as one of Manila’s many lost music venues. I fear for what lies ahead for other brick-and-mortars. Will they all suffer the same fate?

Any business is subject to change, but the COVID-19 crisis is wiping out a good chunk of the city’s beloved establishments en masse. In Poblacion, art gallery and nightclub LIMBO, art and performance space Pineapple Lab, and bar-resto Nokal all folded within less than two months of each other. Most of these places were mostly centers for fringe lifestyles and subculture, leaving many underground movements without a “place to be.” Even mom-and-pop restaurants and heritage landmarks were no exception to the rule. Bunchum’s (or perhaps better known as Bunchum,s), the oldest cafe-restobar in Manila, closed its doors permanently after 40 years. Esteemed UP restaurant ChocoKiss also announced its closure after serving generations of students and families. There was hardly enough room to breathe between every somber Instagram post. It seems like after all of this is over, we might be stepping into a different city.

With the mass closure of different small venues and businesses, comes the loss of livelihood for owners, performers, service staff, security staff, and maintenance workers. While there are private initiatives that raise funds for these people, we can point fingers to the usual suspects for the lack of support. The government has made little effort to alleviate the struggles of small businesses and music venues all over the country. Maybe you could say it’s simply unlucky to be in this line of work, or just, y’know, “the failings of capitalism.” It just doesn’t seem fair, considering that all of these places have contributed so much to the cultural development of the city. To most of us, they were our “third places,” our homes away from home. Now that the nature of event production and dining out aren’t conducive to flattening the curve, it’s become the responsibility of these businesses to adapt their strategies to the market, leaving some others behind. Sure, online platforms have been thriving in the age of coronavirus, but what can we do to preserve the institutions that came before them?

I’ve been talking with friends, or trying the best I can, about what future we could fathom for Manila. Sometimes, it does seem pretty bleak. There were the Before Times grievances about petty drama and traffic, now inane in comparison to the 150,000 and rising COVID-19 cases in the country. And as we’re all advised to stay inside, our favorite parts of the city are starting to slip away. I thought that after writing some 1,000 words about it, I’d arrive at some kind of definite answer. All I know is that there needs to be a larger systemic change. We need to work together to ensure that the city’s art, music and dining scenes can live through this. We need to find ways to help our beloved “third places” beyond patronizing their services. Other than that, I guess the best we can do as individuals is to hold our breaths, and hold fast to what remains.


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