Aftersyx: The Rebirth of Ilonggo Pirate Radio

By joseph batcagan

012 besides St. Paul’s University was a haven for local musical acts performing their original stuff. However, much like the rest of its “peers”, the venue has shuttered and the space it formerly occupies currently houses a specialty burger joint, a tea shop, and a convenience store in one, unimpeded space. But starting this May 1st—and subsequent weekends afterwards for the foreseeable future—this space now also serves as a makeshift recording booth.

Yes, a commercial establishment where dozens of people come and go as they please now hosts what is probably the only Ilonggo indie radio station in the city. If this is what counts for “alternative” nowadays, then Nervegasm* has this one quip for you: “May underground pa subong haw? [Is there still an underground today?]”

Independent online streaming radios have existed for over a decade already, but only a few people know that Iloilo City’s Aftersyx was the only outfit which did it first here. As far as creative resurgences go, they couldn’t have chosen for a better time to come back.

The Spook* doesn’t put on airs about this venture, though; he knows it’s still a “weekend warrior” thing, and they have day jobs to report to once Monday rolls around. “Nag-invest na kami for servers, for tanan-tanan, ti kag bal-an man namon nga indi man kami kapanguwarta sini mo, [We invested for servers, for everything, but we still know we can’t profit from it,]” he says.

Aftersyx: Rebirth of Ilonggo Pirate Radio - Project lloilo

By “kami”, he means his cohorts who have been with him from the start when they toyed around with the idea in 2001: the aforementioned Nervegasm, Evil Wurm*, and 85Filter* (who wasn’t present when we conducted the interview). Save for The Spook and 85Filter, the founding members were all involved with the defunct NU107 Iloilo radio station—the “the “Home of New Rock””, as its famous tagline went—during the ‘90s, with Evil Wurm serving as one of the DJs of the station and Nervegasm hosting a program called ‘Cyber Radio’ which, true to early internet slang, only played electronic music in all its iterations. In a sense, Aftersyx is probably that program’s closest spiritual successor to date.

“(Nervegasm) was heavy into drum n’ bass, si (Evil Wurm) was heavy into blips, glitch... Ti ako dayon, nag-concentrate ako sa [And me, I concentrated on] electronic and chillout,” The Spook says of their musical preferences. They were—and still are—heavily into making their own mixes back then, and they were envisioning Aftersyx more along the lines of a recording collective, though it’s one that was tied under a label started by Nervegasm called Hotbox RP Records.

And the means for releasing their music? It was the early 2000s, so using the Internet was out of the question; if people wanted to publish music, the cheapest mode available back then is the same thing propelling CD-R King right now: burning CD-Rs (or, to be more accurate, “samplers”).

Sang una sa pag-ubrahanay, te ang sa amon ya, ‘ubra ka lang ya eh.’ Mapaguwa lang kami sampler, and two months from now… Ubrahanay eh, without thinking kung ano guid ya ang maabtan (namon), kung may makaapresiyar man na or indi. But gapaguwa kami sg originals not para ma-appreciate sang tawo, but it is more of gapaguwa ka lang ya kay ti, gapaguwa ka lang ya. Then later on, panumdumon mo na lang, ‘Diin ko ni siya i-push? Kay sin-o ko ni i-push? Masadyahan ni bala sila ayhan?’”, The Spook recalls.

[When we started, we were just like, ‘do your own thing’. We were releasing a sample, and two months from now… we’re still working on music, without thinking where this will end up, whether someone will appreciate it or not. But we were releasing originals not for people to appreciate it, but it is more of we’re releasing it just because we can release it. Then later on, we were thinking, ‘Where will I push this? To whom will I push this? Will anyone enjoy it?’]

It was during that point they hit on a magic formula that will come to define the Aftersyx brand for many years: podcasting. They compiled all their mixes into specific podcast “episodes” and then made it available for streaming on their website. As it turned out, that decision suited them perfectly since they were in the midst of the “chillout” craze gripping the city during the mid-2000s. Seriously, just ask any Gen-Y’er about Bonnie Bailey, and they’ll sing back the chorus of “Ever After” back to you with eyes closed.

Aftersyx: Rebirth of Ilonggo Pirate Radio - Project lloilo

The Spook assents that it was also completely strategic on their part. “Mas hapos i­-digest ang chillout music kumpara sa iban nga subgenre. Pero nakibot ko nga sg nagpaguwa na kami sg podcast, daw mas receptive na ang mga tawo, nga daw positive ang feedback niya. [It’s easier to digest chillout music compared to other subgenres. But I was surprised that when we released a podcast, people seem more receptive, and the feedback was positive.]”

So, why did they fall off from being active during the latter half of the aughts, then? “Ang tuod? Nagtinamad na ako dayon eh, [The reality? I grew lazy,]” he answers with a laugh. To be fair to them, they still had an active online presence then; they weren’t just releasing as many new mixes as they were before, and many of them got involved in the local longboarding scene in lieu of it.

However, their desire to share good music to anyone willing to listen didn’t completely go away during that time. In particular, they were musing on how next-to-impossible it was to discover new music back then. “Rofer’s [a defunct record shop in downtown Iloilo] pa lang ato sg una, tapos gapamati ka lang sa NU or pamati sa RJ, tuktukon pa ang DJ kag mamangkot, ‘Ano ina ang gatukar?’ [Rofer’s was there back then, and then you listen to NU or RJ, and you have to knock on the DJ’s window and ask, ‘What is that playing?’]” The Spook muses.

“Kung pirme mo mabatian (ang isa ka kanta), indi na grabe ang impact niya.”

Despite advances in technology that should benefit listeners of this generation now, The Spook still bemoans how the same problem back then—the lack of interest in anything “new”—is still plaguing the culture of music consumption these days. What they’re trying to recapture from the past is the novelty of listening to a song where you absolutely have no idea who performed it or what it’s even about.

Kung pirme mo mabatian (ang isa ka kanta), indi na grabe ang impact niya. Pero let’s say nga first ka pa lang nakabati sg kanta nga ina, para sa imo ya, (mahambal ka), ‘ano ini man?’ Then later on, let’s say a minute or two into the track, mahambal ka, ‘daw maayo haw’. Pangitaun mo ina ang ngalan sg artist dayon,” The Spook explains.

[If you hear a song constantly, its impact diminishes. But let’s say you just heard a song for a first time, and then you say to yourself, ‘What is this?’ Then later on, let’s say a minute or two into the track, you’ll say, ‘it’s good.’ You then search out the artist who made it.]

They also argue that this hunger for discovery is critical for sustaining the different musical scenes now springing up in Iloilo City. The Spook says, “Since nag-feed ka sa (mga tawo) sg information (sg kanta) nga nanamian nila, sila na mismo ang mangita. Kung ibutang ta be ti nga mabutang sila sg amo ina, then mamaayo man ina ang local scene diri sa Iloilo. Indi na kita sagi kumod nga mas nami ang scene sg Cebu, mas nami ang scene sg Bacolod”

[Since you fed people with information about the song they like, they’ll be the ones to start searching for it. If they apply that discovery to their songs, then the local scene in Iloilo will improve. We won’t have to grumble about how the scene in Cebu is better, the scene in Bacolod is better.]

“Kasubo nga kung makadto ka sa iban nga siyudad, mabatian mo ang ila nga mga FM station, daw mahambal ka bala nga, ‘Tsk, ngaa wala ini sg amo ni sa Iloilo man?’”

One of the observations they have as to why the local music scene takes too long to get off is, not surprising to any Filipino reading this, internal politics. “Ang pinakadako guid ya naton nga problema diri, honestly? Damo-damo diri faction sa music scene naton diri. Bisan sa impluwensya sg mga media man diri,” The Spook argues.

[The biggest problem we have here, honestly? We have many, many factions here in the music scene. Even the media influences it to be so.]

They say they have a more welcoming attitude to new listeners now that they have matured, though. However, don’t expect them to pander to them even if they can easily go down that route. The Spook maintains the notion by answering, “Indi man guihapon dako nga factor ang market kay ginatukar ko man guihapon ang gusto ko. So, most likely not everyone masadyahan sina. But at the same time, since grabe na subong ang flow of information, it would be easier sa mga tawo nga ma-pick up kung ano ang ginapaguwa mo, and it can be easier for them nga maapresiyar or manamian.”

[The market is not a big factor for us because we’re still playing what we like. So, most likely not everyone will enjoy it. But at the same time, since flow of information is greater, it would be easier for the people to pick up what we’re getting out, and it can be easier for them to appreciate or enjoy it.]

Aftersyx: Rebirth of Ilonggo Pirate Radio - Project lloilo

While The Spook proclaims that Aftersyx can be “anything”, they have a concrete idea of how they want the brand to be perceived. “For now, it’s just us nga maubra kami online radio. And well, mapatukar naman sg lain nga sound diri sa Iloilo nga bisan online lang. Ti, kasubo nga kung makadto ka sa iban nga siyudad, mabatian mo ang ila nga mga FM station, daw mahambal ka bala nga, ‘Tsk, ngaa wala ini sg amo ni sa Iloilo man?”

[For now, it’s just us doing online radio. And well, play different sounds here in Iloilo, even if it’s just online. It’s sad when you go to other cities, you hear their FM stations, and then you say, ‘Tsk, why don’t we have this in Iloilo?’]

They concede they’re undergoing a “learning experience” in how they’re operating Aftersyx now. While Nervegasm did question the validity of the “underground” as a concept, he still says, “You have to be positive. Kay kung indi, ma-frustrate ka man lang, tapos masuya ka naman dayon nga tanan-tanan diri dayon kontra mo. [If not, you’ll get frustrated, and then you complain to the point that everyone here is your enemy because of it.]”

The Spook, for his part, is also looking forward to the new people they will hopefully reach through Aftersyx. And, true to the Ilonggo way, he’s explaining it how they’ll do it with music through the use of a metaphor. “Bale kung sg una, kung gahaboy ka sg bato, gamay lang maigo mo. Subong mag-Dinagyang, may ihaboy ka nga bato, may maigo ka guid ya nga tawo.

[If back then, you throw a stone, there are only a few people you’ll hit. But when you throw a rock during Dinagyang, then you’ll definitely hit someone.]

And he quickly adds with a laugh, “Basta indi lang (sila) mangakig. [As long as they don’t get angry.]”

Who says polite Ilonggos can’t start a revolution?

*The subjects only agreed to publish their ‘DJ names’ for this story.

(UPDATE: An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed The Spook and 85Filter as DJs for NU107 Iloilo. Only Evil Wurm, one of the station’s resident jocks back then, and Nervegasm, who hosted the ‘Cyber Radio’ program, were part of the station. Project Iloilo apologizes for the error.)

With interviews by Cornelius Tagbanwa and Spencer Ravago

Photos by Xtian Lozañes

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.