‘Mital’: A Short History of Iloilo’s Underground Metal Movement
August 19, 2015
The place is filled with bodies clad in black. Most, if not all, of them have their faces covered in thick, wavy hair. The lights then dim, until the entire area is bathed in red sheen; its eeriness highlighted by the reliably sturdy (and rented) stage lights.
Five men then emerge from the left. All half-naked. All covered in what could only be presumed as blood, or at least a convincing simulacra of it. The bald one in the group then ascends the stage, along with his cohorts, with microphone in hand. He begins preaching to the flock in a guttural voice. The crowd roars back in response. He clearly knows what to say to them.
It would have been more romantic if what I am describing here is a Satanic ritual; a ritual of a kulto, even. But no; these men came here this evening–all painted up, obviously acting in sync with the stage technicians to deliver the maximum theatrics necessary for their entrance–to deliver a show. “Oh my God, it’s just like pro wrestling!” I blurted out excitedly to my friend.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the oft-misunderstood, never-give-a-crap, but definitely struggling world of underground Ilonggo metal.
We met with two of the men who were involved in that show-winning performance at the ‘Ruptured VIII’ band competition: Dennis ‘Densho’ Hubag and Dedrick (yes, that is how his name is spelled) Abad, vocalist and bassist for Mongrelblood, respectively. However, for the local metal community at large, they might as well be two of the elder spokesmen for the entire scene.
Active for close for a decade already, Mongrelblood is one of the few of the remaining bands in Iloilo that have decided to stick to a particularly virulent strain of metal–one that has little-to-no chance of ever being “commercial” in these parts of the world. And with their surviving peers brandishing around names like Blasphemerion, Bloodreich, Damaso (seriously, how is this NOT a cool name?) and many more hiding in the shadows, you can just imagine any regular promoter here having second thoughts about booking acts with… err, such “connotative” names. Regardless, that was how the metal community was formed eight years ago: no one was giving them a chance, so they decided to establish a production outfit. They called it Grindhouse Productions. Because why the heck not?
“Before Grindhouse started, grupo lang kami sang mga banda nga gatukar metal. We don’t even know each other. We hated each other… Pero there’s one time nga ang isa ka production nagpa-gig sila, tapos tanan nga metal (bands) guintipon—which it goes back in the day, kung metal ka ya, it’s either ikaw guid ang una nga wala pa tawo, or ikaw ang pinakaulihi nga wala na tawo—you never get to play sa mga choice slots bala,” Hubag explains.
[Before Grindhouse started, we were just a group of bands playing metal. We don’t even know each other. We hated each other. But there’s one time when a production sponsored a gig, and all the metal bands had been gathered– which it goes back in the day, if you’re metal, it’s either you get to play first when there are no people around, or you get to play last when all the people had gone home–you never get to play any choice slots.]
Metal may sound like senseless noise for the regular listener, but it’s a genre where technical chops are heavily favored; hence, any game of one-upsmanship between musicians have a tendency to get real personal, real fast. Abad, however, treats the formation of Grindhouse as a revelatory event; it is where, as he puts it, local metal bands realized they were “victims of their format”.
Taking cues from defunct Ilonggo metal recording labels like Deadstring Records (which also birthed a pioneering metal band called 6425, which both Abad and Hubag cited as one of their primary influences), Grindhouse Productions started out as a “dummy production team” which existed solely to prevent a local Catholic university from touching the meager profits of one of its own sanctioned student orgs (don’t ask). Although they say they never had any intention of making Grindhouse into a full-fledged, all-metal production outfit, their first event essentially pushed them right into it.
“During the first event, grabe nga bagyo. Katatlo mag-browout sa venue, and we have to resort to talk to the bands (by telling them), ‘I don’t think this will work tonight.’ We (were) addressing tanan nga mga banda that night: ‘Matukar kita subong kung mag balik ang kuryente, or i-postpone ta na lang next week.’ And everybody shouted, ‘Matukar kita ya subong ah‘,” Hubag recalls.
[During the first event, there was an intense typhoon. Power went out of the venue thrice, and we have to resort to talk to the bands by telling them, ‘I don’t think this will work tonight.’ We were addressing all the bands that night: ‘We play tonight when power gets back, or we postpone the gig to next week.’ And everybody shouted, ‘We play right now!’]
If life is occasionally punctuated with a “This is Sparta!” moment where people just said “screw this” to everything and did what they believed in doing, then this was probably it for Grindhouse. Unlike the ending of 300 though, they did not die in a hail of arrows (although that would have been an appropriately metal way to die); they kept on fighting, and they were doing so in an increasingly apathetic musical climate.
Questions of Originality
“We are trying to drive this culture on (metal) as a legit Ilonggo art. You can’t repaint the Mona Lisa and call it yours. If they want to be creative and want to be exposed in the community, then that’s a good start,” Abad thoughtfully says on why originality is the only way to drive the entire scene forward. Five minutes later, he will launch into a polemic on how today’s generation are not interested into creating “something that’s real”.
We’re not really against cover songs, but just to spend your ‘career’ and call yourself as an artist, may ara guid ya cover man guihapon; nagtinigulang na sila dira.
The rest of this piece can be practically filled with nothing but quotes after choice quotes from Abad and Hubag: there’s one about celebrity (“It’s more of, ‘I want to look like Daniel Padilla’ rather than Tado, even when you say that this Daniel Padilla is so plastic that he cannot fully mate with Barbie.”), there’s one about bullying (“Subong ya [Nowadays], they whine about it. That’s why we’re becoming a culture of… I’m sorry if I offend, but we’re turning into a bunch of f—–ts.”), and–probably the one thing they’re most angry about–the lack of risk-taking many of the city’s musicians are involved in.
You may already be familiar with what they meant by it: try visiting any bar or nightspot in the city with live entertainment, and you’re guaranteed to hear only cover songs by the musicians booked at those venues. As Grindhouse puts it, even majority of the Ilonggo metal bands are also slave to this philosophy.
“We’re not really against cover songs, but just to spend your ‘career’ and call yourself as an artist, may ara guid ya cover man guihapon; nagtinigulang na sila dira [they grew old by just doing covers],” Abad says.
He then went on, “Gahambal lang kami ya nga, apparently, artists diri sa Iloilo are copycats… Mahambal man dira sila, ‘I’m not making it as career. This is just a hobby.’ It’s okay, no problem. But people who are convincing other people that they are artists and their great crafts—don’t get me wrong, when it comes sa talent, they are awesome. Libut-libutan kami nila when it comes sa instruments. We’re just saying, ‘So, where’s your original stuff?’ That is the only element that can make you an artist. You have your own stuff.”
[We are saying that, apparently, artists here in Iloilo are copycats… They will say, ‘I’m not making it as career. This is just a hobby.’ It’s okay, no problem. But people who are convincing other people that they are artists and their great crafts– don’t get me wrong, when it comes to talent, they are awesome. They’ll play circles around us when it comes to instruments. We’re just saying, ‘So, where’s your original stuff?’ That is the only element that can make you an artist. You have your own stuff.]
For any creative scene, growth is indeed a necessary part of the process. However, it gets to be practically impossible when the same people who are supposed to critique an artist’s output are those who said artist are barkadas with. Mongrelblood, for their part, got a rude awakening from that “bubble” when they were invited to play at a gig in Manila a few years ago.
Abad recalls, “We actually went out of Iloilo not as spectators. We went there actually to lick the (metal) scene and see what it tastes like. Nagpalasak pa kami [We prostrated ourselves] because we thought we were heavy enough for these places to expose ourselves, only to find out pag-abot namon [when we arrived there], ‘Hey, we need some levelling up to do.'”
Thankfully, all those travels seemed to have paid off since they were able to acquire contacts not just from Manila, but also from neighboring Visayan areas like Bacolod, Cebu, and Dumaguete. Of course, just because they had expanded their network doesn’t mean the “marketability” of their music (which already includes a respectable one-album/two-EP release from Mongrelblood, as well as one album from defunct Grindhouse labelmates, Fugitive) had also expanded.
Mas maayo pa mga taga-Oton kag San Miguel kay solid-solid magsuporta. Pero diri ya sa siyudad, wala guid.
Hubag cites one such example: “May problema lang sang last Dinagyang nga actually… we did announce a gig, pero indi man lang madayon ang amon because there were partners—we did not consider them as sponsors anymore, kay because nag-participate naman sila sa amon mga two years or three years like that—for some reason, I don’t know kung ngaa, wala na kami nila nasapak. Guin-snub kami, pero wala man ko kabalo kung ano guinhimo namon. Maybe because kay indi na siya bakal, or kinahanglan na namon sang iban where they can exert their efforts. We don’t really know. If ever nga ma-read nila ang amo ini nga interview, I hope mahambal sila nga, ‘Hey! Ang (Facebook) account namon kag number namon, amo man guihapon gali ah!'”
[There were problems from last Dinagyang. We did announce a gig, but it did not push through becuase there were partners–we did not consider them as sponsors anymore, because they participated with us two or three years before–for some reason, I don’t know why, they did not reach out to us. They snubbed us, and I don’t know what we did to have caused them to do this. Maybe because metal is not selling anymore, or maybe we need to find other venues where they can exert their efforts. We don’t really know. If ever they read this interview, I hope they say, ‘Hey! Our Facebook account and our numbers, they’re still the same!’]
Make no mistake, though: there is a market here and, from what Grindhouse says, it doesn’t come from places which anyone can associate as typically “metal”: “Mas maayo pa mga taga-Oton kag San Miguel kay solid-solid magsuporta [It’s better that people from Oton and San Miguel supports us solidly],” Hubag beams. Yet, “Pero diri ya sa siyudad, wala guid [Here in the city, there is none.].” They even cited a group of people who came straight from Palawan just to attend the gig they organized.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Well, metal does breed extremely loyal fans, after all. And speaking of loyalty…
Getting the Word Out
“There is this whole thing about the underground scene nga you can actually garner loyalty when it comes to your listeners and if they purchase what you created rather than i-download,” Abad says. “Pero mas nami guid ya kung i-purchase mo nga makaptan mo or masimhutan mo (ang CD). Dira nila mabal-an (sang mga tawo) nga these guys are making their songs and they’re not pulling rabbits out of their a–es kag maiti lang ang rabbit kuwarta para ka-produce lang sang ila albums… We’re not asking for limousines and helicopters. We just want gamay lang nga profit nga mabalik lang amon capital and get the music out there.”
[But it’s better if you purchase a CD which you can touch or smell. This is where the people will know that these guys are making their songs and they’re not pulling rabbits out of their a–es and have the rabbit poop out money to produce their albums… We’re not asking for limousines and helicopters. We just want a small profit so that we can make back our capital and get the music out there.]
Do you expect them to answer anything else? No one goes into making music, particularly metal music, for the sole purpose of making money these days. As with any other creative venture–be it writing, starting an online radio show, you know the drill–they simply do it for the passion of it all. Of course, since Grindhouse Productions has been in business for a very long time, there’s a creeping sense of weariness that accompanies everything they do for the scene nowadays.
Hubag muses on the improbability of the scene continuing when him and Abad go out for good: “Madula kami nga duwa, ambot kung sin-o ang masige sina. At least kung may isa ka person dira nga mahambal siya nga ‘Indi ni ya puwede kay tradisyon ta na ina,’ nga biskan wala na dira (ako), mapadayon ko ini. [If both of us disappear, I’m not sure if the scene will continue. At least when there’s one person who will say ‘That won’t do because we have a tradition here,’ that even if I’m not around, then I can continue this.]
“We can’t be there forever,” Abad concurs. “We want to feed the infant scenes in Iloilo. Subong wala man siya ga-grow on its own, dapat ara guid kami nga mayayo sa ila. I think it would be better kung consistent kami sa amon nga banda. At least mga future generations, mahambal nga Mongrelblood is representing Iloilo. Simple lang, okay na ina.”
[Even though it’s not growing on its own, that means we have to be there to nurture them. I think it would be better if we’re consistent with our bands. At least for future generations, people can say that Mongrelblood is representing Iloilo. It’s that simple, and we’re okay with it.]
If any form of underground metal culture does flourish here in Iloilo, then Grindhouse is totally cool with setting up the groundwork for future generations to build upon. Abad concludes, “(The) first generation will create it from scratch. The second generation will prove it. The third generation will polish it. The fourth generation will reap the fruits.”
Think anyone reading this would be alive to see that? Well, at least we have a lifetime to monitor its progression,
Update: This article has been updated to specify that Abad is the bass guitarist for Mongrelblood.
Photos by Xtian Lozañes.